- Adam Finkelstein
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Here's a breakdown of the top recruiting classes from teams in non-BCS conferences after the early-signing period.
The Musketeers looked like runaway winners for best non-BCS class in the country heading into the early-signing period but received one less signature than they expected last Wednesday when Michael Chandler (Indianapolis/Lawrence North) opted out of his verbal commitment. Even without Chandler, coach Chris Mack has put together the top non-BCS class in the country for the second consecutive year. SF Dezmine Wells (Raleigh, N.C./Hargrave Military Academy) is the headliner and a huge mismatch problem in the frontcourt. He could eventually blossom into one of the Atlantic 10's best players. PF Jalen Reynolds (Livonia, Mich./Stevenson) and PG Darwin Davis (Bloomington, Ind./Bloomington South) spurned a variety BCS conference schools to pledge to Xavier and project as immediate impact players. Reynolds is a long, athletic, hybrid four man, who thrives in the open floor and is effective facing up in the mid-range area, while Davis is a creative lead guard, who is at his best playing north to south.
It is hard to rank a class second overall with only one signed player, but the bottom line is that coming off their loaded eight-man class in 2010 and with only one graduating senior on the roster, the Tigers had one spot to fill, and they did it with the absolute perfect player. Coach Josh Pastner scored his latest local product in five-star SF Adonis Thomas (Memphis/Melrose), No. 8 overall. Thomas is the top overall player heading to a non-BCS school next year and a terrific fit alongside the current Tigers freshmen. He possesses the versatility from the wing to complement a wide array of scoring guards and athletic big men.
Mark Few has put together his backcourt of the future in the Bulldogs' 2011 class. The group is headlined by ESPNU 100 SG Gary Bell Jr. (Kent, Wash./Kentridge), who had his choice of West Coast programs before pledging to the Zags last April. Bell is a versatile scoring guard who does his best work with his jumper and projects to spend the majority of his time off the ball, thanks to the presence of PG Kevin Pangos (Newmarket, Ontario/Denison Secondary), who is a pure point guard, excels in transition and is equally dangerous from behind the arc. SG Kyle Dranginis (Nampa, Idaho/Skyview) and PF Ryan Spangler (Blanchard, Okla./Bridge Creek) give the Bulldogs two other quality pieces, as Dranginis has the skills, basketball IQ and versatility to be good down the road and Spangler is a bit of a throwback in the post with good hands, feet and a fundamental base with his back to the basket.
Western Kentucky coach Ken McDonald and his staff have built a class with star power and depth. The Hilltoppers earned commitments from six different prospects and five of them have signed. PG Cezar Guerrero (Bellflower, Calif./Saint John Bosco) is the lone holdout, but even if he and the Hilltoppers part ways this is a solid class. SG Derrick Gordon (Elizabeth, N.J./St. Patrick) is an attacking playmaker who uses his powerful body. Up front, the Hilltoppers have assembled three players with a unique blend of talents, all of whom are capable of making an instant impact. PF George Fant (Bowling Green, Ky./Warren Central) is an undersized but extremely efficient power forward, while PF Vinny Zollo (Winchester, Ky./George Rogers Clark) is a pick-and-pop, stretch four man. C Deng Leek (High Point, N.C./Wesleyan Christian Academy) is a long, athletic hybrid big man who runs, jumps and blocks shots.
Brad Stevens has quickly realized the impact of last year's NCAA tournament success on his recruiting efforts, as Butler has added four impact players. Scoring PG Jackson Aldridge (Sydney, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) headlines the class with his ability to get to the rim and shoot the ball with range. A trio of forwards fill out the rest of the class. Roosevelt Jones (O'Fallon, Ill./O'Fallon Township) is a powerful wing forward who passes extremely well, PF Kameron Woods (Louisville, Ky./Eastern) is a long, athletic and crafty interior scorer with a high upside and Andy Smeathers (Bargersville, Ind./Center Grove) is a good-sized wing who shoots well from the perimeter.
