NCAA Basketball Recruiting: The Biggest Winners and Losers of Decision Friday
Four monumental decisions made Friday a red-letter day in NCAA basketball recruiting. Duke is obviously celebrating after landing top-four talents Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, but the effects of their choice (plus those of Cliff Alexander and Stanley Johnson) go far beyond Durham.
Indeed, one coach who has to be frustrated with the day’s results is 2,500 miles beyond Durham, at USC. Andy Enfield put his rebuilding program onto Johnson’s list of finalists, but by whiffing on the California native, he lost a huge opportunity for a statement win off the court.
Herein, a closer look at Enfield and the rest of the non-Blue Devils who will reap the biggest rewards and the worst regrets from Friday’s big announcements.
Chicago native Cliff Alexander gave serious thought to signing on with John Groce’s up-and-coming Illinois team. The fact that the Illini missed out on one of the best recruits in the nation is a boon to every other middling Big Ten program, especially Iowa.
The Hawkeyes, like the Illini, appear to be headed in the right direction, based especially on their trip to last season’s NIT title game.
They’ll have a much better chance of returning to the ranks of conference contenders without Illinois rocketing ahead on the strength of the high-jumping, hard-dunking Alexander.
Loser: John Calipari
For once, the best recruiter in college basketball got scooped. Four ultra-elite recruits all making televised announcements on the same day, and John Calipari didn’t land one of them.
Even more surprising, mighty Kentucky was only a finalist for Stanley Johnson, with none of the others even considering the program by this point.
In addition to the hit Coach Cal’s mystique is bound to take (especially if Duke tops UK in the 2014 recruiting rankings), there is also the small matter of trying to outplay now-loaded Duke as a contender for the 2015 national title.
Winner: Travis Ford
Some of the coaches with the most reason to celebrate Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones’ joint decision are the ones who won’t have to deal with them.
Travis Ford, who has an enviable recruiting class of his own at Oklahoma State, would have been in for a long 2014-15 season if Kansas had landed the package deal.
Obviously, Cliff Alexander is no slouch, but he can’t compare by himself to what Kansas would’ve gotten with the Okafor/Jones double dip.
Kansas with Alexander will be great but beatable, whereas Kansas with two top-four recruits would have been a pretty unstoppable force in the Big 12.
Loser: The State of Illinois
Cliff Alexander’s three finalists included a pair of schools loaded with natives of his hometown of Chicago: DePaul and Illinois.
He could’ve been the face of either program as both attempt to build back up to national-contender status, but he headed south to Kansas instead.
The collapse of the Blue Demons and the less dramatic decline of the Illini have left Illinois in surprisingly bad shape when it comes to top-level college basketball options.
Instead of reversing that trend, Alexander’s decision—and that of fellow Chicagoan Jahlil Okafor—only accentuated the disparity between the state’s astounding high school talent base and its college-hoops mediocrity.
If there were any questions about the ACC reclaiming its crown as the nation’s top conference, Friday went a long way toward silencing them.
Neither the shrunken Big East nor the Big Ten (last year’s gold standard, and arguably this year’s, too) made an appearance among the three schools adding star recruits in the announcement barrage.
The ACC, meanwhile, saw signature program Duke do what Duke does: attract the best players in the country, year after year.
With Jabari Parker followed up by Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, Coach K has shown that he’s still capable of putting together awe-inspiring rosters even after three decades on the bench.
Loser: Kevon Looney
When Kevon Looney committed to UCLA on Halloween, he immediately became the defining recruit of this year’s Pac-12.
He lost that status just as instantly on Friday, when Stanley Johnson (ranked as high as No. 3 nationally by Rivals.com) decided to play for Arizona.
Looney is also a major piece of Steve Alford’s plan for returning the Bruins to conference supremacy, and that plan gets a great deal tougher with Johnson joining the deep, talented Wildcats.
They may not face off against each other to any great extent—the 6’9” Looney spends more time in the post than SF Johnson—but today’s events ensured that they’ll be rivals in 2014-15.
Winner: Joel Embiid
Even after spending this year apprenticing to Tarik Black, Joel Embiid isn’t going to be ready to play in the NBA. If Jahlil Okafor had headed to Kansas, though, he wouldn’t have had much chance to play in college, either.
Instead, the Jayhawks get Cliff Alexander, who can slide over to power forward alongside the slender sophomore-to-be.
Alexander’s offensive punch will also take some pressure off Embiid, who can develop his own jump shot without having to be a primary weapon.
Loser: Andy Enfield
Andy Enfield has already made a major impression on players considering USC, as evidenced by his ability to attract such high-profile transfers as Pe’Shon Howard (Maryland) and D.J. Haley (VCU).
For him to keep up that kind of momentum, though, the first-year USC coach must out-recruit more established programs for top freshmen, and he missed his chance to do so today.
Without Stanley Johnson in the fold, Enfield’s first recruiting class with his new team—led by PG Jordan McLaughlin—is respectable but nothing earth-shaking.
Had he landed Johnson, though, the young coach would've put his team on the fast track to competing in the fluid Pac-12.
Both Kansas and Arizona scored big commitments with Cliff Alexander and Stanley Johnson respectively, but Arizona’s isn’t likely to drive away any other potential recruits.
In contrast, it wouldn’t be surprising if Alexander’s presence in Lawrence makes other big men (especially Myles Turner, the second-ranked center in the country) stay away.
Johnson's choice of Arizona is also a great fit with the previously committed duo of Craig Victor and Parker Jackson-Cartwright.
Together, they give Sean Miller three dangerous scorers who can all be on the floor together (and who bring plenty more to the table than just point production).
Baylor, the last semifinalists dropped from the lists of Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor, got a double whammy from Friday’s made-for-TV announcements.
The Bears not only missed out on the two superstars, they didn’t even get the boost in notoriety that would’ve come from having their name alongside Duke and Kansas as a potential choice for the celebrated pair.
Having whiffed on the package deal, Scott Drew now has to hope he can sign Rashad Vaughn to salvage what's currently a weak recruiting class. On top of all that, Baylor now gets the pleasure of facing Cliff Alexander in conference play next season.