Heading into the season, the Pac-10 is widely considered one of the top three conferences in the country, along with the Big East and ACC, but recruiting-wise, the conference is taking a little bit of a dip from recent years. At the end of the early signing period, only two teams -- UCLA at No. 8 and Washington at No. 12 -- are ranked in the Top 25 classes.
Arizona would have been somewhere in the Top 25, but after Lute Olson's retirement, the Wildcats lost all three outstanding recruits (Abdul Gaddy, Mike Moser, and Solomon Hill), in all likelihood, to conference foes.
Gaddy (Tacoma, Wash./Bellarmine Prep), the best point guard prospect on the West Coast, decided to stay home and play for Washington. Moser (Portland, Ore./Grant), is a willowy wing-type who is bound for UCLA. Meanwhile, Hill (Los Angeles/Fairfax) is wide-open, but USC, Kentucky, and Georgetown seem to be a little bit ahead of everyone else.
While Arizona is going through a major renovation, UCLA keeps humming along the recruiting trail. Ben Howland has done an outstanding job of restoring the program since his arrival, and his recruiting efforts have been impressive as well.
The Bruins have put together the best class in the conference thus far, with commitments from 6-foot-8 Tyler Honeycutt (Sylmar, Calif.), 6-8 Brendan Lane (Rocklin, Calif.), 6-6 Reeves Nelson (Modesto, Calif./Modesto Christian) and 6-9 Anthony Stover (Los Angeles/Windward).
However, keep an eye on Oregon. The Ducks could be at the Bruins' heels by spring, as they could be in the running for John Wall (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God), the No. 1 point-guard prospect in the country.
But that's a little bit down the line. Here's how each team in the Pac-10 fared through the early signing period.
Arizona commits: 0
Since the departure of Olson, recruiting in Tucson has spiraled downward. Russ Pennell is in a very difficult situation, but that hasn't stopped the Wildcats from going after some of the best prospects on the West Coast.
The new name on the Wildcats' "want list" is 6-8 Victor Rudd (Henderson, Nev./Findlay Prep). Rudd has as much physical ability as any wing-type in the country; he just needs to become more consistent. He is a pure jump shooter who can be a handful in the open court due his to his bounce and overall athletic ability. Overall, though, with a probable lame-duck staff, recruiting will be rather quiet until the new staff is hired.
Arizona State commits: 2
With a terrific one-two punch in James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph who should elevate the Sun Devils to the upper echelon of the Pac-10, Herb Sendek's Sun Devils are tracking upward. But he'll likely lose this fantastic duo after this season: Harden as a lottery pick in the NBA, and Pendergraph will have exhausted his eligibility. That's why this class is important for Sendek and ASU.
So far, the Sun Devils have two solid prospects in the fold, with a possible third on the way in former USC recruit Demetrius Walker.
Walker visited the Sun Devils over the weekend and appears to be leaning toward heading to Tempe. Walker will give Sendek a 3-man who plays extremely hard at both ends and can knock down the 3-point shot.
The headliner of the class is 6-5 Trent Lockett (Minnetonka, Minn./Hopkins). Lockett is the prototypical glue-type who helps you win games. He isn't a spectacular player, but he is very skilled, is a tough rebounder, and his savvy is off the charts. In the half-court set he is very good in a motion offense and can either hit the midrange pull-up or deliver a nifty assist.
In addition to Lockett, the Sun Devils picked up a national sleeper in 7-0 Ruslan Pateev (Monteverde, Fla.. Pateev needs to get stronger to endure the Pac-10 battles, but he has a huge frame, a nice skill set and a high basketball IQ.
Overall, this is a solid beginning, but in order for Sendek to keep his team near the top of the conference standings, he'll need to attract a couple of more high-level prospects, because there isn't much quality depth on the current roster after Harden and Pendergraph.
California commits: 3
After two seasons with the Golden State Warriors and a short stint in the broadcasting business, Mike Montgomery has returned to college basketball. He inherits a team that is short on star power (Patrick Christopher is the only proven player worthy of an All-Pac-10 pick unless Theo Robertson steps up), but has some unproven prospects -- 6-4 D.J. Seeley comes immediately to mind -- that need to mature quickly or it could be a long season for the Golden Bears.
We all know Montgomery is one of the top coaches in the country, but there are some holes on this roster, particularly along the front court, as well as at point guard. On the recruiting trail, Montgomery has secured some intriguing signees in 6-8 Bak Bak (Sun Valley, Calif./Village Christian), 6-8 juco Markhuri Sanders-Frison (Levelland, Texas/South Plains College), and 5-8 Brandon Smith (Concord, Calif./De La Salle).
