Off The Record: The college recruiting game

May 17, 2004|HERB BROCK

Randolph Morris, I felt your pain.

In case you are one of the few people in this basketball-crazy state who can't sleep worrying about the college choices of athletic teenage boys, Morris is a high school senior in Atlanta. He is a good student. But the reason so many University of Kentucky fans have endured so many sleepless nights has nothing to do with his GPA and a lot to do with his PPG.

Morris has a very high grade point average as a student but it was his points per game as a star center on his hometown basketball team that had so many Wildcat fans counting slam dunks in their sleep. He spent weeks deciding whether to go to UK, Georgia Tech or the NBA. Earlier this month he picked UK. Hallelujah! But I digress.

The war for Morris' athletic services made me recall the war many years ago for my academic services. Well, war is a tad too strong a word. Battle might be a little too much as well. Skirmish? Tiff? OK, the competition for landing me was more like a thumb-wrestling match between two paper-shuffling admissions counselors but there was competition, as unintense and uninteresting as it was.


I was a good student at a very good high school. I wasn't among the eggheads. I wasn't a summa cum laude, magna cum laude or a cum laude of any other kind. I took French, not Latin, and didn't know what those words meant anyway. And the word valedictorian was Greek to me. But I did maintain a solid "B" average, getting "A's" in history, English and social studies to offset "C's" in math and science.

And I did make the honor roll, which got me an asterisk by my name in the commencement program but didn't allow me to sit with the eggheads in the front row. When the superintendent pronounced the Lake Forest (Ill.) High School Class of 1966 graduated, I had to turn my tassel with the rest of the masses sitting behind the brainy showoffs.

My hunt for colleges began with an edict from my dad. Although he was a native Kentuckian who went to UK, he looked down on higher education in the South and wanted me to go to a school in the Midwest. So he dusted off an old compass I rarely used on my way to mediocre grades in math, stuck the point in Chicago, which was 40 miles south of where we lived, and drew a circle that translated to a diameter of 250 miles. My two older brothers were attending very good colleges within 200 miles of the centerpoint and there was no reason for me to escape the Golden Circle of Academe, according to my dad.

With the geographic edict in mind, I started deciding on what schools to apply to. Unlike the brain trust and star jocks in my class, I received no letters of interest. With no one recruiting me, I had to shop myself. So out went letters to five schools. Four were colleges and universities in Illinois and Wisconsin - all well within the Circle - and one was to the place I really wanted to attend -the University of Missouri. It was near the southwestern edge of the circle but still inside of it. I wanted to go to Mizzou because of its top-flight journalism school.

Each and every school responded to my letters and three of them weren't form letters. I felt like a recruit, and that feeling grew after my transcript and the plausible embellishments in my cover letter caused two of them to offer scholarships, as modest as they were. Those two put me on their mailing lists, and I received weekly letters. The recruiting thumb-wrestling match was on.

I eventually decided on Mizzou. I didn't call a press conference or issue a press release. But my decision to attend the university was published in The Scout, my high school newspaper - along with the post-high school plans of the 264 other members of my class.

But the rush of going to one of the great J-schools in the country and the excitement of being kind of, sort of, somewhat recruited soon passed. My racing heart was replaced by cold feet. The main issue was size. Mizzou was gigantic, at least compared to the much smaller, inside-the-circle colleges my two older brothers were attending and absolutely loving. So, at the last minute, I decided that I, too, wanted to go small - and South, back to my familial roots.

So I re-opened the bidding thumb-wrestling match, but there wasn't a lot of competition. I wanted to go to the alma mater of my Kentucky born-and-raised mom and several other family members, Centre College. But, like most colleges and universities, Centre had closed its books on its incoming 1966-67 freshman class.

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