Monday, June 20, 2005

Our Interview with Jodie Meeks

(This story will remain at the top of the page, so make sure to check below for new posts).

Being a top national recruit basketball can be fun, stressful, invigorating, pressure-packed and rewarding - all at the same time. Navigating the winding road to find the right college is not easy. We had an opportunity to discuss the recruiting game with a top national prospect from the state of Georgia, Jodie Meeks, as well as his father, Orestes Meeks. In case you don't know, Jodie is 6'4", 190lb PG/SG from Norcross High School. He is from the class of 2006, so he will be a senior this fall. He currently plays for the AAU Georgia Hurricanes, a fairly new team sponsored by Reebok. He was formerly with the Georgia Stars. Rivals ranked Jodie as the 9th best SG in the nation, and the 38th best prospect overall. Justin Young, a top recruiting analyst at, lists Meeks as the 6th best prospect in the state of Georgia.

What about his game? Jodie has primarily played the PG spot in high school, but is very athletic and a scorer, which gives him the flexibility to play the 2-spot also. In fact, some of the recruiting services list him as a SG. He attacks the basket, plays above the rim, has a nice mid-range jump shot and is an excellent defender. He led his high school team in assists last season and carried much of the scoring load. He is a guy who likes to shoot the big baskets in the clutch, often taking over towards the end of a game.

What does Jodie think are his strengths? "I have a pretty good handle and can shoot the ball pretty well. I love to play defense. I also recognize situations pretty well." Jodie is an excellent athlete, excelling in baseball as well, but gave it up to focus on hoops fulltime.

When looking for a college, Jodie is looking for a combination of strong academics and strong athletic program. "The first thing is what type of school is it academically. I would like to play early. I really look at who they have and who they recruit. My dad has watched how a school recruits and if they over recruit. My dad also said when I visit the campus, I'll know. I am also interested in having a positive relationship with the head coach. I wouldn't go play for a school if I didn't know and feel comfortable with the head coach."

As far as academic interests, the sciences and math are strong attractions, says Jodie. "I like history. I loved math until I took Trig this year...whew! I got an A the first term and B the second, but it was tough. I also like some of the sciences. I have not decided on what I will major in."

What about the draw of a big city versus a cozy small-town atmosphere. Jodie feels he could adapt, based on his background. "I could go to either. My dad is from a big city (Chicago), and my mom is from a small town in Tenn (Petersburg). I just want to go to a place where the students are important, and basketball is fun."

When it comes to the recruiting game, things have been heating up for Jodie. When asked about the stress, it didn't seem to be an issue. "No, I still like it a lot. The rules and the coaches keep it fun. I think my high school and AAU coaches have a much tougher time than me. They get all the calls." As to how many letters he gets - "Hundreds. The ones that stand out are the personalized cards or handwritten comments."

Jodie's father has tried to help him focus on the details of recruiting, how coaches express interest and body language, subtle or otherwise. "I have tried to prepare Jodie for the recruiting process by discussing what's important to him as a person. We talk about how the different schools have different needs and perspectives on players. We also discussed that those teams/coaches that are really serious about him will take the time to get to know him as a person. We usually get invited to games by the schools that are interested. On one occasion the coach spent 5 hours showing us around the campus and talking to us about the school and why they fit him as a person. On another occasion we were invited to a basketball game and Jodie's first impression of the coach was the coach reaching over Jodie to shake the hand of another perspective player, and telling that player that he would come to his next game. Which school would you choose?"

Right now some of the schools involved with Jodie have a strong SEC and ACC flavor, including Wake Forest, Alabama, Arkansas, S.Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Auburn, Maryland, FSU, Miami and VaTech. He currently has offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Colorado and South Carolina. UCONN and Illinois are making sure they have kept contact as well. Jodie and his father recently visited the campus over at Florida and came away impressed. Georgia Tech is actually somewhere on that list as well. Jodie was not ready to reveal a favorite, although he does have one.

How will Jodie narrow down his list? "I am focusing on who I know, the campus, and who they are recruiting. I always try to see myself playing at the school."

As to a timetable, Jodie gave us this schedule - "I plan to sign in the first signing period in November. I will cut my choices to 4-5 schools by the end of the summer season. I can see committing in late September early October. I want to make sure, since this is a very important decision for me I will take my time."

So where do the Jackets stand with Jodie? Well, as last season started, Georgia Tech was right near the top of his list, and he was even invited and attended some Jacket games. Evidently the interest has not been strong from the Jackets. However, Jodie still watches the program. "I still like Tech. Some of the coaches have come to my high school to see me workout. I don't know if they have come to see me play in high school. I respect their program and what they do. I like their style of play. Coach Hewitt is one of the top coaches in the country."

In fact, Coach Hewitt saw Jodie play for the first time in the state tournament this past season, when Jodie's Norcross team went head-to-head with Stephenson and future Jacket Alade Aminu. Jodie helped lead his team to victory that night, as Alade had one of his worst games of the season. Jodie had one of his best. In fact, here is a quote from the story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on that game:

"...Jodie Meeks, a dynamic 6-foot-3 combination guard, finished with a game-high 22 points, including an emphatic slam on 6-9 Georgia Tech signee Alade Aminu in the game's waning minutes, to pace the winners."

