Wednesday, April 17, 2013
The five best spring signing fits
By Adam Finkelstein
College programs left looking to plug holes on next year’s roster during the spring signing period are often fighting an uphill battle.
Because the talent left on the board is scare, supply never comes close to matching the demand. And when high-major programs are forced to recruit mid-major talent, it creates a trickledown effect that impacts all subsequent levels of college basketball.
Amid these struggles, there are really only two ways college programs can find value during the late signing period. The first and most obvious way really only applies to the most prestigious of college basketball programs, because that’s what it takes to hold on long enough to win the battles for the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and other elite national prospects who have held on to make their decisions after the early signing period.
But if you’re a program that is not at the level of Kentucky, Duke or Arizona, what options do you have? The available prospects are often ones who aren’t good enough to contribute right away the following season. That is, unless they’re an unusually good fit.
Finding that precise fit requires a level of analysis that isn’t always utilized in recruiting. It takes an analytical assessment of the team’s returning personnel, as well as an extra level of due diligence and analysis on the prospects left on the board.
Spike Albrecht was not a highly rated recruit but was a perfect fit for what Michigan needed.
There might not be a better example of this than Michigan freshman Spike Albrecht. Before he was the first-half hero of the NCAA championship game, Albrecht was struggling to find his first Division I scholarship offer during his post-graduate season at Northfield Mount Hermon (Mass.). Appalachian State came calling before the Wolverines saw something that intrigued them late in the year.
After his recent heroics, it seems the whole world wants to know how he could have been so blatantly underrated a year ago. But was he misevaluated or was this a classic example of finding a uniquely precise fit that allowed a prospect to defy what would have otherwise been his level of play?
With Trey Burke returning last year, Michigan wasn’t looking for a starting point guard, just someone who was capable of playing limited backup minutes. While Albrecht lacked the physical tools of a prototypical high-major prospect and wasn’t even a consistent knock-down shooter from the 3-point line, he had thrived late in the season at NMH. He led the team to its first NEPSAC championship, not only showing an ability to raise his game when the stakes were the highest (sound familiar?), but also showing a terrific understanding of an offensive system that was incredibly similar to John Beilein’s at Michigan.
In other words, Michigan was never looking for its next star or go-to scorer. Instead, the Wolverines had a very specific idea of what they wanted in a backup point guard and Albrecht fit that description, even if there weren’t many other similar-level schools where he could have done the same.
As this year’s late signing period begins on Wednesday, here’s a look at five committed 2013 recruits who have waited until the spring to sign. Three of them (Elijah Brown, Darryl Hicks and Jaaron Simmons) fit the mold of guys whose impact could defy their current rating due to especially good fits, while the other two (Jabari Parker and Keith Frazier) are ESPN 100 recruits whose performance will nonetheless be further boosted by picking schools that are perfect for them.
Five best spring signing fits
Elijah Brown, SG, Butler Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs will play in their third different conference in as many years next season when they join the Big East. And as Butler continues to push its program to the highest levels of college basketball, the need for length and athleticism on the perimeter will become more glaring on the defensive end. Who better to fill that role than Brown? Brown not only fits that description, but just as importantly he has a defensive strand embedded in his DNA as the son of former Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown, who has been well known over the years as one of the NBA’s foremost defensive coaches.
Keith Frazier and SMU is the perfect marriage of what both parties need.
Keith Frazier, SG, SMU Frazier was looking for a school that could best develop his professional aspirations. SMU was a program badly in need of a talent influx. Frazier found a program where he could play a signature role from Day One and a coach who has more NBA experience than anyone else in college basketball. SMU found a prospect it could build around -- both on the floor and from a recruiting perspective -- as it continues to build inroads into the Dallas/Fort Worth area. This is a home run for both sides.
Darryl Hicks, SG, Boston College BC has a young and talented backcourt with reigning ACC Freshman of the Year Olivier Hanlan and running mate Joe Rahon. While both players averaged more than 34 minutes per game this past season, that was likely more out of necessity than design. Hicks is the ideal complement because he provides an element of power and athleticism the Eagles don’t currently have.
He can even slide over to the small forward spot at times, giving coach Steve Donahue some versatility to work with. The fact that Hicks makes open shots, has a high IQ and makes good decisions only makes him that much more of a good fit.
Jabari Parker, SF, Duke Parker has been committed for so long (since late December) that it’s easy to forget he made his decision after the early signing period and will officially ink his letter of intent in the spring. Either way, everything about Parker and his game seems to be a good fit with Duke. The timing couldn’t be better in terms of the team’s personnel, as he’s likely to step into the starting forward position vacated by the graduation of Ryan Kelly. Moreover, in a Duke offense that includes tenants of Bobby Knight’s motion offense and Mike D’Antoni’s ball-screen concepts -- both highlighted by maximum spacing -- Parker’s advanced skill set and high basketball IQ may actually be an even better fit at the college level than they were at the high school level.
Jaaron Simmons, PG, Houston Houston has a talented young core in place with the likes of Joseph Young, TaShawn Thomas, and Danuel House. With Danrad Knowles set to join the program next season, the only thing the Cougars really lacked was an impact point guard -- and they may have found an under-the-radar one in Simmons, a scoring point who had a great senior season at Archbishop Alter (Ohio). He’ll be a good fit for Houston’s up-tempo style and is ideally suited to play with the Cougars’ young wings because he can push the play and create pace while also making plays for himself and others.