Freshman Demorius Walker has averaged about five points and two rebounds in his basketball career at Columbus High School.
Walker also started several games late last season, showing glimpses of potential on a young team that won just two games.
He hopes spending this spring and summer playing Amateur Athletic Union basketball will improve his game and increase his chances of earning a college scholarship.
His play, coupled with a Saturday afternoon meeting with a recruiting service, marked the beginning of what could be a long, exhaustive, and expensive recruiting experience.
Demorius and his mother, Ternisha, and the rest of Team Elite of Columbus met with a representative from a recruiting company, which for packages starting at $700 assists high school athletes with aspects of the recruiting process. It”s the first recruiting decision for parents who want their children to achieve their greatest sports dreams. (It”s the second decision if you include the cost of playing on travel summer league basketball team.).
Earlier this week, Ternisha Walker said she was excited and nervous about what the future holds for her son.
“It”s kinda scary,” she said. “I really can”t believe it. You want to talk to me about my son? (A recruiting service) wants to come down and meet with me and talk about my son? It”s just shocking.”
Demorius is one of thousands of high school student-athletes who annually enters the college recruiting sweepstakes. Some, like his aunt, Regina, hit the proverbial lottery: A free education at Jackson State University in exchange for thousands of hours of work perfecting her craft, a game she loved.
Others aren”t so lucky.
With a former college athlete in the family, Walker already has a feel for the recruiting process. But for many, college recruiting and NCAA regulations are something few inexperienced high schoolers and their families initially understand.
Here are just a few of the subtleties families experience:
n The difference between an official and an unofficial visit, or how to interpret communications from a coach.
Getting a text message from college coach: We really want you
Is that a scholarship offer or a pleasant message?
The difference between receiving recruiting mail from a school and being a recruit on its “big board.”
Phil Cunningham, an assistant coach for the Mississippi State men”s basketball team, said a recruit”s high school coach often is the person who explains the recruiting process to the family.
“Chances are they have told them some stories, told them what to expect, told them how it all works,” Cunningham said. “Then the other side of that is you”ll have people outside the family — maybe even people in the extended family — that want to be a little more involved than maybe they should be.”
If Demorius attracting college recruiters, Ternisha Walker said she will also consult her younger sister. After all, she is partly responsible for his sports hobbies.
“When I was real little, she would always take me to the gym,” Demorius said.
Columbus High School boys basketball coach Sammy Smith wants Demorius” game to evolve so he can make shots on the perimeter — already a strength — and also attack the rim. Smith also wants Walker”s intensity to improve, especially on defense.
“He started slow,” Smith said, “but as he tried to grasp what we were trying to do, which is effort, effort, effort, he got a little better.
—A chance to be seen
Walker, a 6-foot, 160-pounder, is one of two Columbus High players on the AAU team. Rising senior Deontae Jones is the other Falcon on the squad.
Summer leagues have become a valuable aspect of recruiting in many sports. The opportunities allow players to play with peers from other schools, cities, or states, on an All-Star-loaded team, which helps them attract coaches, recruiting publications, and recruiting services.
“If their high school team doesn”t come to our team camp, the only way for us to see them is on an AAU team in the summer,” Cunningham said.
Team Elite is 16-2 this season. It has won tournaments in Birmingham, Ala., and in North Alabama. Walker scored 32 points in the second tournament”s opening game.
“After telling my kids it is OK to make mistakes, he has elevated his 3-point shooting” said Erise Wilson Jr., his AAU coach.
The squad will travel to Orlando for a Memorial Day Weekend tournament before playing in front of a home crowd in the annual Alabama Cobras Summer Slam, June 3-5 at Columbus and West Lowndes high schools.
While no player has earned significant recruiting interest early in the process, Walker, Jones, and Jazaron Agnew are scheduled to attend a basketball camp at the University of North Alabama.
Parents who can afford to pay, Wilson said, adding that much of the team”s expenses — from rental vans and meals at fast-food dollar menus to three hotel rooms per tournament and fresh socks and underwear — are covered by his payroll checks and retirement fund.
Also Saturday, the team held a fish fry fundraiser in Columbus.
—A way to go to college
Some parents spend thousands of dollars during their children”s adolescent years, enrolling them in year-round sports and investing in their sports future.
Others don”t have the money to afford such leagues and rely on high school sports and pickup games in the neighborhood.
For the Walkers, Ternisha sets aside money earned from her two jobs to enroll Demorius in summer leagues. This summer, he was supposed to take a break and spend the time in Florida with an aunt, a two-month summer vacation he has looked forward to for years.
Earlier this spring, he told his mother he wanted to stay in Columbus to play on his AAU basketball team.
She saw it coming.
“Once he”s finished doing his homework in the evening, the first thing he says is, ”Mom, can I go to the court and play basketball with (AAU teammate) Rick (Pattmon) and them?” ” Ternisha, a former softball player and cheerleader at Caldwell High School, would be tickled if her son earned a scholarship. But it”s far from her bottom line.
Sports is optional. College is not.
“He”s going to college,” she said. “That”s something he knows he wants to do, too. He wants to go to college, with or without a scholarship.”
Demorius wants to go to college, too. Like he told his mother, he wants to buy the finer things in life.
Mom, one day you won”t have to worry about working. You”re going to sit down and I”m going to tell you, ”Here”s your house.”
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.