Two of the top perimeter recruits in the class of 2016 issued verbal commitments to Southeastern Conference schools on consecutive days. No, neither prospect is headed to Kentucky. In another big win for the conference, Terrance Ferguson pledged to Alabama less than 24 hours after multiple reports said Mustapha Heron intends to play at Auburn. “I am proud to announce that I will be furthering my education and basketball career at The University of Alabama,” Ferguson wrote.
If Heron was a massive recruiting victory for second-year Tigers coach Bruce Pearl, Ferguson’s decision may be even more significant for Avery Johnson. The new Crimson Tide head man convinced two players—three-star shooting guard Dazon Ingram and four-star shooting guard Kobie Eubanks—in the class of 2015 to sign with the program after being named the replacement for Anthony Grant in April, but neither is nearly as talented as Ferguson.
A top-end athlete with deep range on his jump shot, Ferguson is considered one of the nation’s top wing prospects. He was one of four rising high school seniors—along with Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson and Harry Giles—selected to compete with Team USA in the FIBA U19 World Championship this summer. Over 17 games with Mo Williams Academy* on the Under Armour Association circuit this year, he averaged 11.1 points while connecting on 35% of his three-point attempts.
Ferguson, a Tulsa, Okla. native who attended Prime Prep Academy in Dallas last year, picked the Tide over a list of schools that includes Kansas, North Carolina, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. He’s ranked No. 11 in the 2016 Rivals150.
Johnson wasted little time zeroing in on Ferguson after he was hired. The coach visited him in April, and Ferguson took a trip to Tuscaloosa earlier this month. "When I went up there I felt like I was at home," Ferguson told Rivals.com. "Everybody treats each other like family. I know coach Johnson is going to change that program around and I want to be a part of that change. I want to start my own legacy and I don't want to follow in anybody else's footsteps. For that, Alabama is the place to be."
Ferguson’s decision is the latest indication that SEC programs are acquiring the level of talent necessary to compete with the conference’s clear top team, Kentucky. Texas A&M’s 2015 recruiting class includes three top-40 prospects and it has already landed two four-star recruits in the next class; LSU is adding arguably the nation’s top freshmen as well as another five-star player; and Auburn’s addition of Heron suggests Pearl’s pitch is resonating with elite players.
For Alabama, getting Ferguson should be viewed as one step of a needed roster retooling process. The Tide have reached the NCAA tournament once in the last decade, and they posted 10th- and ninth-place SEC finishes, the previous two seasons. Ferguson is the type of player the Alabama needs to close the gap on Kentucky, but it’ll also need to, you know, win more games, and hope others follow Ferguson’s lead in joining a program that lulled toward the end of Grant’s tenure.
In the short term, this will provide Alabama with momentum on the recruiting trail. If Johnson engineers a turnaround in Tuscaloosa, the addition of Ferguson could be viewed as the catalyst.
*Mo Williams, the NBA guard who founded the program, played at Alabama from 2001 to '03.