It could be a tough hill to climb for the Jackets, as it is very clear that Coach Hewitt has been after other higher profile PG prospects. When speaking about recruiting in general, Jodie's father stressed that they really don't want Jodie to be a fallback option. "I believe the key for him will be playing for a coach that wants him as their first recruiting option, not someone who they get because they have a slot. If he stays healthy, he will be a very good college player."

When asked if there is a glimmer of hope that he could end up a YellowJacket, Jodie responded by saying "I really don't know how to answer that question. I am new on the recruiting scene so a lot of the big named schools don't really know me."

New to the recruiting scene? How could that be, as a top 100 recruit? Well, top 50 by Rivals, but does not even have him in their top 100. It just goes to show how difficult the scouting game can be. Interestingly, Jodie seems to get more national recognition than local. While local GA papers consistently highlight guys like Javaris Crittenton (whom he has beaten head-to-head in high school) and Anjuan Wilderness (whom he outplayed at team camp last week 26 points to 10), Jodie quietly goes about his business putting up numbers.

One reason he might be underrated is that Jodie's father, Orestes, felt strongly that Jodie not play AAU ball until he was at least 15 years old. "Nothing against AAU, but it is not always a place where players learn how to play the game.", remarked Orestes. Jodie’s father has a coaching background, so he speaks from experience.

When discussing the difference between AAU and high school ball, Mr. Meeks highlighted the different goals. "The biggest difference between high school and AAU is what each team is trying to accomplish. Clearly these aren't absolutes, but in High School the team is the most important thing. Everyone is trying to win the conference/region/state. In AAU, the team is not always the most important thing, and it appears that most of the players feel like they need to score points. They are all stars in high school, and are not always willing to play ' a role.' What most AAU players don't understand is that if you are a point guard, the college coaches want to see you run a team and get assists and knock down a shot when you need to. They don't expect the point guard to score 20-30 points. It is a very interesting thing to watch."

So while Crittenton and others were getting early AAU exposure playing with Dwight Howard, Meeks was quietly leading his high school team and learning the game. And just how has he been doing that? Well, it is clear that Jodie feels his father has had a strong influence. "I feel that he introduced the game to me in a way that allowed me to love it. He spent hours on hours on the fundamentals. I remember once when I was 5, he blocked my shot every time I shot a lay-up with my right hand on the left side. He forced me to use the left hand dribble and shot on the left side. I will always be grateful for that."

That type of learning is what has given Jodie a real mental edge over many of his competitors. When discussing how a player can go from a PG to SG position, Orestes noted. "This is interesting because most players think it is easy to just change on court positions. If you haven't prepared to be a point guard, you don't just say " I'm a point guard" and then you are prepared. It takes years of preparation to be successful. I'll give you an example of how I prepared Jodie to play the point guard spot. When he was younger and our team hit a bit of trouble, most coaches call a time-out and then make adjustments. I would do that, but the first question I would ask him when he came off the floor is, "what type of defense is the other team playing?", then I would ask, "how can we attack it?" Our next play or series of plays would be centered around responding and changing based on what the other team is doing."

"So from early on he began to see the game a little differently than most kids his age. I have to admit he was very interested in learning and when we watched college or pro games on television, I would ask him what should be done in a particular situation. I always challenged him to think and react while playing. I believe what that has done for him is helped him to become more poised and prepared. Now what other players have to think about, he does instinctively. Mentally he is VERY tough."

So, how does Jodie feel now about having a father who was a coach? "I am older and more independent, but I still like to have my dad at my games. I always feel I play good when he's there. He still helps me to relax and knows my capabilities. I don't like him to talk to me, but it's nice to know he's there. I would say he is important to my confidence at this time. I have a pretty strong relationship with both my parents."

Jodie's father has tried to take a backseat role now that he is being coached at a higher level. "I let his coaches coach him. We talk about how he is doing and what he learns from the games he plays. Most of the conversations we have about basketball are really review from previous experiences or conversations."

Meanwhile, Jodie continues to work on his game, honing in on weak areas. "I don't think as a player you can ever be great in everything. Even if you are on any given night you can struggle. I think I can always work on my defense, ball handling and shooting. Brenton (another Norcross player) and I have been going into the gym to shoot. We usually shoot over 800 shots a practice session. It is hard work getting better, but it is nice to share it with someone else who wants to be better."

Jodie continues to tour with his Georgia Hurricanes AAU team. They have played at the Kingwood Classic in Houston and The Real Deal on the Hill in Ark, a tourney in Florida on the campus in Gainsville (where he averaged 20+ points), the Bob Gibbons TOC (Tourney of Champs), where he averaged almost 20 pts. He is scheduled to attend the Reebok Big-Time Tourney in Las Vegas, and The Reebok Classic in Los Angeles. He has received an invitation to The ABCD Camp for the nations top 100 players, and is currently attending the 5-Star Basketball Camp in Virginia.

The hard work will continue. The letters will continue to flow in. Decision time will creep closer and closer. Stay tuned to see how this "local" boy makes good. We know that whatever college coach ends up landing Jodie, they will have a winner on their hands.