After his team dropped its first-round game in the City of Palms Classic, Malik Newman didn't have time to lament the loss.
Moments after emerging from the losing locker room late Wednesday, Jackson (Miss.)-Callaway's star player stood face-to-face with a video camera. When he completed the interview with a reporter from a recruiting website, he did two more with newspaper reporters. Then half a dozen college coaches greeted the 6-foot-4 guard, clamoring to sway his attention.
Everywhere he goes, Newman draws the attention of a B-list celebrity. It all can be tough to handle for a high school sophomore who's not even old enough to drive. Yet Newman, ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2013 by at least one recruiting service, takes it all in stride.
"I really don't pay no mind to it," Newman said of his recruiting buzz. "I let my dad and both my coaches handle that. I just try and go out and perform. I just know there's always someone here who's never seen me play. I just try to play hard for them."
Playing high school basketball at the highest level takes more than ball-handling skills and smooth jump shoot these days. As the nation's top players are scouted at a younger and younger age thanks to the proliferation of recruiting websites, it takes maturity and a level-head to be a star.
Most recruiting sites rank players according to their class, going at least down to sophomores like Newman. Some rank freshmen, while some go even younger.
Newman first received national attention in middle school when he was rated among the best in his class. HoopScoop recently released its list of the top 200 sixth-graders in the country.
Scouting analyst Clark Francis, who compiles HoopScoop's rankings, said he has ranked seven fifth-graders and one fourth-grader this year.
"At that age it's more a case of, 'Here's somebody who's really good. Let's keep track of him for the future,'" Francis said. "For the 90 percent of the players that don't pan out, it's not that important. But to have seen (current NBA rookies) Michael Gilchrist and Austin Rivers … in sixth grade, it's pretty neat and it gives you a starting point and perspective."
Getting national recognition can be flattering for young players, but it also can be a distraction. Making a name for oneself is important in getting a college scholarship, but not as important as improving on the court.
"Some kids commit as a sophomore and junior, and that's the pinnacle of their career," ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep said. "The great ones don't view it that way, and that's really the big challenge in getting recruited early. A lot of these kids spend a lot of time on the recruiting process and they don't get a lick better."
Former Kentucky head coach Billy Gillispie made waves four years ago when he offered a scholarship to an eighth-grader in California. Michael Avery, then a 6-foot-4 middle-schooler, accepted. Avery is now a 6-foot-5 freshman at Division II Sonoma State averaging 3.4 points in 14 minutes a game.
"It's tough for some, and some of them respond to it pretty well," Francis said of the recruiting process. "I'm not going to tell you it's necessarily good for all players. A lot of cases it's really good because it gives them something to aspire to. A lot of cases it ruins a kid."
To deal with the pressure, players need a strong support system. Most the time that includes family and coaches who help the young players keep their head on straight.
Newman defers to his dad, Horatio Webster, a standout player at Mississippi State from 1996-98. Newman said he won't get serious about the recruiting process until after his junior season.
Memphis (Tenn.)-Southwind star Johnathan Williams III drew attention of scouts when he was a 14-year-old eighth-grader towering over the rest of his team. He's now a 6-foot-10 senior who's signed with Missouri.
Fortunately, Williams had an older brother who went through the same process. Johnny Williams is a junior on George Mason's basketball team and gave his younger brother advice.
"He told me to listen to mom and dad," the younger Williams said. "It can be a distraction, but I look to my family. My family always keeps me strong. I'm a churchgoing man, and my church keeps me humble."
Humility can be key, especially when players are constantly under scrutiny from scouts. With so many recruiting services, the nation's best always are playing in front of someone. Telep estimates he'll watch the top recruits up to 20 times before the graduate high school.
"The way it's set up there's truly somebody coming after you all the time," Telep said. "Airplanes and the Internet have shrunk the world. You've got to be on your game. You can't hide in high school basketball."