Three of Final Four winning without top recruits
Of the four teams heading to Atlanta, only one is making the trip because it landed highly touted high school players, writes Andy Katz.
ATLANTA -- OK, so Kevin Love is going to UCLA next season. The Bruins are going for the top players in the country. And Love is arguably one of the top two or three players in his recruiting class.
Sure, Ohio State is loaded with three top-20 players in its regular rotation in Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook, and four top-40 players when you add in David Lighty. But the Buckeyes aren't the norm.
UCLA's Arron Afflalo was in the top 35 of his recruiting class, Darren Collison in the top 75 and Lorenzo Mata in the top 100. James Keefe, who doesn't get that much run, was a McDonald's All-American last season. Josh Shipp was one of the top wings out of the West in 2004.
Florida's Al Horford and Joakim Noah were in the top 60 as high school seniors. Neither Taurean Green nor Lee Humphrey was in the top 100. The only McDonald's All-American in the Gators' starting lineup is Corey Brewer, and according to the Florida staff, Brewer was a late add to the McDonald's game because of his defensive ability.
Georgetown's backcourt is underrated and underappreciated outside of the District for how much Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp developed recently. Hibbert's improvement ranks as one of the best recently of a true post player.
The overall maturation of the players at UCLA and Florida proves yet again that the rankings of recruits don't always translate into NCAA Tournament wins.
"I know we don't have as many [top 100 players]," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "I didn't care. I don't care [about rankings]. You have to trust yourself. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute wasn't highly rated. Mata wasn't. Alfred Aboya wasn't."
Mata and Mbah a Moute, who Howland said does all the dirty work, are good examples of players who have improved quite a bit.
"He has been underappreciated," Howland said of Mbah a Moute.
Florida assistant coach Donnie Jones credits former Florida assistant and current VCU coach Anthony Grant with a lot of the work and evaluation in getting the current Gators stars to Gainesville.
"You never know how they're going to turn out and how they'll fit, but they were all coachable and from professional backgrounds [of the five starters, all except Humphrey and Brewer have parents who were world-class athletes] and all had great character," Jones said.
"The guys that are ranked high sometimes lose sight of what their purpose in college is, especially when they're coming for one year," Jones said.
Jones said Horford probably improved the most, with Noah, the MVP of the Final Four last season, a close second.
Horford's passion, ability to absorb information and desire to work have transformed a marginal post player out of high school into a likely top-seven pick in the June draft, assuming he declares for the NBA.
"His IQ and ability to listen is so high," Jones said. "They are all so selfless and they came back [this season] to improve themselves."
And to get to the Final Four without the high school hype certainly makes it sweeter.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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