Occasionally, recruits from the high school ranks don't pan out. Heck, many college stars fail to make the impressions they would have made in the NBA had they gone straight to the Draft from high school.
But two superstars, worldbeaters from the same high school team?
Joe Crawford and Malik Hairston were aggressively recruited as class of 2004 blue chips. Each ranked amongst the top 10 overall recruits in the country--the kind of prizes powerhouse coaches drool over. Even coaches with a savvy sideline demeanor often sweat out the arduous recruiting cycle.
Such was the situation in 2001-2004 for Joe Crawford and Malik Hairston. Their bodies were prematurely chiseled, their talents unquestioned, and the tales of their games, tall and true stretched across the state of Michigan and beyond.
Together Crawford and Hairston lambasted high school foes. The pair was undefeated their senior year, and hardly challenged en route to a city title, state title, and top 5 finish in the USA Today national poll. The duo was going to make any recruiting class a top 25 projection just by headlining. They were the kind of guys that make everyone around them shine just by being in the same talent pool.
Malik Hairston had a very public recruitment, becoming ludicrously so as it came under the microscopic focus ever-present on message boards and recruiting websites. Every week was a new angle or thought about what his cousin's mother thought he should do. In the end the the saga of Malik's recruitment came down to about four schools. It seems Kansas, Ohio State, and maybe UCLA fought for runner-up rights.
A crucial reason Malik chose Oregon was the chance to play right away. His ego was bordering on Zeppelin-sized out of high school. The clever yet pompous claim that he wanted to "Carmelo-ize Oregon" struck some the wrong way. The implied commentary asserted that Hairston aimed to have an immediate, substantial impact on the Ducks of OU. It's hard to blame the young man, as players of his caliber attract leeches as early as junior high.
Joe Crawford chose Michigan, "committing" to Tommy Amaker's Wolverines. Reneging on this choice exposed the world of college hoops to this young man's consistent indecisiveness. He pulled back, de-committed and reopened what had been a quiet process. Kentucky nabbed him to close the book on the pursuit of Detroit Renaissance's finest.
The problems the two studs have faced in the college ranks differ, but neither looks ready to make the jump to The League. Hairston is putting up numbers galore. Leading the team with 15 points per outing, he is also second in Duck assists and rebounds. But with the weight of the green and yellow on his back, Malik has seen his shooting percentage dip this season.
Though Joe Crawford slipped in the backdoor in Lexington, Wildcat faithful were trumpeting him as the next Jamal Mashburn. Good luck with that. Midway through his freshman season (04-05) Crawford complained about lack of playing time. His numbers were poor and his contributions were worse.
Now it was time for a ride on the ever-popular train to transfer town. A disturbingly frequent form of escapism utilized by soured players, transfer rates are sky-rocketing in D-1. To put a mild roadblock (or railblock) in the way, the NCAA has instituted a powerful alteration.
When Crawford aimed to transfer he visited his family in Detroit and conveniently spent a few hours conversing with the Michigan State coaching staff. With Kentucky granting Crawford his release but NOT pulling the national letter of intent, he was bound to UK for the remainder of his freshman season. Were he to have left in January as planned, he would have compromised an entire year of eligibility.
Frustrated but cornered, Joe Crawford returned to Kentucky. He played out his freshman season without making the splash so many had expected.
The difficulty for Malik Hairston is that Oregon needs a Kobe-Shaq combo to Carmelo-ize it. They currently sit at 6-6. Heading into the Pac-10 season, a .500 nonconference record equals postseason absentee. Two recent losses came to Portland and Portland State. Yes, there are two D-I college teams in Portland. Yes, Malik's Ducks lost to both.
Malik's game is developing. The outside shot, once atrocious, now appears to be a strength. His slashing ability was always there, but it now complements his all-around offensive game. Still, Malik's free throw percentage, his ball-handling (2+ TO's per), and defensive intensity stand to improve. Expect the latter to be an area of focus from caring coaches.
Malik should be most concerned, however, with his lack of national exposure. It's hard for NBA scouts to get multiple looks at a Hairston when his team played 14-13 a year ago and appears headed for a similar fate again this year. And with the Pac-10's limited Fox Sports television contract, it's even harder for casual fans to hear any buzz about the star out in Eugene.
NBA teams want to win. If Hairston were truly as good as his hype, logically one would expect W's to follow. They have not.
Some Big Blue fans find a 6-3 record embarrassing. Dropping games to Iowa, Indiana, and North Carolina are unacceptable for the winningest program of all time. Complaints abound about the inside game. When your point guard, Rajon Rondo, doubles the efforts of the bigs on the glass, that the frontcourt "needs work" is an understatement. Kentucky's three latest wins have been nice. Louisville is a vital game for the fan base and Iona and Ohio were subtle resume builders.
Joe Crawford has skills that can help the 'Cats. Unfortunately, his skill set duplicates the talents of All-Everything Rondo. Both slash, jam, and break down. Imagine playing chess with four bishops. You can only attack from the same angle so many times. Rondo slithers through the zones, destroys his man off the bounce. Crawford would do the same if given the opportunity. A hip injury has stunted his progression so far this season.
He is healthy now and looking to make his mark.
When will the college world get the joy of seeing these bonafide high school superstars flourish? One thing is for sure: it's taken much longer than anticipated. Hairston will not leave after this year and Crawford needs to make tremendous strides to become NBA-ready. Maybe their time is coming, but when the two left high school, few would have predicted there would be any maybe about it.