North Carolina, Illinois lead early '09 rankings
Currently, only 42 players listed in the ESPN 100 have given verbal commitments. With more than half of the 2009 ESPN 100 prospects, including the top prospect in the class, 6-foot-9 PF Derrick Favors (Atlanta, Ga.), still searching for their college basketball homes, expect the competition for pledges from these elite players to intensify significantly.
This list will likely be changed dramatically in the coming months. As more 2009 prospects select programs, the rankings for the top recruiting classes will start to appear in clearer focus. Many schools will move up the rankings or drop in the rankings depending on how well they fare on the recruiting trail. These schools have flexed their recruiting muscles in these preliminary rankings of the top recruiting hauls in the Class of 2009.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams has managed to put together an outstanding 2009 recruiting haul. Six-foot-3 combo guard Dexter Strickland (Elizabeth, N.J.) leads a very talented group of four top-25 prospects. Strickland will get plenty of help from 6-9 PF John Henson (Round Rock, Texas) and very skilled 6-9 power forwards David (Santa Ana, Calif.) and Travis Wear (Santa Ana, Calif.).
After losing 2007 prize Eric Gordon, Illinois coach Bruce Weber has endured some criticism because of a perceived lack of success in his recruiting efforts for the 2007 and 2008 classes. Weber has struck with a vengeance thus far in the 2009 class, with commitments from four prospects, led by a top-50 player, 6-9 PF Tyler Griffey (Wildwood, Mo.). ESPN 100 guards Brandon Paul (Warren, Ill.) and D.J. Richardson (Peoria, Ill.) in addition to 6-4 SG Joseph Bertrand (Sterling, Ill.) will provide scoring and playmaking from the perimeter to complement the inside presence of Griffin.
After assembling a top-10 recruiting class in 2008, the Hoyas continue to stockpile talented prospects for their 2009 class. Georgetown coach John Thompson III has demonstrated great recruiting range by getting verbal commitments from two ESPN 100 players: 6-6 SF Hollis Thompson (Los Angeles, Calif.) and 6-11 C DaShonte Riley (Detroit, Mich.). This class gets a huge boost from 6-8 PF Chris Braswell (Baltimore, Md.), an ESPN 100 player from 2008 who will reclassify and enroll in 2009.
The beat goes on at Louisville as coach Rick Pitino continues to bring in quality players for his program. In 2009, the Cardinals will welcome one of the best point guards in the class in 6-foot Peyton Siva (Seattle). Meanwhile, 6-8 PF Rakeem Buckles (Miami) should produce plenty of highlight-reel plays with his explosive athleticism, and 6-4 SG Mike Marra (Smithfield, R.I.) should have plenty of chances to get off his smooth jump shot in Pitino's high-octane offense.
Having UAB on this list is not a misprint; coach Mike Davis has delivered some monumental verbal pledges to Birmingham. One top-5 prospect, 6-9 PF DeMarcus Cousins (Mobile, Ala.), has the talent to not only build a program, but his presence could help shift the balance of power in Conference USA. ESPN 100 combo-guard Tamir "Pops" Jackson (Newark, N.J.) should have plenty of room to operate on the perimeter due to Cousins' interior presence. Juco 6-10 PF Maurice Bolden will add depth along the front line for the Blazers.
One top-20 prospect, 6-8 PF Alex Oriakhi (Lowell, Mass.), has the ability to dominate games on both ends when he decides to play with intensity. ESPN 100 6-6 SF Jamal Coombs-McDaniel has a college-ready physique already and plays the game with great exuberance.
Florida coach Billy Donovan has attempted to duplicate the success of his recent NCAA championship teams by accumulating incredible depth on the front line. In his 2009 class, he has added two top-40 power forwards in 6-9 DeShawn Painter (Norfolk, Va.) and 6-10 Erik Murphy (South Kingstown, R.I.). This talented and versatile 2009 duo will only add to the interior talent that the Gators recruited in their 2008 class, giving Donovan the ability to use multiple looks up front for Florida.
Kansas State coach Frank Martin continues to have success recruiting high-major talent from the famed D.C. Assault AAU organization. After having Assault alums Michael Beasley and Ron Anderson as members of last season's squad, Martin will add two more talented D.C. Assault players in 2009 who are also ESPN 100 prospects: 6-7 SF Wallace Judge (Jacksonville, Fla.) and 6-4 SG Rodney McGruder (Washington).
Spartans coach Tom Izzo has two physical inside players -- 6-10 PF Garrick Sherman (Kenton, Ohio) and 6-9 C Derrick Nix (Detroit, Mich.) -- who will serve to anchor the pressure defense that he loves to employ. Both members of the ESPN 100, Sherman and Nix should provide Michigan State with space-eating inside muscle and scoring from the low block.
Purdue coach Matt Painter has rather quietly built a nice program in West Lafayette. He will welcome ESPN 100 6-4 SG D.J. Byrd (Crawfordsville, Ind.) to campus in 2009, along with highly regarded 6-5 SF Kelsey Barlow (Indianapolis). The Boilermakers will also have interior depth in the 2009 class provided by two power forwards who hail from Indianapolis: 6-8 Patrick Bade and 6-9 Jeff Robinson.
• Rutgers would have ranked very high on this list, but 6-9 C Gregory Echenique (Newark, N.J.), a top-10 prospect, graduated early, reclassified in the Class of 2008, and will attend Rutgers this year instead of in 2009. Despite "losing" Echenique, the Scarlet Knights have a solid 2009 recruiting class, which features ESPN 100 6-7 SF Dane Miller (Rochester, N.Y.) and 6-7 PF Austin Johnson (Blairstown, N.J.).
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.