Commentary

Don't overlook these recruiting classes

Xavier, Dayton might not be in major conferences, but they have solid recruiting classes

Updated: November 18, 2009, 5:06 PM ET
By Michael LaPlante | Scouts Inc.

They might not be in the so-called power conferences, but that doesn't mean these schools didn't have powerful recruiting classes. Forced to play second fiddle to many of their neighbors from big six conferences, they find it difficult at times to attract the high-major level players needed to compete in the upper echelon of a basketball conference. A big key to success for many of these programs is to find the diamonds in the rough, and then polish and develop them into elite-level players.

Three conferences (Atlantic 10, Big West and West Coast) placed two or more teams on the list. The A-10, which has seen a resurgence on the recruiting front within the conference, is finding success battling the big boys and has three teams that distinguished themselves by putting together outstanding classes. It will be interesting to see what impact these classes have on the following programs in two or three years.

Although there were many deserving teams that could have made this list, here are the top 10.

1. Xavier Musketeers

Conference: Atlantic 10
Players signed: 4
SF Justin Martin (Indianapolis/Mountain State), 6-7, 200; SF Jay Canty (High Point, N.C./Oak Ridge Military Academy), 6-5, 175; PF Jordan Latham (Baltimore/City College), 6-8, 210; PF Griffin McKenzie (Cincinnati/Moeller), 6-9, 220.
Breakdown: New coach Chris Mack, who spent five years at Xavier (his alma mater) as an assistant before taking over for Sean Miller in April, showed Xavier isn't slowing down as the Musketeers cleaned up in the early signing period at small and power forward. Martin is a big-time athletic wing with size; he is a scorer with range to 20 feet. Latham is a solid big man who can score and rebound inside; he will help in the paint immediately. McKenzie is a skilled high-post player who had an outstanding summer and is a good face-up shooter out to 19 feet. Canty is a jack-of-all-trades. He is the ultimate glue guy who does the little things that can help a team win. The beat keeps going at the "X."

2. Dayton Flyers

Conference: Atlantic 10
Players signed: 5
PG Juwan Staten (Dayton, Ohio/Oak Hill Academy), 5-11, 165; SG Brandon Spearman (Chicago/Simeon), 6-3, 185, SG Jesse Berry (Lafayette, Ind./Jefferson), 6-1, 170; SF Ralph Hill (Westerville, Ohio/North), 6-6, 195; SF Devin Oliver (Kalamazoo, Mich./Central), 6-6, 195.
Breakdown: The Flyers put together a very solid class that should help keep them in the upper echelon of the A-10 for years to come. The cornerstone of this class for coach Brian Gregory and his staff was keeping local product Staten in Dayton. The super quick and athletic point guard, who can be a difference-maker for the Flyers, can score and create with the best of them. Spearman is a solid shooting guard with a strong body who can knock it down from the perimeter and will help in many ways. Berry is a combo guard who can score and create, although he is best with the ball in his hands in point guard mode. Hill and Oliver are skilled, athletic small forwards.

3. Florida International Golden Panthers

Conference: Sun Belt
Players signed: 4
PF Dominique Ferguson (Indianapolis/Hargrave Military Academy), 6-9, 210; PG Phil Taylor (Marietta, Ga./Wheeler), 5-9, 160; SG Richaud Pack (Birmingham, Mich./Seaholm), 6-3, 175; SG DeJuan Wright (Detroit/Gillette [Wyo.] College), 6-4, 170; PF Eric Frederick (Oklahoma City/Highland [Ill.] CC), 6-7, 230.
Breakdown: The Sun Belt Conference has been top-heavy during the past decade with very few teams breaking through into the upper echelon of the league. FIU has shown that not only does it plan on asserting itself as one of the elite programs in the conference, but the Panthers also plan on going toe-to-toe with the high-majors for talent. FIU's class would have been considered strong if it had included only talented backcourt players Taylor, Wright and Pack, but when coach Isiah Thomas was able to convince Ferguson, a 6-9 power forward, to sign on the dotted line, it became a class deserving of Top 25 conversation. Ferguson is a long, athletic wing who spurned offers from some of the top programs in the country to play for the Panthers and could be the lightning rod that propels Thomas' squad to new heights.