Bak Bak has a wiry frame and needs bulk, but he is quite skilled inside and out and can handle the ball in the open court. To complement the finesse game of Bak Bak, the Golden Bears also signed one of the top interior forces in junior college in Sanders-Frison. He has a Division I-ready frame and should make an immediate impact the moment he arrives on campus.
On the perimeter, the Golden Bears went after one of the most tenacious point guards in the West. Smith is undersized and needs to improve the range on his shot, but he has that point guard's mentality and possesses a whole lot of moxie.
California is going to be much better at the defensive end under Montgomery. If Christopher bolts to the NBA, it is almost imperative that Mongomery lands a wing-type with some scoring punch to complement Seeley at the 2, as well as a top-notch point guard.
Oregon commits: 1
After signing six newcomers last season, led by ESPNU 100 recruit Michael Dunigan, Ernie Kent has only one signee, but there are a couple of big fish (John Wall) that Kent still has a realistic chance of snagging.
With all that young talent on hand, the Ducks needed a player who could pull it all together, and that player is 6-5 E.J. Singler (Medford, Ore./South Medford). Singler won't wow you with his athleticism, but he is well-schooled in the fundamentals and is quite skilled. In addition to his savvy, he can knock down open shots and is always making plays that win you ballgames. Although there isn't much hype to this class, the horizon could be getting brighter by the day.
Oregon State commits: 2
After Oregon State finished 0-18 in conference (a Pac-10 first since its expansion in 1978) and struggled mightily throughout his tenure, Jay John was fired. Now Craig Robinson has the daunting task of restoring the once-proud Beavers basketball program.
However, Robinson is off to a solid start with the signing of two of the finest prospects in California: ESPNU 100 recruit 6-3 Roberto Nelson (Santa Barbara, Calif.) and 6-7 Joe Burton (Hemet, Calif./West Valley).
Nelson is a tremendous competitor and one of the top combo-guards in the country. He is more of a scorer than a pure shooter, but he can knock down the 3-point shot with regularity. In addition, he can also play some backup point because he has a knack of getting to the basket to set up teammates or finish.
Burton, on the other hand, is one of the most unique prospects in the country. He has a huge frame, surprising skills and a whole lot of savvy. He needs to get in better shape to battle with the bigs of the Pac-10, but he has a solid face-up game and his passing, both in transition and the half-court set, is a sight to see.
Both Nelson and Burton are solid pickups for Robinson, but with a roster void of talent, these are nice building blocks for a structure that will take time to build.
Stanford commits: 1
Johnny Dawkins -- who spent 11 seasons under the tutelage of Mike Krzyzewski -- takes over at Stanford after Trent Johnson left for the LSU job. Unfortunately for Dawkins, the Lopez twins (Brook and Robin) are off to the NBA, leaving him with a difficult rebuilding project ahead of him. On the bright side, he has a good backcourt this season with Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods, but they're gone after this year. With little on the roster outside of 6-4 freshman Jarrett Mann, he'll need to restock immediately.
Bad news is that in the early recruiting period, the Cardinal are off to a slow start. Dawkins has one signee, 6-8 Andy Brown (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei). Brown is a solid prospect, but he is more of a role player rather than a go-to player. He has tremendous savvy and is good spot-up shooter, but he is just an average athlete.
In order for Dawkins to stay competitive in the Pac-10, he'll need to scan the nation for prospects that not only can compete athletically, but also get through the admissions department -- an overwhelming task indeed.
UCLA commits: 4
After signing the No. 1 recruiting class last season, the Bruins are picking up where they left off. Although they lost Russell Westbrook early to the NBA, and Darren Collison will be finishing up his career this spring, the perimeter talent -- Jrue Holiday, Jerime Anderson, and Malcolm Lee, to name a few -- is set for the next couple of seasons.
However, the front court is in dire need of a talent upgrade, after Kevin Love bolted to the NBA after his freshman season.
Entering his sixth season, Ben Howland has secured another impressive class with four ESPNU 100 recruits in Tyler Honeycutt (Sylmar, Calif.), Reeves Nelson (Modesto, Calif./Modesto Christian), Brendan Lane (Rocklin, Calif.) and the aforementioned Mike Moser. In addition to the trio, the Bruins also signed one of the top sleepers in 6-9 Anthony Stover (Los Angeles/Windward).
Honeycutt might have the most upside of any prospect entering the Pac-10 next season. He possesses that prototypical wing-type frame and has the skills to match. He has a feathery shooting touch, is a terrific passer and is one of the best shot-blockers in the country.
Nelson is the prototypical Howland player. He is a physical specimen who has some intriguing skills and definite toughness. He is at his best when attacking the offensive glass and locking up opponents. It will be interesting to see where Howland plays him, because he's an undersized 4-man that struggles scoring outside of 10 feet.
