The NCAA brought back an evaluation period in April this year and it was good for a plethora of recruits looking for exposure, with one Phoenix-area prospect, South Mountain High standout Zylan Cheatham, picking up his first offer as a result.
Hometown Arizona State had been closely tracking Cheatham's progress in recent months through his sophomore high school season, and concluded that it was ready to step up its pursuit after watching him in the first evaluation weekend.
"I spoke with coach (Herb) Sendek on the phone and we are kind of building a relationship," Cheatham said. "He saw me play a few games in California and I played pretty good and he was just interested and he offered me. I was very excited. My mom was proud of me, it made me feel good inside but I've just got to stay humble.
"That was my actually my first offer. You'll never forget your first offer so that was extremely huge for me. It was really big knowing it's the local school and it's a major program and it has produced NBA talent which is James Harden who is one of my favorite players."
Cheatham, an athletic 6-foot-7 forward, said he's most pleased about the opportunity to play at a high level in college for free because financially it wouldn't have been viable otherwise.
"I come from a single parent household," he said. "My mom makes ends meet and we're living, I can't complain about it. I wouldn't trade my life for anyone. I might not have everything or be as fortunate as some other kids but my mom loves me and I have a family and she does what she can to put food on the table.
My mother, I can't even explain how happy she was. My grandmother was extremely happy, she was crying and it felt amazing. Just knowing the circumstances I come from, there's just no way I could even pay for one semester at a Division I college. There's no way we'd be paying for college, it feels great."
Watching Cheatham play, it's clear he has his best basketball ahead of him, and that becomes even more evident when people realize he's only been playing for a few years.
"I didn't start seriously playing basketball until eighth grade," Cheatham said. "So already I was behind the eight ball compared to everyone who started playing club ball when they were 4 or 5. So that actually made me work twice as hard. Pretty much, summer, every day I'm in the gym. I was waking up at five in the morning and going down to the South Mountain YMCA, getting up shots, working on my game with a coach of mine, Albert. He developed me as a player and other than that pretty much every day I'm on a strict schedule with lifting, dribbling, shooting. I just work hard every day, take no days off and try to develop and get better every day."
"All my coaches were just so happy when I got the offer. "They gave me a shot when I wasn't that good and helped develop me as a player and all of them are feeling great about it."
Boise State, Cal, Oregon State, Utah State and others have expressed interest in Cheatham, who said he likes where his game is headed and enjoys watching his favorite player, Kevin Durant, to pick up new aspects he can work on.
"I see myself as a pretty decent prospect in Arizona," Cheatham said. "I'm pretty lanky, tall. I talked to my doctor and I'm supposed to grow two or three more inches. I'm extremely athletic. I've got a pretty good skill set, pretty good mental and I've got to work on my 3-point shot and handling adversity. I tend to sometimes play a little under my game when the crowd gets big or when people start talking about me. So I've got to work on handling adversity. I think I've got something in store for Arizona though, honestly."
South Mountain had a so-so season last year after some turmoil but Cheatham said he's focused on being a leader to help make the 2012-13 campaign a better one.
"I registered at South Mountain unexpectedly (transferring from St. Mary's)," he said. "We didn't have a coach or get a coach until four or five weeks before the first game if I'm not mistaken. So that set up back. We were a senior dominated roster so that was another thing that played a role. It was an exciting season but unfortunately the early losses when we were getting used to each other and the coach hurt us in the end."
Cheatham said he's going to take his time developing relationships with college recruiters and do extensive homework before reaching any conclusions.
"This decision will not only affect me for the next four years of my life but the next 40," he said. "It's imperative that I consider all aspects of a college; not only basketball but alumni support after graduation to strength of the degree and all other aspect. So I'm going to wait for a good amount of time until I make for sure the right decision."