Alabama, Auburn both land highly rated hoops hauls
Alabama's Avery Johnson and Auburn's Bruce Pearl have taken their basketball programs into recruiting territory more commonly occupied by the schools' football teams: The top 10.
Both their latest classes include five-star prospects and are currently ranked among the nation's best collections of incoming talent, even if the teams remain a long way from that kind of high ranking. The Crimson Tide beat out more tradition-rich programs like Kansas to pull point guard Collin Sexton out of Mableton, Georgia, and got Huntsville, Alabama's John Petty over Kentucky.
The Tigers landed five-star center Austin Wiley, a longtime commitment whose parents both played basketball for Auburn. It's perhaps another indication of a culture change within the programs that both coaches think got started with their respective hirings and renewed efforts to lure fans back to the arenas and drum up excitement.
The best way to sustain that is beefing up the talent, which both have done.
''We think maybe some of the kids that didn't take our (Alabama's) phone calls years ago, at least they are taking our calls now,'' Johnson said. ''If they're taking our calls, and we can eventually get them on campus, we think we've got a great shot.''
Alabama's five-player class was ranked No. 3 nationally by Scout and Rival on Wednesday, the final day of the early signing period. Auburn's three-player group was ranked fourth by Scout and sixth by Rivals.
It's a change from previous years when many top recruits left the state, including DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, who had stopovers at Kentucky on their way to the NBA.
Johnson and Pearl have brought the players in but are still seeking the wins.
Entering Johnson's second year and Pearl's third, the next couple of seasons will tell how much recruiting successes the past two years will translate into success on the court. Pearl thinks there could be a reprisal of the days when Alabama's Wimp Sanderson and Auburn's Sonny Smith regularly had their teams in the NCAA Tournament.
''I hope we can see a time (like) when Wimp Sanderson and Sonny Smith were at Alabama and Auburn,'' Pearl said. ''Avery and I are at Alabama and Auburn; and he's coached well and they've recruited really well. Yeah, I can see that being a factor. I can see that contest that we play, the Iron Bowl in basketball, being on ESPN or maybe being on CBS. Wouldn't that be a culture change?''
Auburn has sold out season tickets in each of his first three seasons, a first for the program. An injury-plagued 11-20 second season didn't derail the momentum on the recruiting trail, where freshman Mustapha Heron became Auburn's first five-star signee.
Wiley is the second. The 6-foot-11, 255-pounder was ranked among the top 17 recruits nationally by several recruiting services. His mother, Vickie Orr, was an Auburn All-American, and father Aubrey Wiley led the SEC in rebounding in 1993-94.
Redshirt freshman Danjel Purifoy, another highly rated recruit last year, said the allure is simple.
''It's just BP, man,'' said Purifoy, who wasn't cleared academically by the NCAA to play last season. ''BP is a good coach. He did some good things at Tennessee. When he came here, everybody wanted to be here. When I signed here, Mustapha came here, Horace (Spencer) came here and now we have one of the best recruiting classes in basketball right now.''
Evan Daniels, Scout's national director of recruiting, said both coaches have brought in strong staffs with good recruiting connections. That group includes former Alabama point guard Antoine Pettway and ex-Auburn All-American and NBA player and coach Chuck Person.
The head coaches also carried bigger names than most of their predecessors. Johnson is a former NBA point guard and head coach, while Pearl has led 17 teams to NCAA Tournaments, mostly at Tennessee.
''They both appear to be recruiting at unprecedented levels at this point,'' Daniels said.