Commentary

How UConn gets it done in recruiting

Jim Calhoun finds a way to win, whether it's with big-time recruits or late bloomers

Originally Published: March 30, 2011
By Dave Telep | ESPN Recruiting

Under the direction of Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, UConn has spent time on top of the recruiting world but also knows what it's like to unearth talent and grind it out for prospects. The Huskies have gone coast-to-coast in their pursuit of talent. In addition to his work on the West Coast, Calhoun has tended to be active in the spring recruiting period as the Huskies roll the dice on some prospects, hoping to add a late developer. Calhoun views the July recruiting period as his time to eyeball the talent. During the summer, he is very hands-on; you'll see him front and center at major events. He prefers to use that time period as a chance to pick out his favorites and make moves.

During Calhoun's run, the Huskies have been formidable nationally and have routinely toed the line with the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas. Though the program hasn't accounted for as many McDonald's All-Americans as you may think, Top 100 prospects routinely make Storrs their destination of choice.

[+] EnlargeKemba Walker
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIKemba Walker and the rest of the Huskies are very excited to be in the Final Four.

Calhoun has always been fond of under-the-radar, late-blooming prospects. For a number of seasons, UConn led the nation in blocks as Calhoun cranked out as many center prospects as Georgetown once did. Credit Calhoun for developing Emeka Okafor, seeing the ability of Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone, and winning a spring recruiting battle for then-unknown Tanzanian Hasheem Thabeet.

When it comes to guards, Calhoun traditionally prefers bigger wings, which makes the dream season of player-of-the-year candidate Kemba Walker all the more ironic. In fact, Walker's mere presence in Storrs comes with a recruiting story.

Kemba Walker (Bronx, N.Y./Rice)
Class: 2008 | Position: PG
Every good player seemingly has his defining moment, which in retrospect sets the table for his future success. For Walker, it came in May 2007 at the Cactus Classic, a traveling-team event held on, of all places, Arizona's campus.

Leading up to the event, Cincinnati had done the best job recruiting Walker, and he was interested in North Carolina, which was days away from landing Larry Drew. UConn was more focused on point guards Brandon Jennings (Milwaukee Bucks) and Isaiah Thomas (Washington). Although, once Walker upstaged Jennings -- the No. 1 player in the 2008 class -- in the championship game, the one-time mid-major recruit went big-time. Jennings scored 24 points, but they weren't nearly as efficient as the 24 Walker poured in on 9-of-12 shooting from the field. That game, that one moment, empowered UConn to offer Walker a scholarship, and the rest is history.

However, there's more to the story, because Walker's coach that day was current Arizona Wildcats assistant coach Emanuel Richardson, who Walker and the Huskies just beat to get to the Final Four.

"Now, he's doing it all over again," Richardson said. "Now he has two more to go. It's so eerie to see what he's doing now; he's come full circle. He's doing it again. His meteoric rise started in Tucson, Ariz., and he came back to end it against Arizona."

Alex Oriakhi (Lowell, Mass./The Tilton School)
Class: 2009 | Position: C
Landing Oriakhi was a relative walk in the park for the Huskies. Oriakhi and sophomore forward Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (also part of UConn's Final Four run) made it clear very early in their high school careers that they wanted to play for UConn. They were major cogs in the BABC (Boston Amateur Basketball Club) machine run by Boston Celtics scout Leo Papile. A third member of their AAU team was Missouri point guard Phil Pressey.

Oriakhi made the biggest strides of the trio. He developed a reputation in high school as a guy who could score in the lane, rebound in traffic and wasn't afraid to use his body. No recruiting win is ever taken for granted, but with Oriakhi, UConn was out in front early and had little issue sealing the deal.

Jeremy Lamb (Norcross, Ga./Norcross)
Class: 2010 | Position: SG
Know this: Lamb was a highly regarded Top 100-caliber prospect by the time he was through with high school. The son of former VCU standout Rolando Lamb, he had the Rams on his list until a pre-senior summer eruption at the Nike Peach Jam. Lamb's slight frame caused many major programs to look at him with a critical eye; however, he silenced all the critics with a scintillating performance on the AAU circuit with the Georgia Stars.

Mid-majors sitting in the stands at the Nike Peach Jam shook their heads upon seeing his performance. All of a sudden, Lamb blew up and finished up with a list that included Georgia, Texas and the Huskies. When he made his commitment to play for Calhoun, it was considered a good pickup for down the road. There was no way to project this type of success for Lamb as a freshman, though he was a late bloomer.

Shabazz Napier (Randolph, Mass./Lawrence Academy)
Class: 2010 | Position: PG
Napier has a recruiting story of his own. In fact, most programs were under the impression Napier was a member of the Class of 2011. Then, seemingly late in the process, Napier switched gears, hopped back into his original class and selected the Huskies. Providence, Villanova, Massachusetts, St. John's and a handful of others were in on him, but he wanted to go to UConn -- and once the Huskies offered, it was pretty much all about finding a way to qualify and get to Storrs.

Roscoe Smith (Baltimore, Md./Oak Hill)
Class: 2010 | Position: SF
The city of Baltimore has been pretty good to Calhoun over the past decade. NBA standout Rudy Gay was one of the prime recruiting wins of Calhoun's career, and it would pave the way for Smith, who played three seasons in Baltimore before heading to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia for his senior season. His recruitment was chronicled by numerous outlets and followed closely. However, when he didn't make strides heading into the summer of his senior season, some of the drama wore off. Despite leveling off as a prospect -- Smith was still considered a Top 40 player, but not an elite small forward -- major programs pursued him heavily.

Smith was a frequent visitor to Georgetown's campus and the Duke Blue Devils offered. However, UConn was best-suited for the forward, and in January of his senior year, Smith picked the Huskies.

Dave Telep is the senior basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. His college basketball scouting service is used by more than 225 colleges and numerous NBA teams. He can be reached at espndt@gmail.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.

ALSO SEE