Ex-Kentucky basketball commitment Avery makes his college choice

Had been recruited as 8th-grader

December 16, 2011 

Michael Avery, the recruit who attracted national attention when he committed as an eighth-grader to play at the University of Kentucky, has found a college basketball home.

Avery, a senior at Encino (Calif.) Crespi High School, has committed to Sonoma State, according to a report on the Los Angeles Times' Varsity Times Insider blog.

Sonoma State, located in California's wine country one hour north of San Francisco, is an NCAA Division II school.

Avery received a scholarship offer from Billy Gillispie after the then-Kentucky coach watched the eighth-grader play two games in a youth basketball event sponsored by LeBron James in Akron, Ohio, in April 2008.

Though other coaches at the time were making recruiting pitches to similarly young prospects, Gillispie's offer to Avery for a program of Kentucky's stature became the center of a spirited national debate about how young was too young for players to commit to colleges.

"Oh my goodness," recruiting analyst Brick Oettinger said at the time. "A school taking a commitment from someone that young — there's no telling what will happen."

Then-UK president Lee T. Todd Jr. was also wary of the practice. While saying he understood why college coaches might offer a scholarship to an eighth-grader, Todd added, "I'd hope there's not a huge number of those."

Then-NCAA president Myles Brand called such recruiting "untoward."

Gillispie, who had just completed his first season at Kentucky and was a year away from being fired by the Wildcats, explained his approach at the time.

"If you're in recruiting, it's very, very competitive," Gillispie said about two weeks after accepting Avery's commitment. "You start earlier and earlier all the time because you're seeing guys earlier.

"It's a little bit different for us, maybe, than for university presidents."

A week after Avery's commitment, Gillispie accepted a commitment from ninth-grader Vinny Zollo of Greenfield, Ohio. Later that month, Gillispie offered a scholarship to another high school freshman, Jeremiah Davis III of Muncie, Ind.

The push to recruit younger and younger players led the National Association of Basketball Coaches to issue a recommendation that college coaches not offer scholarships or accept commitments from prospects who have not yet completed their sophomore season in high school.

Avery reopened his recruitment when John Calipari took over as Kentucky's coach in April 2009. That summer, Zollo did the same.

Avery, who was 6-foot-4 in eighth grade, is now a 6-5 guard.

According to the L.A. Times' report, Avery's coach at Crespi, Russell White, said in a statement, "Obviously, a lot has changed for Mike since he committed to Kentucky prior to his freshmen year at Crespi. But what hasn't changed is his love for the game. On a recent visit (to Sonoma State), Mike fell in love with the campus, Coach Pat Fuscaldo, and the current players. Our program is excited that Mike will continue his basketball journey at the next level."

Zollo, who transferred from Ohio to Clark County High School in Winchester after committing to UK, eventually chose Western Kentucky.

The 6-8 freshman is averaging 1.9 points and 2.6 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per game and has played in all 11 games for the Hilltoppers this season.

Davis, the recruit from Muncie, Ind., is a 6-3 freshman at the University of Cincinnati. He has seen action in four of the Bearcats' nine games, playing a total of 30 minutes.

After two years out of coaching, Gillispie is off to a 4-4 start in his first season as head coach at Texas Tech.

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