- RECRUITING - Duquesne, 'Nova land top big men

Monday, April 23
Updated: May 11, 3:14 PM ET
Duquesne, 'Nova land top big men

Among the eligible high school big men left on the board, Duquesne got a big boost when 6-foot-11 Simplice N'Joya committed to play for the Dukes.

New head coach Danny Nee hired Charles Cunningham, who had spent the last year as an assistant on the UNLV staff. Cunningham, who was responsible for UNLV signing N'Joya in the first place, was able to land N'Joya (The Master's school/Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.) again after N'Joya received his release from UNLV.

Another big man in demand this spring has been 7-footer Chris Charles (Milford Academy/Milford, Ct.). Charles had verbally committed to Seton Hall, but with head coach Tommy Amaker departing for Michigan, Charles restarted his recruiting.

The senior big man has committed to play for new Villanova head coach Jay Wright. He's long, athletic and can score around the basket, with a game that has some resemblance to Tim Duncan's (remember, we said "some," he's definitely a poor man's Duncan at this point), and has an excellent upside.

In our opinion, Charles could wind up being the top center prospect out of this class -- over more highly-touted prospects such as Jamaal Sampson (California) and David Harrison (Colorado). Jay Wright can coach and he can recruit. Charles will be the cornerstone of a revitalized Wildcat program under the energetic Wright.

Arkansas got an early verbal commitment when 6-5 junior swingman Jonathan Modica (Smackover H.S./Smackover, Ark.) announced his commitment to the Razorbacks yesterday.

Commitment must be something that Arkansas men aren't afraid of as the top two seniors from Clarksville High in Clarksville, Ark., are both expected to announce their college choices this weekend.

Findlay Brashears, a 6-8, 215-pound small forward, is expected to announce his commitment to the Air Force Academy, selecting Colorado Springs over William & Mary, Sanford and Wofford. Brashears had turned down an offer last fall from SMU. His frontcourt mate, 6-7, 235-pound senior Gavin Ludgood, is also expected to announce his choice this weekend. At this stage, it looks like Southern Illinois over Oklahoma State and TCU.

Ludgood averaged 18.9 points, 11 rebounds and 5.5 blocks this season, leading Clarksville to a 34-3 record and a runner-up finish in the state playoffs. Brashears averaged 17.4 points and nine rebounds, while shooting 56.5 percent from 3-point range. Both Clarksville seniors starred this past summer on Steve Sisk's Arkansas Angels club team.

Cincinnati has signed 6-foot, 190-pound guard Taron Barker of Odessa Junior College (Odessa, Tex.) to a national letter-of-intent, fulfilling the void created when Cincy sophomore Kenny Satterfield put his name into the NBA draft. Barker, a native of Racine, Wisconsin, is a true point guard, athletic and with a strong body, who can be a quarterback-type for the Bearcats' offense. Barker averaged 13 points, seven assists and three steals a game this season.

Another school needing guard help received it when 6-1 Marlon Brooks (Lincoln CC, Ill.) committed to DePaul. Brooks, an alum of the basketball powerhouse at Manual High in Peoria, Ill., averaged 17 points, 4.5 assists and two steals a game this season for Lincoln.

Jim Baron, who did a great job in building the program at St. Bonaventure, and just recently was named the new head coach at Rhode Island, hit the ground running when 6-7 power forward Chazz Briggs committed to the Rams fresh off this year's national junior college champions Wabash Valley College, Ill. Briggs, a starter at Wabash, averaged 10.3 ppg and 5.8 rpg this season.

Ian Crosswhite, the starting center for the 19 & Under Australian National Team, has committed to Oregon. At 6-10 and 220-pounds, Crosswhite will man more of a power forward position, being a good high post player offensively. At only 19 years of age, we would not expect to see this Aussie impact, but he will see time for the frontcourt-thin Ducks who are bringing in three other frontcourt prospects.

Speaking of foreign recruits, Providence has received a commitment from Tuukka Koti, a 6-9, 205-pound forward, who played last season for the Salon Sargo Salo club in the Finland Club League. Koti, a native of Forssa, Finland, averaged 15.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.2 apg and 2.0 spg last season while shooting 39 percent behind the 3-point line and 45 percent from the field overall.

