SALIDA -- Reeves Nelson recently went through a growth spurt. The Modesto Christian High School junior now stands 6 feet, 7½ inches in his bare feet.
He's still a kid -- a growing boy -- although last week he made a decision that will affect him through adulthood.
According to a source near the UCLA basketball program, the Bruins' coaching staff was both shocked and elated that Nelson has decided to tie his basketball future to UCLA. They expected him to wait until at least the end of this season to tie the knot.
"There's no pressure on me any more," Nelson said prior to Tuesday's Trans-Valley League game against Riverbank.
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"I started getting recruited pretty heavily the summer after my freshman year. From then until now it's been a hectic time. I get 30 letters a day. I get phone calls every day. At first, I thought it was really cool. After awhile, it doesn't get annoying but it does get old."
Thirty letters a day from all the top basketball schools in the country -- Florida, Georgetown, North Carolina, Duke. All Nelson had to do was pick up the phone and call any one of those head coaches, and he would have been on his way, full ride in hand, to Gainesville, Washington D.C., Chapel Hill or Durham.
Has it yet been mentioned here that Nelson turned 16 in September?
But this is what it's like for young men whose names are attached in the recruiting magazines to the tag "Five Star."
A three-star prospect is said to be capable of playing well at the Division I level. With four stars, you're pegged as a guaranteed starter and a player of instant impact. Chuck Hayes carried three stars into his senior season. Adrian Oliver had either three or four stars, depending on the publication.
You win national championships with five-star basketball players, and Nelson is the first ever to play for a team in the Stanislaus District.
All Nelson wants to do is relax and enjoy his final 50 or so high school games. He believes announcing his tie to UCLA will relieve him of the burden that comes with being an undecided five-star talent.
His coach believes it shouldn't have come to that, that 16-year-olds should have the right to enjoy being 16.
Gary Porter has been through these Division I recruiting grinds many times before, with Hayes and Oliver, with Richard Midgely, David Paris and Marc Pratt, and with his own son Michael Porter. But he's never before seen the intensity of full-court press that colleges have applied to Nelson.
"I don't think it's fair to a 15- or 16-year-old kid to receive that kind of pressure," Porter said. "Reeves is our first top-10-in-the-country kid and maybe that's what happens. But it spoils things. It takes away the thrill of it.
"Right now, Kentucky isn't recruiting seniors. It's not recruiting for next year, it's recruiting high school freshmen and sophomores."
Before choosing UCLA, Nelson whittled down his choices to a final four, a group that also included USC, North Carolina and Duke. He made official visits to none.
Just 10 years ago, the largest part of pairing down your suitors was deciding which five schools to visit. But Nelson already has seen the country through basketball. He played last summer for Pump 'n Run Elite, a travel basketball team filled with five-star talent, including current seniors Jrue Holiday, a shooting guard at Campbell Hall in North Hollywood, and Jerime Anderson, a point guard at Anaheim's Canyon High. Both committed to UCLA as juniors.
"These kids travel so much that these trips to visit schools are not a big deal anymore," Porter said. "It's not as glamorous as it used to be, but that's the nature of basketball now. Reeves already has traveled all over the country with basketball. He doesn't have to visit colleges."
There is no player-coach rift here. Nelson is comfortable with his decision and Porter believes it's a very good fit.
Still, the coach has concerns.
"Reeves is 16 and has been through all of this already," Porter said. "Is he going to burn out?"
Nelson says no. In fact, he says he's more relaxed since making the decision, which came only days after he unloaded a Stanislaus District-record 52 points on Clovis East.
Scoring 52 points gives you a larger share of the spotlight on the national stage. Committing to a national power as a junior means that spotlight will be focused on you the rest of your high school career.
"I was talking about that with the guys on the team," Nelson said. "Every time I'm in the paper from now on it won't be 'standout junior Nelson,' it's going to be 'UCLA-bound Nelson.' I'm fine with that.
"I'm still going to be trying to win a state championship. I still have lots of room to get better before I get to UCLA."
Room to get better, room to grow. And a chance to be 16.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.