Calipari does it again
With Kentucky capturing the No. 1 spot in the recruiting rankings for the second consecutive year and with five teams rated in the top 25, the SEC has flexed its muscles once again as one of the elite basketball conferences in the nation.
(Note: Classes that were ranked outside the top 25 with identical letter grade are listed alphabetically.)
After signing Stacey Poole (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence) in the early period, the Wildcats positioned themselves favorably with elite prospects who were patiently waiting to see what would happen with Kentucky's roster. After a mass exodus of players declaring early for the NBA draft, John Calipari was able to put together another outstanding group, featuring three McDonald's All-Americans and the top European player in his age group. The combination of Poole, Brandon Knight (Coral Springs, Fla./Pine Crest), Doron Lamb (Laurelton, N.Y./Oak Hill), Enes Kanter (Turkey/Stone Ridge) and Eloy Vargas (Miami/Miami Dade) gave Kentucky a top-5 class, but the addition of Terrence Jones (Portland, Ore./Jefferson) on the final day of signing vaulted the Wildcats into the top spot nationally.
Billy Donovan showed his recruiting chops by attracting a group of players deserving of a top-10 class. The Gators filled some major needs at the power forward position with a versatile trio consisting of McDonald's All-American Patric Young (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence), Cody Larson (Sioux Falls, S.D./Roosevelt) and underrated Will Yeguete (Melbourne, Fla./Florida Air). On the perimeter, Donovan will be able to utilize the skill sets of athletic small forward Casey Prather (Jackson, Tenn./North Side) and early-graduate combo guard Scottie Wilbekin (Gainesville, Fla./The Rock School). An added bonus is Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario, who led his former program in scoring last season but must sit out according to transfer rules.
The Volunteers didn't need to add anybody late because they already struck it rich during the early period with the signing of three outstanding players. The class is anchored by McDonald's All-American Tobias Harris (Dix Hills, N.Y./Half Hallow Hills West), whose play during the regular season made him the No. 6 overall player. Tennessee also raided the state of Georgia for two good ones in Jordan McRae (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty Co.) and Trae Golden (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern). Those two guards should help supply an immediate scoring punch on the perimeter. The Volunteers also added Marquette transfer Jeronne Maymon (Madison, Wis./Madison), who is a 6-6 small forward.
Coach Trent Johnson has brought in a strong class for 2010, and LSU should expect immediate help on the perimeter from its three ESPNU 100 players in point guard Andre Stringer (Jackson, Miss./Forest Hills), shooting guard Ralston Turner (Muscle Shoals, Ala.) and small forward Matt Derenbecker (Metairie, La./Metairie Park). K.C. Ross-Miller (Dallas/God's Academy) and Jalen Courtney (Jackson, Miss./Provine) will compete for minutes as freshmen, while the Tigers hope that 6-11, 255-pound juco transfer Justin Hamilton (Alpine, Utah/Alpine) can shore up the middle.
The Gamecocks, who had a great year on the recruiting trail, got most of their work done early as they signed five players during November, all of whom should help immediately. The class is led by Damontre Harris (Fayetteville, N.C./Trinity Christian) and in-state star R.J. Slawson (N. Charleston, S.C./Fort Dorchester). Both are interior players with tremendous upside, and they will help South Carolina compete in the tough East Division of the SEC. Point guards Bruce Ellington (Moncks Corner, S.C./Berkeley) and Eric Smith (Mullins, S.C./Christ School) will help fill the void left by the graduation of leading scorer Devon Downey, while Brian Richardson (Wilson, N.C./Greenfield) will supply some scoring from the shooting guard position. The Gamecocks' only late addition came in the form of behemoth Carlton Geathers (Hemingway, S.C./Carvers Bay). He may be a project, but the 6-10, 260-pound center is a space-eater who's worth the gamble.
