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.

For his part, Irons believes that the horse is too far out of the barn to ever be roped back in.

"The AAU coaches were doing some things to supplant high-school coaches instead of enhancing what we were trying to teach and instill," groans Irons, "but we allowed it to happen. If I give you my son and expect you to raise him, then I won't have any input."

So what'd Irons do?

Simple: He formed his own AAU team, Game Face, composed exclusively of Vashon players or players-to-be.

"He has a twelve-month program, and that is what works for his kids," says Estrada.

"Some high schools are hiding behind AAU teams because they're using them as a recruiting tool," says Hamilton in a thinly veiled reference to Irons' Game Face squad.

So why doesn't Hamilton just quit whining and form his own AAU team?

"It costs money," explains Estrada, who relies on corporate sponsorship and individual donations to support his Eagles, a registered nonprofit. "They [other coaches] are able to meet their summer goals without having to do an AAU program -- and they can get their kids into leagues. That's usually sufficient."


DeSmet standout Blake Ahearn is recognized by scouting services as one of the nation's most accurate senior jump-shooters.

"In the summer, he averaged 1,200 shots per day," says his father, Dan, himself a two-time all-state selection at Clayton High who went on to play at Kansas' Washburn University. "My nieces and nephews rebounded. He's done it since fifth grade."

By all accounts, the six-foot-two Ahearn, a teammate of Grimes' on the Eagles, would have signed with SLU in a heartbeat. Instead, he's headed to feisty in-state rival Southwest Missouri State -- which beat SLU in overtime at Savvis last Tuesday -- the result of a purported bait-and-switch by current SLU head coach Soderberg that has left a bitter taste in the DeSmet hoop community's mouth.

The way Steiner tells it, Soderberg, then an assistant to Romar, promised Ahearn a scholarship after seeing the then-junior guard drain jumper after jumper at an open gym in September 2001. Once he got the head job, Soderberg one-eightied.

The Ahearns and Soderberg refuse to comment on the situation. But Martin, the Gator coach and a former Billiken season-ticket-holder, doesn't mince words.

"I don't think the guy from SLU [Soderberg] knows his ass from first base. How can that place not want one of those kids [on Ahearn's U-17 team]? Who the hell wants to watch some kid from Minnesota?" says Martin, referring to six-foot-four SLU recruit Darren Clarke, who plays alongside Duke recruit Kris Humphries at Hopkins High in Minnetonka, Minnesota. "I saw Ahearn and Clarke play straight up, and Ahearn outscored him 26-3.

"Had they signed Blake Ahearn, they'd have sold 100 season tickets. I'm not gonna go down there and watch some fucker from Minnesota who's average," says Martin. "The only way they're gonna get Grimes is to make SLU as local as possible and make it an extension of their AAU team."

Ahearn, the outside yin to Grimes' inside yang on the Eagles' champion U-17 team, obviously could have helped SLU -- on the court and in the wooing of Grimes.

"The question is, who gets the talent? SLU?" says Grawer skeptically. "It's really incumbent upon SLU to solidify its borders."

Of course, to pull that trick, they'll have to outfox Mizzou's Lone Ranger and Tonto. If they fail, the Billikens coaching staff might be wise to follow the latter part of Grawer's years-old mantra.

"If you can't coach, you'd better recruit. And if you can't recruit, you'd better schedule smartly."

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