High school sophomore commits

By Gary Bedore, KUSports.com, Friday, May 2, 2008

Veteran Phoenix Sunnyslope High basketball coach Dan Mannix annually asks his players to watch the NCAA Tournament closely, to study tendencies of college teams in an attempt to improve their own games.

“Before the finals, I said to Royce, ‘In a dream-like scenario, if you could go to college anywhere, where would you go?’ The first team he mentioned was Kansas.

“Today I had to smile thinking about that,’” Mannix said of 6-foot-2, 170-pound Sunnyslope sophomore guard Royce Woolridge, who on Thursday orally committed to KU.

“Some might say, ‘Hasty decision,’” Mannix added of Woolridge committing with two seasons left in his high school career. He, in fact, becomes the youngest player in KU history to commit to the Jayhawks. “I’m ecstatic. How many times can a 15-year-old commit to play for the national champions? It’s a great day for him.”

Woolridge — the son of 6-foot-9 former NBA standout Orlando Woolridge — accepted an early KU offer Wednesday night through his Arizona Magic AAU coach, Anthony Ray.

KU coaches can only receive incoming calls from sophomores — they cannot phone them on their own — in accordance with NCAA rules. Calls to high school and AAU coaches are allowed, however.

“Kurtis (Townsend, KU assistant) saw him play last weekend when Royce scored 40, 35, 36, 33 at the Vegas Double Pump Tournament,” Ray said. “Kurtis said, ‘We know he’s young, but we’d love to have him.’ I let Royce know and he said, ‘That’s what I want, so why wait?’”

Royce Woolridge has been a KU fan of sorts for some time despite the fact he’s only been to Lawrence a couple times as a toddler.

His mom Victoria’s aunt and uncle are big-time Jayhawk fans who live in Prairie Village.

“They are crazy KU fans,” said Royce, who all day Thursday wore a KU national championship T shirt and hat sent to him by his relatives. He wore KU gear to his news conference in which he chose the Jayhawks over Georgetown, Arizona, Arizona State, USC, Cal-Berkeley and many others.

“They send me hats, shorts, news clippings even before I chose Kansas. I’ve watched Kansas closely the last two years. I like their style of play and how they play defense and the character of their players. I love everything about KU,” Royce Woolridge said.

Coaches are most enthused about Woolridge’s offense.

He averaged 21 points as a freshman and 16 points his soph season despite being hobbled by a nagging groin pull.

“He can shoot it from 22, 23 feet accurately on a consistent basis,” Sunnyslope’s Mannix said.

“He can score off the dribble or standing still. It doesn’t make a difference. He can get a basket whenever he wants to,” AAU coach Ray said. “He’s so young. He’ll grow another two or three inches and get stronger than he is now.”

Mom Victoria says Royce “is in a growth spurt right now. His knees are killing him. He will be 6-foot-6,” she added, noting his dad is 6-9 and she is 5-9.

Royce’s half brother — incoming Tennessee freshman Renaldo Woolridge — is 6-8.

“As his dad says, ‘Renaldo is like Kobe Bryant. Royce is well-rounded, a do-everything type player,’” Victoria said.

She said she was all for her son choosing a school shortly after the conclusion of just his soph season.

“Royce is a very decisive kid,” said Victoria, noting he “is a straight-A student, polite, humble. He told me, ‘Mom, I want to be a Jayhawk,’ and I said, ‘OK.’ Even yesterday schools across the country were coming in to see him (at open gym workout). It didn’t make him change his mind a bit. After all that, he still wanted to be a Jayhawk.”

Of Royce’s maturity on the court, mom noted: “His dad always had him go against players two to three grades ahead of him. It’s the way you get better. We don’t believe in holding a person back.”

Royce said his early decision was “good because I’m happy where I’m at. It can be bad, too. Other players will go at me harder. I just have to be ready for that.’’

Royce and his mom will be in town for KU’s Elite camp in early June. He said nothing about KU will ever make him change his mind about becoming a Jayhawk.

“I feel KU is the best place to be. Coach (Bill) Self is the best coach, who is down-to-earth. I feel KU is the best fit for me. I don’t want to go anyplace else. It’s where I want to go, where I want to stay. I want to be a Jayhawk,” Royce said.

Youngest in history: Woolridge committed to KU seven months earlier than Cole Aldrich, who orally committed to Bill Self’s program in November of 2005, right before the start of his junior season at Jefferson High in Bloomington, Minn. Wayne Simien committed to KU the spring before his senior year at Leavenworth High.

Woolridge older than some commits: Kentucky on Thursday actually received a commitment from Michael Avery, a 6-foot-4 eighth-grader — yes, eighth-grader — out of Sherwood, Calif. Southern Cal received a commitment from eighth-graders the past two recruiting seasons, Ryan Boatwright of Aurora, Ill., and Dwayne Polee Jr., of Westchester, Calif.

Like father ... : Woolridge’s dad, Orlando, coached the ABA’s Houston Takers last season. During his career he played with Magic Johnson and the Lakers and Michael Jordan and the Bulls as well as Bill Laimbeer and the Pistons.