What to watch for during signing period


We’re about to write the final chapter on the Class of 2012. After Wednesday, the biggest recruiting names in the senior class will have announced their decisions. Nerlens Noel (Everett, Mass./Tilton) and Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman) have some input into what the landscape of college basketball will look like next fall, but what else can we learn during the spring signing period?

Where is the nation’s best defensive player going?

During Final Four weekend, John Thompson (sans over-the-shoulder towel) watched his son’s top recruiting goal, Noel, play at the All-American Championship. Can the tradition-rich, center-wise Hoyas clip the hopes and dreams of Syracuse and Kentucky? Can JT3 pull off the recruiting coup of the year and snatch the best defensive player since Greg Oden from the clutches of the national champion and the Carrier Domers? We’ll find out Wednesday night on ESPNU beginning at 7:30 pm ET on “Recruiting Nation.”

Where is the nation’s best offensive player going?

Muhammad is ranked No. 2, but he's the No. 1 overall offensive player by a margin approximating the distance between the Grand Canyon and the Grand Caymans. He is the owner of the most-chronicled recruitment of this class and is the biggest draw of any senior. Over the weekend, UCLA, Duke and Kentucky made their final pitches to him. Like Noel, Muhammad will decide Wednesday night on our air. UCLA was the clubhouse leader for a long time while UK has the current momentum; Duke is trying to be the last man standing after starting from the uncommon position of not being the favorite.

Cameron riddle solved?

During the week leading up to the McDonald’s All-American Game, Texas commit Cameron Ridley (Houston, Texas/Bush) said he is indeed headed to UT and will sign during the spring signing period. Ridley is a beast in the lane and a top-10 player, and when he puts pen to paper, this one will be over. The good news for Texas fans is that Ridley himself ended the speculation about his destination. Now for that small formality of signing …

Who’s the next best?

Once Muhammad and Noel make the call, the next highest-rated player on the board is Anthony Bennett (Brampton, Ontario/Findlay Prep). Top recruit Alex Poythress (Clarksville, Tenn./Northeast) has already committed to Kentucky, so if Muhammad picks UK one would think the Wildcats couldn’t possibly land Bennett. That would be fine by Florida, which is trying to fend off UK, Washington, Oregon and UNLV.

What’s Pollard going to do?

The most unfortunate thing happened to Devonta Pollard (DeKalb, Miss./Kemper County) a year ago when his house got struck by lightning. On the eve of the McDonald’s game, he suffered a concussion that forced him to sit out his dream game. You can't help but sympathize with this humble and quiet young man. Pollard’s mom said her son will visit Georgetown officially this weekend; the Hoyas, Missouri, Texas and Alabama are the last four standing.

Parker has us mystified

I remember Tony Parker (Lithonia, Ga./Miller Grove) once professing his love for Ohio State. He said the Buckeyes were his choice. Will Ohio State even make his final three? Seriously? If someone tells you he knows where Parker is going, call his bluff. Parker also once said his decision would surprise us. Using that logic, maybe he'll go to Georgia. There are times when Parker neglects to mention the Dawgs, but some insiders swear they think he’s going there. At the McDonald’s game, UCLA was the flavor of the decision. Kansas? Georgetown? Memphis? Duke? When the inner circle is split, and Parker’s most certainly is, making a prediction can be a waste of time. Tony, you win. We have no idea. Uncle.

Kentucky, Duke, UCLA: boom or bust this spring?

Far and away, the team that can be the biggest winner during the spring is Kentucky. By the same token, either Duke, UCLA or Kentucky will be the biggest losers during the same period. The Wildcats are involved with four of the five best unsigned players. Duke pinned most of its class on Muhammad and would like to slip one by the field late with the addition of Amile Jefferson (Philadelphia, Pa./Friends Central). While no one thinks UK will get shut out this spring, has anyone even ventured to think about the reaction in Big Blue Nation if that happens? In Durham, the nightmare scenario is missing Muhammad and then seeing Jefferson pop to NC State. UCLA already has a nice class, as does UK. The Bruins could go from real good to great with Muhammad and Parker. Missing them both would be a tough pill to swallow. These three programs have a lot riding on the next few hours, days and maybe weeks.

Who’s the hot name?

Every now and then someone emerges late from the current group of seniors. Frankly, I can’t think of a good late-blooming name who turned into the rage of the spring. Too many big-timers remain on the board. Plus, with the proliferation of transfers, who has time to turn over any more rocks looking for sleepers?

Picking the wrong level

The spring is a dangerous time for mid-major players. On one hand, it’s exciting when the directional school that’s been living with you all season gives way to the big-time state school in April. Sure, Kentucky is way more fun than Eastern Kentucky (sorry, fellas) but is it the right fit? Too many times kids pick the name on the front of the jersey in the spring. Who can blame them? I’m picking charter airplane over charter bus every time myself. Having said that, when a player picks a school and the head coach has never seen him play in a game, that’s a red flag. During the spring period, a lot of kids will sign with high-major programs when in actuality they belong in a mid-major league.

Upshaw is the most interesting recruit on the planet

After Jacob Pullen, the most shocked guy in the country that Frank Martin left Kansas State for South Carolina was center Robert Upshaw (Fresno, Calif./San Joaquin Memorial). After all, the big kid from Cali did cast his lot with the coach from the Little Apple. However, Upshaw’s family was savvy enough to not sign a national letter of intent and opted for the nonbinding scholarship agreement. That means the moment Martin was free from K-State, so was Upshaw. What’s interesting is that days after the commotion, Upshaw left the country to play with an all-star team that was traveling through Europe. His family said he wouldn’t touch the recruiting process until returning mid-month. All we know is that neither K-State nor South Carolina will get him. Fresno and Louisville were finalists the last time around and there isn’t a national program that won’t make a call on him.

Let’s not forget about the little guys

If you watched the NCAA tournament last month, you acquainted yourself with Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum and Ohio’s D.J. Cooper. They were Cinderella stories from the Big Dance. In the recruiting business here at ESPN, we’ve taken steps not to get caught off guard by some of these giant slayers. You’ll find four of their potential replacements in our ESPNU 100. Kellen Dunham (Pendleton, Ind./Heights) is a sniper headed to play for coach Brad Stevens at Butler. Fred Van Vleet (Rockford, Ill./Auburn) should start next season for Wichita State. Coach Joe Jones is going to want to hand the ball over to Maurice Watson (Philadelphia, Pa./Boys Latin) at Boston University. VCU coach Shaka Smart liked Brad Burgess so much he signed his brother Jordan Burgess (Midlothian, Va./Benedictine). All mid-major signees; all ESPNU 100 players. Here’s to the little guys -- may they continue to make March special.

What’s up with next year?

Looking into the crystal ball, I’ll make a few predictions. For starters, I don’t think we’ll have this many elite unsigned guys this time next spring. Unless a trend is developing, and in that case, we’ll need next year at least to prove it. My guess is that more kids will make early decisions next time around and the process will return closer to the norm. Remember, Noel is still on the board because back in the fall he was classified as a junior. Otherwise, in my opinion, we wouldn’t have had the No. 1 and No. 2 players deciding in the spring.

My next prediction is also a piece of advice. Unless you sign with one of the blue bloods where you know there isn’t going to be a coaching change, why not simply sign scholarship agreement papers in the fall? Upshaw quietly did a very smart thing by doing so, and because of it there’s no red tape in his recruitment now that Martin is at South Carolina. Might others heed his lead? It’s a small way for the players to retain control over their situation until the letters of intent get amended and provisions are made for coaching changes. The back-and-forth dance players have to do once a coaching change is made makes no sense.