4. New Mexico Lobos

Conference: Mountain West
Players signed: 2
C Alex Kirk (Los Alamos, N.M./Los Alamos), 6-10, 225; Tony Snell (Riverside, Calif./Westwind [Nev.] Prep), 6-7, 190.
Breakdown: Coach Steve Alford's wish list was not long, but it was specific: sign Kirk. The 6-10 center, a longtime target of the Lobos' staff, was a very important get for Alford on two fronts. First, he gives New Mexico the skilled big man it desperately needed. He fits the system perfectly and will be the post player the Lobos can build their program around. Secondly, as a highly recruited, in-state prospect, signing Kirk was monumental for the fan base. With very few in-state players good enough to help the program compete in the Mountain West, the roster is thin on players from within the borders so it was imperative to keep the big fella home. With nine freshmen and sophomores on the roster, the addition of Kirk and versatile 6-7 guard/forward Snell gives the Lobos two high-major level players to add to a more experienced squad.

5. Saint Joseph's Hawks

Conference: Atlantic 10
Players signed: 3
C C.J. Aiken (Conshohocken, Pa./ Plymouth-Whitemarsh Sr.), 6-9, 190; SG Langston Galloway (Baton Rouge, La./Christian Life Academy), 6-3, 185; SF Daryus Quarles (Clayton, N.J./Life Center Academy), 6-6, 170.
Breakdown: There are not many coaches who do a better job of evaluating and attracting players operating just under the radar, and then developing them into national names than Phil Martelli and his staff. They again have done a great job at unearthing some hidden gems that should keep the Hawks soaring with the A-10 elite. Aiken, a rail-thin 6-9 center, has tremendous upside and will be one of those players that people can't believe they missed on in two or three years. Galloway is a steal; he is a winner who will bring confidence and energy to the floor each night. Also, look out for Quarles, whose feel for the game and ability to score will ensure that he finds his way onto the floor.

6. Long Beach State 49ers

Conference: Big West
Players signed: 3
SG Jacob Thomas (Columbia Heights, Minn./Columbia Heights), 6-4, 190; SF Shelton Boykin (Long Beach, Calif./Poly), 6-5, 190; PF Nick Shepherd (Houston/Westbury Christian), 6-9, 200.
Breakdown: In his third year, coach Dan Monson is quietly building a program at Long Beach State that can compete for championships. The 49ers hauled in a solid class of talent for the second year in a row with commitments from an outstanding trio of prospects. Boykin, a 6-5 wing type, exploded up the rankings due to his athletic prowess and an innate ability to score in a variety of ways. Meanwhile, Monson scored a coup by convincing the sharpshooting 6-4 Thomas to leave his Midwest roots and take up residence in the Big West. Lastly, the 49ers grabbed an intriguing big out of Texas with an enormous upside in the 6-9 Shepherd. The race for supremacy in the Big West is going to get interesting during the next few years.

7. San Diego Toreros

Conference: West Coast
Players signed: 4
SG Ben Vozzola (Las Vegas/Centennial), 6-5, 160; PF Dennis Kramer (Carlsbad, Calif./La Costa Canyon), 6-9, 215; C Simi Fajemisin (Lynnwood, Wash./Lynnwood), 6-9, 260; PF Trevor Fuller (Dallas/Episcopal School), 6-8, 225.
Breakdown: Despite a disappointing season of unmet expectations on the court last season, the coaching staff never lost sight of the importance of getting it done on the recruiting trail. Coach Bill Grier needed an upgrade in frontcourt talent and he accomplished that task with a recruiting haul of three players over 6-8 -- Fajemisin, Kramer and Fuller. Fajemisin is an improving back-to-the-basket center who has upside, while Kramer and Fuller give the Toreros an athletic and skilled combination at the forward position. However, the multiskilled Vozzola, who can play all three perimeter positions, is the jewel of the class.