Bernard Jackson, a 6-7, 220-pound forward out of Tallahassee Community College, was a full-qualifier out of high school (Pahokee H.S./Pahokee, Fla.), and now has committed to the College of Charleston. Jackson, who averaged 10 points and seven rebounds this season for head coach Mike Gillespie's Golden Eagles, also considered Eastern Kentucky, Idaho and Florida A&M. He'll have three seasons of playing eligibility for Charleston.

Kevin Pinkney attracted a lot of interest as the spring signing period drew near. The 6-8 combo forward with the nice touch out of Colton H.S. in San Bernardino, Calif., became a full qualifier at the very end of the open evaluation period and drew nation-wide interest. That is why Pinkney's commitment to Nevada surprised many. Providence, Pittsburgh, and Texas A&M were just some of the jilted suitors.

Pinkney is slender, but shoots the ball and has the athleticism to block shots. There have been many surprises this spring and Pinkney's commitment is huge for an up-and-coming Nevada program that is getting more competitive under the leadership of former Stanford assistant Trent Johnson.

The Scenic West Conference, which encompasses junior colleges in Utah, Idaho and Oregon, is one of the best JUCO conferences in the country. One of the better players this season was 6-5 sophomore Steve Bonner of North Idaho College and the athletic swingman is headed to George Mason. Under the tutelage of Jim Larranaga, George Mason has quietly become one of those teams that the big boys don't want to schedule. Larranaga has built the program on his ability to evaluate and recruit and Bonner is his latest add.

Massachusetts had three players decide to leave after head coach Bruiser Flint was fired. Of those three, not only is 6-5 Eddie Basden the best, but perhaps one of the more underrated talents in the class of 2001. Basden will apparently resurface at Charlotte.

On the high school recruiting front, 6-11 Sani Ibrahim, who played at Winchendon School in Massachusetts this past year, will attend Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, VA, next year. Ibrahim has a tremendous touch and is one of the nation's premier big men prospects. No doubt the decision by the 7-foot DeSagana Diop to come out for the NBA draft directly out of Oak Hill, weighed in with Ibrahim.

Joining Ibrahim will be another of the nation's current top juniors (Class of 2002), 6-7 perimeter player Carmelo Anthony, who also made a verbal commitment to Syracuse. Anthony attends Towson Catholic High School in Towson, Maryland.

Oh, and not wanting to be left behind, one of the better high school sophomores (Class of 2003), 6-8 Darrien Townes (T.C. Williams/Alexandria, Va.) has given Georgetown a verbal commitment. Townes is a long-armed shot blocking athlete.

Vander Laan lands in Virginia
Nick Vander Laan, a former starter at California, announced that he's transferring to Virginia.

Vander Laan, a rugged 6-10, 250-pound sophomore banger in the paint, selected the Cavaliers over Georgia Tech and SUNY-Albany and received inquiries from over 50 Division I colleges.

Wayne Powell, a 6-9 senior postman out of Peabody Magnet High in Alexandria, La., who signed recently with Louisiana Tech, has become a full qualifier and will be eligible to play next season for Keith Richard's Bulldogs.

With sophomore point guard Jamaal Gilchrist deciding to leave the program recently, Texas A&M has begun recruiting point guards. The Aggies are looking strongly at 5'9 sophomore Bradley Jackson (College of Southern Idaho JUCO/Twin Falls, Id.), who started as a freshman at San Diego State.

Jackson's teammate 6-4 wingman Cardell Butler, who just completed his eligibility at the College of Southern Idaho (Twin Falls, Idaho), has committed to Utah State. Butler will have to sit out the next season, but should impact for the Aggies during the 2002-03 season; he's very talented and knows how to score.

Senior power forward Berry Jordan (Arlington Country Day H.S./Jacksonville, Fla.) has committed to Arkansas. Jordan is a very athletic 6-7 live-legged runner/jumper.

