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Billy Edelin announced last week what college he’ll attend. That was huge news in basketball circles. Soon, he’ll announce where he’s going to high school. That will be huge, too.
The father of the star guard is pretty sure all the attention isn’t such a great thing.
“The pressure on these kids now is incredible,” William Edelin, Billy’s father, tells me. “I see the pressure on Billy, how it affects him. Being a teenager is tough enough without all that.”
By now, the elder Edelin, a career civil servant and Silver Spring resident, probably knows as much as anybody about recruiting and the collateral pressures. During his own days as a prep athlete at Mackin High School (Class of ’74), Edelin says, he was nowhere near good enough to garner the scouts’ interest. But he’s learned all he needs to know, as he says, “on the job”—the job being the father of a phenom. And he’s eager to share his wisdom with other parents in similar occupations. He wants them to know about all the “barracudas and sharks” out there trying to feed on talented kids. He says that’s why he offers himself up to boys and girls clubs to talk about the potential pitfalls and why he’s set up a Web site (dbthplaythegame.com; it stands for “Don’t believe the hype—Play the game”) to get his message out.
The Edelins were first told that their son’s skills were way beyond his years when Billy was in fifth grade. The father promised himself pretty soon thereafter that even at the risk of being overprotective, he wasn’t going to let anybody abuse or exploit his boy, and to keep that pledge he has spent much of Billy’s adolescence in “cold gyms, hot gyms, and damp, musty gyms.” He’s screened solicitation calls from junior high schools. Turned down money from traveling AAU squads. Told innumerable prep schools, summer camps, and colleges to buzz off.
The sweepstakes should have ended when Billy, now 17, verbally committed to Syracuse last week to enroll in the fall of 2001. But ever since word got out that he won’t be returning to DeMatha High School next year for his senior season, all the same preps that lost out to Morgan Wooten’s Hyattsville powerhouse the first time around started calling again. (According to the family, the sweepstakes for Billy’s services will end once and for all when he enrolls in Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., for the 2000-2001 academic year.)
Much, maybe even most, of what Edelin has experienced in his years of playing stage father has been quite pleasing. Hearing that your kid’s something special never gets old, he admits. He remembers how proud he was when he first found out that Billy’s name was on a list of the elite players in the country—before he’d ever played a game in high school. Now, essentially every roster of the top prep guards in the country names Billy. “He’s got a great first step, can finish acrobatically and hit the jumper,” says the Web page that Foxsports.com has set up just for the youngster. Meanwhile, something called therecruitingbeat.com has tagged Billy as the top guard prospect in the area.
But Dad realized early on that most of the folks talking Billy up weren’t doing so to make the old man feel good. The guys with a less selfless agenda—the sharks and barracudas—tend to give themselves away pretty easily.
“They all have a standard line: ‘What’s your shoe size?’” Edelin says with a chuckle. “These recruiters never look anybody in the eye. They stare at the ground and start talking all this crap. Then pretty soon they get around to asking how big your feet are. These guys all have ties to Nike or Adidas or some shoe company—the guys from the camps, from the schools and the colleges, all of them—and they all use shoes as bait. If a kid doesn’t know what he’s getting into and starts taking free stuff from the wrong guy, and there’s no support system to watch out for him, he can end up in the wrong situation. But if you handle these guys, know who you’re dealing with, it can work out. I mean, I haven’t had to buy Billy a pair of shoes in years.”
But the sharks and barracudas aren’t just the ones giving away shoes. Edelin counsels parents about the dark side of media coverage, also. The same Web sites and newspapers that first propped Billy up as a star began turning on him recently, with rumors about why he was leaving DeMatha and where he’d be transferring.
The elder Edelin says he’ll never forgive the Washington Post or DeMatha for a story (“DeMatha Says Edelin Is Through,” 5/16) in which John Moylan, the school’s principal, discussed Billy’s academic record and alleged that poor grades were behind the transfer. Edelin points out that DeMatha officials would never disclose a less high-profile student’s academic performance to a reporter, and that the Post typically wouldn’t run the name of a juvenile alleged to have committed a crime.
“There was no need for that story. That was wrong,” Edelin says. “These are kids we’re talking about. But that’s what you have to expect now—that’s the attention that people pay to basketball. You take the good with the bad.” (Edelin declined to address the accuracy of the Post report with a shark from the Washington City Paper, terming it irrelevant.)
But because of his perseverance, Edelin says, the good-vs.-bad contest has been a mismatch; the dark days have been pretty scarce, the blessings he’s felt over the years bountiful. And, once his son settles in for one last season of high school ball, Edelin thinks he’ll dwell on how lucky he’s been to have been involved in his son’s development.
“Let me tell you a story,” he says. “The first time I ever went to the MCI Center was when DeMatha was playing a tournament there. I had just gotten to my seat, and I look up, and on the big screen of this big arena, I see my son dribbling the ball down court. I nudge the wife and say, ‘Look! There goes Billy! Our Billy!’ I’ll never forget that. He was just playing the game.”
From the tone of his voice, it’s clear that Edelin wishes every parent could walk a mile in his shoes. Free or otherwise.—Dave McKenna