There may be a scheme to circumvent the NBA age rule and no one is really turning heads over it. John Riek, the 7-2 center from Sudan, enrolled at Our Savior New American High School in late 2006 as a sophomore. This past spring, he exploded on the scene at the Lebron James Skills Academy and dominated at the Nike Hoop Jamboree. This resulted in an influx of scholarship offers from UCONN, Duke, Florida and Georgetown. Now all of a sudden Riek claims he isn’t really a high school sophomore, but a 19 year-old post graduate, NBA draft eligible player. How can this be?
Riek’s guardian, Deng Leek, is obviously trying to advance the kid’s chances of getting to the NBA as early as possible. It explains why he only recently presented Riek’s birth certificate and passport to prove the player is older and shouldn’t be in high school. I think Leek withheld this information until now because there was no real gauge of Riek’s draft stock prior to his performance at spring camps. Riek has since left Our Savior and is spending this season at Winchendon Prep as a post graduate student. It made sense for him decline scholarships offers because it decreases his chances being exposed against more fundamentally sound collegiate players. Riek has only played basketball in the states for less than a year, but has the potential to become a top 10 draft pick in 2008 NBA Draft if he declares.
So what’s going on here and how is this allowed? Can an international player reclassify himself whenever it seems beneficial, and what’s to prevent other elite players from doing it in the future? These are very good questions with few answers because no one is really pushing the issue. It’s a threat to recruiting because it could encourage other international players to cheat the system as well.
The root of the problem lies with foreign birth certificates, namely in Africa, where some are alleged to be falsified. In England’s football (soccer) community, the age of Newcastle United’s Nigerian born player, Obafemi Martins, has come under scrutiny as well. As it stands right now there is no definitive way to determine someone’s exact age. The current method involves examining hand, wrist and teeth x-rays, but they can only provide a ballpark age range.
Are high schools and colleges that recruit outside the states going to invest in these tests anytime soon? I doubt it. So until then we’ll have to watch as players like John Riek try to cheat the system.
TDR Scouting Report: John Riek