Jaden Newman spent three hours taking a tour of the University of Miami last week, where the women's basketball coaching staff urged her to keep the Hurricanes in mind when it came time to make her college choice.
Jaden also happens to be 9 years old.
The fourth-grader, who has already played two seasons on the girls high school varsity team at Downey Christian School, a 300-student private school in Orlando, is now being actively recruited by Miami. She is believed to be the youngest girls player ever to get recruited by a Division I program.
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"It did surprise me a little bit,'' Jamie Newman, Jaden's father and the coach of her basketball team, told TODAY.com. "When I first got the call [from Miami assistant coach Derrick Gibbs], I thought it was for my son. I understand why, though, because she has an amazing skill set at 9 years old, and her potential is through the roof."
Jaden, who averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 assists per game this past season while playing against teenagers, is a 4-foot-7 point guard who has gained national prominence for her performance. The family is no stranger to attention for basketball precocity, as her older brother, Julian, 12, played on the Downey Christian varsity boys team this winter as a sixth-grader.
Adding the college attention could certainly heighten the pressure on a young girl who has been in the spotlight since she was 8 years old, but her father doesn't think that will be a problem.
"She's so level-headed," Newman said. "She's on the right path with colleges already looking at her."
Newman said he and his wife both grew up loving basketball, and passed that down to their children. He said his daughter's dream is to play for the University of Connecticut, a perennial powerhouse and the defending national champion.
"Kids like to play Xbox and Playstation, or be on Instagram and Twitter, but she wants to play basketball, and that will always be with her,'' Newman said. "She's gifted with that passion and drive that she has."
Miami is the only school that has contacted Jaden so far, according to her father. She received an official recruiting letter from the Hurricanes in April and then took an unofficial visit there last week. By NCAA rule, Miami's coaches are not allowed to comment specifically on any prospective recruits.
While Jaden is at the extreme end, the recruitment of players before they even reach high school is not unheard-of. In 2010, the University of Southern California football team made a scholarship offer to seventh-grader David Sills, a quarterback from Delaware, and last summer USC received a verbal commitment from Nathan Tilford, a wide receiver from California who was getting set to begin his freshman year of high school. Recruits do not sign a binding National Letter of Intent until their senior year of high school.
Certainly a lot can change in the nine years between now and when Jaden is a high school senior.
"Coaches come and go all the time, so the whole staff could change two or three times in that time frame,'' Newman said. "Especially with the recruiting game, though, I can see why [Miami] did this. She does stuff some college girls can't do. When she gets older, bigger and stronger, I could see why a college would want to put that name out there to build a relationship."