UK Recruiting

Zollo remains cautiously committed

WINCHESTER — For Vinny Zollo, things are this clear. He's still committed to playing college basketball for Kentucky starting in 2011-12.

But he's keeping all his options open for going to a different school.

If that sounds like a doozy of a contradiction, can you really blame a high school sophomore who's basically had his life turned inside out by the college basketball recruiting process?

Last May, Zollo — then a high school freshman from Greenfield, Ohio — gave an oral commitment to play college hoops for Billy Gillispie at Kentucky.

It was one of five "early pledges" from players barely out of middle school that Gillispie accepted over a two-year period. That made Kentucky the poster program for robbing the hoops cradle.

But Zollo took his commitment to UK farther than any of the other youthful future Cats. In part to get closer to the university for which Zollo planned to play, his family pulled up roots and moved to Clark County, just a stone's throw outside Lexington.

Then, not even a year after the move, Zollo got home from school one Friday last month and turned on the TV to watch the coverage of UK's firing of Gillispie.

"I was just blown away," Zollo said.

Now, the 6-foot-9 Zollo is in basketball limbo. Of the five underclassmen who had committed to play for Gillispie at Kentucky, he is the only one who has not publicly renounced his pledge.

Yet he has no promise from the new UK staff of John Calipari that a Kentucky scholarship will ever be his. The only assurance he's gotten from the Calipari crew, Zollo says, is that they will evaluate him in AAU play this summer.

"Neither one of us, I'd say, really knows what's going to happen at this point," Zollo said.

Even with the ouster of Gillispie, Zollo says, neither he nor his family second guesses the move to Kentucky.

At Clark County, Zollo is part of a gifted class of junior-to-be basketball standouts who have the locals dreaming (realistically) of a state championship in the next two seasons.

"In no way do we regret the move at all," Zollo said. "We have high expectations for our (Clark County) team here the next two years. We really like Winchester a lot. I may not be going to UK come my freshman year; but we have no regrets at all."

No one could have blamed Zollo for wondering at times this past winter what kind of state he had chosen to live in.

Early this past season, Zollo was recovering from a leg he had broken in AAU summer basketball. He was adjusting to a new town, a new school, a new team. He did not play well early in the year.

Many UK fans took to radio talk shows and Internet message boards to declare him not a 'Kentucky level recruit' before Christmas of his sophomore year of high school.

That Zollo closed this past season reliably posting double-doubles never quite seemed to catch up with the harsh early season appraisals.

"I sort of walked in blind when I moved down here," Zollo said. "They warned me what it would be like, but you don't really know what it is like until you live here. When you commit to an elite program, anything short of being great is always scrutinized. But there was good from that. I learned to use it as motivation."

UK had always been the dream school for Zollo. His grandmother, Jane Rannels, might live in Ohio, but she's Kentucky Blue through and through.

As a child, Vinny would come to Lexington in the summers and stay with his godparents, Don and Ginger Carter. While in Kentucky, he would attend Tubby Smith's basketball camps.

But as much UK as he had in his past, "I committed to play for Billy Gillispie," Zollo said. "He convinced me it was the right fit."

Zollo wears a size 19 shoe and says doctors have told him he could grow to be a 7-footer before he hits college. And he can shoot from the outside, making him perfect for the high post in Gillispie's high-low offense.

It's far from certain that Zollo has the skills to thrive in Calipari's dribble-drive motion offense (which, as the name suggests, puts a premium on dribbling and driving).

"It's not really my style," Zollo said. "You have two contrasting systems that are very different. My AAU team (Indiana Elite) plays a similar style to what Calipari plays. In some ways, I think I could play it; in some ways, I think I can't."

While he sorts out his situation with UK, Zollo says, he's hearing from "other major programs, schools that were recruiting me before I committed to Kentucky."

He declined to name those schools on Monday. West Virginia, Ohio State, Dayton, Xavier and Tennessee were among the programs he mentioned when he committed to UK last spring.

Clark County Coach Scott Humphrey notes that, with Zollo's UK plans now up in the air, "he's sort of back where he would have been in the recruiting process if he'd done it the traditional way."

Zollo says he has spoken with Gillispie more than once since the coach was ousted at Kentucky.

"He was kind of apologetic toward it all happening," Zollo said. "There is not really an apology needed. I guess this is just the way the business works."

Which doesn't mean it's easy for a teenager whose future gets caught up in the bizarre world of big-time college basketball recruiting.

"People look at Vinny and see a big kid, a big body," Humphrey said. "They see a kid who speaks well and handles himself well, and they lose sight — this is still a 16-year-old. This deal hasn't been easy for him."

Should Gillispie land another major-college head coaching job, Zollo says, "that school would be a point of interest for me. I have a great relationship with him."

Then again, Zollo is technically still committed to Kentucky.

"Right now, I'm staying with my commitment," he said. "But that could change very quickly, or it could stay the same. There's no way to know what's going to happen."

For Vinny Zollo, things are that clear.