The final bit of news from college basketball's late signing period came out of Portland, Ore., on Wednesday night, when five-star forward Terrence Jones stunningly signed a financial aid agreement to play for Kentucky -- despite the fact that he "committed" to Washington in a press conference 20 days earlier. In the world of recruiting, the definition of commitment is always being adjusted to include more gray area.
The absurd conclusion of Jones' saga left Washington fans irate, Kentucky fans rejoicing, and me wondering: Am I supposed to feel sympathy for the kid because he Tweeted, late Wednesday, "yeah most hated player n 2010 goes 2 me," or disgust over how he dragged this out to the final hours before the May 19 deadline?
However you feel, it's undeniable that Jones' decision was among the most important developments of spring recruiting. On SI.com's countdown of the most meaningful events that happened between April 14 and May 19, Jones makes multiple appearances:
10. At least Jones taught future wafflers a lesson: Don't let the spectacle of a college commitment be more important than the college decision itself.
Five-star prospects feel compelled to make a production out of their commitments. In the Class of 2010 alone, Harrison Barnes informed North Carolina over Skype (and on national television), Brandon Knight chose Kentucky live on ESPNU, and Josh Selby committed to Kansas during a stoppage in play of the Jordan Brand Classic. Jones agreed to participate -- along with two college-bound teammates -- in an April 30 press conference at his Portland, Ore., high school that was webcast live to an audience of around 25,000. He wore a suit to the festivities, and he had all of his suitors' hats lined up on a table.
There was a slight problem: Jones hadn't actually made up his mind. So he winged it, bought some time by talking about each team, and then picked up a Washington hat after nearly grabbing one with Kansas' logo (which he said he mistook for a Kentucky hat). Huskies fans celebrated -- only to find out that, after speaking to Kentucky coach John Calipari on the phone, Jones wasn't so sure about Washington after all. While Jones was certainly entitled to take his time, he created the most awkward recruiting-limbo situation of recent memory -- especially for the folks in his camp who had established a relationship with Washington -- and made himself one of Husky fans' most reviled college hoopsters.
9. Jones' change of plans means the Pac-10 doesn't have a single top-20 recruit for 2010.
The Pac-10 is in the midst of a talent drought. The best player committed to one of the conference's teams is UCLA-bound Josh Smith, a 300-pounder who's ranked 23rd overall by Rivals, but still needs plenty of bodywork to be college-ready. There are no first-round locks from the Pac-10 in this year's NBA draft, as only ex-Washington star Quincy Pondexter is in contention for a guaranteed contract. There aren't any first-round locks from the Pac-10 in the 2011 draft, either; UCLA's Malcolm Lee, Washington's Abdul Gaddy and Washington State's Klay Thompson will all be under consideration, but not one of them is a sure thing. The league needs a large-scale infusion of future pros to get back to national prominence. Jones would've been a start.
8. On the subject of down-cycles, this was an ugly spring for UConn and Louisville.
Both Big East teams were national powers in '08-09 and had players taken in the first round of the last NBA draft (the Huskies' Hasheem Thabeet at No. 3, and the Cards' Terrence Williams at 11 and Earl Clark at 14) -- but neither could reload with any likely first-rounders in the spring. Uncertainty over coach Jim Calhoun's contract and potential NCAA violations from the Nate Miles saga hampered UConn's efforts to lure in big-time 2010 targets such as point guards Brandon Knight and Cory Joseph, swingman Doron Lamb and power forward C.J. Leslie, all of whom went elsewhere.
Louisville, meanwhile, lacks a marquee player in its 2010 class and missed on its top 2011 target, Indianapolis point guard Marquis Teague. The Teague decision was painful on multiple levels: his father played for Rick Pitino at Boston University; Pitino hired one of Teague's high school assistants, Shabaka Lands, as part of the recruiting effort; and yet they still lost out in the battle to archrival Kentucky. The Cardinals have five-star shooting guard Wayne Blackshear committed for 2011, but they had long hoped to create a killer backcourt combo with him and Teague.
7. Sidney Lowe may have saved his job at N.C. State with a strong recruiting Class of 2010.
Lowe doesn't have much to show for his four seasons in Raleigh: zero trips to the NCAA tournament, two trips to the NIT and a 20-44 record in the ACC, with his best finish a tie for ninth place. That's a recipe for getting fired ... unless you're bringing in elite recruits to join stellar forward Tracy Smith (16.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg in '09-10). After beating Kentucky in April for homegrown, five-star power forward C.J. Leslie, the 'Pack now have one of the ACC's most promising frontlines -- and in fellow headliner Ryan Harrow, they have perhaps the most underrated point guard in the entire class. Lowe should get a chance to guide this crew to an NCAA tournament. If he can't get them there, well .... you know what'll happen.
6. Texas solved its point guard problem. Or at least appears to have solved it.
The Longhorns weren't lacking in guards last year (Dogus Balbay, Avery Bradley, J'Covan Brown and Jai Lucas were all part of the rotation); they just didn't have anyone who could effectively run the point in their random-ball-screen offense. As a result, one of the nation's deepest and most talented teams fell apart, losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Cory Joseph, the Ontario (via Nevada's Findlay Prep) point guard who signed with Texas in late April, is a smooth, scoring point man who should help solve that problem. One imagines coach Rick Barnes will settle on a decent backcourt pairing of Joseph and either Brown or the healed Varez Ward -- and with another Canadian, Tristan Thompson, joining a frontcourt that already includes Jordan Hamilton and Gary Johnson, Texas will be a sleeper team for 2010-11.
