Can't-Miss Kid, Just Ask Dad
Can't-Miss Kid, Just Ask Dad
Jerron Love is a 15-year-old phenom out of the Bronx with a killer crossover dribble and scholarship offers from top-tier college basketball programs. Scouts are comparing him to the best point guards in the country, regardless of age. He already has hundreds of fans and a video-game character modeled after him.
How do we know all this stuff? Because it says so, right there on Middle School Elite, a website that ranks hundreds of young basketball players and traffics in breathless hyperbole. Middle School Elite celebrates Jerron as a 5-foot-7 playmaker and the country's top eighth-grader. His potential? Limitless. Just ask the guy who runs the site—his dad.
"I'm the Wizard of Oz, the man behind the curtain," Jerry Love said.
In the overheated world of youth basketball, parents who push things to the extreme in pursuit of scholarships and stardom are not unusual. And then there's Jerry Love, who has managed to eclipse them all. A 38-year-old Bronx native who owns a beauty salon, Love considers himself a trendsetter when it comes to promoting his son's precocious basketball career, wresting control of the process from talent evaluators.
How influential is his site? When Jerron moved with his parents this summer to Fresno, Calif., three local television affiliates all aired features on him. His arrival was big news because Jerron was considered "the top middle-school player in the nation," and "the nation's top-rated incoming freshman." One affiliate even cited its source: Middle School Elite.
There is little question that Jerron is a very good player. Bob Hurley, the coach at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, said he recently saw Jerron play at an elite camp and offered this assessment: "Of the little guards who were there, he was probably the best ball handler."
Jerry Love does acknowledge on the site that he is, in fact, the brains behind Middle School Elite. Still, he said he's paid a price for his aggressive approach, having alienated camp directors and coaches—especially in New York. Thus, the move to Fresno, where Jerron plans to attend Clovis West High School. Fresno, Jerry Love said, has been "welcoming and friendly, with more opportunity and room to flourish." Things soured in New York, where "some people probably have a bad taste about me," he said. Jerron, a confident young man, seems ready for a new challenge. "It's time to move on," Jerron said.
Jerry Love said he never had any kind of grand plan for Jerron—not until he saw him pick up a basketball at a playground and dribble between his legs. Jerron was nine. His father was mesmerized. "The way he put it through his legs, it looked so good," Jerry Love said. Love was convinced that his son was destined to do great things. He set about learning the game for himself.
"I felt that if I studied it, I could catch on," Love said. "What is basketball? What is it about? What makes you good?"
As Jerron developed, his father posted clips of his exploits on YouTube. He packaged the videos with subject lines such as "Jerron Love 11 year old basketball phenom" and "Jerron Love aka The Golden Child—best point guard in the nation SERIOUS highlights." The hits numbered into the thousands. A clip of Jerron dribbling through traffic in a men's summer league game went viral. (It has collected nearly 500,000 views.)
Jerry Love ratcheted up his marketing crusade four years ago at a youth basketball event known as the Jr. Phenom Camp. As parents and coaches watched games, Love worked the crowd and distributed a highlight DVD of his son entitled "Just 10." He also wore a T-shirt that featured his son's image along with the phrase "The Future of Gauchos," a reference to the elite, Bronx-based outfit of the Amateur Athletic Union.
"I did go in there with a campaign," Love said. "I'm not going to lie."
Love acknowledged that promoting his own son to such a degree was considered "taboo" and might create problems. That appeared to be the case with Joe Keller, an Adidas employee who founded the camp and is known as an influential figure in AAU circles. Love said he got the sense that Keller didn't appreciate his efforts. Keller declined an interview request. "If I don't have anything positive to say, I'd rather not say anything at all," he said.
As Love tip-toed toward a turf war with various youth basketball power brokers, he eventually decided to plunge all the way in. He launched Middle School Elite in May 2010, then gathered data from camp counselors and coaches so he could rank players. He developed the free site, he said, to provide young players with more "exposure."
Initially he tried to avoid the appearance of favoritism by opting not to rank Jerron's age group, but he said he soon changed his mind. Clark Francis, the editor and publisher of The Hoop Scoop, a scouting service that offers annual subscriptions for $499, dropped Jerron in his national rankings, from 10th to 50th. This infuriated Love. In response, he posted his own set of rankings, with Jerron perched atop the list. Love also fired away at Francis on Middle School Elite, describing him as "notorious" and as someone who makes a "mockery of the game."
"His dad's out of his mind," Francis said. "I'm probably higher on Jerron than most people in New York. Honestly, I couldn't care less whether the parent is a jerk or not."
Dwight Vidale, who coached Jerron as a seventh-grader at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, said Jerron averaged nearly 20 points per game and led the team to a 9-2 record. Jerron was coachable and humble, Vidale said—no small feat considering the hype that shadowed him.
"Gyms would be rumbling: Is that Jerron Love?" Vidale recalled. "I think it could be dangerous for any kid to be on this kind of fast track, especially in basketball, where they rank fifth-graders and sixth-graders. But he can really play."
Informed that Jerron's dad operates one of the sites that rank players, Vidale paused for a half-beat. "Oh, is that right?" he asked.
Jerry Love said he had planned to enroll Jerron at Long Island Lutheran High School this fall, but when coach John Buck asked Jerry Love if he was prepared to give him the space to coach Jerron through inevitable "ups and downs," he had to think about the question. "And I just said, 'You know what? I don't think I can,'" Love said. Buck declined to comment.
Dominick Young, a former Fresno State guard whom Jerry befriended on the camp circuit several years ago, encouraged the move to California. "In my study of training these kids, it's best to have them living on the West Coast," Young said. "They can get out in the wilderness. The people are more cultivated."
Love has recruited others to help his son, including Ryan Mendez, a former Stanford player who owns and operates Streetball.com. Mendez writes upbeat items about Jerron for his site. "Sometimes Jerry will want me to post some stuff, and I'll tone it down to be a little more objective," Mendez said. "He's just a passionate guy." Mendez has since developed a streetball iPhone app and included Jerron as one of the characters. (Mendez said it's been downloaded 1.7 million times.)
Jerron has something more important than rankings and accolades on his mind. He said he recently went to a doctor who measured his growth plates and projected that he could be as tall as 6-2. Jerron said he knows being bigger would help him reach his goal of playing in the NBA. His dad knows that, too.
"I had to build him up," Jerry Love said. "If he were 6-6 or 6-7, I probably wouldn't have done anything. Just let him grow."
I really hope Jerron does well for himself, but I agree with Dave Telep, I feel for him.
im goin goin...back 2 back...2 cali cali...lol
damn...2 of the greatest...spitting rhymes about JERRON LOVE...lol...they r 4 sure turing over in their graves.