One of the better post players on the junior college scene, 6-10, 230-pound Michal Ignerski of Eastern Oklahoma Junior College has signed with Mississippi State. The native of Poland had verballed to Georgia State before he began his junior college career. Mississippi State improved their chances with Ignerski when they hired Phil Cunningham, the man responsible for Georgia State's Ignerski verbal, prior to this season.

Getting back to the College of Southern Idaho, 6-10, 240-pound freshman postman Benjamin Ndubisi Eze, reportedly, has left school and is turning pro. At least that's what he told CSI teammate Uche Okafor last week, before he departed Twin Falls. Eze, who played in less than 10 games this season before a season ending injury, is, reportedly, headed back to Toronto, his surrogate hometown, to decide his future.

With returning wing player Jermaine Lewis suffering a serious ACL injury, UNLV has signed 6-5 combo guard Lamar Bigby (Schoolcraft Junior College/Livonia, Mich.) to a letter of intent. Bigby, who completed his junior college eligibility over a year ago, has been taking classes during the past year to obtain his A.A. degree. He had committed to San Jose State last fall, but has since been released from that commitment. A skilled, athletic guard, Bigby's commitment is insurance on UNLV's part with the recent injury to Lewis.

College of Sequoias (Visalia, Calif.) 6-1 shooting guard Brandon Guyton, one of the better shooters in JUCOland, has signed a letter of intent with Cal State Fullerton.

Seven-foot center Uche Okafor, one of the country's top junior college players, signed a national letter of intent with Missouri, selecting the Tigers over North Carolina State and Illinois. Okafor, the Nigerian with the 7-foot-7 wingspan, is a major rebounding and shot blocking force.

Another 7-footer, Mustafa Diagne of Trinity Valley Community College (Athens, Tex.), has signed with New Mexico. Diagne, whose final three schools included Missouri and Illinois, is more of a defensive presence than a scorer.

Getting a jump on 2002
Matt Walsh, a star 6-6 junior at Germantown Academy (Fort Washington, Penn.), has announced an early verbal commitment for the University of Florida. Walsh is a live-legged athlete, who draws his share of attention with crowd-pleasing dunks.

TCU has received a commitment from 6-1 point guard Junior Blount (Connors Junior College, Okla.), while 6-2 senior point guard Patrick Starks (Muhlenberg North H.S./Greenville, Ky.) has signed a letter of intent with Western Kentucky.

Talented 6-1 junior point guard Chris Quinn (Coffman H.S./Dublin, Oh.) has made an early verbal commitment to Notre Dame. Quinn's a heady ballplayer who can really drill the open jumper.

Junior point guard Brandon Stockton (5-9) out of Glasgow High in Kentucky has announced an early verbal commitment to the Kentucky Wildcats.

North Carolina received its second early verbal from a current junior (Class of 2002) Thursday when 6-foot-3, 195-pound swingman Rashard McCants, a native of Asheville, North Carolina, gave a verbal commitment.

McCants, who spent the past school year boarding at New Hampton Prep (New Hampton, New Hampshire), is considered among the 50 juniors in the country. McCants' verbal gives North Carolina coach Matt Doherty a powerful backcourt waiting in the wings for the 2002-2003 season; 6-1 junior point guard Raymond Felton (Latta H.S./Latta, South Carolina), one of the top junior point guards in the country, had given a previous verbal to the Tar Heels.

McCants has many attributes. He's very athletic, very strong, possesses a great basketball body for a guard, has skills, is tough and highly competitive.

Down the street in Durham, Duke received its third early verbal commitment from a high school junior Thursday when 6-7 small forward Lee Melchionni (Germantown Academy/Fort Washington, Pennsylvana) gave the Blue Devils a commitment. Melchionni is a crafty lefty, with good skills and average athleticism. He's expected to redshirt his freshman season. Melchionni joins fellow juniors, 6-4 shooting guard J.J. Redick (Cave Spring H.S./Roanoke, Virginia) and 6-10, 270-pound center Michael Thompson (Providence H.S./New Lenox, Illinois) in committing very early to the Blue Devils program.

