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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Calipari excited about recruiting, Coach turns full focus to Philadelphia's Evans

Calipari excited about recruiting
Coach turns full focus to Philadelphia's Evans

By Dan Wolken
Friday, November 2, 2007

Coach John Calipari said last month that his 2008 recruiting class could be the best he's put together since coming to the University of Memphis, despite having only one player currently committed.

Late Wednesday night, one of Memphis' few top targets came off the board when St. George's guard Elliot Williams committed to Duke. So does the eighth-year Tigers coach still feel the same way?

"Yep," a smiling Calipari said Thursday. "Mmm-hmm."

Though Calipari can't talk about specific recruits per NCAA rules, it's not hard to read between the lines.

For months, Memphis has been targeting Tyreke Evans, a 6-5 point guard from the Philadelphia-area American Christian School ranked No. 4 overall by and one of the few players in the class of 2008 who projects to be in the NBA well before his four years of college are up.

Because they play a similar position, it wasn't really plausible for Memphis to get both Williams and Evans. But with Williams no longer in the picture, Calipari will now shift his entire recruiting focus to Evans, who could give Memphis a second elite player to go along with already-committed 6-11 forward Angel Garcia, ranked No. 36 by

A class anchored by Evans and Garcia would likely give Memphis another top-10 recruiting haul. Without Evans, the Tigers would likely struggle to find a legitimate superstar replacement for freshman Derrick Rose, who is expected to enter next summer's NBA draft, barring an unforeseen development.

"We're fine," Calipari said. "We're in the best shape we've been in. And as this thing plays out, I'm ecstatic. We may only sign one (more) guy. If all these guys come back and we only sign one guy, we'll be just as good next year. We're trying to make sure if a few of them leave and have opportunities to be in the NBA, that we have some other guys ready to plug in, that we reload versus try to rebuild."

Meanwhile, Memphis is still looking at other frontcourt options, including Atlanta's Wesley Witherspoon, a 6-7 wing ranked No. 57 overall, and Edgar Garibay, a 6-10 center out of the Los Angeles area, in case one or more of the Tigers' current junior class of Antonio Anderson, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Robert Dozier turns pro.

That roster uncertainty has already caused some upheaval in Memphis' initial recruiting plans for 2008. Six months ago, the Tigers were ready to build around twin forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris from Philadelphia. But when Memphis began to recruit Garcia -- a big, skilled wing similar to Marcus Morris -- the twins backed out of the verbal commitment they gave last year.

After recommitting once, they reneged a second time after Garcia gave a verbal commitment to Calipari. The Morris twins have since committed to Kansas, and Memphis has been selective in recruiting players to fill those slots.

While getting Evans would clearly make up for the loss, the Tigers will have to fight off stiff competition from several schools, primarily Louisville and Villanova. Evans is scheduled to visit Texas this weekend and has also made trips to see Connecticut and Seton Hall.

Evans, who may not sign during the early November period, is likely to visit Memphis later this month.

"I like the way coach Calipari runs his offense," Evans told the Philadelphia Daily News on Oct. 24. "That's why Memphis is in the picture. I'm still looking hard at the same list I had before. But now Memphis is certainly in the picture. I like how the guards move in their offense. I also like how they get into the NCAA Tournament every year. I can see fitting into coach Calipari's system. They give their guards a chance to drive the ball."

Evans may be the only player left who can erase the sting of losing Williams, who spurned both the Tigers and the University of Tennessee to play for coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Barring a late surprise, Memphis will again have just three area players on next year's roster. And though Calipari couldn't talk specifically about Williams, he said he was fine with where the Tigers stand among elite local players.

"I think that the kids we're supposed to get, we get," Calipari said. "Some of them, they feel it's best for them to leave the city. All I can say is, it's not for everybody here. We're trying to compete for national titles, and the greatest thing is, the kids that stay here all seem to do well and do well after basketball."

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