His sullen stare occupies a feature window on this trendy hoops website. Click on the photo of Marcus Bagley, standing beneath an outdoor rim in his travel-team jersey, and you're directed to a jump shot more menacing than his gaze.
Beneath five paragraphs of plaudits is a three-minute video of Bagley, draining one 3-pointer after another over a hip-hop soundtrack. The short write-up raves about his basketball IQ, his long-range proficiency, his ability to post up in the paint.
His travel team's unbeaten, to boot. Dude seems destined to make money in the game if he can navigate a few foreseeable obstacles such as, say, acne. Bagley, among the prepubescents showcased on a site called middleschoolelite.com, just finished fifth grade.
"I call it exploitation," Berkeley Prep boys basketball coach/athletic director Bobby Reinhart said.
Not so, insists the founder of the 3-year-old site.
"Our mission is to eventually follow other kids in AAU and our camps and give them a chance to be seen sooner rather than later," said Jerry "Jay" Love, whose creation of the site coincided with his son's middle-school career.
"Give them … adequate time to experience trials and tribulations, recover from not-so-good decisions made by parents or players, for it to all add up later on. That time is what they need, instead of just going right into the exposure of high school."
A former hair salon owner from the Bronx, Love was profiled in a February 2012 feature for ESPN The Magazine, in which he was cast as an overzealous dad bent on promoting his son, Jerron, via the Internet.
Jerron Love, now a 17-year-old rising junior, already has played for high schools in Fresno, Calif., and Marietta, Ga.
In that story, Love indicated he created middleschoolelite.com out of frustration that younger players — his son included — weren't getting promoted until high school. "MSE was my vendetta on the nation," he told the magazine.
In a recent, brief interview with the Tampa Bay Times, he said he makes about $100 to $150 a month from the site. Its content includes player profiles, videos, message boards and national age-group rankings down to fourth grade.
Ads promoting bourbon, cell phones and restaurants are featured, but so are adaptive-learning websites for grade-school math and algebra.
"We promote training the right way," Love said. "If they follow the site, they'll see everything is positive. Everyone on the site is a student-athlete. We have the rankings, but we let them know they're a student-athlete first."
Joey Knight can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.
What they're saying
. "I think there have always been risks with respect to high school sports and media coverage, whether it was done through prominent exposure in a local newspaper. After all, in many regards, for fans, coaches and athletes, getting their name in the paper is as good or better than getting it on the Internet or perhaps on TV. So I think the means in which it's being exposed has changed, but I don't think it really changes the risks that much." — Andy Beal, founder of MaxPreps
. "As long as I'm the head coach at Hillsborough, you'll never see a press conference to announce where a kid's going (to college). We still do cookies and punch and 'Good luck, man.' It absolutely drives me out of my mind when they do the hat game and, 'I'm taking my talent to Miami' or wherever. How 'bout thanking your mom and the teachers and the coaches that helped you get there." — Earl Garcia, Hillsborough football coach
. "It's not really good to give a kid an ego, and now they're starting to get their ego at about 10. … It really comes down to the kids' parents and coaches. They need to make these kids solid when they're young so their heads won't get too big." — Dave Krider, MaxPreps senior writer and prep sports reporter for more than 50 years
. "There is no entitlement to success just because you show up to practice. If you don't practice hard, you don't play hard, you don't play. I don't care what parents say, I don't care what anybody says. You have to take care of entitlement that way." — Mike DePue, former Robinson football coach
. "(The emphasis on recruiting and offers and colleges) is creating selfishness. We're putting more out there individually than we are about the team. And that's not just in football, it's in everything." — John Davis, Clearwater Central Catholic football coach
. "I have no problem when a kid makes a (college) commitment. I think that's great. Please, go ahead and put it out there. I don't like the offers, though. That puts even more pressure on the coach. Well, he's getting an offer why ain't my kid getting an offer? Well, look at the all the scholarships they're getting over at CCC! Okay. Let's transfer from Palm Harbor (University) over there so I can get an offer, which is not necessarily true. I don't like that. I don't think that's good." — Davis
. "There's very little patience anymore. 'I've got to be a three-year starter instead of a two-year.' Shoot, back when I went to high school in the early '90s, ninth grade was junior high. We only had three years in high school, so if you had one year of JV — which most kids did — you basically had two years of playing (varsity). Man, the patience is rough." — Brian Emanuel, Alonso football coach