Winners & Losers from college basketball's spring recruiting period
The spring signing period for college basketball came to a close on Wednesday. Some schools landed prized prospects who should excel as freshmen next season, while others failed to reel in their top targets. Which schools were the biggest winners and losers? Below are five of each, presented in alphabetical order.
The Golden Bears entered the signing period having already landed two top-150 recruits in their 2015 class: three-star small forward Davon Dillard and four-star shooting guard Tyson Jolly. The two players they added over the last month are far more highly regarded. First Ivan Rabb, a five-star power forward who attends Bishop O’Dowd (Calif.) High, picked Cal over Arizona. About two weeks later, Jaylen Brown, a five-star small forward who attends Wheeler (Ga.) High, followed suit. Brown’s choice was more surprising, but both decisions had the combined effect of vaulting Cal into the top 20 of Luke Winn's way-too-early Power Rankings and fueling optimism about competing with Arizona, Oregon, Utah and others in the Pac-12 this coming season.
After winning the national championship in early April, the Blue Devils lost three of their top players—point guard Tyus Jones, center Jahlil Okafor and forward Justise Winslow—to the NBA draft. Many expected both Okafor and Winslow to enter the draft, but Jones’s future was less certain before a scintillating Final Four performance that likely boosted his stock. Duke moved quickly to reinforce its ranks. It tabbed point guard Derryck Thornton, a junior prospect who moved to the class of 2015, and plucked fast-rising wing Brandon Ingram from Kinston (N.C.) High. Both players should be a factor in Duke’s perimeter rotation right away and help the Blue Devils avoid major slippage after losing three key pieces.
The Jayhawks lost former elite recruit Cliff Alexander to the NBA after only one season, but the frontcourt prospect they added this spring may be a better fit. Cheick Diallo, a 6'9" power forward who starred at Our Savior New American (N.Y.) High, picked the Jayhawks over St. John’s, Iowa State, Kentucky and Pittsburgh. A strong defender renowned for his work rate, Diallo should operate effectively alongside offensive-minded forward Perry Ellis, who decided to return for his senior season instead of entering the draft. The Jayhawks also earned a commitment from LaGerald Vick, a 6'5" shooting guard who decommitted from SMU earlier this month. It’s not clear whether Vick will begin his college career in 2015 or 2016.
The Bulldogs recruited five-star shooting guard Malik Newman under former coach Rick Ray, but the school fired him in late March and hired Ben Howland to replace him. One of Howland’s first priorities was forging a relationship with Newman and convincing him to pick the school his father, Horatio Webster, played for in the late 1990s. Howland’s pitch, brief as it was, worked. Newman spurned Kansas, Kentucky and Ole Miss for the Bulldogs, giving Howland a consensus top-10 prospect and projected future first-round draft pick to anchor his first recruiting class. Mississippi State then bolstered its haul with the late addition of Aric Holman, a four-star power forward who reclassified from 2016 to 2015 and chose the Bulldogs over Texas and Memphis, among other programs.
The Boilermakers, Hoosiers and Rebels are being condensed into one blurb because each team’s claim to “winner” status is grounded in the same thing: Its addition of an elite center. Bishop Gorman (Nev.) High standout Stephen Zimmerman chose UNLV, Huntington Prep (W. Va.) product Thomas Bryant picked Indiana and Homestead (Ind.) High star Caleb Swanigan landed at Purdue. Of the three prospects, Zimmerman could have the biggest impact right away because of his combination of length and shooting ability. Still, Bryant will upgrade the Hoosiers’ frontcourt, and Swanigan, who originally committed to Michigan State this spring before changing his mind, should make for a strong addition to an already massive big man rotation.
Yes, Arizona is bringing in one of the most decorated recruiting classes in the country, a group that features three-top 25 players in small forward Ray Smith and shooting guards Allonzo Trier and Justin Simon plus four-star center Chance Comanche. But this list is about the spring signing period, and the Wildcats missed on every player they targeted in that time. Rabb picked Cal, Zimmerman settled on UNLV and Swanigan chose Purdue. That Arizona didn't reel in those big men doesn’t register as a major letdown: The Wildcats welcome back senior center Kaleb Tarczewski to anchor their deep frontline.
When Kentucky watched seven players declare for the draft in early April, many thought it would soon add more future NBA talent over the next two months. Instead, Zimmerman chose UNLV, Newman picked Mississippi State, Ingram signed with Duke, Diallo decided on Kansas and—in arguably the most shocking rejection, considering he described Kentucky as the nation’s “best basketball program”—Brown followed Rabb to Cal. The flurry of misses prompted John Calipari to pen a blog post that seemed geared toward recruits who were scared away by his use of a platoon system last season. Still, the Wildcats didn’t exit the spring empty-handed, as heralded JUCO guard Mychal Mulder picked Kentucky over Indiana.
Michigan State fans rejoiced when Swanigan surprisingly issued a verbal commitment to the Spartans in early April. He never mailed in his National Letter of Intent, however, despite saying late last month that he was fully committed to the Spartans. In the end, he renounced his pledge to the Spartans and chose a different Big Ten program, Purdue. The good news for Michigan State is that it will bring in a strong recruiting class even without Swanigan. Four-star power forward Deyonta Davis, four-star shooting guard Matt McQuaid and three-star shooting guard Kyle Ahrens all rejected a slew of high-major offers to join a Spartans team that will begin next season on the short list of national title contenders.
Ingram, Rivals.com's No. 4 recruit in the class of 2015, told The Charlotte Observer in March that he probably would have committed to North Carolina last year if the Tar Heels had not been implicated in a widespread academic scandal that is still being investigated by the NCAA. Not only did Ingram wind up picking a different school ... he chose Duke, North Carolina’s archrival. The Tar Heels scored a significant victory about a week after missing out on Ingram when they landed four-star shooting guard Kenny Williams, a former VCU signee. Yet that won’t assuage fears over the possibility that future elite prospects will steer clear of Chapel Hill, N.C., until the scandal is resolved.
Former Rams coach Shaka Smart left early last month to take the same position at Texas. Less than a week later, VCU tabbed former Chattanooga coach Will Wade to replace Smart, and Wade was tasked with trying to keep the three prospects who signed under Smart on board. Unfortunately for Wade, they all asked for releases. Kenny Williams signed with North Carolina, forward Jordan Murphy signed with Minnesota and wing Tevin Mack followed Smart to Texas. The trio of defections won’t ease VCU’s transition to a new coaching regime, but the Rams did add three players this spring: JUCO forward Ahmed Mohamed, Oral Roberts transfer Korey Billbury and forward Geron Scissum.