Feed the Beast

Everybody wants Hazelwood Central's Kalen Grimes and St. Louis' junior class of hoopsters. But recruiting in the city is a courtship dance and a high-maintenance affair.

Muse, of course, can rock the rim, but what's most striking about the Wolverines squad -- luxuriating in their brand-new state-of-the-art fieldhouse -- is that even the little guys can dunk. Irons' practices are a sea of motion. If you've been to rehab and are no longer permitted to drop acid, the optical ingestion of a Vashon practice is undoubtedly the Naismith-prescribed method to achieve that high naturally.

Irons, by his own admission, is "one of the most scrutinized" coaches in Missouri. Recruiting allegations are constantly swirling around him. The latest shitstorm involves Malik White, a six-foot-seven Vashon forward who was shot and killed outside his home in Jennings on August 22.

It's not rocket science to conclude that Jennings isn't exactly within the boundaries of the St. Louis Public Schools. Vashon appeared to have been caught with its pants down, and the Suburban North Athletic Conference, where White presumably should have been playing, promptly asked the Missouri State High School Activities Association to investigate.

Jennifer Silverberg
Glenda Grimes lets her son kid around -- by lifting weights in his spare time.
Jennifer Silverberg
Glenda Grimes lets her son kid around -- by lifting weights in his spare time.

Even before the final draft of the complaint was complete, Teflon Floyd was advancing his own spin, insinuating that other schools were jealous of his success and saying it wasn't his job to keep track of where his players live.

At face value, that sounds ridiculous -- until you consider the often fluid residential existence of the black youngster.

"The urban African-American moves a lot," explains McCluer North's Reed, whose squad plays in the Suburban North Conference. "It would drive you nuts if you had to keep track. One day he could be living at his aunt's, the next at Grandma's house."

MSHSAA spokeswoman Becky Oakes reports that the Malik White investigation is "in limbo" and will remain so unless the Suburban North Conference decides to press the matter further. Martin, who's of the opinion that Irons beats most of his raps because the MSHSAA is too lazy to investigate, isn't holding his breath.

"If Floyd was in Illinois, he wouldn't exist," says Martin. "They care about basketball there."

"How many states do you know where one team wins state every year? None. Nobody's that good a coach. John Wooden did it at UCLA. Know why? He got the best players. That's what Floyd has: an all-star team. Busing is what's made Vashon what it is."

Some coaches who feel slighted by Irons' tactics are moonlighting as de facto investigators. Beaumont's Hamilton was instrumental in getting six-foot-two forward William Franklin ruled ineligible to play for Vashon in light of the fact that he lived in Beaumont's area.

"Deseg raped some teams, but it didn't rape [Irons'] team," says Hamilton. "One day I will beat him -- and when I do, there's gonna be an all-night party."

But Irons is not without supporters.

"Vashon's really built a dynasty," gushes Stipanovich. "Floyd Irons has done a great job mentoring those kids."

Another topic that irks the way-we-were curmudgeon set is the proliferation of power among AAU and summer select teams, which are often one and the same.

"AAU is the biggest it's been in ten years," asserts Neals. "From what I see now, people kind of bypass the high-school coach. I just think it's offensive."

Steiner essentially concurs.

"As good as AAU is relative to providing exposure, I think it also has a negative side," says DeSmet's Steiner. "It's one of the biggest headaches for college coaches to have to go through somebody to get to a player. It's like they're brokering players.... The way the recruiting process is set up, it lends itself toward recruiting through AAU. If the NCAA had made July a dead period, it would have brought the process back to the coaches."

"Dead period" is NCAA parlance for the time when college coaches are strictly forbidden to make in-person contact with players. On the other hand, "open periods" are essentially a free-for-all of scholastic seduction, and July is the only remaining open period that falls outside the school year -- and right during the heart of the AAU national-tourney season.

The NCAA threw high-school coaches a critical bone in 2002, when it took the step of requiring all AAU tournaments outside of the July open period to be sanctioned by state high-school athletic associations in order for Division One scouts to attend (lower-level coaches can watch all they want).

Although Gray acknowledges that some AAU coaches around the country have overstepped their bounds -- taking alleged cash kickbacks in exchange for access, employing contrarian teaching methods that can muck up a baller's school-year skill set or freezing their players' high-school coaches out of the recruiting process -- he defends his Eagles' program with considerable vehemence.

"We weren't marketing our kids in the summer, so they weren't getting exposure," says Gray. "In high school, you may have one or two great ballplayers. In summer ball, you need nine or ten to be competitive. That's why July is such an important month for college coaches. It's like one-stop shopping."

Even the 60-year-old Neals, an iconic intimidator of a coach for whom a menacing glare after a spat of tomfoolery by his troops more than passes for disciplinary action, grudgingly acknowledges that his star player, Terry Evans, had to go to an AAU camp in Indianapolis to get attention.

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