Everything you need to know about the spring signing period
Coaching Changes Make Spring Signing Period Chaos
By Paul Biancardi
March has concluded, but for college coaches, the madness certainly hasn't.
Wednesday marks the beginning of the late signing period, which runs until May 20. For some coaches, the next few weeks are the most chaotic of the year.
Each year coaches move jobs and high school recruits follow. This year's spring period has an added significance, with an inordinate amount of blue-chip talent still available.
Three of the top 12 prospects in the ESPNU 100 -- Xavier Henry (Oklahoma City/Putnam City), John Wall (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) and Lance Stephenson (New York/Lincoln -- are looking for a home. The late signing period is always active, but rarely is so much talent remaining on the board at this point in the recruiting cycle. Also, consider that Derrick Favors (Atlanta/South; committed to Georgia Tech), DeMarcus Cousins (Mobile, Ala./LeFlore; Kentucky) and Renardo Sidney (Los Angeles/Fairfax; USC) are verbal commits who could change their minds -- although I don't anticipate any of them will do so.
In modern college basketball, most recruits commit to a coach, not a program. So when there's turnover, a prospect often looks to move with that coach or move to another program. The domino effect can be dizzying.
Take John Calipari's move from Memphis to Kentucky. Memphis had a five-man recruiting class that included Henry, Cousins and SG Nolan Dennis (Richland, Texas). Sure, two programs were impacted directly, but the domino effect is dizzying. Kansas has now moved right to the top of Henry's list, and Stephenson, who was considered the most likely player to fill the Jayhawks' lone open scholarship, might now sign with St. John's or Maryland.
Some new coaches are walking into better situations than others. Calipari formed a good bond with the players who committed to him at Memphis. He's already gotten Cousins to join him in Lexington, and I expect others to follow.
New Arizona coach Sean Miller has also hit the ground running. In a little more than a week on the job, he's landed two ESPNU 100 prospects -- Kyryl Natyazhko (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy) and Solomon Hill (Los Angeles/Fairfax).
Hill's recruitment is emblematic of how crazy the process can be. He was originally committed to the Wildcats, but then Lute Olson left the program, causing Hill to decommit. After a few months of looking around, Hill committed to hometown USC but didn't sign a letter of intent. Now, he's back with the Wildcats.
The workload might be the heaviest on new coaches, but every coach has his work cut out for him. Most programs are trying to fill their vacant 2009 scholarships and keep tabs on transfers they might be interested in. Coaches are also looking to secure commitments from players in the 2010 class.
All the hard work is certainly worthwhile. Grinding it out in the spring and summer months on the recruiting trail is how championship programs are built.
Paul Biancardi is the director of basketball recruiting for Scouts Inc.
Xavier Henry, SG, Oklahoma City, Okla./Putnam City
Player rank (position rank): 3 (2).
Considering: Kansas, Kentucky.
Recruiting overview: Henry had an addendum attached to his letter of intent that allowed him to opt out if Calipari left Memphis. That turned out to be a pretty good move. With his newfound freedom, Henry's father last week stated what most believed once Calipari left -- Xavier, along with his brother C.J., would like to attend Kansas, the only other school that Xavier expressed serious interest in throughout the early signing period. However, on the recruiting trail Calipari has the ability to close like Jonathan Papelbon, so it's impossible to count out Calipari and the attraction of his dribble-drive offense paired with the immense allure of Kentucky, not to mention the fact DeMarcus Cousins, the nation's top center, recently committed to Kentucky.
John Wall, PG, Raleigh, N.C./Word of God
Player rank (position rank): 5 (1).
Considering: NC State, Duke, Baylor, Kentucky, Kansas, Miami, North Carolina, Florida and Memphis.
Front-runner: It's hard to say at this moment.
