Highly touted Texas recruit to sign at OU
By GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
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Kelvin Sampson's recruiting style lured Damion James to the Sooners.
NORMAN -- A little more than a year ago, Damion James was on his way to national high school basketball renown. He was also on his way to Texas. Or maybe Arizona.
Then Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson walked into the Nacogdoches (Texas) High School gym.
"I felt a buzz as soon as I met the man," James said.
And so Wednesday, James will become a Sooner. He will sign a national letter of intent, the first day of college basketball's early signing period, along with four other prep players expected to make up one of the nation's premier recruiting classes.
Herndon, Va., point guard Scottie Reynolds, Putnam City forward Keith Clark and Houston power forward Jeremy Mayfield all show up on recruiting analysts' top-50 lists. Tony Crocker, a shooting guard who committed to OU as a San Antonio high school senior last March before off-the-court issues steered him to prep school, is of top-75 caliber.
James, however, has a little extra sparkle.
"In terms of overall rankings, Damion is one of the most highly profiled guys that Sampson has ever signed," said Dave Telep, national
director of the recruiting service Scout.com.
The numbers confirm it. James, a 6-foot-9, 225-pounder who averaged 23 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists as a Nacogdoches junior, is Scout's fifth-rated national prospect. He is No. 16 on Rivals' national board, and No. 18 according to USA Today.
The last time Sampson signed a high school player with that kind of press was in 1997, when he hooked Booker T. Washington's Ryan Humphrey, a McDonald's and Parade All-American.
How did he pull it off this time?
"Coach Sampson did something other (recruiters) didn't do," Nacogdoches coach Mark Richardson said. "He addressed the kid, not the talent. Sometimes when guys get into recruiting mode, everything's about basketball and what the kid can do for them. Coach Sampson didn't talk a whole lot about basketball, and Damion really grabbed ahold of that. That's what got him.
"Damion doesn't let a lot of people get that close to him, but he did with Coach Sampson. He is absolutely nuts for him."
Enough to stay in Norman for four years?
Here's another number to consider: 14. That's where one Web site projects James will be selected in the first round of the 2008 NBA draft.
James' physical gifts, combined with his versatility and the fact he drew raves at national prospect camps last summer, have sparked speculation.
"He wasn't going to be a lottery pick, but his name came up in some (early entry) discussions before the new (NBA) collective bargaining agreement was signed," said Telep, noting that prospects must now be a year out of high school before becoming draft-eligible. "Anytime you get someone with his size and ability, there will be people chattering in his ear about making the jump."
Richardson has offered his own advice.
"What I've told Damion is, 'Don't go into the situation saying you're going to leave in one or two years,' " Richardson said. " 'If something happens along the way, then it happens. But don't count on it.'
"You get a kid who says he's going to leave early, then his coach doesn't get the most out of him, and so he may not coach the kid hard enough to get him where he needs to be. Things don't work out for anybody."
This much James says he's sure of: "I don't plan on leaving until I win a national championship. That's my goal. How many years that takes, that's what I'm going to do."
Guerin Emig 581-8355