The 17-year-old, 6-foot-8 athletically gifted forward from Phoenix grinned while the chants cascaded down upon him sitting behind the University of New Mexico bench. Fans waved, 5,000 signs with the letter “Z” in his direction, hoping the prized recruit chooses to make Albuquerque his home for the next four years.
The night prior, when Cheatham and his mother arrived at an Albuquerque hotel for his weekend-long official recruiting visit, cherry and silver-clad fans who learned of his arrival time welcomed him with signs at the Sunport. Dozens more waited for him outside the entrance and in the lobby of his hotel chanting his name and holding up signs urging him to give a verbal commitment to UNM.
For many of those fans, the courting of Cheatham, who will make his college choice Saturday in Phoenix between finalists UNM, San Diego State and Washington, began online long before last weekend.
But make no mistake, the consensus four-star recruit from all major recruiting services has relished the constant attention.
“I really enjoy it,” Cheatham told the Journal . “I kind of look at it like a blessing that all these guys want me to go to their school. I try to read what they all have to say, but sometimes it does get a little much.”
He gets it in person and on social media from fans of UNM, SDSU and Washington, where two weeks ago on ESPN’s College Gameday football pregame show, a large poster of Cheatham’s face waved for several hours on national television by Huskies fans showing their love.
“That was phenomenal,” Cheatham said of the poster.
He also enjoyed the royal treatment he received in Albuquerque, sending messages on social media to fans several times in the past week thanking Lobos fans for their warm welcome
Still, some Lobo fans themselves were torn about it.
Leroy Lucero, owner of TheRedMenace.com sent out on Twitter that the hotel welcoming gave Lobo fans “creeper status.”
Even some members of TheLoboLair.com, the site whose members spearheaded the welcoming party and “Z” signs and also had Cheatham and future Lobo players Dane Kuiper and Xavier Adams at a Friday tailgate party prior to the Howl, have expressed uneasiness about the level of fan interaction with the recruitment.
Mark Chavez, TheLoboLair.com’s owner, told the Journal he would not have supported such interaction with Cheatham without being assured through contacts close with Cheatham that he would enjoy it.
Cheatham’s recruitment shows the age of social media and constant fan message board interaction has changed the recruiting game.
Cheatham has been recruited by UNM since before his junior season at Phoenix’s Westwind Prep Academy, the same school current Chicago Bull and former Lobo Tony Snell attended before playing in Albuquerque. Cheatham is now at Phoenix South Mountain High School.
Jerry Meyer, Director of Basketball Scouting for 247sports.com tweeted on Tuesday that Cheathem “is arguably the best athlete in 2014 class.”
Tuesday, Cheatham was visited by the SDSU coaching staff, followed by Lobo coaches Wednesday and Washington coaches Thursday for their final push before his Saturday decision.
“Man, this decision is getting harder and harder. #Stressed,” Cheatham tweeted on Tuesday night, followed by tweets that read “overwhelmed” and “I couldn’t tell you where my head is.”
Cheatham told the Journal the aspect of his recruitment he most dreads isn’t the realization that many of the hundreds of fans who adore him today are likely to turn on him Saturday if he picks an opposing school, but the harsh reality that he knows his decision will be letting down at least two coaching staffs that he has grown to love.
“These are guys you talk with on a consistent basis,” Cheatham said of the coaching staffs of the three schools. “They’ve offered you a scholarship. They’ve invested time and flown out to see you play. You’ve talked with them so much. The kind of guy I am, I’m so strong-hearted and when I develop a relationship with someone, I feel like it means something. Right now it’s tough. I love all three of these coaching staffs.”
Eight of nine recruiting analysts who voted on the “crystal ball” feature of 247sports.com have predicted Cheatham will choose the Lobos on Saturday.
Cheatham knows three coaching staffs and three fan bases really want him. But he’s now ready for the recruitment to be behind him.
“It is unreal,” Cheatham said of the pressure he feels with his decision. “It is one of the primary sources of my confusion lately. This is a tough decision because I’ve got three great schools and three great coaching staffs that I’ve developed relationships with and they’ve all already invested so much in me. It sucks that I’m going to have to tell two of them no. To a certain extent, you kind of wish you could go to all three.”