Recruiting & Scouting

Prep school trend hits Michigan hard, lots of top recruits on the move

Basketball   | Scott Burnstein

Prep school trend hits Michigan hard, lots of top recruits on the move

To go or not to go?

That seems to be the question lately with superstar high school athletes across the state in all three major sports.

Should they stay in Michigan and finish their careers at home or depart for prep school or other out-of-state locales that are unrelated to moves by their respective families, possibly with the intention of bettering their college-recruiting prospects?

There has been a rash of prep-school and regular out-of-state transfers recently, pulling elite national recruits from the area and delivering them to glitzier locations like Los Angeles and Napa Valley on the west coast and Oak Hill Academy (Virginia), Huntington Prep (West Virginia) and IMG Academy (Florida) on the east coast.

Just in the past four months, Detroit Consortium’s Josh Jackson, the consensus No. 1 boys basketball player in the country’s entire junior class, left for Prolific Prep in Napa Valley, California, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 4-star 2016 football recruit and USC-commit Daelin Hayes (linebacker-running back) left for St. Bonaventure in Los Angeles and Dearborn Divine Child junior baseball star Dion Henderson, a hard-throwing southpaw pitching prospect and potential MLB Draft pick, enrolled at IMG.

Hayes' relocation places him alongside fellow USC-commit, senior quarterback Ricky Town, on the St. Bonaventure roster and has him virtually playing in the Trojans' backyard, where the USC coaching staff can keep close tabs on him.

Lansing Everett’s Trevor Manuel, one of the most highly sought-after boys hoops recruits in the state’s senior class, just returned to the state after spending a year at Oak Hill, the notorious future-pro factory that has produced dozens of NBA all-stars, such as Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Durant. Manuel spent his freshmen and sophomore years at Lansing Sexton.

Flint Southwestern’s boys basketball program has been deprived of a pair of stars the past year or so, losing Miles Bridges, one of the top juniors in America, in 2013 to Huntington Prep and incoming senior Jaire Grayer, a first-team all-state selection out of the backcourt in 2014, to IMG over the summer. Grayer is the son of 1980s Flint schoolboy legend and NBA vet Jeff Grayer.

IMG Academy is an offspring of the high-profile sports and talent agency and offers prep-school training in basketball, baseball, football, tennis, golf, track-and-field, lacrosse, soccer, and golf.

All-state boys basketball players Algevon Eichelberger (Saginaw) and Bakari Evelyn (Southfield Christian) decided to join Jackson and Hayes in heading out west, with Eichelberger, a workhorse forward, following Jackson to Prolific Prep and Evelyn, a dynamic point guard, transferring to Gilbert Christian in Scottsdale, Arizona to play for former Birmingham Detroit Country Day head coach Kurt Keener.

This is Prolific Prep’s first year of operation. Jackson's decision to attend Prolific Prep for the final two years of his tenure on the high school hardwood gives it instant credibility and immediately makes it an attractive destination for other Blue-Chippers from around the country.

Eichelberger, Jackson and Evelyn were longtime AAU teammates in Michigan, dating back to elementary school. Evelyn had an embattled junior campaign at three-time defending MHSAA Class D state champion Southfield Christian, where he missed more than a month of time due to unspecified internal issues.

Watching so much talent leave the state, especially en masse, is disturbing to many coaches and fans in the area.

"All the best players are leaving, you hate to see that," said River Rouge head coach and longtime NCAA Division I assistant coach, LaMonta Stone. "We've got to give them reasons to stay."

Westland John Glenn head coach Rod Watts isn’t surprised by the trend. As the head coach at Lansing Eastern a couple of years ago he lost his all-state point guard Charles (Cha-Cha) Tucker to a prep-school transfer.

“The state of Michigan and the whole midwest are actually behind the times, the kids from the east coast have been doing this forever,” he said. “You have to be realistic with yourself, though. Going to a prep school can be a good thing if you have the skills necessary to compete at that level. If you don’t, you’re recruiting process can actually go backwards and you can end up hurting your chances to land at the type of school you’re hoping for.”

Tucker played his senior year at Montrose Christian in Maryland and then had a post-grad year at ABCD Prep in Iowa before inking with Tennessee State of the Ohio Valley Conference in May.

While the prep school and academy rout has been around for decades when it comes to sports like basketball and tennis, there’s a new-developing terrain for sports like football and baseball.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens,” said Southfield football coach Tim Conley, who’s program is home to a cadre of Division I recruits, of the move towards specialization schools and academies on the gridiron. “I think it’s an outgrowth of the summer scene, the AAU basketball and now you have the equivalent of that in football with 7-on-7s. For whatever reason it feels like sometimes kids have more allegiance to their summer teams and offseason coaches and teammates than they do to their high schools. That leads to things like IMG Academy and other places out west and down south where they are focusing on football as something to turn into what prep school basketball is right now.”

Although none of Conley’s players have departed for prep school, his program has had a good deal of transfers, both in and out as of late. Because of that, he can relate to the basketball coaches losing their players to the prep school ranks.

“You coach the kids you’ve got,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to see kids go, but you can’t control what you can’t control.”