Mairega Clarke is puzzled.
A talented forward for Holy Cross, he helped guide the Knights to the Catholic High Schools Athletic Association Class AA title game this winter. He thought he had played well enough to earn a Division I scholarship.
Yet, the Division I offers he thought would roll in never came. Some schools were interested, but none pulled the trigger. Thus, with a rapidly closing window of opportunity to remedy the situation, Clarke turned to AAU.
"I want to play to show coaches that I deserve that offer from then," said Clarke, who plays for Raising Champions.
While most seniors skip AAU because they have scholarships, for unsigned seniors like Clarke, playing in the spring and the summer is a final chance to impress college coaches and potentially earn that coveted scholarship.
"I think it's a great opportunity for them," New Heights Athletic Director Kimani Young said. "It's a last look. Maybe a school missed out on these guys. These guys can improve over their senior years. I think it helps."
Young said there's an advantage in playing as an unsigned senior as college coaches will be seeing players just months before they would head to campus. Instead of guessing how a player will develop during his senior year in high school, coaches basically see the player in April that will arrive on campus in August.
Young also added that seniors play with a chip on their shoulder.
"I just know that a kid playing in April in his senior year, he's hungry for that scholarship," Young said. "Kids that are playing now feel like this is their last opportunity to have access to that college scholarship."
For Clarke, he still has not received that offer he wanted, although Florida Atlantic is interested in bringing him in after a year of prep school. Other New York City players have had a little more success, although they're still waiting for their dream offers.
St. Raymond senior Myron Hickman played at the Providence Jam Fest in April with the Jersey Jayhawks to see if he could get a Division I offer, as he only had Division II schools extending. A few schools were interested after seeing him, but wanted him for 2013. He has a visit set up with a Division II school and may try to walk on at Delaware State.
Cardinal Hayes and New Heights teammates Jalen Jenkins and Naasir Williams both saw a rise in interest, but they still don't have that slam-dunk offer. Williams also had schools interested in him for 2013, but schools want to see how he plays this summer.
Jenkins has mid-major offers but wants to grab a Big East scholarship. He has interest from Providence and Cincinnati, as the Bearcats were interested after seeing him in Las Vegas.
Jenkins and Williams had both been planning to attend prep school but have backed off on those plans because of the interest they garnered from AAU. Williams said it's still up in the air, while Jenkins is more committed to the idea of walking on at a school.
"I figure playing shows that I'm able to play at the point where schools that high-major schools will look at me," Jenkins said. "Instead of just playing for the low Division I and the mid-major schools to look at you."
Team SCAN Program Director Terrence "Munch" Williams likes the opportunity seniors have through AAU, but worries that some will get too caught up in trying to get that dream offer instead of focusing on more realistic options.
"It sometimes strings kids along. A kid might be more of a Division II or Division III player and they don't want to jump into that situation," Williams said. "They keep hoping they’ll get that dream team. Everyone thinks they are Division I until the last minute. Sometimes you wait too long and it doesn't come."