Reload and Rebuild
The top recruiting classes from college basketball’s early signing period.
by Kellon Hassenstab / @Hoopniks
The college basketball early signing period for recruits who will be hitting the floor next year started on Wednesday, and the majority of the returns are in, with the rich programs getting richer, and some former powers rebuilding with precocious prep prospects.
Approximately 80 of the top-100 players in the country were verbally committed to college basketball programs prior to the start of the signing period, and three announcements were made during the period, so the majority of the top players in high school basketball have decided which college they well be attending next year—an amazing fact when one considers most signed with colleges that have yet to play a game this season.
There are some notable players in the 2012 class who aren’t committed, namely the No. 1 prospect in the land, 6-6 wing Shabazz Muhammad of Bishop Gorman (NV), and elite power forward Anthony Bennett, a 6-7 native of Canada who plays at Findlay Prep (NV), but the majority of the top prospects have now declared their intentions. Expected Muhammad and Bennett to face constant attention from college programs prior to their decisions.
For college basketball junkies, it’s never too early to start learning about next year’s stars, and some of the schools listed signed some definite future stars. A mix of traditional powerhouses, past powers and unexpected schools have signed talented recruiting classes for next season, and the top ten classes are detailed here.
Arizona – The Wildcats have an embarrassment of riches in terms of frontcourt players signed for next season. It must have been the ultimate sales job by coach Sean Miller, convincing three elite interior players who he can use them all together, but he did just that in landing Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and center Kaleb Tarczewski. SoCal combo guard Gabe York would be considered a crown jewel of most recruiting classes, but he is relegated to fourth mention in this terrific group. There’s no doubt that Arizona basketball is back in a big way, as they beat out Kansas for Tarczewski and many of the top teams in the nation for Ashley.
Indiana – This is the class that supporters of coach Tom Crean have been pointing to for a year. There’s tons of expectations for the five players who signed with the Hoosiers, as the fervent fan base is hopeful this group will turn the tide for a program that has fallen on hard times as of late. Three native sons of Indiana, and two international players bring in immediate depth and talent to the roster. Touted point guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, smooth wing forward Jeremy Hollowell and Colombian power forward Hanner Perea, a freakish athlete, can make an impact next year.
Kentucky – Yes, the Wildcats have proven time and time again over coach John Calipari’s tenure that they flat out get it done on the recruiting trail. Shooting guard Archie Goodwin and combo forward Alex Poythress are plug and play, meaning with NBA early entry they could be starters next year. Kentucky also snagged a 7-footer from Kansas, Willie Cauley, who has tremendous upside. The worst part for opponents is that Kentucky isn’t done yet, as they are a finalist for Muhammad, and on the short list for several remaining blue chippers.
North Carolina State – When he was hired during the summer, Coach Mark Gottfried had an immediate focus, which was to defend the borders of a talent rich state. They’ve done just that in this recruiting class, as the Wolfpack has landed three of the top players in North Carolina, all top-100 prospects. Point guard Tyler Lewis is a table-setter used to making talented teammates look and play better, and he’ll have two dandy wings to work with in Rodney Purvis and TJ Warren. While attention lately has been on Triangle rivals Duke and North Carolina, it may not be long before the Pack is back.
Michigan – It may be only for a year, but the No. 2 prospect in the country, 6-10 power player Mitch McGary, could be what puts Michigan back into the upper echelon of college basketball. McGary is a highly talented inside player who picked the Wolverines over Duke and others. He’s the centerpiece and a day one starter in Ann Arbor, but AAU teammate Glenn Robinson (son of the former Purdue star and NBA player) is also ready to play in college. Designated outside shooter Nik Stauskas of Canada will fill a defined role on the roster.
Providence – The Friars have been out of the national spotlight for awhile, but this class, which was put together by new head man Ed Cooley, may change Providence’s profile in the Big East. Two guards that are among the top players in the country have cast their lot with the Friars, and both are from New England. Combustible shooting guard Ricardo Ledo is among the most talented wings in the country, but could use work as a teammate. Point guard Kris Dunn may have as much potential as any lead guard in the country. The Friars also landed a sweet shooting wing in Josh Fortune in the class.
Texas – Another year comes and goes, and once again coach Rick Barnes has gotten it done on the recruiting trail. A pair of talented big men, thick post Cameron Ridley and athlete Prince Ibeh are both larger than 6-10, and look like future stars. New Orleans native Javan Felix hopes to follow in the footsteps of the last point guard who came to Texas from the Bayou, DJ Augustin. A Greek forward, Ioannis Papertrou and in-state face up big man Connor Lammert complete the class.
North Carolina – The Tar Heels always get theirs on the recruiting trail, and this four-man class has done just that. While there isn’t a can’t miss star, there is a quartet of top-100 players that will keep the North Carolina machine running. Talented point guard Marcus Paige, from coach Roy Williams’ longstanding recruiting grounds in Iowa, should see the floor first, but slender power forward Brice Johnson is also a talent. For the long term, solidly built Joel James, a center, and athletic wing JP Tokoto could make an impact down the road.
Michigan State – The Spartans made a huge splash, as they landed 6-4 shooting guard Gary Harris, one of the top shooting guards in the land, and a player who looks to be an immediate college starter, over Big Ten rivals Indiana and Purdue. The announcement was somewhat of a surprise, as even experts couldn’t say where Harris was going to end up. He puts the cap on what was already a good group, with in-state wing Denzel Valentine and center Matt Costello, as well as forward Kenny Kaminski from Ohio.
Houston – It isn’t quite Phi Slamma Jamma just yet, but the Cougars landed two local stars who will have an immediate impact next season. Houston was rewarded for getting into the recruitments early, and not letting up, which has paid dividends. Wing forward Danuel House is legitimate McDonald’s All-American game candidate, and Danrad “Chicken” Knowles has a unique game at 6-9. Houston unquestionably has the best recruiting class outside of the BCS conferences, and may have a player down the line if center Valentien Izundu develops as some think he will.
Five other terrific classes: Pittsburgh, UCLA, Baylor, Georgia Tech and Syracuse.
Kellon Hassenstab runs Hoopniks.com, a leading independent website that covers college basketball recruiting and boys high school basketball. Hoopniks publishes recruiting class rankings for each league, and compiles player rankings on the top prospects in the country. Follow him on twitter @Hoopniks, or contact by e-mail at Kellon@hoopniks.com.