Patience gives Jai Lucas clear vision of college choice
Jai Lucas gets the recruiting process more than most.
Maybe that's because his brother John Lucas III went through it and played at Baylor and Oklahoma State before heading to the NBA.
Maybe it's because his father, John Lucas II, played at Maryland, the NBA and coached in the league, too.
So, they're not fools. They have patience. They are persistent. And they are fully aware that the longer they wait to make a decision, the more likely they'll understand exactly what the layout will be for the staff and program for 2007-08.
The month-long spring signing period ends next week and Lucas is the last remaining top point guard to make a decision. Monday was his last home visit: Florida coach Billy Donovan dropped by his Houston house. Throughout the week, he had Maryland's Gary Williams, Oklahoma's Jeff Capel, Oklahoma State's Sean Sutton and Kentucky's Billy Gillispie in his home.
The plan is to narrow the list to two or three schools by the end of the week and then make a decision by next week. His reasoning for waiting probably can be summed up with what happened at Kentucky and Florida -- lots of change.
Jai Lucas said that Donovan last fall didn't think he would fit into their future plans since at that point the Gators coach didn't know junior Taurean Green would be leaving for the NBA.
By December, Lucas said Donovan was calling to tell him he had a spot, knowing then that it was more likely Green was gone.
Tubby Smith started recruiting Lucas for Kentucky in the fall. By March he was the coach at Minnesota and Gillispie was now recruiting him for Kentucky. In the fall, Lucas said Gillispie -- then the Texas A&M coach -- didn't think Lucas fit in College Station. Once Gillispie got to Kentucky, everything changed and Lucas said he was a fit for the Wildcats.
Jai's father, John II, said he recommended waiting until the spring. Jai Lucas is not the only one; Huntington (W.Va.) forward Patrick Patterson is doing the same thing. A year ago, Darrell Arthur waited until May to make up his mind.
Kansas coach Bill Self said Arthur truly didn't know what he wanted to do and said if Arthur could have, he would have waited another few months.
"There are so many changes going on that you should wait," John Lucas II said. "If a school is on the list and they want you, they'll be there at the end."
Lucas said a recruit wants to avoid having to deal with getting out of a national letter of intent, as could have happened with Michael Beasley after a coaching change at Kansas State (Bob Huggins went to West Virginia but his assistant Frank Martin got the job and Beasley is staying). A year ago, Oklahoma's top three recruits got out of their NLIs once Kelvin Sampson left for Indiana and Capel was hired.
"If [Joakim] Noah or [Al] Horford were at Florida do you think Patterson would be considering Florida?" Lucas II said. "If [Josh] McRoberts had stayed do you think he would be considering Duke? If [Randolph] Morris had stayed [at Kentucky] what would have happened there?"
Patterson is considering all three of those schools.
"If you're a college program difference maker, then you should wait," Lucas II said. "If you're a mid-major guy then people aren't going to wait for you. I'm not saying Jai is [a high-major star] but he fills a need that a team may have now. Style of play is also important and Jai needs to play in an uptempo style. All of them say that but you need to watch it and see how they play."
So, here's how Jai Lucas looked at his five finalists this late in the process:
Florida: "A lot of people think Florida just popped in there but they've been there all along. At the beginning coach Donovan didn't think it was the right situation to recruit me but after Christmas he called me and it turned into the perfect situation."
What was Donovan's push?
"They lose six people that played the most minutes and obviously they need somebody to come in and play," Jai Lucas said. "The player that played the most minutes last year was the point guard [Green]."
Kentucky: "I started out with coach Smith and then got to coach Gillispie. It was like night and day. Gillispie is much more hands on as a head coach recruiting. He has a spot for me now and said he's going to turn the program around in a different direction."
What was Gillispie like in the home?
"He was upbeat and enthusiastic and really fired up for the job," Lucas said. "He said he doesn't know what to expect. He's like a little kid in a candy store. He's so excited about the situation."
Oklahoma State: "It's a transition period and last season was coach Sean [Sutton's] first year coaching. So, I knew a lot more about his dad [Eddie who coached Jai's brother John to the Final Four in 2004]. I didn't know what [Sean Sutton] was going to do. It started out well for them but they couldn't finish [and get to the NCAAs]."
How did Sean Sutton sell Lucas?
"We have a strong relationship through my brother so there was a familiarity with them," Lucas said.
Oklahoma: "I hadn't watched VCU when coach Capel was coaching so I wanted to see how he coached. I wanted to see the style of play."
What happened when Capel -- who according to Jai Lucas is the most text-message-savvy coach of the five -- visited?
"He's just trying to build a program and wants to be an elite team. He's got a big man in Blake Griffin and told me he feels he needs a point guard to take the program to the next level."
Maryland: "I was waiting to see if the bigs [James Gist] were going to go in the draft. I wanted to see the framework of their team."
"He comes in and says he's going to work you and make you the best player you can be," Jai Lucas said. "You're playing in the ACC and the team is going to be really good."
The 5-foot-10 Lucas (Bellaire High in Houston) said he's ready to end the process but doesn't regret waiting one bit.
"If you're a mid-major player you should take the best available option but I felt comfortable enough with my position," he said. "If someone is going to break into the top 50 then you should stay unsigned and see where you want to play."
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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