George Washington is moving in the right direction again after a couple of uncharacteristically disappointing years in the cellar of the Atlantic 10, and in the 2011 class the Colonials landed the type of talent that can quickly change the course of the program. C Erik Copes (Philadelphia/Imhotep Charter), who is No. 49 overall and sixth best center in the country, is a nephew of assistant coach Roland Houston. Copes is an absolute force in the paint with a great combination of power, agility and a motor that never stops.
Access to players is one of the top components of any good job and one of the reasons why Donnie Jones made the move within Conference USA by switching from Marshall to Central Florida. First class facilities and a beautiful campus don't hurt either, and Jones took advantage of all of it to keep three local products close to home. SF Rod Days (Weston, Fla./The Sagemont School) and PF Wayne Martin (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence School) represent a forward tandem who turned down recruitment from the high levels to join the Knights, while PF Kasey Wilson (North Port, Fla./North Port) is the type of blue-collar worker every championship-caliber team needs in the paint.
First-year head coach Alan Major has quickly put together one of the top classes in the Atlantic 10. SF E. Victor Nickerson (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) provides an instant impact swingman with a unique ability to facilitate offense for his teammates through the wing, while Mike Thorne (Fayetteville, N.C./Trinity Christian) is one of the top-25 centers in the country and someone who has the athleticism, length and soft touch to be productive inside the paint for the next four years. SG Terrence Williams (Charlotte, N.C./West Mecklenburg) is an ideal fit next to Nickerson on the perimeter because he is a scoring guard who is equally dangerous from 3-point range and the mid-range area.
Tommy Amaker's recruiting prowess has been well documented since arriving in Cambridge, but this is his best Crimson class yet. No letters of intent are signed in the Ivy League, but these six verbal commitments raise the bar when it comes to a coach's ability to sell a non-scholarship program. Wide-bodied pivot Kenyatta Smith (Brea, Calif./Flintridge Prep) turned down high-major offers, while PF Wesley Saunders (Los Angeles/Windward School) is a huge pickup for the Crimson, giving Amaker a potentially-dominant interior tandem for years to come. SG Corbin Miller (Sandy, Utah/Brighton) and SF Jonah Travis (Minneapolis/De La Salle) are two great pickups on the perimeter, while PF Steve Moundou-Missi (Monteverde, Fla./Monteverde Academy) and SF Max Hooper (Irvine, Calif./Brewster Academy) complete the deep and talented class.
When C Cannen Cunningham (Arlington, Texas/Lamar) committed to SMU last month, he spurned a variety of high-major suitors. In Cunningham, coach Matt Doherty has a long, athletic and skilled post player to headline his class. Cunningham has tremendously versatile ball skills for a player his size and has a chance to be good in Conference USA, once he adds muscle to his frame. SF Jalen Jones (Dallas/Kimball) and SG Ryan Manuel (Sugar Land, Texas/Stephen F. Austin) provide two scoring swingmen with good size and length for the backcourt, while PF Eric Norman (San Diego/Francis Parker) is a late-blooming, face-up four man who could be the sleeper of the group.
Houston Cougars (Conference USA), Southern Illinois Salukis (MVC), Florida International Golden Panthers (Sun Belt), UTEP Miners (Conference USA), Dayton Flyers (Atlantic 10), Northern Iowa Panthers (MVC), Virginia Commonwealth Rams (Colonial), George Mason Patriots (Colonial), Portland Pilots (West Coast Conference), Richmond Spiders (Atlantic 10), Santa Clara Broncos (West Coast Conference), Creighton Bluejays (MVC).
Adam Finkelstein has been a coach or scout at the high school, college and pro levels. He was an assistant coach in Division I by the age of 24 and worked as a scout for Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting.
Xavier and Memphis highlight the best recruiting classes from teams in non-BCS conferences, writes Adam Finkelstein.