Pressure mounts on top prospects

LAS VEGAS – As a youngster growing up in Raleigh, N.C., Quincy Miller said his mother, Cindy, always stressed the importance of being on the top of the heap.

“If you’re not No. 1,” she would tell him, “you’re not doing good enough.”

These days, though, Miller is No. 2 – at least when it comes to Rivals.com’s player rankings for the Class of 2011.

Quincy Miller is learning how to deal with the attention that comes with a lofty position in prospect rankings.
(Rivals.com)

Even though Miller would like to occupy the top spot when the updated list is revealed at the end of the summer, the 6-foot-9 forward – in a change of heart – won’t be too upset if he doesn’t catapult past top-ranked Michael Gilchrist.

“At first, I [cared],” he said. “As a sophomore I always wanted to be No. 1. But I’m not worried about that kind of stuff anymore.”

Good thing.

Lofty of an honor as it is to be hailed as the top-ranked prospect in a recruiting class, the tag can also be a burden. Egos swell, the media glare brightens and expectations increase. All of it can be overwhelming to a 17-year-old kid who may be ill-prepared to handle the intensity.

“I’m a pretty smart kid,” Miller said this week after at game at the Adidas Super 64 tournament in Las Vegas. “I know how to handle stuff.”

DeMarcus Cousins didn’t.

Cousins – the former Kentucky star who was the fifth overall selection in this summer’s NBA draft – was a high school freshman when a recruiting service anointed him with the No. 1-ranking in his class.

“As soon as he went to No. 1 … it all went downhill after that,” Cousins’ mother, Monique, said in February. “People came up to me and said, ‘Your life is about to change.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ We didn’t have a clue. So many problems started coming up.”

Indeed, Monique said shoe companies began calling her home. When Cousins turned down offers to join rival summer programs he started getting trashed on the AAU circuit.

Worst of all, Monique said, were the vicious fouls her son received during games by opponents hoping to show up the most high-profile player in the country.

“You have a target on your back and you don’t know who to trust,” she said. “In the end you just stick [close] to the people that you know and pray the rest of the way.”

Such stories hardly surprise Jerry Meyer, the basketball recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. Meyer knows how closely prospects and their families – as well as college coaches – follow the rankings.

Some who consume the process have a myopic perspective, Meyer said.

“They see their team play, they see the team their kid plays against and that’s all they really know,” Meyer said. “They don’t understand how many good players there are in the country.

“Being the best player on your team or in your area doesn’t necessarily make you the best player in the country. A lot of people have a hard time understanding that.”

Meyer has the final say on Rivals.com’s rankings. But his decisions are based on conversations with other Rivals.com recruiting analysts and, most importantly, his own observations. Meyer doesn’t base his choices off of game film or word of mouth.

He watches the athletes in person at numerous tournaments throughout the year.

“We get to watch them all the time,” Meyer said. “We get more face time with them than these coaches.”

The players themselves often have their eyes on the latest evaluations.

“Some guys are obsessed with it, other guys don’t really care,” Meyer said. “More than not, though, I think guys are obsessed with it. There’s a lot of ego out there. It’s a status thing.”

Even players such as Cousins.

“Whenever I’d bump into him, there was always sort of a ribbing,” Meyer said. “With him it was like, ‘What else do I have to show? What else do I have to do to be No. 1?’ He was cool about it.”

Cousins dropped to the No. 2 spot by the time he left high school. Ahead of him was John Wall, the point guard from Raleigh who also starred at Kentucky before going No. 1 in this year’s draft.

“I used to get on those sites and read about all the other players in the rankings,” Wall said. “Then I’d go to the AAU camps and I was all quiet and shy because I was nervous. Everyone there knew everyone else – but no one knew me.

“Then it all changed. I started walking into those camps and introducing myself to everyone there. All of a sudden, I was just this confident person.”

Unlike Cousins, Wall had a pair of advisors – Brian and Dwon Clifton – well-versed in the recruiting game and the pressures that accompany being the No. 1-ranked prospect.

The Cliftons coached Wall’s AAU team, D-One Sports. They helped shore up the often-combative attitude of a teenager who lost his father to cancer when he was 9.

“[Brian] is the one who taught me everything about image and how to carry myself on and off the court,” Wall said. “They helped me get my head on straight. They used basketball to give me some guidance in life.”

Wall is hoping to pass some guidance on to Miller, who plays for the same AAU team as Wall did and also attends the same high school. Even though he’s an NBA millionaire, Wall feels it’s his responsibility to advise Miller and other players on the team about how to conduct themselves. Wall talks to Miller often.

“He handled himself great,” Miller said of Wall. “He always had a positive attitude. He was always smiling and having a good time.”

Miller is pretty light-hearted himself. He’s already earned a reputation as one of the biggest trash-talkers on the AAU circuit. He said Thursday that he wants to attend a college that has a bitter rival because he “wants to be someone that everyone hates.”

At this point Miller is definitely someone everyone knows – at least in college basketball circles.

Even though he’s only No. 2.

For now.

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Jul 23, 2010