Brady Offers Two 15-Year-Olds Scholarships
HARRISONBURG — Monday was momentous for Grant Golden.
He received his first basketball scholarship offer, from James Madison University. He also drove a car for the first time.
Golden, born on Jan. 15, 1998, is 15½ years old. He now has a learner’s permit and a chance to attend a Division I hoops program on a full ride.
And he’s not the youngest kid with a scholarship offer from JMU.
On Monday, the Dukes also offered 15-year-old guard Noah Gear (born March 23, 1998), a Virginia Elite AAU teammate. It’s the first time in Matt Brady’s tenure that the sixth-year coach has tendered scholarships to rising sophomores.
“I’m not so sure we would have here, other than the fact that there’s some mutual interest,” said Brady, who can not specifically discuss unsigned prospects publicly, due to NCAA rules.
Golden is a 6-foot-6, 193-pounder from the Winchester area who projects to grow a few more inches and play small forward in college. Gear is a skilled 6-3 guard from Bethesda, Md.
Both are good students, as well, boasting GPAs close to 4.0, according to Virginia Elite director Thomas Gadson, who thinks they will be top-100 prospects nationally by the time they’re eligible to sign NCAA letters-of-intent after their junior year. That type of talent is typically out of reach for mid-major JMU, but the Dukes hope to increase their chances of stealing a future star by offering a scholarship early.
“It’s really a never-ending cycle,” Brady said of recruiting. “With so few scholarships the next couple of years, we decided to get involved with some 16s [2016 recruits]. As crazy as it sounds, we’ve even watched some 17s.”
Thanks to a roster packed with freshmen and sophomores, the Dukes have just two scholarships to offer to 2014 prospects. And if those two are indeed used, JMU would theoretically have no openings for 2015. So the Dukes are getting ahead on 2016s — kids who were born after the first Harry Potter book came to life.
But that’s not the only reason Brady is accelerating the recruiting timeline. Thank Twitter.
“If not for social media, we probably would not have [offered players scholarships so early],” Brady said. “… Now, every AAU coach, high school coach and prospect tweets who offered them first. And it does stick out in their minds. It has some weight.”
Brady has a point. Virginia Elite tweeted Monday night that Madison had offered Golden and Gear, notifying three recruiting writers in the same tweet. Golden, whose mother Ellen graduated from JMU, retweeted that post, as well as a flood of congratulatory messages.
Obviously, receiving a scholarship offer is a big deal to a 15-year-old.
“It was surprising to me; it was really exciting,” said Gear, a pianist, violinist and model senate participant who is transferring to Bullis School in Potomac Md. “Kind of something I’ve been waiting for for a while. A sigh of relief.”
JMU saw Gear and Golden at an AAU tournament in Philadelphia in April, and then again at the Reebok Breakout Classic last weekend in Philly.
The latest glimpse was enough for the Dukes to pull the trigger on offers.
“It was a great feeling, considering that my mom went there and everything,” Golden said about JMU’s offer. “She was excited — knowing if I keep playing like this, my college will be paid for.”
Golden and his family celebrated with a meal at Denny’s. Golden said he drove — some of the way.
“It’s pretty fun,” he said of operating a vehicle. “It’s a lot of paying attention, though. Got to pay attention and make sure you go the speed limit the whole time.”
While Golden visited JMU’s campus this summer, Gear doesn’t plan to visit until students are back in the fall.
As a freshman at Sherando High School, Golden played junior varsity before receiving a promotion to varsity at midseason.
Clearly, his basketball career is just beginning.
Brian Snow, a national recruiting analyst for Scout.com, said there are pros and cons to offering players scholarships at such an embryonic stage.
“You develop a relationship with a kid quicker,” Snow said. “A lot of times, the first offer always holds a special place in his heart. … The cons are, if the kid doesn’t develop in high school, it’s a problem. Then, do you pull an offer?”
Snow said coaches feel a bit more comfortable making early offers nowadays because so much information is available on prospects. Between AAU tournaments and YouTube videos, there are more and more ways to evaluate a large swath of players across the country.
And it’s not just mid-majors like JMU that offer super-young players in hopes of eventually striking gold. Snow said that Jared Sullinger, an eventual McDonald’s All-American and NBA first-round draft pick, received an offer from Ohio State as a freshman in high school. The Buckeyes also offered power forward DeShaun Thomas as an eighth-grader. James Blackmon Jr., now a rising senior in high school, committed to Indiana before ever playing a varsity game.
Golden and Gear aren’t yet as highly touted as those Big Ten talents, but they could be difference-makers in the Colonial Athletic Association…or whatever conference JMU is in by the time these precocious players are ready for college.
Gadson, the Virginia Elite director who will take both players to Las Vegas for a tournament later this summer, described Golden as “sneaky athletic” and said he “hasn’t reached his potential yet.”
As for Gear: “Noah’s gonna to be an absolute stud,” Gadson said. “I’m putting a lot into him. He has the tools right now, at his age, to legitimately play [in the 17-year-old division].”
The bloodlines portend success, too.
Noah’s father, Kenneth Gear, played football (wide receiver) at Michigan; Grant’s father, Craig Golden, played basketball at Hartford.
For now, JMU is the leader in the clubhouse for both kids, because, well, it’s the only school to present an offer. Golden said he’s received interest from Princeton and Holy Cross, while Gear noted interest from Princeton and Bucknell.
And, according to Maryland law, Gear can apply for his learner’s permit 249 days from now, when he finally turns 16.