Winners and Losers of College Basketball's 2013 Early Signing Period
When college basketball's national signing period begins, it brings excitement and trepidation in equal measure for prospects and programs alike.
Finally, the nation's top high school players officially make themselves part of a university's basketball culture. For their part, coaches receive final assurance that those hours, miles and dollars spent to recruit those players were worth the investment.
Unfortunately, for every coach who hangs up the phone and pumps his fist, there's another who wants to use said fist to pound his desk, his wall or his TV set, depending on the proximity of quality first aid.
Just like every game, every recruiting decision produces a winner. Unlike games, a single high school senior's choice makes multiple schools losers. Let's look at the programs that experienced the greatest elation and deepest dejection when the letters of intent started flowing into basketball offices nationwide.
Finally, Jahlil Okafor's face says, maybe the questions will stop.
The most scrutinized member of the 2014 recruiting class, Okafor's decision to join coach Mike Krzyzewski's program at Duke tilted the balance of power in this year's basketball meat market.
Okafor and Minnesota point guard Tyus Jones agreed early on to attend college together, a move that seems odd for players who weren't teammates on any high school or AAU team. This is not Greg Oden and Mike Conley leaving Lawrence North (Ind.) HS for Ohio State.
Package deals surely occur much more often than we know, but Jones and Okafor were sure to make whichever school they chose a winner. Two of the nation's top five prospects covering the two most important positions on the court can do that. Plus, Florida gunner Grayson Allen will join up to spread the floor.
Oh, and Okafor's dad is also using Twitter to rouse Blue Devil fans into courting top-10 forward Justise Winslow. Just in case this class wasn't potent enough already.
Okafor will solve a pressing need for the Blue Devils, rendering some inside offensive presence, while Jones will be a more potent offensive force from the point than incumbent Quinn Cook. With weapons like Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson and possibly Rodney Hood surrounding them, the freshmen could still be wearing blue and white in April of 2015.
Baylor was one of the schools still in the mix for the Jones-Okafor pairing. If you're the type who roots for the underdog, you may have been pulling for Baylor to close the deal over Duke, Kansas and Kentucky.
Now that Scott Drew is facepalming in disappointment, what next? The Bears have only a pair of middling Texas prospects in their current recruiting class.
Drew has to go all in on Minnesota shooting guard Rashad Vaughn, but current intelligence gathered by 247 Sports has Iowa State and UNLV atop his list. He's also considering Kansas, Arizona, North Carolina and Minnesota.
One of Vaughn's assistant coaches at Findlay Prep insists that Vaughn won't be signing with anyone until the spring, which gives Drew time to keep pitching. A loss here, though, would leave the Bears with no signature recruit for the entire 2014 class.
Arizona coach Sean Miller's class went from good to great when Mater Dei (Calif.) forward Stanley Johnson pulled out a pair of custom kicks in Arizona colors.
A former AAU teammate of current Wildcat freshman Aaron Gordon, Johnson will likely be the replacement when Gordon bolts for the NBA in the spring. He and fellow signee Craig Victor will form a potent pair of forwards to support veterans Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley. Victor is the latest product of UA's Findlay Prep pipeline, joining current 'Cats Ashley and Nick Johnson.
Point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright will share minutes with current junior floor general T.J. McConnell, and the 5'7" waterbug will learn about Division I college ball with a year's apprenticeship.
Miller may not be done, either. The Wildcats are still high on the shortlists of top-20 prospects Rashad Vaughn and Justise Winslow. Top-5 center Myles Turner is also considering Arizona, but schools closer to his Texas home may hold more interest at the moment.
A great columnist once said of college recruiting, "coaches receive final assurance that those hours, miles and dollars spent to recruit those players were worth the investment."
The others get repeated kicks to the gut like Illinois coach John Groce received last week.
Thinking he had point guard Quentin Snider locked up, Groce could only wish the Louisville native well when he received word that Snider was rescinding his verbal commitment to the Illini and staying home.
Mere hours later, Chicago power forward Cliff Alexander baffled and enraged some Illinois fans by briefly fingering an Illini hat before donning a Kansas lid at his announcement.
Illinois does have top-50 forward Leron Black's name on a letter of intent along with hometown forward Michael Finke. Former Louisville commit JaQuan Lyle is listed as a U of I target by 247 Sports, but the interest may not be mutual there.
Purdue coach Matt Painter had no signees rated in 247 Sports' top 100 until Monday. That was the day that Alabama center Isaac Haas pulled back from a verbal commitment to Wake Forest and announced plans to become a Boilermaker.
The 7'1", 280-pound post player will provide capable support for A.J. Hammons if Purdue's enigmatic big man remains in school or be a replacement if Hammons goes pro.
