The guide to dirty recruiting
How programs skirt the rules in pursuit of elite talent
To me, it was LeBron James who let the genie out of the recruiting bottle. It's a genie that has plagued college recruiting ever since.
In 2002, James exposed high school basketball to the highest levels of media coverage and proved that the recruiting process could make a lot of people a lot of money. In turn, money followed him.
During the summer before his senior season, a broken wrist kept James out of action. However, it didn't prevent him from being given superstar treatment by two shoe companies. LeBron attended the Nike All-American Camp as a spectator with a small entourage of friends and family members. After Nike rolled out the red carpet for a kid who couldn't even play, he then played the part of a shrewd businessman. Just a few days after arriving to sit courtside at Nike's camp, the teenager turned up the heat on the shoe companies by showing up at Nike's rival camp, adidas ABCD.
It was at the 2002 ABCD Camp where the first "King James" T-shirt was created. Adidas made the T-shirt for LeBron and unveiled it during a news conference held for him. At this point, LeBron was officially a rock star. Most of the kids at the camps were worried about impressing college coaches; LeBron was on to the next phase of his career -- marketing. He was less than a year from signing a blockbuster deal with Nike worth a reported $90 million.
Just as LeBron was a cut above his classmates on the court, he was a cut above them off the court as well. But his peers learned, and they learned fast. And to some degree they've been catching up.
Obviously the rules have changed since 2002 with the NBA's mandate that players wait a season after high school before entering the draft. Although we may never again see the lavish displays I witnessed during the James "recruitment," it seems that money increasingly influences the recruiting game. Big money drives big-time college basketball at the highest levels. Today's recruits know this. Players -- or their handlers or family members -- are chasing that money that surrounds the recruiting process.
Many programs are asking the same question: At what cost? Others are simply willing to pay it. And this is how they do it.
To see Dave Telep's insights into the dirty recruiting process, and get access to the rest of Insider's college basketball content, sign up today.
MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- Shocker: 11th-ranked Wichita St. falls to GW
- Seton Hall loses Whitehead to stress fracture
- UNLV pulls upset to ruin No. 3 Arizona's run
- Stanford knocks off No. 9 Texas in overtime
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
Insider College Basketball
New on Insider
Lunardi: Pac-12 locked into 2 bids?
Player Rankings: Davis over Robinson for POY
Lunardi: Where UW, Northwestern fall
Hume: Bid thieves are few
Bilas: Sizing up the Big East
Gasaway: Pac-12 stronger than it seems
Hume: Best bets among bubble teams
Lunardi: VCU may be first bid thief
Ford: Time running out for 5 NBA prospects
Lunardi: How UConn, Texas, others earn bids
Lunardi: Latest look at the bubble
Fraschilla: Previewing Big 12 tournament
Bilas Index: UNC remains at No. 3
Pomeroy: Trends predict UNC-Duke clash
Lunardi: No No. 1 seed for Big Ten?
Player Rankings: Purdue's pivotal players
Ford: Will MKG, Cody Zeller stay in school?
Gasaway: Rebounding won't crush Orange
Telep: UCLA's top recruits remain committed
Bilas: How Michigan State can still improve
Bilas: Keys to the Hoyas' continued success
Lunardi: Watch out for NCAA bid thieves
Lunardi Rundown: Kentucky is No. 1 overall
Bilas Index: Kansas returns to the top five
Make smart bracket picks by spotting Cinderella early.
And don't forget these Insider mainstays:
Doug Gottlieb, Fran Fraschilla, Joe Lunardi and Jay Williams offer their opinions.
Insights from the mind of the College Gameday analyst.
The national recruiting analyst weighs in on news and rumors surrounding the top high school prospects.
Stay on top of all the latest recruiting buzz.
Every D-1 player's efficiency rating.