Commentary: Ferrells’ decision worked out for Yogi

INDIANAPOLIS — Watch Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell walk courtside at the adidas Invitational and you see a well-adjusted, mature high school senior.

You see a guy willing to honor every autograph and every picture request, no matter how goofy (the one a few weeks ago where the middle-aged man with a disposable camera put his arm around Ferrell and asked Michigan-bound Glenn Robinsion III to snap a few frames stands out for the reporters watching it unfold). You see a guy who talks about not improving his No. 23 national ranking but about leading Indiana Elite Team Indiana to a tournament title or two this July, and is believable when doing so.

But it was not always this way for the Indiana-bound point guard. Blame Clark Francis, the recruiting “guru” who decided it was prudent to rank fifth-graders (and thus earned himself a spot on the Mt. Rushmore of grassroots basketball infamy).

Those who paid for a subscription (which now run $499 for the year) were told that Kaleb Ferrell was the best fifth-grader in the country in 2005.

He meant Yogi; Kaleb is his little brother. And the result of this high ranking was predictable: pint-sized Yogi’s head grew three sizes that day.

“Just like any kid,” said Ferrell’s father, Kevin Sr.. “He enjoyed it. … He thought he had made it to the mountaintop. I tell him, ‘Go check your bank account buddy. It’s zero. Your balance is zero. You haven’t made it yet.’”

Also, Ferrell’s opponents were not exactly kind with their treatment of the then-4-foot-11 guard.

“People used to hate me,” Ferrell said. “It was really bad. This one kid, I did some move and the kid was like, ‘Man, I hate Yogi.’”

The Ferrells did what any responsible parent would do: they saw the problem and removed their son from it.

Ferrell left the AAU circuit behind for several years. He worked on his game in private, with his father and personal trainers. But, more importantly, he got off the traveling circus and back to his mother and younger siblings.

“The esssence of life,” Kevin said.

The story of leaving and coming back again has been a positive one: Ferrell quickly emerged as a talented player at Park Tudor and on the AAU scene, and accepted a scholarship to Indiana in November 2010.

It did not work out for everyone. Of the 10 players Francis listed six years ago, only three are in the top-100: No. 2 Jaron (now J-Mychal) Reese is No. 59 now, and No. 6 Terry (actually, Perry) Ellis is No. 19. Many of the rest are not even listed in the database.

Francis and his ilk have profited off the chase for the scholarship. Tom Crean, John Calipari and the rest of the coaching elite could care less about a fifth-grader’s rankings; parents do care, though.

There are hundreds of teams in high school-aged brackets competing this week at the adidas Invitational, and there are more than 400 college coaches here to watch.

They pile in by the dozen for the big games, to watch top prospects go head-to-head. But there are lots of courts being used in this tournament, and a good amount have coaches’ sections that sit empty most games.

Those teams paid just as much to be here, just as much for airfare and rental cars and hotels and food. And they’re all after the same thing: exposure. To be seen by someone, anyone, and told their college can be paid for.

But what does Ferrell have to do with the legions of 5-foot-10 shooting guards and 6-foot-5 power forwards? Hopefully, parents with a sense of perspective.

And Francis? His 2012 rankings list Shabazz Muhammed No. 1 now; I didn’t pay for the membership, so I can only tell you Ferrell is no longer in the top-10. Neither is Kaleb.


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