When news broke that Villanova forward Taylor King had left the team due to a violation of team rules -- an episode that could very well end his college career -- I thought back to the summer of 2003.
King, then age 15, boldly committed to UCLA. He had not yet entered high school, but already stood out among the others at his current playing height of 6-foot-6. The left-hander sparkled so much at tournaments that new Bruins coach Ben Howland, who hadn't yet coached a game in Westwood, offered a scholarship.
"He was a prodigy," recalled Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating, then an assistant coach at UCLA. "Maybe too much, too soon."
Because once King made that super-early pledge, it earned him raised expectations and plenty of press (I was among those who made sure to see him play as a freshman for Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif.)
The Los Angeles Times featured him with the headline, "Bruins Await a Future King," with King telling the paper, "I have no intention of going to another school."
Sure enough, by the end of his sophomore year, King opened up his recruitment and eventually went to Duke. After one season there, he was off to Villanova.
King's father, Steve, told SI.com after the transfer that if he had to do it all over again, King never would have been allowed to make that early commitment.
"It puts them in a place at a very young age where they don't need to be," [Steve] King said. "Kids need to be allowed to be kids."
And now, years later, King is at a crossroads despite having been named California's Mr. Basketball, a McDonald's All-American and played for two high-major programs.
As Keating put it, "I still think he lived up to it. He's a good player."
But where was the coronation for King? Stardom should be a birthright to those anointed at an early age, no?
At both Duke and Villanova, King was relegated to serving as a role player on NCAA tournament teams and ultimately had short stays with both programs. Villanova reports that King plans to remain on campus to work toward graduation, which is great because unlike the hype, it's that degree that will last.
I can't help but wonder though if a 22-year-old King at some point looks back to a simpler time. After touring the UCLA campus in 2003 with a friend by the name of Kevin Love, he told the Bruins he was coming. And just like that, the gangly teenager had grabbed the headlines and in some ways lost his innocence.
"We've been talking for eight years now about him," Keating said. "It's crazy."