The Tweens News | English
The basketball world is watching Jaylin Fleming.
“I’ve never actually seen a kid like this,” Knicks head athletic trainer Roger Hinds said.
“As far as his age, he’s the best that I’ve seen,” said Refiloe Lethunya, a former Division I player, coach and NBA scout.
College and high school coaches are circling, inviting him to games and camps. He has established himself on the all-important AAU circuit. And he has already worked out with the Knicks and with the Bulls’ Derrick Rose.
Fleming is regarded by some as the most talented 10-year-old basketball player in the country.
The 5-foot-1 fifth-grader is more restrained: “I’m a humble kid who’s trying to achieve a goal.”
The push to get kids involved in sports at an early age is nothing new. Nor is the practice of high schools and colleges pursuing young athletes. (In February, DePaul offered a scholarship to a Rosemont eighth-grader.)
But this activity usually begins no earlier than at the sixth-grade level, when scouts start ranking players. Fifth grade is off the radar. So for a kid still in elementary school to get this type of attention is remarkable.
Not everybody says it’s a good thing.
“When you start discussing contracts, recruitment and commitment, you’re mapping out a life when it should be a time for exploration,” said Dave Czesniuk of Northeastern University’s Sport and Society center. “Hopefully, this doesn’t limit his experiencing everything a 10-year-old should be experiencing.”
“It’s crazy,” St. Joseph High School coach Gene Pingatore said. “The fact that Jaylin’s getting all this publicity so early means that the sharks are out there, whether it’s colleges trying to set this kid up for future recruitment or agents.
“The good thing is that he has a family that’s going to protect him. But think about the kids who don’t have a solid family background. They’re susceptible to a lot of stuff — offers, money under the table, you can’t imagine the stuff that goes on.”
Jaylin’s father said he knew his son was special the moment he was born.
“All the doctors and nurses noticed (his hands),” John Fleming said. “They were incredibly huge, and I was praying and asking God, what would Jaylin be, what would he do with those hands?”
The answer came seven years later. Jaylin tagged along while his dad and older brother shot hoops with future Marquette point guard Maurice Acker, John Fleming’s godson. When his dad left the gym, Jaylin copied Acker’s drills.
“When I walked back in, Maurice told me what Jaylin was doing with the ball and I could hear God saying this is what he’s supposed to do,” John Fleming said. “He gave me the understanding to see that Jaylin was born to play this game.”
Jaylin and his younger brother, Jerico, attend Beasley Academic Center at 53rd and South State, a magnet school where Rose once played.
“He’s better than me — that’s what’s crazy about it,” said Rose, who coached Jaylin at his camp last summer. “His talent is one of a kind. Kids his age rarely do the stuff he does….He does moves that a grown-up does.”
Two to three times a week, John Fleming coaches his son at a south suburban fitness center. Jaylin also trains with his Beasley team and with Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin and assistant Delbert Howell.
“He really understands me,” Jaylin said of his dad. “I know that he’s trying to push me to be the best player that I want to be.”
Some people would say it’s too much work, travel and practice, admitted Jaylin’s mom, Kafi. “But this is Jaylin’s calling. We can tell when he needs to chill out.”
Jaylin is an A and B student who fits in two hours of homework each night, goes to Bible study on Thursdays and loves video games and playing football with his little brother. “I never feel pressure to play,” Jaylin said. “I want to play basketball. I just stay humble and keep working hard.”
High school and college coaches have begun courting him. “They invite us to games and they call on a weekly basis and let us know that they’re interested in him,” John Fleming said. “They ask about his grades. They understand that it’s ‘no books, no ball.’ And I’m not going to let him play if he’s not doing what he’s supposed to be doing in the classroom.”
Such direct recruiting is against NCAA and IHSA regulations, and no coaches admitted they call the Fleming home directly. But the race to find and woo younger players has become more intense.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber said he’d rather not scout kids that young. “But I just don’t think I have a choice,” he said. “If you want to recruit the right way and do it the way it’s supposed to be done, this is our only choice. And if you take it away, all you’re doing is benefiting the guys who probably don’t do it the right way.”
Because there are no official national rankings until kids reach sixth grade — for the last six years, HoopScoopOnline.com has been the only service scouting children that young — Jaylin is not yet ranked as best in the nation, but he’ll no doubt top the chart this summer.
He’s well known to coaches at Chicago-area basketball powerhouses St. Joseph, St. Patrick, Simeon, Morgan Park, Brooks College Prep and Hillcrest. He and his dad regularly attend games, and Jaylin goes to camps run by local high school coaches.
“You can tell by his passion for the game how much he loves the game of basketball,” Irvin said. “Jaylin has a look in his eyes that he won’t be denied. His time is now — he’s good right now.”
“Some people say middle school is too young to rank all these kids,” HoopScoop publisher Clark Francis said. “But it can do a lot of good for some kids — it motivates them, makes them more responsible, gives them something to aspire to. Do these kids have the role models and parental support? That’s the question.”
As much as his on-court skills impress coaches, Jaylin’s personality also does. Pingatore said he met Jaylin in third grade, after a team manager spotted the Flemings working out and invited them to a game.
“He was wearing a suit and bow tie,” Pingatore said. “He was the cutest thing you’d ever seen! Talk about first impressions. He’s a sharp, sharp kid, very mature.”
“He’s a phenomenal ballhandler and a very, very good shooter. He’s very unselfish, he sees the floor, he does all the things you want from a point guard. He reminds me so much of Isiah (Thomas),” added Pingatore, who coached Thomas in high school. “The charisma, the aura, the smile on his face.”
But while much of the basketball world raves about the hard-working 10-year-old, others aren’t so excited.
“He represents much of what is wrong with our athletic system,” said one NBA assistant who asked not to be identified. “He already has so many hands in the batter it is almost sickening. … If he gets big and strong, stays healthy and is actually coachable … he may succeed. (But) the track record for child prodigies is not an uplifting one.”
Former Bulls guard Lindsey Hunter, whose son played last summer with Jaylin, agreed that Jaylin’s a “phenomenal, talented kid,” but said he won’t let his own 9-year-old travel with out-of-state teams. “I have coaches calling me for my kid to play, and I’m like, no! He’s a kid. … I’m not going to put that type of pressure on him. I want him to experience childhood.”
John Fleming disagrees with those who say Jaylin is on the wrong path. “One of our family quotes is, “Why not me?” Fleming said. “Why can’t you do it? Who puts the limitations on you? He’s encouraged and taught and allowed to dream like that, as long as his aspirations are to serve the greater good. I teach him that basketball is about inspiring other people.”
Former NBA player Marcus Liberty is close to the family and says they’ll keep hangers-on at a distance. “John knows a lot of people will be coming to Jaylin and promising him the world,” Liberty said. “He grew up with me and saw how people were coming at me, and he knows how to protect his son from that.”
The family wants Jaylin to attend a high school and college with strong student-athlete policies. “I want to put my son in someone’s hands who’s a father figure on and off the court,” John Fleming said, “to provide the discipline and structure he needs to develop as a student and an athlete, and as a human being, ready to be in society.”
[pro-player] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jME6TEctLLY [/pro-player]
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