Recruiting overview: Though Wall had not stated definitively that he would pick Memphis when Calipari coached there, Wall did say the Tigers held the lead for his services. With Calipari at Kentucky and Cousins now joining him there, Wall could head to Lexington and form a dynamic inside-outside duo with Cousins, or even complete the terrific triumvirate with Cousins and Henry that many expected to see in Memphis. Miami has come into the picture along with the elephant in the room -- national champion North Carolina, which has the nation's top recruiting haul heading into the late signing period. And don't forget that Duke has also entered the race in an emphatic way. This could turn into another battle between heated rivals Duke and UNC. This episode of "As The Recruiting World Turns" could offer plenty of excitement and twists.
Lance Stephenson, SG, New York/Lincoln
Player rank (position rank): 12 (4).
Considering: Maryland, Kansas, St. John's, USC.
Front-runner: St. John's.
Recruiting overview: Stephenson originally intended to announce his college choice at the McDonald's All-American game, with Kansas seemingly the choice over initial favorite and hometown school St. John's as well as Maryland, which made a serious late run and has high school teammate James Padgett for next season. But Stephenson decided not to make a choice after Calipari left Memphis and the thinking is he's waiting to see what Henry does. If Henry goes to Kansas, St. John's should step right in and provide Stephenson with the chance to star in a Hollywood-type movie with the hometown hero staying to resurrect the hometown school. There's also been speculation that Stephenson ends up at Kentucky if Henry ends up at Kansas. However, if Henry selects Kentucky, then Stephenson likely opts for Kansas. Stephenson's college choice will also provide plenty of interest as it unfolds.
Nolan Dennis, SG, Richland Hills, Texas/Richland
Player rank (position rank): 44 (12).
Front-runner: Kentucky, though his recruitment remains wide open at the moment.
Recruiting overview: Calipari's departure affected more than just Henry, it also forced another ESPNU 100 player and fellow shooting guard, Dennis, to reconsider his college choice for next season. Dennis also had a waiver that allowed him to seek an alternative destination in the event that Calipari left the school. Now comes word, through Dennis' mother, that he will re-open his recruitment and really favors following Calipari to the Bluegrass State. However, with such a talented player left searching for a home, expect Dennis to have plenty of viable suitors, especially if Kentucky faces some issues with respect to number of available scholarships.
Terrell Vinson, SF, Baltimore, Md./St. Frances
Player rank (position rank): 49 (8).
Considering: Maryland, UMass, South Florida and Cincinnati.
Recruiting overview: Originally slated for Loyola-Marymount, where he would have ranked as a program-changing recruit, Vinson received a release from his letter of intent when coach Bill Bayno retired earlier this season. Now, Vinson favors two Big East schools, South Florida and Cincinnati, as well as UMass and Maryland, which is looking for a signature recruit to signal its resurgence on the recruiting scene. The Terps probably hold the lead at this juncture, but the other three schools are making a strong push as we approach the finish line. The competition will remain at a high level with such a versatile prospect remaining on the recruiting board.
DeShawn Painter, PF, Norfolk, Va./Hargrave Military Academy
Player rank (position rank): 64 (19).
Considering: Virginia, Virginia Tech and Louisville, (the list is still taking shape)
Recruiting overview: Painter committed to Florida in May 2008, so it's hard to say, which of his previous suitors still would be interested. At the time he picked the Gators, Painter was getting recruited hard by Louisville and Virginia. (Kentucky and Florida State also were in the mix.) Virginia is almost certain to pursue Painter. Pairing him with AAU teammate Tristan Spurlock would be a major recruiting coup for new UVa coach Tony Bennett.
Staying On PointGoing into the late signing period, several power programs still have a major void at point guard, and there's still some pretty solid talent available at the position.
In addition to Wall, these schools are diligently going after Eric Bledsoe (Birmingham, Ala./Parker), who is the next-best PG still on the board. A pass-first player, Bledsoe would fit well on a roster of athletes who can finish effectively.
Also look for LaMont Jones (New York/Oak Hill Academy (Va.) and former Kentucky pledge G.J. Vilarino (McKinney, Texas) to get plenty of interest. The scuttlebutt has Jones leaning toward USC. Vilarino might take longer to make a decision; he had been committed to UK since April 2007.