Painter also secured Ohio wings Vince Edwards and Dakota Mathias, as well as three-star power forward Jacquil Taylor out of Massachusetts. Edwards is a top-100 prospect according to ESPN.
The Boilers still have two scholarships available in 2014 and may pursue more fifth-year transfers in the mold of this season's newcomers, Errick Peck from Cornell and Sterling Carter from Seattle.
Loser: Wake Forest
Not to make light of kidney stones, but Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik looks like he's got one here. He gets to play the "agony of defeat" guy to Matt Painter's thrill of victory in the Isaac Haas commitment.
Haas was expected to be a post contributor from day one in Winston-Salem, providing rebounding and interior defense for a team that could use some.
Point guard Shelton Mitchell did sign his LOI, meaning the Demon Deacons don't get completely shut out of the top 100. Still, Wake is essentially finished in 2014 and will turn its attention to this season's junior class, which includes top-30 forward Brandon Ingram of Kinston, N.C.
Rumors of coach Johnny Dawkins' job insecurity don't appear to be weighing Stanford down in the recruiting stakes. The Cardinal's class currently stands among the nation's top 15 with potential to rise even further.
Minnesota power forward Reid Travis and 6'10" Arizona product Michael Humphrey could give Stanford a capable duo to replace seniors Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell. Travis in particular will impress basketball purists with his willingness to do the grunt work inside.
Point guard Robert Cartwright is a tough defender who'll join with the Allen twins to make opposing ballhandlers' lives miserable.
Dawkins could pull another major coup if he lands Justise Winslow, who took his fifth and final official visit to the Farm in early November. Duke and Arizona are considered his front-runners at this point, although Winslow is providing very few clues.
UPDATE: Stanford has also added top-100 combo guard Dorian Pickens out of Phoenix, Ariz. He could provide immediate bench scoring in support of Chasson Randle next season.
New Minnesota coach Richard Pitino has the pedigree to get in any recruit's front door, and it nearly helped him land with a splash this season. The 2014 class held a rare load of in-state talent, but Pitino fell just short with the cream of the crop.
Apple Valley point guard Tyus Jones, of course, made the biggest splash by heading to Duke. Minneapolis forward Reid Travis chose to head across the country to Stanford.
One native star remains, that being the popular Rashad Vaughn. A strong season in the Big Ten could help the Gophers' cause, but there's little more Pitino can sell the Golden Valley product. Vaughn told ESPN Twin Cities that he does not plan to take an official visit to Minnesota, since "[he] can go to Minnesota anytime."
Without Vaughn, the Gophers' class is fairly nondescript. Jacksonville, Fla. point guard Nate Mason and junior college swingman Carlos Morris are both considered three-star prospects by 247 Sports.
Sometimes, the future of basketball programs can be altered by little more than a young man's fear of homesickness.
Xavier may have secured the greatest recruiting class in school history when Indianapolis swingman Trevon Bluiett backtracked from a commitment to UCLA and chose to play in Cincinnati instead. A dangerous scorer from nearly anywhere on the court, Bluiett decided not to follow his high school coach, new UCLA assistant Ed Schilling, all the way across the country.
Where Bluiett may be able to walk right into a starting spot next season, point guard Edmond Sumner and skinny power forward Makinde London will likely spend at least a year providing depth. Both need to add some muscle to compete in the Big East, but Sumner's shooting ability could see him spend time next to star playmaker Semaj Christon, who struggles from the perimeter.
The scouting report is similar on Minnesota shooting guard J.P. Macura. Finally, 6'9" Illinois center Sean O'Mara will get a year to apprentice under veteran Matt Stainbrook.
Already oversigned by two scholarships, Xavier coach Chris Mack should be turning his attention to the 2015 class by now.
Perhaps calling UCLA and coach Steve Alford a loser is harsh, but a class that could have stood near the top five is now loitering in the mid-teens following Trevon Bluiett's decommitment.
Still, Alford's not too disappointed with landing Milwaukee forward Kevon Looney and local 7-footer Thomas Welsh. The two will help restock the Bruin frontcourt when David and Travis Wear graduate after this season. Looney in particular is a tremendous athlete who can provide a dangerous scoring threat when Alford wants to push the tempo.
The Bruins still have one scholarship available for next season and some intriguing prospects to fill it. Justise Winslow and top-50 wing Jonah Bolden both have UCLA among their final choices.
Alford has, unfortunately, struck out on adding more backcourt talent from the 2014 class, but the arrival of former UTEP commit Isaac Hamilton will ease that blow.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron. Now playing: Poll Dancing, TBI's official Top 25 ballot.
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