Commentary

George Mason, Rice lead mid-majors

Updated: December 2, 2008, 9:55 AM ET
By Scouts Inc.

Themajor conferences get their share of the best basketball prospects in the country, but they most definitely do not have a monopoly on them. For example, Memphis of Conference USA signed the ESPNU No. 1 player, G Xavier Henry (Oklahoma City/Putnam City), and ultimately could land ESPNU No. 6 PG John Wall (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God). The Tigers are ranked among the nation's top recruiting classes.

Another Conference USA member, UAB, had appeared to be a strong candidate to make the top 25. But the Blazers' top commit, No. 4-rated C DeMarcus Cousins (Mobile, Ala./Leflore), wanted to make sure coach Mike Davis would be with the program. So Cousins, as well as two top junior college players who also had committed, did not sign with UAB. This stopped the program from earning national recruiting recognition, but the Blazers certainly could vault back up the rankings if they retain all three players in the spring.

A number of so-called "non-power conferences" regularly land outstanding basketball recruits, even in the fall. Men's basketball teams have only 13 scholarship players, so more talent is available in basketball than in football for mid-majors and higher programs. Conferences that did particularly well during this recruiting period were the Mountain West (with five schools in the top dozen classes), Conference USA, Mid-American, Atlantic 10, Big West and Western Athletic. It's also worth noting that we have excluded mid-major teams that made the national top 25 classes from our rankings.

1. George Mason Patriots

Coach Jim Larranaga most certainly knows talent and is one of the best teachers in the business. This fall, Larranaga and his staff signed five excellent recruits who appear to have the talent to match that of the Patriots' 2005-06 dream team, which knocked off North Carolina and No. 1-rated Connecticut to advance to the 2006 NCAA Final Four. The chances that any team would repeat such a miraculous season are unlikely. But George Mason again should be one of the nation's elite mid-major programs and a dangerous team for high-majors to play.

Prominent among the newcomers is powerful athlete C/F Johnnie Williams (Eads, Tenn./Briarcrest Christian), a player who has the potential and intensity to become a future Will Thomas-type performer for Larranaga. Also signing were rugged 6-foot-7 PF Paris Bennett (Elizabeth, N.J./St. Patrick), textbook shooter and postgraduate wing Luke Hancock (Chatham, Va./Hargrave Military Academy), SG Rashad Whack (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) and highly regarded Texas floor leader Vertrail Vaughns (Mesquite, Texas).

2. Rice Owls

New head coach Ben Braun always has been an expert talent evaluator and recruiter. This fall, Braun and his staff brought in five gifted recruits, including two who have the potential to finish the year in our top 100 player rankings.

The standouts in this class are 6-3 SG Tamir Jackson (Newark, N.J./St. Benedict's), who has been a three-year starter for one of the country's top high school programs, and 6-8 P/WF Arsalan Kazemi (Lenoir, N.C./Patterson School), a native of Iran who also had garnered interest from schools such as Maryland, Missouri and Oklahoma State. Jackson is an effective scorer and has the toughness to play excellent defense. Kazemi is a surprisingly gifted athlete and an accurate 3-point marksman.

Other Rice signees include 6-5 wing Chris Eversley (Chicago/Walter Payton College Prep), 6-7 PF Egheosa Edomwonyi (Princeton, N.J./The Hun School) and stellar floor leader Stevie Rogers (Houston/Strake Jesuit).

3. Utah Utes

Second-year coach Jim Boylen had a most successful early recruiting period, during which he landed five newcomers. The future Utes include two junior college standouts and one big man who has the potential to make the top 100 player rankings.

Big man Jeremy Olsen (Suwanee, Ga./Collins Hill) was impressive at several national all-star camps in the summer. He has outstanding mobility, agility and a high skill set for a center. Olsen could become a major force in the Mountain West.

Utah added two junior college players who have the talent and experience to be major contributors for the program next season. Wing Joe Watkins, from the College of Southern Idaho, can score in a variety of ways and is an excellent athlete. Center Matt Read, of Collin County Community College (Texas), is a strong, physical low-post operative who has outstanding scoring skills. He is a very capable rebounder and shot-blocker.

The Utes also signed SG Marshall Henderson (Hurst, Texas/L.D. Bell), an excellent wing shooter, as well as 6-6 WF Shawn Glover (Cedar Hill, Texas).

4. UNLV Rebels

Coach Lon Kruger and his staff recruited three outstanding newcomers to help keep UNLV at the top. The class includes one ESPNU 100 player and who could reach that level this season.

The top signee is 6-3 G Anthony Marshall (North Las Vegas, Nev./Mojave). Marshall is a versatile, highly skilled backcourt ace who can play both point and shooting guard. He is a highly accurate 3-point marksman and can use his effective dribble-drive abilities to get to the rim. He could start next season.

Carlos Lopez (Henderson, Nev./Findlay Prep) is a long, talented big man loaded with potential. A top performer on the Puerto Rican national team, Lopez is very agile, athletic and quick. He is an excellent shot-blocker and rebounder.

Combo guard Justin Hawkins (Woodland Hills, Calif./Taft) was the teammate of current UNC freshman Larry Drew last season. This season, he could assume some of Drew's point guard duties. Hawkins is one of the best backcourt defenders in this class. He needs to become a more consistent outside shooter.