Rafael Berumen, a 6-9 post player who began his career at New Mexico, has signed a national letter of intent with Miami (Fla).

Berumen is a very skilled big man out of Los Angeles City College who is a scorer with great hands. Berumen has the ability to score with his back to the basket or step out, face-up and shoot the ball with range to the 3-point line. And he's an exceptional passer.

Ebi Ere, a 6-5, 220-pound swingman who spent last season at Barton County College in Great Bend, Kan., signed his letter of intent with Oklahoma. For Ere, it's a homecoming on various levels. He's a Tulsa product (McLain H.S.) and he signed with Oklahoma in high school and he was state player of the year for his senior season.

"Ebi is an outstanding scorer, an unbelievable athlete who can put the ball on the floor," said Ryan Wolf, head coach at Barton County. "Oklahoma needs a scorer and that's the thing he does best. He should do well for the Sooners. If he keeps developing, he'll have a chance to play in the NBA."

Ere, who selected Oklahoma over Michigan State and Illinois (he took an official visit to Champaign last weekend), averaged 26 points and 10.5 rebounds this season.

St. John's inked 6-2 slasher supreme Marcus Hatten (Tallahassee Community College/Tallahassee, Florida) to a national letter of intent. Hatten selected the Red Storm over Iowa State and DePaul. Hatten, a native of Baltimore (Mervo Tech), has strong offensive skills, and may step right into the starting lineup for the Red Storm.

"Marcus is the best player ever to play at TCC, by far the best overall basketball player," says Mike Gillespie, who in his 10 years as the head coach at Tallahassee (260-60) has had one NBA player (Paul McPherson/Golden State Warriors) and several junior college All-Americans (Kerry Thompson/Florida State; Marvis "Bootsie" Thornton/St. John's; Jason Cipolla/Syracuse and Antwan Jones/Cincinnati).

"Marcus is a terrific scorer and an unbelievable defender who broke a 30-year-old state record for career steals (235/3.8 spg)," said Gillespie. "He's a great kid, a terrific young man. He can score in a variety of ways. He's a terrific slasher. And the previous rap on Marcus was his outside shot. Well, he worked hard on it and he's really improved his outside shooting. He had three games this season when he made over seven 3-pointers. And, he can really pass the ball."

Hatten, who averaged 24.1 ppg and shot over 40 percent from behind the 3-point arc also visited Houston and South Florida. Expect St. John's to play Hatten (Mergenthaler Vocational Tech HS/Baltimore, Md.) at the shooting guard spot next season.

Oregon State has received Jarman Sample's signature on a national letter of intent. The 6-9, 205-pound post player out of Colby Community College in Kansas qualified out of high school (Westside H.S./Macon, Ga.), averaged 11 points, 8 rebounds in 25 minutes of action for Colby. Sample decided about a month ago that he wanted to test the waters by leaving Colby after a year and having three years of playing eligibility at the four-year school level. Sample had also visited Winthrop.

"Jarman is a very good prospect. I'm extremely happy for him. He's got an opportunity to play, to compete in the Pac-Ten. We're definitely gonna miss him next year," said Colby head coach Brian Ostermann.

Aside from his visits to Oregon State and Winthrop, Sample had interest from Texas A&M, Illinois State, George Washington and La Salle.

Sample was visiting Oregon State at the same time this past weekend as the Beavers were entertaining Kevin Pinkney (Colton H.S./Colton, Calif.), the 6-9 high school senior, who became a full-qualifier on Friday. Sample's commitment takes the scholarship which Oregon State was considering Pinkney for, but the newly qualified Pinkney keeps attracting more interest each day. He's already received calls this week from Providence, Pittsburgh, Iona, and Delaware.

Pinkney is one of the biggest sleepers in the country. Pinkney is a very athletic big man, who runs the floor extremely well. He plays above the rim, throws down mean dunks and is skilled enough to knock down the 3-pointer. He's a player with considerable upside, a talent who is now eligible to play next season.

