A strange trend develops among elite prep basketball recruits

Newark Star-Ledger reporter Matthew Stanmyre tackled an odd trend that has permeated prep basketball and hasn't been properly discussed until now: The matter of budding young hoops stars repeating a grade in middle school in order to gain an edge.

In fact, as Stanmyre notes, New Jersey's top four recruits and four of the Star-Ledger's five returning All-State underclassmen stayed back in either seventh or eighth grade.

Proponents of the strategy cited late birthdays, maturity issues and even academic reasons for repeating a grade, but the real answer is probably much simpler than that.

“It’s not because a kid is not doing well in school or is too young for his grade,” legendary Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony High coach Bob Hurley told Stanmyre. “It’s just because you’ll be one year older in high school and you’ll be that much better of a player.”

Metuchen (N.J.) St. Joseph's High senior center Karl Towns, Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict's High junior point guard Isaiah Briscoe, Roselle (N.J.) Catholic High junior shooting guard Malachi Richardson and Linden (N.J.) High senior center Quadri Moore all repeated a year in middle school, according to the Star-Ledger report.

Like many states, New Jersey limits an individual's competition to four years of high school, so repeating a grade prior to becoming a frehman takes advantage of a loophole so long as the student-athlete is 18 on Sept. 1 of his senior year of high school.

Briscoe pled with his father to repeat eighth grade, the report said, "so I could dominate and work on my body more and just elevate my game before I get to high school.”

Who's to argue? Briscoe is now the No. 15 ranked player in the Class of 2015. “It was just a good thing, and it worked out for everybody,” his father, George Briscoe, added. “Now it’s safe to say he’s in line for a scholarship. Wouldn’t you say so? There was no loss.”

This is an accepted practice among elite recruits across the nation. The list includes projected 2014 NBA draft No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins as well as Nerlens Noel, who was expected to be the top overall pick this past June until falling to No. 6 on the board.

It doesn't always play out perfectly. Once the No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2012, Shabazz Muhammad appeared destined to be a top NBA draft choice, but an L.A. Times piece revealing his true age of 20 -- as opposed to the 19 he reportedly had presented for years -- may have contributed to him dropping into the middle of the first round.

Oddly, once many prep basketball stars -- including Noel, Wiggins and Towns -- grow into their bodies while dominating younger competition, eventually establishing themselves as elite recruits, they reclassify back to their original grade.

“Me and my family talked about it, and it just felt like it was the best decision for me basketball-wise, to go and move to the next grade,” Towns told The Star-Ledger. “Especially with this year’s recruiting class, I think almost all top 10 players did it and they all reclassified up. It’s one of those things that just seems to be happening now.”

Towns, a University of Kentucky commit and now a top-10 player in this year's senior class, owns a 4.07 GPA. After repeating seventh grade upon transferring schools and then reclassifying this summer, he will graduate the same year he was originally expected to -- pending the completion of a half-dozen online courses this summer.

As a result, it's hard to argue against the strategy, particularly considering he earned himself a full ride to play for John Calipari's Wildcats. It's just strange, that's all.

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