5. Miami RedHawks

Coach Charlie Coles, now in his 13th year at Miami, had the best recruiting class in the competitive Mid-American Conference. The RedHawks added five talented players, including three of the best seniors in Ohio.

Coles and his staff were pleased to sign highly regarded 6-10 C Drew McGhee (North Ridgeville, Ohio). McGhee is a big man who has tons of potential. He likely will team up with PF Drew Kelly (Franklin, Tenn./Centennial) to form a solid interior tandem. Both of these young men should be major factors for Miami next season.

Other valuable additions are junior college standout PF Mark Anderson, of Sinclair Community College (Ohio), who averaged 25.8 points per game last season; high-scoring SG Allen Roberts (Middletown, Ohio) and gifted athlete SG Orlando Williams (Cincinnati/Princeton).

6. San Diego State

Veteran coach Steve Fisher is trying to build a team capable of challenging UNLV and BYU for the Mountain West crown. His recruiting this season should boost his chances of attaining that goal. The Aztecs landed four gifted recruits, including two who made the Long Beach Press-Telegram's Best in the West teams.

Top San Diego State signees are high-flying athlete Kawhi Leonard (Riverside, Calif./Martin Luther King) and smart, skilled team leader Chase Tapley (Sacramento). They'll be joined by stellar athlete Eric Lawton (Hemet, Calif./West Valley) and undersized PF Alec Williams (San Juan Capistrano, Calif./JSerra).

7. BYU Cougars

Brigham Young head coach Dave Rose claimed the top two senior players in the state of Utah as future Cougars -- PF Brandon Davies (Provo) and Tyler Haws (Highland/Lone Peak). Both had outstanding summers, and Haws could be one of the country's most accurate outside shooters. Both should be immediate impact players next season at BYU.

The Cougars also added good size with in-state big men Nate Austin (Haws' teammate at Lone Peak High) and Ian Harward (Orem).

8. Massachusetts

First-year head coach Derek Kellogg and his staff signed four outstanding newcomers at Massachusetts to create the best recruiting class in the Atlantic 10 conference.

The player who could have the most immediate impact is world-class athlete Freddie Riley, a native Floridian now at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. Riley signed last year with Florida Atlantic but after a coaching change chose to attend Hargrave Military for a postgraduate year. He can score in every conceivable way, from eye-popping slams to on-target 3s. Riley appears to be the player of the future for Kellogg.

Others who could make immediate contributions to the Minutemen are skilled 6-4 2G Javon Farrell (Upper Marlboro, Md./Riverdale Baptist), 6-9 PF Raphael Putney (Woodbridge, Va.) and their latest signee, 6-8 forward Sampson Carter (Winchendon, Mass.). Carter is versatile and can play both forward positions.

9. Long Beach State

Second-year Long Beach State coach Dan Monson landed four highly regarded newcomers to have the top recruiting class in the Big West Conference.

Productive big man 6-10 C Jules Montgomery (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade Prep) and forward Kyle Richardson (Lakewood, Calif./Mayfair) lead the class. Montgomery has great size and can stretch the defense with his jumper. Richardson is an active wing who is still a work in progress on the offensive end. Joining them will be 6-9 C/F Lin Chang, a native of China now at Miracosta College (Calif.).

10. Ohio University Bobcats

Former Ohio State assistant and first-year Ohio head coach John Groce landed an outstanding initial recruiting class for his Bobcats program. This four-member group has the talent and upside to become a contender in the tough Mid-American Conference.

Laser-quick guard D.J. Cooper (Chicago/Hales Franciscan) should be one of the fastest players in the MAC as a freshman. Wing Marquis Horne (Cincinnati/Princeton) is a tough athlete who uses his length well. The Bobcats class is rounded out by PF Reggie Keely (Cleveland Heights, Ohio/University Heights) and 6-1 PG James Kinney (Champaign, Ill./ Centennial).

Honorable mentions

Fresno State Bulldogs

Fourth-year Fresno State head coach Steve Cleveland and his staff signed three talented newcomers to the top recruiting class in the Western Athletic Conference. The top signee is powerful big man Greg Smith (Phoenix/Westwind Academy). Smith has really improved in the past year. He's learning how to use his length and bulky frame.

The Bulldogs also signed versatile wings Garrett Johnson (Pomona, Calif./Diamond Ranch) and Jerry Brown (San Francisco/Sacred Heart).

New Mexico

Now in his second season at New Mexico after leaving Iowa, head coach Steve Alford brought in another strong class that should help his Lobos be very competitive in the tough Mountain West Conference.

The recruit who could have the most immediate impact because of his age and experience is junior college All-American prospect, 6-7 G/F Darrington Hobson (College of Eastern Utah). He'll start from day one at New Mexico next season. Other talented signees include PF Matt Staff, (Houston/Memorial); SG Chad Adams (Albuquerque, N.M./Highland), who could be the top senior in the state; and prolific scoring PG Jamal Fenton (Houston/Chavez).

Bob Gibbons is the editor and publisher of the All Star Sports report and is widely regarded as the recruiting guru of college basketball.