Recruiting Lessons from the Case of Marcus Dupree, “The Best That Never Was”

Last week I watched “The Best That Never Was”, another outstanding film from ESPN’s 30 for 30 series.   The film focuses on Marcus Dupree, the former Oklahoma running back whom Barry Switzer calls the most gifted player that he ever coached.  Dupree’s enormous potential as a football player went unfulfilled, leading Switzer to call him “the best that never was” and providing the film’s poignant title.

An important part of the story centers on Dupree’s college recruitment.  As the nation’s top recruit from tiny Philadelphia, Mississippi, Dupree was the subject of a recruiting battle so intense that Texas and Oklahoma’s recruiters moved to Philadelphia in attempts to sign Dupree.  Oklahoma landed Dupree, but the film implies that Dupree’s choice was related to a new double-wide trailer that Dupree’s mother received.  The recruitment of Dupree was remarkable enough to produce a book, The Courting of Marcus Dupree, by Willie Morris.

Although only a select few athletes will ever experience a recruiting experience as intense as Dupree’s, there are lessons for all student-athletes:

1.  Draft Your Team

It appeared that Dupree was overwhelmed by the recruiting process, and understandably so.  But it also appeared that he had little support in the process, with the exception of a Reverend who appeared to be as interested in serving as Dupree’s agent as his advisor.

As I have previously written, the recruiting process is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  For the coaches who are recruiting you, it is routine.  To account for the vast difference in experience between you and a coach, you need to surround yourself with a team of individuals who can help navigate the process. 

Parents can be good resources, especially if they have been through the process before.  If your parents have not been through the process, they can still be a great resource, but consider seeking out other parents from your school or area who have  been through the process with their children.  Seek out your coaches and athletic director.  Coaches of other sports at your school may also have experience with the recruiting process. 

The team will look different for each student-athlete.  It doesn’t matter who makes up your team, but be sure that you can consult with people who can provide guidance throughout the recruiting process.  Remember: you’ve never done this before.

2.  Know the Rules

Dupree left Oklahoma in the middle of his sophomore season and subsequently enrolled at Southern Mississippi.  Yet he left Southern Mississippi after he learned he’d have to sit out the remainder of that season, and the following season.  He seemed surprised by the application of the eligibility rules.

If you consider transferring, you must first become acquainted with NCAA eligibility rules.  The NCAA Transfer Guide provides a good starting point.

3.  “There’s Always an Uncle”

While reflecting upon Dupree’s recruitment, one of the coaches said, tongue-in-cheek, that “there’s always an uncle”, referring to Dupree’s uncle whose motives appeared questionable.  That point was driven home with the Cam Newton investigation - although instead of an uncle, there is a father

Despite the NCAA’s ruling  that Cam Newton was not responsible for the actions of his father, you should be aware of any people looking to take advantage of your athletic success.  Ultimately, the actions of others could affect your eligibility.


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  1. […] Recruiting Lessons from the Case of Marcus Dupree, “The Best That Never Was” […]

  2. […] I grew up in Massachusetts and followed Fall River’s Chris Herren, mostly while he played for Fresno State and the Celtics.  So for me, Jonathan Hock’s documentary “Unguarded”, which aired on ESPN this week, was a must see.  Hock’s film did not disappoint and it was every bit as captivating as his other ESPN film, “The Best That Never Was”, about Marcus Dupree.  […]

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