At a time when many of her classmates still haven't decided what high school they will attend next fall, 13-year-old Hailey Kontny already has a college scholarship waiting for her.
Kontny, an eighth-grade basketball star from Superior, Wis., received that offer from University of Michigan women's basketball coach Kevin Borseth earlier this month after her advanced skills caught his attention at an AAU tournament. It came as a shock to her and her parents, but Kontny's mom said the family has since tried to take a "low key" approach to the situation, turning down most media requests to avoid putting excess pressure on her daughter.
An eighth-grade girl receiving a scholarship offer is just the latest sign that recruiting in women's basketball is mirroring the cutthroat competition we've grown accustomed to on the men's side. Men's coaches have made headlines for years by offering elite middle-school prospects in hopes of gaining an advantage by showing interest first and building an early relationship, but recruiting experts say Kontny is one of the first eighth-graders to receive an offer from a women's coach.
Five-foot-10 freshman guard Tanisha Brown of Myrtle Beach, S.C., has already committed to North Carolina after receiving a scholarship offer from the Tar Heels while she was still in eighth grade the previous year. And 5-foot-11 wing Brielle Blaire of Knox Middle School in N.C. was offered scholarships by Virginia Tech and Southern Mississippi a few weeks ago to go along with the 50 or 60 recruiting letters she has received from other colleges.
"It started some last year, but it's new in women's basketball," said Bret McCormick of All-Star Girls Report. "It's mirroring the men's game, which is what always happens. It's happening more and more, but there are still certain schools out there that are behind the times and they don't do that or don't feel they need to do that."
There's no doubt in the eyes of Keith Noll, founder of the Team Wisconsin AAU program, that Kontny's a four-year starter at the high school level and potentially an elite Division I prospect.
Kontny displayed excellent vision and passing, and a college-caliber jumper as the point guard on an eighth-grade traveling team that went 51-2 this season. She regularly plays for Team Wisconsin's U-14 AAU team, and she has held her own filling in on the U-16 team as well.
Although Noll hopes the NCAA will pass a rule banning scholarship offers until prospects reach high school because he thinks its ridiculous to choose a college at age 13, he doesn't blame Borseth for making the offer. In fact, he expects there will be a snowball effect, with more coaches coming to see Kontny to see for themselves if she's worthy of the buzz she's receiving.
"I will not criticize Kevin for doing it because he's seeing it done on the men's side," Noll said. "He's probably thinking, 'Well, what the heck?' If you land one great player because you offered her first, it makes it all worthwhile. At the same time, the NCAA is supposed to be working on behalf of the student athlete, right? Why is this even allowed? Hailey and her family are doing everything right and keeping their head on straight; but it's opening pandora's box."
As for Kontny, she seems to be remaining grounded and not getting ahead of herself.
"I have a long time to decide on it," she told the Duluth News Tribune. "I just know that I have to get in the gym and work on my game and try to get better. It gives me something to look forward to."