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October 15, 2010Maurice Kirby's mother had no answer for him.
Kirby, a 6-foot-9 sophomore at Poston Butte High School in San Tan Valley, Ariz., asked his mother why he should delay making a commitment to Arizona State upon being offered by coach Herb Sendek last week.
The absence of an answer led the 15-year-old to become one of the youngest recruits in state history to make a college pledge Thursday during an unofficial visit to ASU.
"When the offer came, we sat on it for a week," Micky Kirby said. "He said, 'If I wait what am I waiting for?' He had no desire to go back east or anywhere else. I really didn't have an answer for him because that's what he wants.
"This way, he can have Sunday dinners at home, he's very close with his grandmother who lives with us. It's where he wanted to be and he's very confident with his decision. He feels like two families just merged, like we didn't really pass the baton to coach Sendek, just like two families came together and will continue and grow from here."
Kirby got significant attention playing for Jeff De Laveaga and the Arizona Magic Pump-N-Run 2013 AAU squad during the July evaluation period. According to De Laveaga, Arizona, ASU, Boston College, Oklahoma, Oregon State, San Francisco, UNLV and USC were among the schools that began to recruit the young center.
Some of the schools' coaches made trips to watch Kirby work out within the last month and the Kirby took unofficial visits to ASU, UNLV and USC, three schools that had shown very high interest, according to Micky.
"After the unofficial visits, the next week all three coaches came to open gym again as an expression of gratitude for Kirby taking time to go see them on the unofficial visits," Micky said.
"Through his high school coach, after one of the workouts, coach Sendek had expressed that he wanted to offer Kirby. We didn't take that lightly. We talked for a while and wanted to visit and talk to coach Sendek about what that entailed. Kirby is very grounded, he doesn't like a lot of attention. He understands with his height some of that comes automatically but his work ethic is just tremendous and he's also a really good student and wanted to take his coaches, trainers and mentors to ASU for the visit because that's where I knew Kirby wanted to be. He had only shared that with me, but it was a serious thing and he was so excited about it he was almost giddy because it was always his first choice.
"So I said slow down and asked him why he wanted to go to ASU and that kid -- he's smart, he carries a 4.11 grade-point average -- talked and talked, and Kirby's not really a big talker, but he explained why he wanted to be there, how ASU made him feel at the unofficial visit, how family oriented it is there, the way coach Sendek is very straightforward, calls it like he sees it. For Kirby, that was a very important quality. He didn't tell Kirby what he wanted to hear necessarily, it was more, 'If you decided to become a Sun Devil, this is what you can expect.'"
De Laveaga, who played professionally in Europe, said he was confident ASU is a great fit for Kirby and has been throughout impressed by the school's coaches
"There's guys I trust and guys I don't," De Laveaga said. "I can tell when guys will just give someone lip service and tell him anything he thinks the kid wants to hear in order to get him. Herb's not like that. He's just honest. He won't tell him, 'Come here and you're going to start (immediately),' or 'Come here and we'll build the program around you.' Herb does it the right way. He has respect for the other 14, 15 kids in his program, he's not going to guarantee anything to a new kid when he's got those other kids already bleeding maroon and gold for his program and that wouldn't be the right thing to do.
"He's honest, clean, and that's the relationship you can not only respect during the recruiting process, but one you know you'll benefit from and appreciate as a player and beyond. That's what it's all about. (Assistant coach Scott) Pera did it the right way too. He went through me to get to him. He didn't send emails or sneaky facebook messages or any of that. They did everything the right way and then when they got him on campus Herb wowed him with his honesty, his sincerity and his passion."
Pera's relationship building with De Laveaga during a missed recruitment helped cement his status as a coach De Laveaga had tremendous respect for.
"When I had (Arcadia 2012 guard) Larry (Lewis) last year and he wanted to go to L.A., (USC coach Kevin) O'Neill came and we took an unofficial to USC and fell I love with it," De Laveaga said. "When I announced the intentions of Larry Lewis, every coach recruiting him at the other schools beat the crap out of me verbally. How could you do this, how could you let an Arizona kid get out of here? The only coach who handled it with class was Scott Pera. He said, 'Hey bud, it's alright, I understand, I was in L.A. for years, it's fine.
"So ASU does things the right way. Herb treated the family the right way. He brought him in, showed him in the film room what they do with their bigs, broke everything down, where he'll be playing, Kirby loved it. And knowing Kirby, he's a kid that doesn't like conflict, just wants to find a place where he can be comfortable going in and working hard and not having any stress or drama about any of it. He doesn't like stress or not knowing what's going to happen. Now that this is out of the way, you'll see him blossom even more."
De Laveaga described Kirby -- who is still growing according to his doctor -- as more advanced defensively than offensively at this juncture, which is commonly the case for young centers.
"Defensively he changes the game," De Laveaga said. "He's 6-foot-9 with shoes off with a 7-foot-2 wing span, so you're talking about a kid with a chance to make it to the next level. He's got great on ball skills, the way we teach with our help defense. He blocks shots and changes shots dramatically across the board and turns quickly. He's long and lanky and we're off and running.
"Offensively he's getting better. For the last three or four years he's been shy about contact but in the last year he's improved in that regard, he's starting to understand it's important to create contact. He will do that as he gets stronger. He's been in the weight room for a year now and he will be there regularly moving forward."
Kirby's mother played basketball at Northern Arizona and is 6-foot-3. She coached him through junior high and was a teacher in Flagstaff before moving her family -- she is a single mother who has a household with her mother and Kirby's seventh grade brother -- to San Tan Valley this year in order to be closer to the basketball opportunities provided by the Valley. She now teaches middle school English in nearby Florence.
This will be Poston Butte's first varsity season, and Kirby is preparing for it but working out at 6 a.m. every morning, followed by classes, then a weight room session and/or team workouts and then occasional personal trainer sessions after that before doing homework and repeating the process the next day.
"The coaches at ASU are so open," Kirby said. "I can ask any question and they'll give me a straight answer. They're great. As everything went along the relationship with them got stronger. When they offered, I was just waiting on it, thinking if it was the best course for me. It wasn't that long before I knew I wanted to commit.
"My family is the type of family, when you make a commitment, you honor it no matter what. At this point, making the commitment this early, it's going to make me want to work harder and I'm definitely not going to want to disappoint anyone. So me ever decommitting is very far fetched. Coach Sendek said they're going to be there as long as possible or as long as their contracts permit. I would never have done this even I didn't feel like it was a great fit. It wasn't about being the youngest commit, it was about ASU being the place I know I want to go and play basketball. Coach Sendek is a really up front, straight guy. I like his personality a lot. I like how he interacts with his players. They work what they do around the players they have and are as interested in helping you become a better person as they are helping you be a better player."