Jayson Tatum’s decision to trim his list of possible college homes from 10 to four last month helped to clear some clutter from the recruiting process.
However, the mix of schools he named also served to intensify the scrutiny on the Chaminade Prep junior and the aggressive nature of the proceedings.
Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and St. Louis University — as Tatum was careful to list alphabetically — are the last four standing. In the month since ESPN.com’s top-rated high school player for 2016 revealed his Final Four, the three out-of-town coaches have made in-home visits, and Tatum made his official campus visit to SLU.
Although there is no end in sight to this recruitment, Tatum and his father, Justin, have clarified some of the priorities that will determine the winner.
Tatum is focused on the position or positions he will play in college, the talent that will surround him and a coaching staff that will create challenges to prepare him for the NBA.
Some of the considerations may be at odds with each other, such as the desire to win a national championship and the allure of staying home.
The possibility of Tatum attending SLU has raised eyebrows for a while, with some wondering whether it’s a serious consideration.
“A lot of people, mainly around the area, want me to stay home. I get it all the time,” Tatum said. “But I can’t base my decision on other peoples’ opinions. My parents are supportive of me whatever school I go to.”
The country’s top players often face the dilemma of whether to play for the home-town school or choose a big-time program. Tatum’s situation is made more complicated because Justin Tatum, who coaches at CBC, played at SLU, and his mother attended the law school.
But Justin Tatum insisted the inclusion of SLU on the final list is not just a hometown pat on the back but a true indicator of his son’s interest.
“Family is one of many things, but it’s one of the biggest,” Justin Tatum said. “He knows a lot of people have his back here, and he doesn’t have to go too far for advice. It’s one thing helping him get through this process. He can change the face of a program for many years, so doing it for his own city is something that jumps into his mind all the time.”
Two weeks ago, Malik Newman of Jackson, Miss., signed with Mississippi State, where his father played. He is a top-10 recruit in the class of 2015. He chose a struggling Southeastern Conference program over Kentucky and North Carolina, among others.
Jayson Tatum’s godfather is Larry Hughes, who chose SLU out of CBC in 1997 and led the Billikens to the NCAA Tournament before turning pro.
“We’ve raised that conversation when we see each other,” Justin Tatum said. “But Larry doesn’t push it. He pushes going where you want and to be comfortable. But he tells Jayson about the benefits (of attending SLU).”
Tatum is considered a likely one-year college player, and he said nothing that would indicate he isn’t thinking along those lines. Since 2010, every player who has left college after his first year has come from one of the major conferences, with the exception of UNLV’s Anthony Bennett and Marshall’s Hassan Whiteside.
A handful of those players picked colleges near their home before darting for the NBA, including Ricardo Ledo from Barrington, R.I., (Providence), Tony Wroten from Seattle (Washington) and Derrick Favors from Atlanta (Georgia Tech).
Ultimately, Tatum has to decide what he wants to get out of a brief college career. From a team standpoint, Justin Tatum said his son would want to reach the NCAA Tournament. But Jayson upped the ante.
“No matter what team you’re playing for, the ultimate goal is to be the last team standing,” he said. “There’s no greater feeling, I would imagine, than winning a national championship in that one year and then hopefully going to the NBA. It’s a goal of mine and of everybody.”
But father and son both said the winning program has to provide a good fit both from a personnel and strategic standpoint.
Tatum is one of those players who, at 6-feet-8 and athletic, can play almost any spot on the floor. Thus, the family has paid close attention to the way coaches have discussed how he might be used.
“Some have him as a two or three,” Justin Tatum said, referring to the shooting guard and small forward positions. “Others ask where he feels more comfortable. Those are some things we like to hear. But a lot envision using him at all different spots.”
Jayson Tatum said his preference is to play a role where he has the ball in his hands much of the time — not necessarily point guard — and have “free will in the structure of the offense.”
Tatum is watching to see where other players choose to go but also believes that once he picks a school he can help with recruiting.
In the end, it’s about getting prepared for the next level, and the selection of a program will have a lot to do with the coach.
“We want someone who can coach a player of his caliber,” Justin Tatum said. “Someone who is going to challenge him every day.”
There is still much to be sorted through. Jayson Tatum offered no hints as to where he is leaning. But ideally, he would like to have the decision out of the way before school resumes in the fall.
“I don’t have a set date yet,” he said. “Hopefully sooner than later.”