Troy Wiley (Paris JUCO/Paris, Texas), a very athletic 6-8 power forward, has committed to Rhode Island. Wiley, who runs the floor, has a long body, blocks shots and rebounds, averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds for Paris head coach Bill Foy. He can score some around the bucket and he's a decent shooter. The Wilmington, Del., native selected URI over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Maryland-Eastern Shore and St. Bonaventure. And , as predicted in this column, 6-3 swingman Dustin Hellenga of Winchendon Academy (Winchendon, Mass.) has committed to Rhode Island, following his official visit this weekend.

It's down to Missouri, New Mexico and Cincinnati for Mustafa Diagne, the 7-footer from Trinity Valley JUCO (Athens, Texas) with the former leader Cincinnati appearing to have lost ground. At this point, it appears to be a two-horse race between Missouri and New Mexico.

Missouri and North Carolina State seem to be the clear leaders for 7-foot Uche Okafor, one of the top junior college big men from the College of Southern Idaho (Twin Falls, Idaho). Illinois is in his top three, but the word is that they've slipped with Okafor. The Nigerian is an excellent shot blocker (utilizing his 7-7 reach), crashes the boards and has the body of an NBA post player.

Trevor Harvey, a 6-11 postman out of Marshalltown JUCO in Iowa, visited Florida State this past weekend. He'll be visiting Miami (FL) this weekend.

Latest Commitments/Signings
  • 6-4 shooting guard Derrick Bird of Schoolcraft JUCO (Livonia, MI) has committed to Auburn.
  • Hawaii has received a commitment from 6-4 point guard Mark Campbell (Clackamas JUCO/Oregon City, Oregon), who played his freshman year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
  • 6-9 forward Ryan Sims (Los Angeles City JUCO/Los Angeles, CA) has committed to Cal State Northridge.
  • 6-7 power forward Chris Davis, who spent a post-graduate year at Notre Dame Prep (Fitchburg, Mass.), has signed with Cal State Northridge. Davis is a product of Crenshaw H.S. in Los Angeles, California.
  • 6-7 power forward Marcus Rosser of KCK (Kansas City Kansas JUCO) has signed a letter of intent with Montana.
  • 6-9 power forward Jeremee McGuire (Tyler JUCO/Tyler, Tex.) has committed to Houston.
  • 6-2 shooting guard Jibrahn Ike (Southeastern Iowa JUCO/West Burlington, Iowa) has selected Arkansas-Little Rock over Tulsa.
  • 6-2 combo guard Xavier Whipple (Wilkinson County H.S./Irwinton, Ga.) has signed a letter of intent with LSU.
  • 6-1 point guard Joe Macklin (Barton County JUCO/Great Bend, Kansas) has signed a national letter of intent with Colorado State. Macklin averaged 6 ppg and 8 apg for Barton County this season.

    News from the recruiting trail ...
  • Brandon Bender completed Rick Pitino's first recruiting class at Louisville when he committed to the Cardinals on Friday.

    The talented Bender, a 6-foot-9 center out of Ballard High School in Louisville, is ranked 35th in the latest Top 100 ranking, yet he's been somewhat of an enigma. When he's good, which means being active and aggressive, he's very good. And then there are moments when Bender just disappears.

    Expect Pitino to work wonders with Bender.

  • Connecticut received a commitment from 6-9, 230-pound Emeka Okafor (Bellaire HS/Bellaire, Texas). Okafor was one of the better post players still left unsigned this spring. He's got a strong body, plays physical at times and is known for being an exceptional student -- scoring 1,300 on his SAT. He selected UConn over Vanderbilt and Arkansas.

  • Former UCLA head coach Michael Holton, recently hired at Portland, has received his first commitment from 6-9 postman Erik Soderburg (Centennial H.S./Corona, Calif.). Holton has already hired his two assistants, Rich Wold, who worked with Holton at Oregon State, and Eddie Hill, who left UTEP to join Holton's staff. Holton is looking very strongly at 6-2 unsigned point guard Ryan Reyes out of Artesia High School in Lakewood, Calif.