After a season of adjusting to the players who were already in the program, the Crimson Tide staff needed to get players who fit coach Anthony Grant's pressing style. Trevor Releford (Shawnee Mission, Kan./Bishop Miege) is a controlled speed demon who will dictate tempo, while Charles Hankerson (Miami/Coral Reef) will stretch the defense with his perimeter shooting ability. A huge late pickup was 6-8 Jason Carter (Houston/Christian Life), who may be one of the biggest sleepers nationally and should challenge for heavy minutes as a face-up power forward. Junior college transfer Kendall Durant (Washington, D.C./Weatherford) should compete early for minutes at either guard spot.
Auburn has the largest incoming class in the SEC and new coach Tony Barbee has been busy on the recruiting trail, scrambling to sign three players late. He hit the ground running and generated in-state momentum by nabbing ESPNU 100 prospect Luke Cothron (Huntsville, Ala./Flora MacDonald) while also adding Josh Langford (Huntsville, Ala./Lee) and Chris Denson (Columbus, Ga./Shaw). Holdovers Allen Payne (Cincinnati, Ohio/Winton Woods), Shawn Kemp Jr. (Canton, Ga./Hargrave Military), Heath Houston (Powder Springs, Ga./Hillgrove) and junior college transfer Adrian Forbes (Athens, Texas/Trinity Valley) all have honored their letters from the old regime.
Under coach Andy Kennedy, Mississippi has made a living out of finding underrated/under-evaluated players and developing them. Times are beginning to change for the Rebels as they have started to not only attract upper-tier players' interest, but have started to win some of the recruiting battles for some of the elite prospect's services. Demarco Cox (Yazoo City, Miss./Yazoo City) and Dundrecous Nelson (Jackson, Miss./Murrah) were two of the best in the Southeast. They should give Mississippi an inside-outside combo to rely on for the next four years. The Rebels also shored up the forward positions with postgrad Isaiah Massey (McDonough, Ga./TAAG) and juco transfers Donald Williams (New Orleans/Antelope Valley) and Steadman Short (Simpsonville, S.C./Chipola College).
The Commodores always seem to be the Rodney Dangerfield of college basketball recruiting. They have classes that are talented, but never garner the respect that they may deserve. Coach Kevin Stallings doesn't mind because he continues to win on the court, despite having less-heralded players. This year's class is headlined by 6-8 small forward Rod Odom (Bellport, N.Y./Middlesex), a smooth wing who should be an impact freshman. Kyle Fuller (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde) is a scoring point guard who can play either guard spot, while Josh Henderson (Roanoke, Va./Cave Springs) and James Siakam (Carbondale, Ill./Brehm Prep) should help bolster the middle with the early departure of A.J. Ogilvy to the NBA.
The Razorbacks got most of their work done early by focusing on filling specific needs. Mardracus Wade (Memphis, Tenn./Hargrave Military) and Rickey Scott (Irving, Texas/MacArthur) give Arkansas two athletic, versatile guards who will fight for playing time and add depth to coach John Pelphrey's perimeter. Junior college transfer Marvell Waithe (Toronto, Can./Tallahassee) will provide instant help at the forward position. Arkansas has shown glimpses of excellence and could end up with an addition by subtraction situation with the early departure of Courtney Fortson, who declared for the NBA draft.
Coach Mark Fox is slowly building recruiting momentum in the fertile state of Georgia. The Bulldogs won an important late recruiting battle for 6-7 power forward Marcus Thornton (Atlanta /Westlake), and hopefully that success will open the door for more of the elite players from within the borders to come Georgia's way in the future. Cady Lalanne (Orlando, Fla./Oak Ridge) and Donte Williams (Ellenwood, Ga./Miller Grove) round out the incoming front-line support, whereas juco transfer Sherrard Brantley (Dublin, Ga./Northwest Florida) will provide depth on the perimeter.
As a tireless worker, coach Rick Stansbury is known for his ability to get it done in the trenches when it comes to winning the recruiting battles. This year was a relatively light one in comparison to years past as the Bulldogs needed only a small class to finalize their roster. This duo, featuring original Auburn signee Jalen Steele (Knoxville, Tenn./Fulton) and junior college transfer Brian Bryant (Albany, Ga./Northwest Florida), will provide depth on the perimeter for the defending champions of the SEC West.
Michael LaPlante is a recruiting coordinator and has more than 20 years of coaching and recruiting experience.
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