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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

ESPN - Comments on Recruiting - See #1 and #10

A look at the 10 most significant recent developments on the recruiting scene

By Antonio Williams
Updated: May 20, 2008

Both the early and late signing periods have produced a number of interesting occurrences that have had a major impact on the national recruiting landscape, dramatically altering the course of more than a few prominent college basketball programs.

These 10 events have significantly impacted college basketball and recruiting:

1. Evans goes walking in Memphis

After having a laundry list of schools well into the latter stages of his recruiting, Tyreke Evans narrowed his choices down to Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis, Texas and Villanova. Eventually, he whittled this impressive list down to two, with Villanova and Memphis left standing. Evans elected to take his considerable scoring talents to Memphis, where he should have plenty of opportunities.

Memphis will welcome Evans' prolific ability and mentality, given the fact that the Tigers will lose both Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts, the top two scorers on a team that played in the national title game. With shooting guard Antonio Anderson also testing the NBA draft waters, Evans may have even more scoring opportunities. Getting a talent such as Evans to Memphis also attracts other talented players, and Memphis coach John Calipari parlayed the momentum of Evans' commitment into a verbal pledge from Wesley Witherspoon, one of the top undeclared prospects in the Class of 2008 during the late signing period.

2. Troubles abloom in Bloomington

When Kelvin Sampson left Oklahoma to take the head coaching post at Indiana, he faced some minor sanctions from "excessive calling" of recruits, in the words of the NCAA. Sampson could not make calls to recruits, but these sanctions did not seem to hinder the rebuilding efforts that Sampson started at Indiana. After Indiana's controversial recruitment of uber-prospect Eric Gordon ended with the guard eventually choosing Indiana -- and leaving Illinois in the dust -- Sampson seemed well on his way to restoring the Hoosiers to national prominence.

With trouble appearing to be in the rearview mirror -- the Hoosiers started the season as a top 10 team -- and Gordon's presence paying immediate dividends on the court, Sampson assembled another top recruiting class for 2008. However, one of the recruits, Bud Mackey, ran afoul of the law and faced an indictment on drug trafficking. The Hoosiers had no choice but to withdraw their scholarship offer to Mackey. Then, allegations surfaced that Sampson and his staff violated the NCAA-mandated restrictions placed on phone calls to recruits. Sampson eventually lost his job during the season, the team lost games during this unstable phase and recruits expressed their interests in going elsewhere. Indiana released top recruit Devin Ebanks, who signed with West Virginia, and point guard Terrell Holloway, who signed with Xavier, from their letters of intent. Eventually, Indiana hired former Marquette coach Tom Crean. He has managed to rebound by signing one of his former Marquette recruits, ESPN 100 guard Nick Williams and talented guard Verdell Jones.
3. Billy and the kids

Since his arrival at Kentucky, coach Billy Gillispie, known for his legendary work ethic, has not disappointed the Kentucky faithful on the recruiting trails. Upon taking the reins, he delivered 2007 top-10 prospect Patrick Patterson to Lexington and followed that performance with pledges from two top-50 wing prospects: Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins. However, Gillispie's recruiting triumphs with younger prospects have dominated the headlines in recent weeks.

2010 ESPN Super 60 prospect Dominique Ferguson's verbal commitment to the Wildcats in late April served as the start of a whirlwind of momentum among underclassmen for Kentucky. Ferguson joins Super 60 members K.C. Ross-Miller and Dakotah Euton as members of the 2010 class who have given an oral pledge to the Wildcats. Ross-Miller and Euton both committed last summer. Soon afterward, California eighth-grader Michael Avery committed to Kentucky. Next, freshman Vinny Zollo announced his intentions to attend Kentucky in 2011, followed by word that Gillispie offered a scholarship to fellow 2011 prospect Jeremiah Davis. During this stretch, Gillispie also managed to get a verbal promise from 2009 ESPN 100 prospect Jon Hood.

4. The O.J. Mayo saga

Two years ago, USC coach Tim Floyd had the ingredients and the recipe needed to cook up one of the top up-and-coming college basketball programs in the country. With talented players Nick Young, Gabe Pruitt, and Taj Gibson and the pristine Galen Center serving as the foundation, Floyd had the facilities and the players to win games and in the process, gain the attention of some of the country's top prospects. (The program also could sell the experience of playing under the bright lights of Los Angeles.) USC had all the parts to deliver award-winning performances on the big stage except a true star to play the lead. Enter phenom O.J. Mayo.

With cross-town rival UCLA enjoying its own rebirth of sorts under Ben Howland and the early departures of both Young and Pruitt for the NBA draft, Mayo had the opportunity to immediately fill the backcourt void for the Trojans. USC has played in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament only twice since 1979, and Mayo had the chance to take the Trojans on a historic ride and create a legacy as one of the top freshmen to ever lace them up. Although the Trojans lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament this season, Mayo had a good year, leading the Pac-10 in scoring despite carrying major expectations and serving as the focal point of every opponent's defense.

Following his stellar freshman campaign, allegations emerged that Mayo accepted improper gifts before his enrollment at USC and during his time as a student. If current investigations find truth in these allegations, the Trojans will undoubtedly face sanctions that will have a major impact on their recruiting immediately. Top-10 prospect Demar Derozan has stated that these accusations could lead him to seek a release from the letter of intent he signed with USC. The Trojans have verbal commitments from other talented prospects -- including Malik Story and Leonard Washington -- they also could lose if they are penalized as a result of the investigation.

