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Sunday, August 01, 2004

College B-Ball Recruiting Forecasts: Hot Julys, Steamy, Stormy Aprils

Andy Katz, to whom many of us college basketball fans look as the premier authority (at least in print), wrote an interesting piece in a few weeks ago about national letters of intent. Katz points out that this past year eight HS seniors signed letters of intent but ultimately declared for the NBA draft. This strategy locked those schools out of giving a scholarship to another good player (precisely because they had given it to one of the top 10 recruits) because they had to wait to see whether a Shaun Livingston or J.R. Smith actually went through with the NBA draft thing or decided that college would be okay -- at least for one year.

It isn't as those players have to sign an NLI during the fall recruiting period or else risk not getting a scholarship to a DI school. Many recruits do face that predicament. A Miami (Ohio) may come after a HS kid hard in the fall (as they might several others), but they're going for certainty so if that say Top 300 prospect doesn't ink in the fall, the mid-major in question probably would ink other good prospects at the risk of being shut out. Which means that the Top 300 recruit who balks might find himself at a low DI school or even out of Division I if he doesn't play his cards right.

But the top recruits don't face that predicament. Everyone wants them, for two main reasons. First, they could help lead the school to a national championship, even if they stay for only one year (see Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse '06). Second, they can help fill up a building if attendance has languished for a while. So, if they don't sign in the fall, they definitely will have options in the spring. Especially since the 5-8 rule has been eliminated, which means a) schools definitely will have more flexibility as to how many players they sign in a given year and b) schools also could elect not to renew a scholarship of their 9th or 10th guy if somehow one of the top 10 HS players decides that maybe he should go to college after all.

Which means, of course, that the elite programs might do some roster shuffling late in the recruiting season. For example, suppose you're Rick Pitino at Louisville, and there's this 7-foot kid from Newark who is flirting with the NBA, talking with the shoe companies, and who is listed as one of the top 10 HS players. Suppose you've spent some time on him, but you've hedged your bets because there's a top 25 PF you'd like to get and you just know he's going to college. Well, you follow the PF to all ends of the earth, get him to sign a letter of intent in the fall signing period, sign a Top 50 and a Top 75, and you're pleased that Clark Francis and Mike DeCourcy believe that you have a top 10 recruiting class. Good work.

But then this 7-footer, well, he's consulted with a variety of advisors, he's played in some post-season all-star games, and he's backed off his goal of going into the draft after HS. In fact, he's interested in going to college. Well, suppose Cincinnati, Kansas, UCLA and, yes, Memphis and Kentucky have a scholarship open for one reason or another. What do you do then? You've committed your scholarships and you have none open. You'll have 13 kids on scholarship come the fall.

But you have three kids, your 11th, 12th and 13th best players, and, let's face it, they'll be nothing more than practice players and perhaps they'll get a shot at the outside of the rotation if one of your main cogs gets hurt. Nice kids, perhaps they help the team GPA, perhaps they want to be coaches some day. But none of them is 7 feet tall, and none of them can be the difference between an NCAA title and, say, a Sweet 16 appearance. What do you do?

If these top 10 prospects stick to what Andy Katz suggests in his article and do not sign letters of intent in the fall, and, further, if some of them decide not to enter the NBA draft, all types of recruiting hell will break loose, and big-name coaches will be faced with the predicament that I just laid out for Coach Pitino. It wasn't that long ago (only about 25 years or so, perhaps, say 5 years after that) when recruits couldn't commit in the fall, they committed in the spring of their senior years. In the spring of 1977, the college hoops world waited with baited breath to see where the two best HS players, Albert King of NYC and Gene Banks of Philadelphia, were going to college. King chose Maryland, Banks chose Duke, but neither school won an NCAA title with those guys (Duke did get to the final game but lost to Kentucky). The drama then was great, the suspense huge.

College basketball coaching is very lucrative for the very best coaches, and they do work very hard to build and maintain their programs. This latest wrinkle in recruiting dynamics will put the ethics of the best teacher-coaches to the test.

Here's to hoping that they make the right decisions.

And what would you do in the case I just outlined? Cut the 12th guy, a junior who was a HS legend in your state and who just didn't progress as a college player, but who gets the team to AM shootouts and is a leader? Or keep him and let the highly touted 7 footer go -- to an archival?

What would Bobby Knight do? Dean Smith? Coach K? Coach Pitino? Tubby Smith? Bill Self? Roy Williams? Bob Huggins? Ben Howland? Thad Matta? Herb Sendek? Jim Calhoun?

How many of them would let the 7-footer go to an archrival?


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