On Friday evening, Hurricane Irene was bearing down on the East Coast, hours from making landfall in North Carolina. The panicked, wall-to-wall TV coverage of the storm left little room for other stories; from a p.r. standpoint, it was a poor time to release any unrelated, positive news into the world, if you wanted anyone to pay attention. It was fitting, then, that Andre Drummond of New London, Conn., the No. 2-ranked player in the Class of 2012, who for years had avoided the recruiting-circuit spotlight by pretty much not talking at all about his college recruitment, chose this moment to pick up his iPhone and send a stunning tweet. "Husky fam," the 6-foot-11, 270-pound center wrote, meaning UConn fans, "welcome me cause I'm coming this year!!"
Because the notoriously tight-lipped Drummond had said earlier this month that he planned to attend Wilbraham & Monson, a prep school in Wilbraham, Mass., for a postgraduate year in 2011-12, and there were rumors that he might skip college altogether and enter the next NBA Draft, him announcing what appeared to be an immediate commitment to UConn threw the recruiting world for a loop. It created enough confusion that Drummond felt the need to tweet a reiteration/clarification a few minutes later:
"It's official I'm heading to the university of connecticut to be a husky this year! Do I hear #repeat #huskyfam"
And with that, the Huskies landed their biggest recruit since Rudy Gay. Drummond is a high-impact big man who, as he noted, could put them in contention to repeat as national champs. Scout.com recruiting analyst Evan Daniels, who adjusted his Class of 2011 rankings to make Drummond No. 2 overall, the same spot he held in 2012, said that while there are question marks surrounding Drummond's consistency of effort, his potential is clear. "As far as prospects go, I'm not sure if I've seen a better big man since Greg Oden, in terms of size, skill and athleticism," Daniels said. "His mobility at 6-11 is ridiculous."
Drummond was coy about his future while playing his past two seasons at the St. Thomas More School in Oakdale, Conn. His former coach there, Jere Quinn, suggested that Drummond become a poker player if basketball didn't work out, because Quinn could never get his star to reveal any interest in his recruitment. "Of the high-profile kids I've dealt with, he was the most relaxed about college," Quinn said. "Not in a negative way, but just casual. ... 'I'd ask him, 'Do you want to think about taking any official visits as a senior?,' or 'Do you want to hear what these coaches are saying?,' and Andre would just say, 'No, I'm OK, coach. I'm OK.'"
The Drummond family's longtime plan had been for Andre to spend three years at St. Thomas More (with 2011-12 being his third), but they met with Quinn in June to tell him they were re-evaluating their options, and didn't speak with him following that meeting. No one outside Drummond's camp saw the commitment to the Huskies coming -- aside from UConn, which sources said had been working behind the scenes to accelerate Drummond's arrival, since he just turned 18, graduated from St. Thomas More, and is expected to be academically eligible.
But even the Huskies hadn't coordinated the timing of Drummond's tweet, which set off a maelstrom of media inquiries. UConn had hoped to wait to break the news of his addition once he was enrolled (classes began on Monday) and it had its available-scholarship situation solved. That's the awkward, and unfortunate side to Drummond's announcement: The Huskies technically don't have room to add him to the roster, and he can't be a walk-on, because he was already recruited. Due to APR and NCAA-probation penalties, UConn is limited to 10 scholarships, and it already has 10 scholarship players.
One of Drummond's tweets from the following day -- we have to resort to extrapolating meaning from his tweets, because he was unreachable for comment -- was a non-humble brag about a 104-point move in the iPhone game Words With Friends, accompanied by a screenshot. The word was "decuman," which tends to get used in relation to waves, as in, "the belief that every 10th wave is greater than the others." I had to look it up, and I have no idea if Drummond knows what it means. But he is now the giant wave crashing into UConn's roster, which coach Jim Calhoun will undoubtedly and swiftly contract into nine, so Drummond, a greater post prospect than Hasheem Thabeet or Emeka Okafor, can make 10.
