- Antonio Williams, Basketball Recruiting
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With Ryan Kelly and Jordan Hamilton, two highly regarded frontcourt players, recently giving commitments to Duke and Texas, respectively, the battle for the top undeclared players in the country should continue to heat up to a fever pitch as the early signing period approaches. As these recruiting battles take shape, college programs make concerted pushes toward gaining pledges from prospects, sometimes even targeting only the one prospect that the program feels will put it over the top in its quest for the national championship.
For example, the 2007-08 version of coach John Calipari's Memphis Tigers featured only one freshman playing a prominent role. With talented players such as Chris Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey already with Memphis, the Tigers believed they only needed a talented point guard to transform a good team into a great team. Enter all-world point guard Derrick Rose, who assumed the controls for Memphis and guided the Tigers to an appearance in the national title game last season.
A few college programs have already assembled talented recruiting classes and continue to search for that one piece to gain the competitive edge they need. Also, some programs have started to build reputations and become players on the national scene and need a signature recruit to cement their presence on the national recruiting trail.
These five recruiting battles warrant paying close attention to -- all for different reasons -- as the early signing period draws closer.
Choices involved: Kansas, Memphis
Kansas and Memphis have both drawn the proverbial "line in the sand" as these two programs, riding the success of last season's epic battle for the national championship, battle off the court for the nation's top talent. Henry could provide both programs with an elite prospect at the shooting guard spot, a player capable of creating his own offense in addition to using his brute strength to harass opponents on the defensive end. Kansas presently has no prospects in its 2009 class, and getting a commitment from Henry would get the Jayhawks rolling rather quickly and emphatically. Memphis presently has two players in its 2009 class, PF Will Coleman and SF Darnell Dodson. Adding Henry would give the Tigers a talented backcourt prospect who would go a long way toward bringing them a complete 2009 recruiting haul. Also, if 2008 recruit Tyreke Evans bolts early for the NBA after this upcoming season, the Tigers will need a viable scoring option from the perimeter.
Family ties have weaved a tangled web in this process. Carl Henry, Xavier's father, played at Kansas when Calipari was a Jayhawks' assistant coach. Calipari will have another Henry, Xavier's brother C.J., this season at Memphis. C.J. originally signed with Kansas but decided to pursue professional baseball -- signing with the New York Yankees -- instead of playing basketball at Kansas.
Choices: Arkansas, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, North Carolina State
Favors has kept his recruiting close to the vest and probably will make a choice during the late signing period in April. He has a number of schools heavily pursuing him, and he still has a rather extensive list of programs that have his interest. Favors will provide the lucky basketball program that he chooses with a dynamic inside force who has a great deal of upside. Favors uses his impressive athletic gifts to impact the game on both ends of the court. He also rebounds the ball very well in as well as out of his area.
Both Georgia and Georgia Tech have interest in Favors, and the Georgia native reciprocates with interest in both programs. Competing out-of-state schools may have a tough time plucking Favors from the state of Georgia, but these programs, steeped in tradition and charismatic, great coaching, have managed to stay in the race for Favors' services. Expect the competition to remain fierce for the top interior player in the country.
Choices: Baylor, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, North Carolina State, Oklahoma State, Oregon
It should come as no surprise that competition remains fierce for Wall, given the success college teams enjoy with elite play from the point guard position.
Wall, at this point, still has some level of interest in a good number of schools; So those programs will continue to put their best foot forward in efforts to gain his services. Wall has incredible quickness and athleticism, which makes him an absolute terror in the open court. Combine these elements with his good size for the position and you have the makings of an elite point guard. Though Wall is not as good a point guard prospect as Derrick Rose, college teams have no doubt paid close attention to what Rose's presence meant to Memphis last season.
Consequently, Memphis, among other schools, continues to pursue Wall. However, Baylor's chances got a big boost when it recently hired Dwon Clifton, Wall's former AAU coach, as director of player development.
Getting a commitment from Wall could announce Baylor, an up-and-coming program, as a player on the national recruiting stage. Other talented prospects could certainly follow Wall to Waco, when they know they will receive the ball from a spectacular quarterback.
Choices: Duke, Florida, Texas, Georgia Tech, Memphis, Texas, USC
As stated earlier, guard play has a very big impact on college basketball and the national championship picture and Boynton's considerable talents would serve to catapult a team's chances almost immediately. Boynton has explosive scoring ability. He also has a college-ready body and the strength necessary to contribute to his college program of choice from Day 1. His college team will benefit immensely from Boynton's insatiable appetite for victories and his intense style of play.
Florida will be tough to overcome for Boyton's services, given that he hails from Florida and comes from a very close-knit family. However, the schools from out-of-state that continue to recruit Boynton have their own set of circumstances that make them very attractive destinations. Duke, for example, will feature Boynton almost immediately in the backcourt as a combo-guard with the freedom to score and create for others on offense. With the newly-committed Kelly and Mason Plumlee on board, Boynton would have some very talented frontcourt guys who can stretch defenses and open driving lanes for him, if he decided to attend Duke.
Renardo Sidney and Lance Stephenson
Choices: College or Europe (Professional Basketball)
Both Sidney and Stephenson have played under the intense scrutiny of the national spotlight for a number of years. This constant attention should prepare them to handle the expectations and attention that playing for a major college program often presents. If they choose to go to college, they both have the talent and the frame to allow them to make a positive impact immediately. However, recent reports have begun to spread that these talented prospects will head to Europe instead of playing college basketball.
The college basketball world will keep a keen eye on Italy throughout the upcoming basketball season, as Brandon Jennings, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2008, opted to pursue a professional career in Europe in preparation for the 2009 NBA draft instead of going the conventional route and playing a year in college. If Jennings enjoys success, expect more elite high school prospects to attempt to make the jump. Still, these players should understand that it takes a special individual with special circumstances (i.e. family, professional team, city, etc.) to succeed in this situation.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.