Harris gives Vols SEC's top class
During the 2009 recruiting cycle the big story was Kentucky's late surge on the trail following John Calipari's hiring. In 2010, Tennessee could be the team that takes advantage of last-minute decisions. With the signing-week addition of Tobias Harris (Dix Hills, N.Y./Half Hollow Hills West), the Vols have the SEC's top class, which is No. 7 nationally. Here's a look at how the rest of the SEC recruiting picture shakes out.
(Note: Classes that were ranked outside the top 25 with the same grade are listed alphabetically.)
Bruce Pearl has raised the bar for the program's expectations since day one of his tenure on the Knoxville campus. The Volunteers had put together a very good recruiting class consisting of Georgia imports Jordan McRae (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) and Trae Golden (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern). That duo gave Tennessee two accomplished scoring guards who fit well in Pearl's attacking, up-tempo system. But when the staff was able to convince highly rated PF Tobias Harris (Dix Hills, N.Y./Half Hollow Hills West) to sign on the dotted line prior to the end of the early period, the class was elevated to top-10 status. Harris, the nation's No. 7 prospect, has evolved into a skilled frontcourt player who creates matchup problems because of his size and skill level. McRae, who has a nose for the basket, has a chance to be one of the most dynamic scorers in the SEC. The compact Golden could easily fit into the deep bomber role that Chris Lofton enjoyed while playing for Pearl.
With the early departure of players for the NBA and Europe the past few years and only two players on the roster with NCAA tournament experience, Billy Donavan has had to restock his roster and retool his team's chemistry. Florida's two-man recruiting class accomplishes two things. First, it continues to bring elite-level talent into the program. Secondly, it fills specific needs with two players who are outstanding rebounders and defenders. Patric Young (Jacksonville, Fla./The Providence School) is a potential Al Horford-type player; he can dominate the paint area with his ability to rebound and defend. Casey Prather (Jackson, Tenn./North Side) is an athletic wing with tremendous potential to be a shutdown defender. The 6-foot-6 athlete is developing rapidly on offense.
Trent Johnson came into the SEC with a great reputation and did nothing but enhance it by winning the conference championship in his first year on the job. That success on the court has led to similar results on the recruiting trail; Johnson's Tigers have the nation's No. 12 recruiting class. By raiding some surrounding states, LSU has put together a collection of skilled athletes who should be able to adapt quickly to Johnson's style of play. The Tigers, taking advantage of small recruiting classes for in-state SEC rivals, went into Mississippi and grabbed two of Jackson's better players in SG Andre Stringer (Jackson, Miss./Forest Hills) and PF Jalen Courtney (Jackson, Miss./Provine). Johnson also convinced Alabama standout SG Ralston Turner (Muscle Shoals, Ala./Muscle Shoals) to bring his well-rounded game to the bayou. The lone signee from Louisiana is highly skilled Matt Derenbecker (Metairie, La./Country Day), a John Pelphrey-type forward with a high basketball IQ. He can stretch the defense with his shot-making ability from the perimeter.
In Year 1 Darrin Horn found out that, from a talent standpoint, the cupboard was not bare. The Gamecocks should be in a good position to stay competitive in the league after signing the nation's No. 17-ranked recruiting class. Six-foot-9 C Damontre Harris is an outstanding athlete with a chance to be special. He will team up with in-state signee R.J. Slawson (North Charleston, S.C./Fort Dorchester) to form the frontcourt of the future for South Carolina. The Gamecocks looked to fill the void left by the departure of leading scorer Devon Downey with the two-headed monster of Bruce Ellington(Moncks Corner, S.C./Berkeley) and Eric Smith (Mullins, S.C./Christ School) at the point guard position. This group is a statement of what Horn can accomplish when given time to recruit.
As Anthony Grant knows, the success stories written in March are developed on the summer recruiting trail. That's good news for the Tide. Grant went out and signed what looks like to be his backcourt of the future in PG Trevor Releford (Shawnee Mission, Kan./Bishop Miege) and SG Charles Hankerson (Miami, Fla./Coral Reef). Releford is a leader with tremendous ball quickness. He can score from the point and is ideal for Alabama's up-tempo system. Hankerson gives the Tide a shot-maker who is physically college-ready from day one. With the state of Alabama being a little thin on talent this recruiting cycle, these were two very good pickups for the Tide program. Look for Alabama to rise in the rankings as the Tide zero in on a couple additional recruits for the late signing period.