  • Another member of the Top 100 is 6-7½, 205-pound lefty Antone Palmer (Julian H.S./Chicago). Palmer had a very good senior campaign, averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds, while shooting 45 percent from 3-point country. Palmer's play drew the praise of Julian head coach Loren Jackson.

    "Antone had a very good season. He's really improved his perimeter skills and it's made a big difference," Jackson said. "He's always been known as a slasher, someone who can post up mismatches. With his improved jumper, he's so versatile, similar to a Morris Peterson. He's got a chance to be a big time 3-man in college."

    Palmer had some great performances in Chicago's public school league, including 27 points and 15 rebounds against perennial power Whitney-Young. He also scored 31 points and grabbed 15 rebounds while matched up against Michigan recruit Kelly Whitney of Marshall. While schools such as Rutgers, Illinois, DePaul and Dayton have been recruiting Palmer, they'll have to wait for another year as he's likely headed to prep school (either Winchendon in Massachusetts or St. Benedict's in New Jersey).

    By the way, in talking with Jackson, he said his 6-3 junior point guard Sean Dockery -- arguably a top-five or top-10 player in the 2002 class -- is getting recruited heavly by Duke, Florida, Missouri, Illinois, Cincinnati, DePaul and Memphis.

  • A former Julian player, who did go the prep school route this past season was 6-6 small forward Demario Eddings. Eddings, who played at Winchendon Prep in Massachusetts, is a live-legged slasher who plays over the rim. Still working on getting a qualifying test score to become a full-qualifier, Eddings is getting all kinds of interest from the likes of Arkansas, Seton Hall, LaSalle, St. Joseph's and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He would be a strong late-spring pick-up for any program.

    Staying with Winchendon, one of their stars from this past season proved to be 6-3 wingman Dustin Hellenga, who is a graduate of South Lakes High School (Reston, Va.). Hellenga took a visit to Rhode Island this past weekend. Hellenga, a hard-nosed slasher to the bucket, a hustler who makes scrappy plays, will likely commit to Rhode Island if the visit well.

  • San Jose State got a major talent when 6-7 wingman Carlton "Odie" Baker (Barton County CC/Great Bend, Kan.) inked his letter of intent with the Spartans. Baker, a well-known prep out of East Chicago, Ind., is a tremendous talent whose recruiting took a serious nosedive after he was accused of hitting an official during a game earlier this season. Though he protested that the contact was incidental, he was suspended for the rest of the season.

    All the big-time programs recruiting Baker stopped calling with his early departure. But San Jose State associate head coach Patrick Springer, utilizing his strong junior college contacts, was responsible for the Baker recruiting coup. Baker should be an impact player right away for Spartan head coach Steve Barnes, and must be considered the early favorite for next season's WAC Newcomer of the Year award.

  • One of the players who really impressed Recruiting USA this past summer -- competing at the adidas ABCD Camp and for the New Orleans Jazz club team -- was 6-7, 220-pound power forward Broderick Collins of H.L. Bourgeois in Gray, La. A physical inside player and a presence on the boards, Collins, who is also a football prospect, will concentrate strictly on basketball in college. He made a commitment to Mississippi, but it now appears that he may not be a full-qualifier. If that's the case, look for Collins to surface at either Okaloosa-Walton Community College (Niceville, Fla.) or Meridian Community College (Meridian, Miss.).

  • Tim Drisdom, a 6-3, 195-pound junior out of Calvary Chapel High in Downey, Calif., is arguably the top point guard to watch out West for the Class of 2002. Utah head coach Rick Majerus certainly has his eye on Drisdom, who worked out in front of Majerus last week. After this past season away from the court, Majerus is reinvigorated and hitting the recruiting trail hard.

    Drisdom is a power point guard who has drawn comparisons to former Majerus pupil Andre Miller now of the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Drisdom's a true point guard, a superior passer with an excellent jump shot and shooting range. How did Drisdom's workout go? Majerus, who isn't allowed to speak directly to Drisdom due to NCAA regulations, is ready to offer him a scholarship.

