"Can I see that for a sec?" he says, as he opens the USA Today sports section on the table to the box score of Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals, between the Cavaliers and the Celtics. An ESPN ad on the opening page pairs halves of two opposing athletes’ facesLeBron James’ and Kevin Garnett’sabove the tagline "Win or Go Home."
Who would you go with?
"LeBron?" he says, effecting a teenage shrug that connotes Kind of a no-brainer, huh?
And so it goes for a half-hour of questions, answers ranging from head nods to two-word demurrals to set speeches: "Just a man on the move," he’ll say when asked about specific 57-yard runs or tomahawk dunks. "Going 100 miles an hour, is all." They clearly convey one sentiment: Back offI’m just a kid.
That’s the message he sent to wave after wave of Division I football and basketball coaches and their entourages, who were so thick at times they had to be sent packing so Pryor could actually get in a few classes. They kept coming even after Pryor announced he would be concentrating solely on football following his senior basketball season, ending speculation that he’d become the first person ever to be a first-round pick in both the NFL and the NBA.
As February 6, the NCAA National Signing Day (when high-school recruits commit to a college) approached, the caravan of recruiters followed Pryor from game to gamemillion-dollar-a-year coaches jostling with autograph hounds to get close to him. A week before Signing Day, Pryor ate cavatelli and meatballs in Jeannette with Penn State legend Joe Paterno, who broke his rule of no home-recruiting visits. Four nights later, Jim Tressel and Rich Rodriguez, head football coaches at Ohio State and Michigan respectively, considered the front-runners to land Pryor, were at Jeannette’s basketball game against East Allegheny with at least three assistants apiece.
Other suitors kept at it too. With two days to go, Jeannette’s principal, Stu Albaugh, had to inform a fourth marquee head coach that no, he couldn’t land his helicopter on school grounds. On the day before the big announcement, Pryor was forced to hang up on a particularly persistent coach because he was late for math. "It’s hard to be a kid," he said aloud, and a train of reporters transcribed the profundity.
When the day finally arrived, Pryor disappointed them allcoaches and mediatelling the press filling the Jeannette High School gym that he hadn’t had "enough time to get involved in the recruiting process." He was going to decide in his own time. Then the shit really hit the fan. From Florida to Oregon, in State College, Pennsylvania, and across the Midwest, distant relations of Pryor’s coaches and recruiters, reporters who’d wangled a sentence out of the shy teen, and friends and relatives were buttonholed by strangers at Laundromats and tollbooths. Some got late-night calls offering cash in exchange for leads on which school he’d choose. Jeannette’s quarterback coach, Roy Hall, was meeting with Duke head coach David Cutcliffe (who coached both Peyton and Eli Manning in college) when the visiting coach’s cell phone rang. "That was Archie Manning," he told Hall. "He just asked, ‘Did you get him? Did you?’" And on it went for six weeks after his non-announcement, until March 19, when he uttered the words "Ohio State" to two dozen TV cameras in the school auditorium.