8. UC Davis Aggies

Conference: Big West
Players signed: 2
Alex Tiffin (Thousand Oaks, Calif./Thousand Oaks) (6-7, 210, PF); C Michael Kurtz (Roseville, Calif./Woodcreek), 6-10, 200.
Breakdown: The Aggies may be new to the Division I game, but they have wasted little time adjusting to the recruiting wars that are so important to a program's success. Coach Gary Stewart & Co. have been turning heads in the recruiting world with their ability to sign quality players who should have them competing for championships. Tiffin gives UC Davis a high-level skilled performer who should garner playing time and impact the program immediately. The player who may end up as the biggest coup in the class is Kurtz, a 6-10 sleeper who oozes potential but needs to develop physically to realize his full abilities. Don't forget forward Josh Ritchart. UC Davis hasn't received Ritchart's letter of intent yet, but the Aggies commit should pair with Tiffin to give UC Davis a nice pair of bookend forwards.

9. Santa Clara Broncos

Conference: West Coast
Players signed: 2
PF Yannick Atanga (Ojai, Calif./Besant Hill), 6-8, 210; PF John McArthur (Concord, Calif./De La Salle), 6-8, 220.
Breakdown: Coach Kerry Keating knows how difficult the WCC has become and landed a couple of horses to help him compete in the improving conference. The WCC continues to progress as opposing teams have upgraded their programs in order to keep up with the Joneses, in this case Gonzaga. The Broncos' two-man class addresses the need for size and athleticism on the interior. Originally from Cameroon, Atanga gives the Broncos a developing high-major athlete who can compete against the league's elite, while McArthur is a beast who is sure to be a fan favorite. He wins most loose balls and hustle plays, and brings the type of game that will have an immediate impact on the team.

T-10. Harvard Crimson

League: Ivy
Commitments: 3
(Note: Harvard doesn't officially give scholarships, so there is no NLI to sign)
C Ugo Okam (Lagos, Nigeria/Montverde, Fla.), 7-1, 220; SG Laurent Rivard (St. Bruno, PQ, Canada/Northfield-Mt. Hermon School), 6-5, 215; SG Matt Brown (Barrington, R.I./Northfield-Mt. Hermon School), 6-3, 190.
Breakdown: One of the world's most famous academic institutions, Harvard, which has experienced March Madness only once (1946), is beginning to garner some well-deserved attention on the hardwood. Coach Tommy Amaker has been able to find some true double-threat student-athletes who should give the Crimson a legitimate chance to compete for an Ivy League championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The most intriguing figure is Okam, a 7-1 center. The future BMOC -- literally -- is a rare get for an Ivy League school as athletic 7-footers who are elite students with basketball upside are usually a hot commodity.

T-10. Boston University Terriers

Conference: America East
Players signed: 7
SF Travis Robinson (Philadelphia/Friends Central), 6-5, 185; PF Dominic Morris (Philadelphia/Friends Central), 6-8, 230; PG D.J. Irving (Philadelphia/Arch. Carroll), 6-0, 170; SG Mike Terry (Philadelphia/NE Catholic), 6-1, 170; C Anthony Mayo (Philadelphia/Roman Catholic), 6-8, 205; SG Malik Thomas (Wadleigh, N.Y./Wadleigh) 6-4, 185; PG Henry Gaskins (Philadelphia/Friends Central), 5-9, 145.
Breakdown: With six of seven pledges coming out of the City of Brotherly Love, BU's class makes you wonder if the Terriers left any players in the Philadelphia area for anybody else to sign. In his first year, coach Pat Chambers and his staff signed a class of seven players that should set the foundation for his future teams. Two of the top recruits are high school teammates -- Robinson and Morris -- who give Chambers two talented forwards to build on, while Irving and Terry form the potential backcourt of the future.

Honorable mention: Butler (Horizon), Detroit (Horizon), Drake (MVC), Georgia Southern (Southern), Idaho (WAC), Liberty (Big South), Louisiana Tech (WAC), Ohio (MAC), Penn (Ivy), Portland State (Big Sky), Stetson (Atlantic Sun), South Dakota State (Summit), Tulsa (C-USA), UTEP (C-USA), VCU (Colonial), William & Mary (Colonial).