Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 24, 2010



RESERVE – All eyes on him, Cedric Jenkins got to enjoy the spotlight one last time at Riverside last week when he officially signed with Southern Mississippi.

It was the end of a long process for the senior guard, who has had the eye of schools at that level since earning All-State honors as a freshman. When you burst on the scene early, attention follows after all.

Ricardo Gathers understands.

Riverside’s 6-foot-8 center watched as his teammate made his next stop official. Gathers, a sophomore, won’t have to make that decision for another two years.

But after bursting onto the scene as a freshman for Reserve Christian last year, he’s helped lead two teams to state championships, averaging 20 points and 15 rebounds for Riverside this past season.

That alone would earn plenty of attention, but the truth of the matter is that Gathers has had that kind of attention since before his prep career even began – he’s had it since he was just an eighth grader.

“Even when my brother was in the eighth grade, Texas, USC, teams have been calling,” said Greg Gathers, Ricardo’s brother.

“In basketball recruiting, they call so early. It’s a whole lot different than in football.”

Greg knows the process. A two-time All-State defensive lineman at East St. John, he earned All-American honorable mention status and was considered a top prospect after collecting 42 career sacks, 20 of those as a senior in 1998.

He had a number of offers, but in the end it came down to Florida and Georgia Tech. He’d play for the Yellow Jackets and it would be on to Atlanta, where he earned All-American honors.

Now he’s an assistant football coach at Destrehan. But the coaching doesn’t end there – Greg now guides Ricardo as he takes on recruiting.

“He even handles most of the phone calls,” Ricardo said. “He talks to the coaches. It’s always good to have someone who’s been through it guiding you.”

One way in which he guides is stressing the importance of a school’s educational value.

“Basketball is basketball, no matter where you go,” Greg said. “Every coach is going to come in and sell his program. But for me, the question is, ‘If I couldn’t play basketball, would I still want to be at this school?’”.

That is what Greg’s choice came down to.

“It was ACC vs. SEC, but really it was about playing in Gainesville versus Atlanta,” he said. “I thought, being from LaPlace, Atlanta was a better fit. I was able to go back and forth.”

Riverside coach Timmy Byrd’s seen a number of players move to the next level, and understands there can be pitfalls to avoid. He says that his star is in better hands than most.

“If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can really mess up a kid’s future,” said Byrd. “For Rico to have Greg, someone whose already experienced the whole thing, it’s a blessing for him.”

There’s still work to do on the court, something Greg said Ricardo understands fully — even if he throws in a reminder here and there.

“He’s had so much success at such a young age,” said Greg. “It can make you think that maybe you don’t have to work as hard. You can’t be satisfied, you can’t get a big head.”

Said Ricardo: “I’ve told him my goals. He’s out to make sure I can become what I want to be. We work at least three times a week at Riverside, trying to become quicker, improve my ball handling, improve my game. It doesn’t happen overnight. It comes with a lot of repetition.

“When it’s over, I just want to be better than I was before the workout.”

That work has helped him come a long way.

“Four years ago, he was stumbling when he dribbled,” said Greg. “Seeing what he’s developed into and how he continues to grow, I’m so happy for him.”

The advice Greg stresses first and foremost to Ricardo is pretty simple.

“Enjoy it all,” he said. “This is the only chance you have to pick your school. This is the only time you’ll have guys coming out to recruit you, and where you’ll get to choose between everyone.

“It can be a very good thing, but at the end of the day, there can only be one school. Don’t be in a rush.”

Ricardo hears that loud and clear.

“Like my brother says, don’t even worry about it all yet,” he said. “You don’t know if guys will even be in the same spot two years from now. An early commitment just isn’t really in the cards.”