Unsigned PG John Wall
Last season, the Big East and ACC were the talk of college basketball. The work of those two leagues on the recruiting trail might ensure that they remain elite in years to come. Both the Big East and ACC have six teams in Scouts Inc.'s most recent recruiting class rankings, with North Carolina and Villanova holding down the top two spots. All that could change in the coming weeks, however.
These three teams are attracting top-tier talent at the right time:
Kansas secured commitments from PF Thomas Robinson (Washington, D.C./Brewster Academy) and PG Elijah Johnson (Las Vegas/Cheyenne) during the early signing period, but the Jayhawks aren't done. Kansas is a finalist for the three top remaining unsigned prospects -- Henry, Wall and Stephenson -- and figures to get one of them. If Bill Self could pick one player from that trio, it would be Henry. Still, any of them could be a major contributor from day one. With Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins deciding to return to Lawrence and the addition of a blue-chipper, the Jayhawks are a strong bet to enter the season as the nation's top-ranked team.
It looked like the 2009 class would be a wash for Arizona. After initially putting together a solid group that included Abdul Gaddy (Tacoma, Wash./Bellarmine Prep), Mike Moser (Portland, Ore./Grant) and Solomon Hill (Los Angeles/Fairfax), coaching uncertainties caused the program to lose all three. Now, Hill's back in the fold and he's joined by elite big man Kyryl Natyazhko (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy). Hill, an athletic wing, could help U of A replace Chase Budinger, and Natyazhko could fill part of the void left by Jordan Hill's departure for the pros. It will be interesting to see if new coach Sean Miller also makes a play for Kevin Parrom (New York/South Kent School (Conn.), who committed to Miller and Xavier and remains committed to the Musketeers.
Central Florida Knights
Florida Atlantic might be stealing some of the headlines among the state's mid-majors, but UCF is putting together a very talented four-man class. A couple of recent commits from the Chicago area -- Nik Garcia (Evanston, Ill.) and Marcus Jordan (Chicago/Young) -- should be very solid players in Conference USA. Garcia is a dead-eye shooter with NBA 3-point range, while Jordan is a glue guy who can help his team in a number of ways. Those two join super sleeper PF Keith Clanton (Orlando, Fla./Christian) and G R.J. Scott (Slidell, La./Salmen) in a class with good depth and skill.
These three teams have their work cut out for them in the coming weeks:
When then-UAB commit DeMarcus Cousins elected not to sign during the early signing period -- choosing to wait to see if coach Mike Davis stayed at the school -- things began falling apart. Other defections followed, and now UAB's promising class is down to two players. SG Dexter Fields (Orlando, Fla./Olympia) is the Blazers' top '09 recruit, and he should be a very good scorer at the college level. Look for Mike Davis to add more depth to the group over the coming weeks.
Losing C DaShonte Riley (Detroit/Country Day) during the early signing period was a blow, but it isn't nearly as big if Greg Monroe returns to campus. Hollis Thompson (Concord, Calif./De La Salle) graduated high school in the winter and has been on campus for the entire second semester, so he should be able to make an early impact next season. Thompson, however, is the only recruit in this 2009 class. John Thompson III is probably looking for a big body during the late signing period. Unfortunately, that's a hard commodity to find.
A month ago, the Tigers were on the heels of a historically talented class. These days, new coach Josh Pastner is hoping to keep that group partially intact. Prep prospects Henry, Cousins and Dennis are as good as gone, but the news isn't all bad. If Pastner can retain junior college recruits Will Coleman and Darnell Dodson, the Tigers will be in good shape. Pastner has shown he can recruit as an assistant and we think he'll be successful at Memphis, but he might not have enough time to add much more to this 2009 group.
ESPNU And Hoops Recruiting
The 2009 ESPNU College Basketball Signing Day Special will include interviews with top prospects John Henson and John Wall and the latest news and analysis from the recruiting trail. The show airs Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET.