Opposing coaches in awe of Kentucky's haul

May, 21, 2009
John Calipari left his coaching colleagues in awe of his first recruiting class at Kentucky.

Getting John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and Darnell Dodson to join him after recruiting them at one point for Memphis, and getting Daniel Orton to stay after he originally signed with former coach Billy Gillispie, is considered one of the greatest spring signing hauls of all time.

"Cal's situation is unique," friend and Indiana coach Tom Crean said on the end of the spring signing period Wednesday. "He had relationships with them. It's a heck of a thing. But like us at Indiana, he had the magic words to sell: real opportunity."

Calipari was humbled a bit by the class that will likely elevate the Wildcats into the preseason No. 1 slot over Kansas and instantly make it a national contender. When he got the job, he was quick to say it would take him a year or two to get Kentucky to an elite level. He never said it would take less than two months.

"I can't compare it to anything," Providence coach Keno Davis said. "It shows why he was so highly sought after. They knew what they were getting, but I'm not sure anyone thought it would be this kind of quantity and quality. To have the top names surpasses anyone's early expectations."

If Calipari had turned down UK, alum and current Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford may have been the next call.

"I'll be honest with you, I'm not sure this has ever been done before and or will be done again," Ford said of Calipari's late-spring recruiting class. "Everything was lined into place. It all worked out great. I think this is why he went to Kentucky -- to have his pick. I'm excited for my alma mater. It's going to be them and Kansas [for the title]. I wouldn't be surprised if either one didn't lose a game."

All three of these coaches -- Crean, Davis and Ford -- were hired a year ago and were scrambling for players in their first spring signing period at their new school. Like most new coaches, those three needed a full year to establish themselves with their new fan base, regardless of their past success.

As for this critical recruiting class, this trio of coaches did much of their work earlier in the year.

Crean was under immense pressure to deliver quality players to jump-start the Hoosiers. He already had one newcomer sitting out, Jeremiah Rivers from Georgetown. He had to land contributing talent and he said he did that in the six-player class led by Jordan Hulls.

"We had to find players who have won and won consistently," Crean said of the Hoosiers' recruits after IU finished 1-17 in the Big Ten, 6-25 overall, in his first season since coming over from Marquette to replace the carnage left in Bloomington by former coach Kelvin Sampson.

Crean said he searched for not just winners, but versatile players. He said that the Hoosiers had to address their shooting and that he's confident Maurice Cheek and Bloomington native Jordan Hulls will knock down shots. He said they also needed a big man who could step out and make a shot and are tabbing newcomer Derek Elston for that role. Elston, from Tipton, Ind., was a necessity -- along with Hulls -- for Crean to prove he could recruit in-state.

In an ideal world, Crean said, he would have more class balance.

"I wish we wouldn't have had to sign six, but we did," Crean said. "We were smart to bank some scholarships from last year. All we did last spring was keep this from falling apart."

Crean had some of Sampson's recruiting penalties absorbed by the program, and he couldn't go out initially on the road. That changed during this past season and Crean and the staff fulfilled 128 of a possible 130 days evaluating. But during the spring of 2008, Crean got used to watching recruiting tapes of players. He's hooked and said he won't go back to the days of mostly evaluating in person.

ESPN.com rated Indiana's recruiting class at No. 12. Oklahoma State's was rated No. 10. Like Crean, Ford was in his first season a year ago, scrambling to find his groove in Stillwater. But unlike Crean, Ford had a team in place that could win this past season, and it did just that, reaching the NCAA tournament and beating Tennessee in the first round before losing to Pitt.

Indiana didn't have to fear losing a player to the NBA draft. Oklahoma State did.

"The only concern we had [in recruiting this spring] was, what if James Anderson left [for the draft]?" Ford said. "We didn't have anybody to take his place."

Anderson could have pushed for a possible first-round slot had he declared. He didn't, and the 18.2-point scorer is back. But Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris are not, leaving the Cowboys without their second- and third-leading scorers. That's why this recruiting class was so critical for Ford. He signed the staff "got lucky and fortunate" to sign up six of seven players before the Cowboys played a game in the fall.

Guards Fred Gulley, Ray Penn, Reger Dowell and swingman Roger Franklin are expected to have an impact after the departures of Eaton and Harris. The Cowboys were also devoid of size this past season, so landing power players Karron Johnson, Jarred Shaw and Torin Walker was big.

Judging the ratings of the players and the rankings of the teams is almost impossible unless the recruiting class is loaded with can't-miss stars like Kentucky's with John Wall.

So it shouldn't matter all that much that Providence didn't make ESPN.com's top 25. Davis said he was looking for players who fit his system, not who had a star or rating next to their names.

The Friars missed the NCAA tournament in Davis' first season. They were losing eight seniors. Davis needed numbers as well as players who could compete in the Big East. He signed five high school seniors and two junior college forwards, the latter two actually being qualifiers from high school who chose a JC to adjust to the physical side of the game, not because of grades.

Dismissing Davis' haul, led by point guards Vincent Council and Johnnie Lacy and shooting guard Duke Mondy, would be a mistake. Just as it's hard to put a ranking on a John Beilein class because he's recruiting strictly to his system, the same applies to Davis. Judge these players in two seasons, not before they even get to campus.

"We lost out on a recruit that had a zero next to his name," Davis said in reference to a ranking of the particular player. "Certain recruiting services rate you, but you can't judge if that player fits into every system. These guys can't evaluate every player in the country."

The Friars didn't add anyone last season, and when the new staff got their jobs, they were able to focus on the 2009 and '10 classes.

Davis wanted two point guards in this class, and he got them with Council and Lacy. Davis' offense loves 3s, and he needed shooters. He feels he landed that, too.

Providence finished 10-8 in the Big East, 19-14 overall and was a loser to Miami in the first round of the NIT. To get back at least to that level, Davis had to deliver in recruiting in his second year.

"For when we took over the job, my assistants did an incredible job of finding the level of talent needed," Davis said. "It's a process. But I'm very happy with the talent level that will be joining the Friars."

Frankly, no one was going to rip himself or the players who make up his recruiting class. But for each one of these three coaches -- one at a storied program (Crean), one serving a passionate fan base in Stillwater (Ford), and another at a school that has been to one NCAA tourney in the last eight seasons (Davis) -- the pressure was on to deliver.

Now the onus is on the recruits to perform.

• Don't weep for Miami after it didn't get John Wall. UM coach Frank Haith is still extremely confident the Hurricanes will be an NCAA tournament team next season.

His recruiting class was already one of the top 25 in the country (No. 24 on ESPN.com), with highly touted guard Durand Scott of New York coming to Coral Gables. One of the schools that lost out on Scott said the Canes were getting one of the best talents in the class and a certain impact player. Scott will be the lead guard with James Dews on the perimeter. Garrius Adams, Donnavan Kirk and Antoine Allen will all be contributors.

The key will be how fast the highly touted DeQuan Jones realizes his potential, as well as how productive Dwayne Collins (assuming he withdraws from the draft), Cyrus McGowan and Adrian Thomas are from 15 feet into the post.

• The group workout in Oakland for potential draft picks, organized by the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns and L.A. Clippers, will have some interesting matchups. The first group on June 1 will include on-the-fence players like Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody and Texas guard Damion James, along with Australia's Joe Ingles, Pitt's Sam Young, LSU's Marcus Thornton and Arizona State's Jeff Pendergraph. The second group includes possible returning players in Wake Forest's Jeff Teague, Saint Mary's Patty Mills, Xavier's Derrick Brown, USC's Taj Gibson and Florida's Nick Calathes. The only senior in this group is VCU's Eric Maynor.

The first group working out on June 3 includes possible Georgia Tech returning player Gani Lawal in a crew with players staying in the draft: North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington, Temple's Dionte Christmas, Arizona's Chase Budinger, and Georgetown's DaJuan Summers.

The second group on June 2 has a possible returner in Gonzaga's Austin Daye. The rest of the group is staying in the draft (except possibly Israel's Omri Caspi). The other players are UCLA's Darren Collison, USC's Daniel Hackett, Ohio State's B.J. Mullens and Utah's Luke Nevill.

• One of the first things Ken Bone did when he got the Washington State job was head to Australia to ensure that Brock Motum was still coming to Pullman. Former coach Tony Bennett raved about the potential impact of Motum, who should team up with Klay Thompson to give the Cougars two productive scorers on the wing.

"I got over there as quickly as I could," Bone said. "He's very skilled. I watched him on tape the whole flight over there. He's got a great basketball IQ. He's going to be a really good player."

The Cougars have been a skilled crew on the perimeter under the Bennett family. That should continue under Bone with Thompson and Motum.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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