Monday, June 17, 2013
Five with momentum heading into 2014
By Adam Finkelstein
Momentum is a powerful thing in the world of college basketball recruiting. While it tends to be a constant for a select few national powerhouses like Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas, virtually all other programs in the country are constantly competing for any edge that can push them to that next level.
In the wake of our initial 2014 ESPN 100 player rankings release last week and as we start a team-by-team breakdown of 2014 recruiting targets by conference over the next two weeks, here’s a look at five college hoops programs that are heading into the 2014 recruiting class with some very positive momentum.
1. Memphis There is no denying that Josh Pastner has had questions to answer since taking over at Memphis. First and foremost, he had the unenviable task of following arguably the most feared recruiter of this generation in John Calipari. Second, he had to sell recruits on the virtues of playing in what many described as a mid-major league in Conference USA. Neither of those is an issue anymore as Pastner has proven he takes a backseat to no one when it comes to recruiting and as the Tigers move to the new American Athletic Conference for the 2013-14 season. Memphis can now recruit nationally while simultaneously continuing to dominate its back yard after putting together the No. 3 recruiting class in the country for 2013. While the Tigers have yet to get started in 2014, the Memphis brand might have as much cache now as it did when a guy named Derrick Rose signed on the dotted line a few years back.
Buzz Williams has Marquette on a roll, both on the court and on the recruiting trail.
2. Marquette Speaking of branding, there might not be a head coach in the country who has done a better job of branding himself in recent years than Buzz Williams, especially in the eyes of recruits. While he’s kept Marquette competing at a high national level, his unique personal style on the sidelines has made him into a regular on TV screens across America and one of the true coaching personalities in the country. Moreover, he’s starting to develop a reputation as a player’s coach while at the same time remaining a leader who can (and will) push his players to their very max. His unique ability to walk that fine line helped the Golden Eagles attract the No. 11 recruiting class in the country for 2013 -- his best since taking over for Tom Crean -- and has them already involved with a number of top prospects in 2014.
3. Notre Dame Mike Brey has strategically and systematically built Notre Dame’s program into one of the most consistent in all of college basketball. Initially, his recruiting philosophy revolved around landing fifth-year seniors, either via transfers or redshirts. But as that plan has led to more and more wins -- and an increased national profile as a result -- Notre Dame has now found itself able to compete for highly ranked national talent for the first time. Top-25 point guard Demetrius Jackson was a great example of that in 2013, while Obi Enechionyia and Trevon Bluiett are two highly talented prospects the Irish have made major inroads with already in 2014. When you combine Notre Dame’s newfound appeal with a sustained commitment to the type of players who made them successful in the first place, you have a program that continues to find new levels of success.
4. LSU Every first-year head coach in America has the same plan: make an immediate splash in Year 1 and begin to build off that momentum in Year 2. There wasn’t a head coach in the country who made a more unexpected recruiting splash in the 2013 class than Johnny Jones, who put together the nation’s No. 9 class, including three ESPN 100 prospects led by local power forward Jarrell Martin. With recruits in the Southeast taking notice of LSU’s recruiting success, Jones and his staff have begun step two in the process by targeting the likes of ESPN 100 prospects Craig Victor, Kelly Oubre, Jalen Lindsey and others in the 2014 class. All it will take is one or two more impact recruits in 2014, along with some additional success on the court, and LSU will have been able to completely redefine its program.
5. Michigan When John Beilein first arrived at Michigan from West Virginia, many wondered if his system-oriented offense would make it difficult to recruit at the highest level. Now entering his seventh year with the Wolverines, Beilein has shown an ability to adapt his system to the talents of his players while still staying true to his beliefs as a coach. The end result has been three straight NCAA tournament appearances and a trip to this past season’s national championship game. During the same three-year span, Beilein has brought in eight ESPN 100 prospects. He’s also off to an early start in 2014, with verbal commitments from Ricky Doyle and Austin Hatch allowing him the luxury of working from ahead.