John Pelphrey has brought in another solid recruiting class with an emphasis on hard-nosed guys who fit his system. Each player in this class has outstanding versatility. Junior-college combo-forward Marvell Waithe (Toronto/Tallahassee CC) is a smooth athlete who scores inside and out. Postgrad prospect Mardracus Wade (Memphis/Hargrave Military Academy) is a potential defensive stopper. He will increase the team's overall toughness and intensity level from the get-go. Rickey Scott (Irving, Texas) is a combo-guard who can create off the dribble. Like Wade, he has a lockdown defensive mentality that Pelphrey loves.
With six scholarships to give, nobody was busier on the recruiting trail than the Tigers. In a vital recruiting year that saw some transition within his coaching staff, Jeff Lebo answered the bell with an excellent class. In addressing their backcourt needs, the Tigers picked up Anthony Salter (Tallahassee, Fla./Iowa Western), one of the top point guards from the junior college ranks, and nabbed gifted shooter Jalen Steele (Knoxville, Tenn./Fulton). The Tigers' staff also focused on replenishing the front line with athletic and skilled posts who should develop and flourish under Lebo's tutelage. Auburn hopes that 6-9 PF/C Shawn Kemp Jr. (Canton, Ga./Hargrave Military), a postgrad who had originally signed with in-state rival Alabama under the old regime, can be an asset down low as soon as he arrives on campus. The Tigers will also count on Adrian Forbes (Athens, Texas/Trinity Valley CC) and Heath Houston (Powder Springs, Ga./Hillgrove) to provide some scoring and rebounding from the power forward position. SF Allen Payne (Cincinnati/Winton Woods), the Tigers' final signee, is an athlete with the potential to be a defensive stopper on the wing.
In one of the most challenging jobs within the BCS conferences, Andy Kennedy and his staff have made a living off of evaluating players just under-the-radar (see Chris Warren) and developing them into high-level prospects (see Terrico White). With only one senior on the roster, the Rebels did not need to sign a large class. In the early period, they signed two players who should fit in perfectly. Dundrecous Nelson (Jackson, Miss./Murrah) is a point guard in an NFL corner's body. He should excel in the aggressive, attacking style employed by Kennedy. Nelson needs to learn how to play at different speeds while adjusting to the college game, but athletically he can do some things that you can't teach. An ESPNU 100 prospect, Demarco Cox (Yazoo City, Miss.) provides a low-post anchor who can defend and rebound his position at the elite SEC level.
Coach John Calipari's dribble-drive system isn't for everyone; it caters to athletic and skilled players who thrive with the freedom to create. UK's lone 2010 signee, SF Stacey Poole (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence School), is that type of player. Poole is a high-flying athlete who fearlessly attacks the basket. He also gives the Cats a potential defensive stopper on the perimeter. With the prospects of multiple players declaring for the draft at the conclusion of the season, many of the top unsigned players are keeping a close eye on events in Lexington. As was the case last year, watch out for Calipari's ability to strike in the late signing period.
Vanderbilt does a great job of finding players who might not wow the general public, but still fit Kevin Stallings' program. This early signing class is no different. Rod Odom (Bellport, N.Y./Middlesex) is a skilled wing with size. He understands the game at a mature level. Six-foot-11 C Josh Henderson (Roanoke, Va./Cave Spring) gives the Commodores a developing post player with a combination of size, athleticism and mobility. With his potential, Henderson could be the heir apparent to A.J. Ogilvy. Finally, PG Kyle Fuller (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde) will add another ball handler and shooter to the mix -- those skills have always been essential for Vanderbilt to find success.
The only way for Mark Fox and the Bulldogs to climb out of the SEC's cellar is going to be through recruiting. Georgia is a fertile recruiting ground; if Fox can keep the elite-level players in-state, the Bulldogs will have an opportunity to quickly move up the food chain. With three scholarship seniors on the roster, Fox is looking for players with the talent, character and work ethic needed to set the foundation to build his program. SF Cady Lalanne (Orlando, Fla./Oak Ridge) fits the criteria: He is a combo-forward with upside who should develop into a solid all-around SEC player.
With only two seniors on MSU's roster, the Bulldogs did not need a huge recruiting haul in the early period. They came away with a one-man class. SG Brian Bryant (Albany, Ga./NW Florida) is a versatile scorer with a gym rat's work ethic. He may seem like an odd signing for the Mississippi State program -- coach Rick Stansbury is accustomed to recruiting high-profile players. However, Stansbury feels this kid is a winner who fits perfectly with the needs of his program. Although Bryant may be a little bit of an unknown commodity because of an injury during his freshman year, he should find an immediate opportunity to contribute to the Dogs' success.
Mike LaPlante has spent nearly 20 years coaching college basketball. Most recently, he was the head coach at Jacksonville State University.
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- Biancardi: 10 instant impact freshmen
- Biancardi: Grading the ACC's classes
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- Rankin: Grading the Big 12's classes
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