Who is Jim Meil?
Just ask any of the area's top high school basketball players. They all know Meil, the Towson State assistant coach who has shown a knack for getting some of the best local players to attend Towson.
Current Towson State players from local high schools -- Devin Boyd (Walbrook), Terrance Jacobs (Southern) and Matt Campbell (Broadneck) -- were recruited by Meil.
Jacobs went to Old Dominion and Allegany Community College before coming back to Baltimore and enrolling at Towson State. Kurk Lee, who is with the National Basketball Association's New Jersey Nets after two fine seasons for Towson -- he transferred from Western Kentucky -- also was recruited by Meil while at Dunbar.
The list of players like Jacobs and Lee -- recruited by Meil but choosing other schools, then transferring to Towson -- includes Marty Johnson (Cardinal Gibbons, Richmond), Tommy Jones (Towson Catholic, Davis & Elkins), Kelly Williamson (Calvert Hall, Xavier), Kennell Jones (Poly, Old Dominion) and Stephen Dorsey (Gibbons, VMI). All got their degrees at Towson State.
With letter-of-intent signing period beginning today, Meil has Towson State in the running for three members of The Sun's All-Metro team, including St. Frances center Devin Gray, the area's hottest recruit.
Towson appears to be the front-runner for Stevie Thomas, Walbrook's 6-foot-7 center, and Terrance Alexander, Dunbar's 6-3 guard and The Sun's Player of the Year.
"I think kids nowadays have seen a lot of kids go somewhere else and things not turn out well," said Meil. "When kids go on their visits, everybody rolls out the red carpet, but sometimes when they get out there, it's not like their visit. The kids in this area can come up and see us any time and see what they are really getting into."
Alexander and Thomas met Meil when they were underclassmen.
Meil, 31, a fixture at important high school games, takes the time to become familiar with players whether they are on the court or at the end of the bench. But Meil said he is careful not to violate National Collegiate Athletic Association rules on contacting underclassmen -- players can't be recruited until the summer before their senior year -- being sure to avoid discussions that could be construed as recruiting.
"Towson State has been with me all along, even when I wasn't playing a lot," said Alexander. "I feel loyal to him [Meil]."
William Wells, Gray's coach at St. Frances, knows Meil, because Meil is a regular at summer-league games at Madison Recreation Center in East Baltimore, where Wells is the director.
"I don't even worry about Towson State," said Wells. "I know he [Gray] will be taken care of there."
The familiarity with Meil apparently makes the players comfortable with the Towson program.
"Out of all of them [the schools recruiting him], I know that Towson State will look out for me, help me with my schooling and make sure I'm on the right track," said Gray. "Knowing that Coach Meil is there makes me feel comfortable."
Meil grew up in Towson and attended McDonogh, a suburban private school. Still, he develops a rapport with inner-city players whose backgrounds are not similar to his.
"Coach Jim is just kind of down-to-earth," said Alexander. "He understands the situations you may have grown up in."
"The Baltimore area coaches have been very receptive to us recruiting their kids," said Meil. "It almost sounds corny, but I try to be honest with them from start to finish. I think in the recruiting process a lot of things are said that don't always materialize."
Walbrook coach Gus Herrington knew Meil from his recruitment of Boyd, so when Meil came back for Thomas, Herrington had an open door.
"He's more realistic with the kids," said Herrington. "A lot of these guys are only interested in the kids' basketball skills. In working with these kids, you have to take a more personal interest, like it's your kid. Jim is realistic, and he's about helping people."
Meil can sell Towson's program on the strength of two consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament and the academic success of local players.
"Kurk said that if he had stayed at Western Kentucky, he doesn't know if he would have graduated," said Meil. "He came here, and we made him take the classes he needed to get his degree. I think that makes an impression upon kids in the area."
So has Meil.