5. The early-graduation route to college is now on Trend Watch.
Prior to this spring, Daniel Hackett (at USC in 2006) and Andre Dawkins (at Duke in 2009) were the only known players to have skipped their senior years of high school to jump to the NCAA. Now we have three early entries in the Class of 2010 alone! Gainesville, Fla., point guard Scottie Wilbekin signed his Letter of Intent to Florida on Tuesday and will become Erving Walker's backup at the age of 17. At Ben Howland's urging, Bloomington, Ind., shooting guard Matt Carlino is enrolling a year early at UCLA, which lost its primary three-point shooter, Michael Roll. And Carbondale, Ill., power forward James Siakamexpedited his arrival to Vanderbilt, which lost center A.J. Ogilvy to the professional ranks after his junior season.
My guess is that this won't become a high-impact change to the recruiting world. It's neither a way for a prospect to increase his stock (the opposite route, prep school, is how most do it) nor, in most cases, gain earlier entry into the NBA draft (the rule requires players to be 19 and a year removed from high school graduation). Hackett is still the best player to have taken the early route, and he went undrafted after leaving USC. Wilbekin, Carlino and Siakam are three-star prospects who were called on to fill personnel needs, in part because they had the smarts to make the leap. The majority of college hoopsters, I suspect, don't have the academic standing necessary to make this happen.
4. Josh Selby made Kansas a top-10 team.
Selby, a 6-foot-2 combo guard from Baltimore whom Rivals rates as the No. 1 overall player in the Class of 2010, is the kind of tough-minded backcourt star the Jayhawks needed to replace Sherron Collins. Kansas has one potential star returning in forward Marcus Morris, and a number of key role players in Morris' brother, Markieff, and guards Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar. But prior to Selby's commitment, there was no true game-changer on KU's roster. With Selby in the fold, the Jayhawks are a Big 12 title contender. Given how many roles are changing from '09-10's juggernaut, coach Bill Self will have to make the chemistry work, but he has a strong track record. The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the league crown in every season except Self's first (2003-04).
3. Big Ten signees have more rights than ACC signees.
When Mundelein, Ill., shooting guard Ben Brust tried to get out of his Letter of Intent to Iowa after Todd Lickliter was fired, Brust was initially blocked from considering his second two choices, Wisconsin and Northwestern, because they were also in the Big Ten. But he later won an appeal to attend Wisconsin based on the fact that he had neither enrolled nor attended classes at Iowa -- and the fact that ex-Illinois guard Alex Legion had won a past appeal to play for the Illini despite having signed an LOI with Michigan out of high school.
The ACC is far more stringent with its signees. The league has never allowed a player to make an in-conference switch like Brust did. The penalty for such a move in the ACC would be an entire lost year of eligibility. So when Marcus Thornton, Georgia's Mr. Basketball, tried to get out of his Letter of Intent with Clemson after Oliver Purnell bolted for DePaul, Thornton was blocked from attending Georgia Tech, which wanted him as a frontline replacement for Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal. Thornton ended up at Georgia -- an SEC school -- instead. Kevin Noreen, a 6-10 center from Minnesota who was released from a Letter of Intent with Boston College, appears to be in the same situation: He'd like to switch to an another ACC school, but is highly unlikely to win an appeal that would let it happen.
2. Brandon Knight was a trailblazer (and Jones already followed Knight's lead!).
SI.com's Michael Rosenberg was right to applaud Knight in a column in late April, because by signing an aid agreement -- and not a Letter of Intent -- with Kentucky, the five-star point guard retained all of his college-choice rights before the Calipari-and-LeBron rumors really went wild.
A star like Knight, who's one of the top three guards in the Class of 2010, doesn't need to worry about a school giving away his scholarship to someone else. So why should he lock himself in to the Wildcats when he can't be 100 percent sure that Calipari won't jump to the NBA? That uncertainty is precisely why Jones was unwilling to sign a Letter of Intent with UK, too. Jones told the Oregonian on Wednesday that he was "95 percent sure" he'd be in Lexington -- because, apparently, he feels that there's still a five percent chance Calipari could be coaching LeBron.
1. Despite the NBA rumors, Calipari's Recruiting Domination Tour continued.
For the second straight year, Kentucky was a focal point of nearly every recruiting conversation. It emerged from the spring with the Nos. 3 (Turkish forward Enes Kanter), 6 (Knight), 8 (Jones) and 28 (Lamb) players in the Class of 2010, according to Scout.com's rankings. On the same day Knight signed his aid agreement, the top player in the Class of 2011, Michael Gilchrist, committed to the Wildcats, and he was soon followed by the No. 3 player in the 2011 class, the aforementioned Marquis Teague.
Calipari's three-year recruiting haul -- from 2009-11 -- is unprecedented and, for non-Kentucky fans, infuriating. He's suddenly Washington's No. 1 enemy, after robbing the Huskies of two five-star players (Kanter and Jones) that had once been committed to the Huskies. Villanova fans dislike Coach Cal for beating them on Gilchrist, and before that, Tyreke Evans in 2008; Florida fans are upset about losing Knight, their homegrown star; and Louisville fans, who needed no additional reason to hate UK's coach, got one when he stole away Teague. Kentucky's reach even spreads to the assistant coaching ranks: Illinois had to give Jerrance Howard, one of the country's best young recruiters, a raise to keep him from considering a gig on the Wildcats' staff, and Oregon still could lose the highly regarded Kenny Payne -- who had recruited Jones for the Ducks -- to Lexington in the coming days.
This empire, of course, could all come crumbling down if Calipari leaves. Knight and Jones have the freedom to bail, and Gilchrist and Teague would decommit. Cal has said he's sticking with UK, though, and I don't think any of the LeBron Sweepstakes teams actually wants to hire Cal, anyway. The people whom a Calipari-to-the-NBA jump would please most are rival college coaches, who'd rejoice if he were no longer on the recruiting trail.