5. Hopson Volunteers for Tennessee

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, with his outstanding basketball knowledge and infectious personality, landed a commitment from an elite prospect when 2008 McDonald's All-American Scotty Hopson decided he would head to Knoxville for the next phase of his basketball career. Pearl previously played All-American Chris Lofton at shooting guard. What Lofton lacked in height and athleticism for the position, he more than compensated for with shooting ability, character and determination. Hopson, who originally committed to Mississippi State, provides the Volunteers with prototypical size and elite athleticism at the 2-guard slot. With Hopson on board, expect Tennessee to arrive as a mainstay on the national recruiting scene.
6. Brady Bunch no more at LSU

At first glance, John Brady's departure from LSU might appear to be a minor event. Upon further analysis, however, Brady's firing could have a major impact on the college basketball landscape, particularly at UCLA.

The Bruins had already put together the top recruiting class in the country, with all-everything guard Jrue Holiday, Jerime Anderson, and Malcolm Lee joining power forward Drew Gordon in UCLA's 2008 recruiting haul. Now, there is wide-spread speculation that former LSU signee and ESPN 100 power forward J'Mison Morgan will join the Bruins after he received his release from LSU. Morgan's commitment would further bolster UCLA's already stellar class. During this recent run of success, which has included three consecutive Final Four berths, UCLA has experienced issues on the front line that severely hindered the Bruins' chances of winning the title. With this outstanding group of incoming freshmen -- and the prospects of adding Morgan -- UCLA may finally have all of the parts needed to bring the title back to Westwood.

7. Tar Heels ring in the New Year

Many experts thought the Tar Heels lost their recruiting touch at the beginning of the early signing period, during which they lost a couple of elite prospects to other top programs. In November 2008, however, top-10 prospect Tyler Zeller chose the Tar Heels, which seemed to dramatically reverse their recruiting fortunes. North Carolina rode the momentum of Zeller's commitment to a very successful beginning to the 2008 calendar year.

Tyler Zeller runs the floor better and more consistently than most big men, so he'll fit right in at UNC.
In the first week of 2008, John Henson, a talented ESPN 100 power forward from the Class of 2009, delivered a verbal pledge to the Tar Heels. Shortly after Henson's commitment, two more ESPN 100 frontcourt players -- twin brothers Travis and David Wear -- decided they will don the Carolina Blue in college. A few days later, 2010 ESPN Super 60 prospect Reggie Bullock selected North Carolina. 2009 top-10 player Dexter Strickland rounded out North Carolina's incredible January by giving a verbal pledge to the Tar Heels. So much for all of the talk that UNC coach Roy Williams lost his recruiting fastball.
8. Dawkins will Duke it out at Stanford

In somewhat of a surprise, longtime top Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins left Tobacco Road for Stanford's redwood country. Many thought Dawkins would remain with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and one day take over as Coach K's successor. Instead, Dawkins opted for Stanford to take over for Trent Johnson when he departed for LSU.

In Dawkins, Stanford has a leader familiar with coaching and recruiting under high academic standards and expectations. Dawkins also has international coaching experience under his belt (he contributed as part of Coach K's USA Basketball staff). Dawkins, with his coaching experience and knowledge, should have no problem maintaining Stanford's success on the national scene. Duke faithful will welcome Dawkins' success at Stanford. Surprisingly, a number of Coach K's disciples have endured their share of adversity as head coaches. Former Missouri coach Quin Snyder resigned due to pressures that arose from scandals. Current Harvard coach Tommy Amaker seemed to land on his feet after receiving his pink slip from Michigan. However, Harvard currently finds itself battling allegations of improper contact with recruits.

9. The Crimson curve

Amaker wasted little time in building excitement when he started to assemble a top-25 2008 recruiting class, headlined by talented center Frank Ben-Eze. Then, allegations of recruiting violations threw a curveball to the Crimson's reclamation project. Although the NCAA has not officially stated that Harvard engaged in illegal recruiting tactics, the fear of action from the NCAA has dramatically altered Harvard's once-impressive recruiting class. Ben-Eze, after originally pledging to Harvard, has signed with Davidson while he rehabs from a rather serious knee injury. In the coming weeks, players and college programs will play close attention to the situation at Harvard, and the Crimson's remaining 2008 recruiting class could have more significant changes.

10. Cousins blazing trails in Birmingham

The center of the recruiting universe was Birmingham, Ala., when 2009 top-5 prospect DeMarcus Cousins announced he would remain in-state to play for Mike Davis at UAB. Davis had no problem luring top talent at his previous head coaching post at Indiana and seems to have brought that formula to Birmingham. In Cousins, Davis has the elite prospect who has the talent to change the fortunes of a program. Cousins' commitment could also alter the course of an entire conference.

With schools such as Louisville departing for other conferences, Conference USA has experienced a decrease in level of play and respectability on the national scene. Only Memphis remains as a national power in the league. Cousins has the ability to shift the balance of power in Conference USA. Though he cannot accomplish this task alone, his presence has already started to play immediate dividends for the Blazers. Shortly after Cousins committed, Tamir "Pops" Jackson, another ESPN 100 prospect from the Class of 2009, delivered a verbal pledge to Davis and UAB. With this type of talent headed to Birmingham, Conference USA will start to garner national praise. Conference USA, if it wants relevancy on the national scene, needs more schools to develop their programs to challenge Memphis. With the additions of Cousins and Jackson, UAB seems well on its way to helping restore the league.

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