A ripple went through the boys basketball recruiting world with a consideration.
O’Dea junior Paolo Banchero could reclassify.
For Banchero, it was a fleeting plan dismissed last summer after family discussions.
For schools recruiting Banchero, it would be a way to get the 17-year-old into their college program sooner, and it would shave a year off the five-star forward’s goal of playing in the NBA.
Reclassification — where high-school student athletes ramp up their education to graduate early — has quickly become a common option in the recruiting world.
Banchero fits the profile. The 6-foot-9 versatile forward followed up leading the Fighting Irish to their first state basketball championship since 2007 in March with being named the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League underclassmen of the year on the AAU circuit. Banchero averaged 23 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and 2.5 blocks per game against elite talent.
While some of those elite players contemplate leaving high school early, Banchero is focused on his third season at O’Dea.
“I want another state title, and I want to be a McDonald’s All-American,” Banchero told USA Today in August when confirming he’ll remain a 2021 graduate. His parents confirmed that college coaches said he could immediately start in their programs.
Banchero completed recruiting visits to North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Duke this fall. He’s slated to visit Gonzaga in January and is already knowledgeable about Washington through his parents who starred in women’s basketball and football there in the 1990s.
“I think about how much further along my game will be with that extra year; it makes me want to work harder,” Banchero said in USA Today.
The NCAA’s bylaws, specifically Article 14, detail the ways a student athlete can become eligible to represent one of its institutions. In the case of reclassifying, a high-school athlete is completing qualifications intended to be finalized over the span of 3½ years (or seven semesters) in three years.
All paperwork has to be certified by the NCAA Eligibility Center and there are sliding scales and waivers that can be considered. The typical baseline is a 3.00 grade-point average in NCAA-determined core courses along with minimum scores on the SAT or ACT.
But because the NCAA laid the groundwork to a path to leave high school early and play college ball doesn’t mean every high school is open to it. After a family decides to make the jump, the high school has to approve and assist the student in juggling the extra course load. Usually, college coaches and their compliance offices work closely with the prospect.
Brandon Huffman, the national recruiting editor for 247Sports.com, remembers the first time he heard about an athlete reclassifying. It was his first year as a scout in Southern California.
Quarterback John David Booty was the hot prospect out of Shreveport, La., who’d thrown for 4,144 yards and 38 touchdowns in leading Evangel Christian Academy to a state title as a junior in 2002. Instead of returning for an encore his senior year, Booty graduated early to play for USC coach Pete Carroll in the fall of 2003.
Quarterback Carson Palmer had just graduated — the Heisman winner was selected No. 1 in the 2003 NFL draft — and the starting spot looked up for grabs. Mater Dei star Matt Leinart won the job, leading USC to two national championships and earning the 2004 Heisman Trophy.
Booty, who redshirted in 2004 because of injury, was a three-year backup before he won the job in 2006. He guided USC to two Rose Bowl victories — getting the nod for MVP in 2007.
“It was kind of like, ‘See kids, that’s why you stay in school,’” Huffman recalled of the message to high-school football players when Booty was relegated to backup. “In the grand scheme of what the expectation was for (Booty), did he live up to it? No. If you look at it in the vacuum of how did he do at USC? Yes. But you didn’t hear about reclassifying for football for another 12 or 13 years.”
That’s when another USC QB, JT Daniels, left Mater Dei a year early and started as a true freshman for the Trojans last year.
In high-school basketball, it became more common after the NBA approved its “one-and-done” rule for the 2006 draft, in which prospects have to be at least 19 years of age and one year removed from high school to enter.
Andre Drummond (UConn) in 2011 and Marvin Bagley III (Duke) in 2017 are some of the bigger names to reclassify to jump start their career path to the pros. Both were NBA lottery picks and named to the league’s all-rookie team. Jontay Porter, after he left after one season at Nathan Hale High, reclassified and joined his bother, Michael Porter Jr., at Missouri, and both played as freshman.
“It’s financially motivated,” Huffman said. “For football, it gets you one year closer to that second contract. The NFL rookie pay scale, the way that it is, your big money now comes when you get that second contract. The sooner you can get to it, you do it.
“It’s still a risk unless you are one of the elitist of the elites.”
The Sounders FC signing of Danny Leyva in April was a stark contrast to what happens in high-school football and basketball.
Leyva, at age 15, became the youngest in franchise history to sign with the first team. The Las Vegas native was developed through the Sounders’ academy program and after turning 16 in May, the midfielder played six games (starting four) and earned about $90,000 in helping the Sounders win the MLS Cup in November.
At the same age as Banchero and Daniels were contemplating steps to become a pro faster, Leyva opted to waive his right to play in college to become a teenage pro.
“We’re giving them an honest choice,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said recently. “We’re going to a kid and we’re going his parents and saying, would you be willing to forgo your college eligibility and we’re going to pay you in exchange for that? And we’re going to require your child to continue to get an education. … From our perspective, we’re providing an opportunity and trying to do it in a socially responsible manner.”
Rules from the professional leagues play a big role into whether a student athlete should reclassify.
The NHL and MLB have ways for talented teens to turn pro like the MLS does. The WNBA forbids entry into its draft until the prospect is 22 or at four years removed from high school, a big reason why talented girls basketball players don’t reclassify.
The NBA is contemplating ending its “one-and-done” policy for the 2022 draft, which could minimize the need to reclassify in basketball. The NFL still requires a player be three years removed from high school.
But it still takes a unique player, often one who was held back prior to entering high school. Then there’s size, maturity and smarts are needed to make a successful jump to college.
“There are guys realizing there’s nothing left to prove, there’s nothing left to show, I might as well go,” Huffman said. “If you can pull it off, great.”