  • One casualty due to Tommy Amaker's move to Michigan -- at least from Seton Hall's standpoint -- was the commitment of Chris Charles (Milford Academy/Milford, Ct.). The 7-footer, who did not sign a binding letter of intent, verballed to Seton Hall (and Amaker) after the fall signing period. With Amaker's departure, the smooth-playing Charles, whose combination of athleticism, skills and long body draw comparisons to a young Tim Duncan, will now decide between Villanova, Seton Hall, UMass and Michigan.

  • One coaching staff that has made major inroads in the past two seasons has been that of head coach Steve Fisher's at San Diego State. He and assistants Brian Dutcher and Marvin Menzies have done a great rebuilding job with the Aztecs.

    In his first full season of recruiting, Fisher brought in Randy Holcomb (Los Angeles City College), one of the top junior college recruits in California last season. Holcomb, a 6-7 forward, impacted this season with a 15.9 ppg and 6.6 rpg performance -- the team's leader in both categories. Fisher now has a couple of talented transfers who sat out this season ready to take the court for the Aztecs next season in 6-4 combo guard Tony Bland (Syracuse) and 6-7 Brandon Smith (Michigan).

    San Diego State, which signed 6-4 shooting guard Tommy Johnson (Crenshaw HS/Los Angeles, Calif.), a former Washington State commitment, earlier this week, got a major coup with the commitment of 6-9, 230-pound Mike Mackell, the California State Community College Player of the Year from Porterville College. Mackell, who visited Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State and Oregon and turned down even bigger name suitors, should start alongside Holcomb from Day 1 of next season, giving Fisher and the Aztecs, a NCAA Tournament caliber frontline.

  • Alabama-Birmingham has received commitments from two junior college talents. The Blazers got 5-10 point guard Eric Bush (Barton County JC/Great Bend, Kan.) and undersized 6-5 power forward Antonae Roberson (San Jose City College, Calif.).

  • University of Hawaii Head Coach Riley Wallace received two letters of intent when 6-9, 220-pound small forward Luc Arthur Vebobe (Foothill JUCO/Los Altos Hills, Calif.) and 6'8, 230-pound power forward Tony Akpan (Central Park Christian H.S./Birmingham, Ala.) signed with the Warriors over the weekend.

    Wallace and his two recruiting assistants, Jackson Wheeler and Scott Rigot, recruit around the world. Last season's roster had Lithuanians, Canadians, Yugoslavians, and Israelis sprinkled among players from all over the United States. These two recruits should have no trouble fitting in. Vebobe is a member of the French Junior National Team and Akpan is a well-traveled Nigerian who's lived in New Jersey, California and Canada since leaving Africa. Vebobe has good skills while Akpan is a physical banger in the paint.

  • Head coaches have often been heard recently lamenting that there are no shooters anymore. Another type of ballplayer that coaches yearn for is the tough, physical postman -- the banger. Nick Vander Laan, the 6-10 sophomore center transferring from Cal, who is known as a physical big man who hustles, can attest to the demand for bangers.

    With two years of eligibility left after starting most of his games at Berkeley, Vander Laan, who has already fielded over 40 calls from various colleges, is getting more recruiting interest now than he did in high school. Vander Laan, who visited Virginia two weeks ago, made his second official visit to Georgia Tech this weekend. His third visit will be later this month to SUNY-Albany, where Scott Beeten, the former Cal associate head coach who recruited Vander Laan to Berkeley, just completed his first season as head coach.

    Beeten, who is known as a tireless recruiter with great international connections (as Mike Jarvis' lead assistant at George Washington, Beeten was responsible for GW's Belarussian pipeline), got a spring commitment from New York City playground legend, Ervin "I'll Be Right Back" Opong.

    An exciting player with eye-popping dribbling and passing skills, Opong is a 5-6 point guard from Sullivan County Community College in upstate New York. Known by the playground moniker "I'll Be Right Back," Opong was featured last summer on TNT's "On Hallowed Ground" documentary, which focused on the Rucker League playground championship.

    David Benezra and Mark Mayemura cover the national college basketball recruiting scene, both high school and junior college recruiting, at their Recruiting USA ( website. Call (818)783-2244 for subscription information.

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