The scholarship casualty is likely to be either 6-10 redshirt freshman Michael Bradley, who could be "encouraged" into walk-on status; or 7-1 sophomore Enosch Wolf, who could suddenly "choose" to play professionally in his native Germany. Bradley lived in what was essentially a Chattanooga, Tenn., orphanage for eight years before arriving in Storrs, and Lynn Jordan, his house mother at the Tennessee Baptist Children's Home, told the New Haven Register that there were "several options the school is helping [Bradley] to explore, [like] how much financial aid he would be eligible for."
Anything short of a fully inclusive aid package for Bradley would not be a horrible p.r. move, but UConn is not under obligation to honor his scholarship, as the NCAA only forces schools to guarantee full rides on a year-to-year basis. It already does not sit well that UConn will be allowed to play scholarship-substitution games when it's in a crunch, three short of the normal 13 spots, because it failed to meet the NCAA's APR requirements and broke rules in the recruitment of Nate Miles. But Calhoun would not be the first coach to squeeze out a lesser player in favor of an elite recruit. Athletic departments seem to be fine with the short-term criticism on this front, because they know that their fans ultimately prefer to win over all else. When John Calipari took over at Kentucky in 2009, he ran off no fewer than four scholarship players to make room for a monster recruiting class that included Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall. While there was some hand-wringing about this in the '09 offseason, you didn't hear any Wildcats fans lamenting the decision when the upgraded team finished 35-3, winning the SEC and reaching the Elite Eight.
Just as that Kentucky team was a national title contender, this UConn team has a shot at making it to New Orleans despite losing the incomparable Kemba Walker to the NBA Draft. The addition of Drummond propels them from a fringe top-10 club into perhaps a top-five preseason pick, as a potential starting lineup of Shabazz Napier at point, Jeremy Lamb at shooting guard, and Roscoe Smith, Alex Oriakhi and Drummond on the front line is formidable. Lamb's high-scoring performances with the U.S. Under-19 national team this summer in Latvia suggest he can pick up some of Walker's offensive slack, and the players who best locked down Butler on D in the national title game -- Napier, Smith and Oriakhi -- are all back as well. Adding an athletic, 6-11 presence into the middle of the paint should only make them stingier, as long as Drummond gets over his motivational issues. "It's all going to depend on if he brings the effort," Daniels said. "It's always been about 50 percent of the time -- if he does it 80 percent of the time or more, it's going to be over [for other big men]."
For now, Drummond has to be considered the most significant, late-season addition by a contender in recent memory. In the database SI.com used for our comprehensive study of top-100 recruits' behavior, I found three previous cases of top-100 players reclassifying in August or later, and making an impact on their new teams:
• In September 2006, 17-year-old Daniel Hackett was cleared to play for USC a year ahead of schedule. He started at point guard that season, helping the Trojans to a 25-12 record and a trip to the Sweet 16. He averaged 5.3 points and 2.8 assists in 21.9 minutes per game.
• In December 2006, Bill Walker, a top-10 player in the Class of 2007, reclassified up a year, and became eligible to play for Kansas State at midseason. Due to an injury, he only appeared in seven games, averaging 9.7 points in 19.9 minutes, and the Wildcats went to the NIT.
• In August 2009, Andre Dawkins, who would've been a top-50 player in the Class of 2010, reclassified and was cleared to enroll at Duke, which was dealing with a shortage of backcourt personnel. He averaged 4.4 points in 12.6 minutes per game on the Blue Devils team that won the national title, but had a very limited role in the Final Four, playing a total of 12 minutes combined in the wins over West Virginia and Butler.
All three were nice players: Hackett stayed for three years at USC and is now a pro in Europe; Walker played two at K-State and is now with the Knicks after being drafted in the second round; and Dawkins is entering his third season at Duke. Drummond, however, is the kind of one-and-done, ultra-athletic big man who only comes around a handful of times each decade. He managed to duck most of the recruiting hype, and sneak into UConn during the distraction of a hurricane. But should the Huskies make a repeat surge, there is no way to envision him not being at the eye of that storm.