Nelson is limited offensively, but he can bring plenty of moxie to the court. On the other hand, Lane is a finesse 4-man with plenty of offensive tools, including a soft shooting touch out to the stripe. He needs to get tougher and become a much better rebounder, but there are not too many prospects at this size that can stroke it like him.
Stover, a sleeper with tons of upside, has progressed throughout his high school career, but he has a way to go if he is going to contribute for Howland. His strength is his innate shot-blocking ability, but he needs to get considerably stronger, as well as tougher at both ends of the floor to make the Bruins' rotation.
Finally, Moser gives the Bruins another wing-type with size and strength.
USC commits: 3
Although there doesn't appear to be any method to the Trojans' madness on the recruiting trail, they always seem to bring in top-notch talent, and this year is no different.
After snagging arguably the most impressive prospect to ever set foot on the Trojans' campus in Demar DeRozan last year, Tim Floyd went clear across the country to sign one of the top shooters in the South in 6-6 Noel Johnson (Fayetteville, Ga./Fayette County) this year. He has a prolific stroke to the stripe and is equally effective pulling up in transition or coming off a screen. With the likelihood of DeRozan heading to the NBA early, Johnson should make an immediate impact.
In addition to Johnson, Floyd took a commitment from one of the most underrated prospects in the West in 6-7 Derrick Williams (La Mirada, Calif.). Williams is a tad undersized to bang underneath in the Pac-10, but he has very long arms and his game has progressed significantly since his sophomore campaign. His improved ballhandling and shooting touch could create matchup problems at the next level.
On a side note, the Trojans had a commitment from 6-4 Demetrius Walker (Phoenix/St. Mary's) for over a year, but it now appears that Walker is headed to Arizona State.
Floyd has two very good players in the fold, but the Trojans appear to be far from finished. They're still involved with the Renardo Sidney sweepstakes.
Washington commits: 4
If one word can describe Washington's 2009 recruiting class, it's patience. Despite losing standouts Peyton Siva and Avery Bradley to Louisville and Texas, respectively, Lorenzo Romar was one of the first recipients of the Arizona collapse after Olson retired.
ESPN 100 recruit Abdul Gaddy (Tacoma, Wash./Bellarmine Prep), who had been an Arizona recruit for quite some time, de-committed from the Wildcats and decided to stay home and play for the Huskies.
Gaddy is the quintessential point guard and probably the best playmaker in the class of 2009. He doesn't have John Wall's explosiveness and overall talent, but his savvy and overall feel for the game is light years ahead of his rival.
In addition to Gaddy, Romar was able to attract super-sleeper 6-5 C.J. Wilcox (Pleasant Grove, Utah), 6-7 Clarence Trent (The Patterson School, NC), and juco standout 6-9 Charles Garcia Jr. (Riverside, Calif./Riverside Community College).
Wilcox is a national unknown with one of the smoothest strokes around. He is very effective in a catch-and-shoot situation, or he can nail the pull-up. With his athletic ability and shooting prowess, Wilcox should make an immediate impact.
Trent is somewhat of the wild card of the Huskies class. If he shows up determined to take over the paint area for the departed Jon Brockman, Romar should be excited. Trent can be an inside force and a standout in the Pac-10 if he plays to his strength. However, in the past year he has shown a greater tendency to launch ill-advised 3-pointers, which has made him much less effective.
Garcia Jr., on the other hand, has a versatile game and will be asked to contribute immediately with holes left by Brockman and Artem Wallace. However, his academic situation is still up in the air.
Washington State commits: 3
Momentum is on the rise in Pullman as Tony Bennett has guided his Cougars to two straight NCAA tournament appearances. Despite losing a trio of standouts in Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low, and Robbie Cowgill, Bennett has a solid nucleus of seniors coming back, led by Aron Baynes and Taylor Rochestie, not to mention a dynamite influx of freshman talent.
In the early recruiting period, the Cougars signed a solid foursome in 6-8 David Chadwick (Charlotte/Charlotte Latin School), 6-3 Xavier Thames (Elk Grove, Calif./Pleasant Grove), 6-5 Anthony Brown (Spokane, Wash./Shadle Park), and 6-9 Brock Motum (Australian Institute of Sports).
Chadwick should have a smooth transition into Bennett's motion offense. He is a finesse-oriented face-up 4-man that can knock down the shot at the elbow or take defenders off the bounce, but he needs strength and toughness to compete in the Pac-10.
Thames will arrive in Pullman with a bevy of natural ability and upside. He has ideal size for the point guard position as well as the skill and savvy to flourish in Bennett's system. He'll need to tone down his pace (he plays too fast), but if he's patient enough while getting acclimated to high-level basketball, the Cougars could have one of the better combo guards in the conference by the time he's a junior.