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Monday, May 21, 2007
UCLA's class could help Bruins to another Final Four

By Antonio Williams
Scouts Inc.

Ben Howland and Jrue Holiday
Ben Howland's No. 1 recruiting class is headlined by Jrue Holiday, the nation's top 2 guard.
Every year, coaching changes and commitments from players have a major impact on action that takes place in the time span between the early and late signing periods for college basketball. When the season ends and the coaching carousel begins to move, a number of talented players also start to move, often switching their allegiance to new college basketball programs if their original school of choice hires a new coach. Also, some players who give verbal pledges to schools decide against signing a letter of intent during the early signing period. This generally happens if the player believes he can play at a higher level or if his school of choice starts to recruit better talent and he fears will not receive playing time.

This heightened level of activity among coaches and players serves to dramatically alter the national recruiting scene and the rankings of the top recruiting hauls in the country. The 2008 recruiting class has experienced its share of coaching and player movement. This has helped some programs skyrocket in the rankings, while other programs have dropped in the rankings due to losing players to other teams.

1. UCLA, four signed prospects

Ben Howland's Bruins have played in the Final Four in each of the past three seasons, but UCLA lacked the overall depth and frontcourt muscle to bring the title back to Westwood. With Jrue Holiday, Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee joining incumbent point guard Darren Collison in the backcourt, the Bruins have a number of elite guards at their disposal. Those players will give the opposition fits with their multiple looks on defense. This class will become even more special if J'Mison Morgan, who recently was released from his pledge to LSU, decides to join forward Drew Gordon. Morgan's addition would give UCLA two talented power forward prospects and the interior depth to complement its backcourt versatility.

2. Florida, five prospects
Billy Donovan was active early, signing five prospects who rank in the top 25 at their position. Centers Eloy Vargas and Kenneth Kadji should help to lessen the blow if Marreese Speights elects to stay in the NBA draft.

3. Ohio State, six signed prospects

The Buckeyes have one of the most versatile classes in the country. When he plays with intensity, B.J. Mullens gives Ohio State a superior inside presence, which will come in handy given Kosta Koufos' early departure for the NBA. The Buckeyes added two juco players since the early signing period, bringing power forward Nicola Kecman and point guard Jeremie Simmons on board. Both players will bring maturity to a very young team and mesh perfectly with ESPN 100 prospects Will Buford, Walter Offutt and Anthony Crater.

4. West Virginia, four signed prospects

Bob Huggins' recruiting class rapidly ascended in the rankings when ultra-talented small forward Devin Ebanks decided to head to Morgantown. Huggins covets Ebanks' athleticism and scoring ability, and he should have plenty of chances to score now with current Mountaineers wing player Joe Alexander looking as if he will stay in the NBA draft. Ebanks, power forwards Kevin Jones and Roscoe Davis, and point guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant all have the talent and athleticism to defend in Huggins' system.

5. Kansas, seven signed prospects

The Jayhawks, fresh off their national title run, added a group of stellar prospects to the roster. Kansas got a steal and a much-needed point guard in Tyshawn Taylor, who received his release from Marquette and then promptly selected Lawrence as his ultimate destination. Kansas added even more depth at the point guard spot when junior college player Tyrone Appleton signed. Bill Self will lose a number of his players to the NBA draft and graduation, so most of these seven prospects will see immediate minutes.

6. Wake Forest, three signed prospects

The three stellar prospects in Wake's class were all signed by the late Skip Prosser. The trio has honored their commitment to the program and Prosser's predecessor, Dino Gaudio. The most talented player of the bunch is wing Al-Farouq Aminu, who could be the ACC's top incoming recruit. The class also consists of centers Tony Woods and Ty Walker.

7. North Carolina, four signed prospects

The Tar Heels were able to land three top-notch prospects in the early signing period. North Carolina's top signee is versatile 7-foot-1 center Tyler Zeller. He and fellow frontcourt freshman Ed Davis should see the floor despite UNC's outstanding depth.

8. Georgetown, three signed prospects

The Hoyas recruiting class dipped just a tad when ESPN 100 power forward Chris Braswell decided to do a postgraduate year at Hargrave Military Academy instead of enrolling at Georgetown in the fall. The opposition will not shed tears for Georgetown, however. The Hoyas still landed two very good interior prospects in Greg Monroe and Henry Sims, in addition to a dynamic combo-guard in Jason Clark.

9. Arizona, three signed prospects, one verbal commit

The Wildcats have experienced a very tumultuous offseason, with assistants leaving Tucson and the return of Lute Olson. Now comes word that ESPN 100 power forward Emmanuel Negedu has asked for and received his immediate release, which explains Arizona's drop on the recruiting list. Olson did receive a verbal pledge from point guard Kyle Fogg. His commitment takes on even more significance if current Wildcats point guard Nic Wise transfers. Fogg will have to assist super point guard prospect Brandon Jennings with the ball-handling chores for Arizona.

10. Florida State, six signed prospects

Leonard Hamilton added point guard Derwin Kitchen to his early signing period haul that included Top 25 recruit Chris Singleton, ESPN 100 prospect Xavier Gibson and three backcourt players -- Luke Loucks, Pierre Jordan, and Deividas Dulkys. Hamilton has amassed his best collection of talent ever at Florida State.

11. Arkansas, six signed prospects

The Razorbacks landed six prospects during the early signing period, but took a small hit when top junior-college prospect Danny Payne decommitted. Post-grad guard Terrence Joyner also received his release from Arkansas since the early signing period. The Razorbacks rebounded nicely by adding post-graduate player Jason Henry and junior-college prospect Montrell McDonald, who he decommitted from Texas Tech.

12. Tennessee, five signed prospects

After having only two prospects inked early, the Volunteers came on strong during the late signing period. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl added super-quick point guard Daniel West and juco 2-guard Bobby Maze to the mix. However, the Volunteers really shot up the rankings when Top 20 shooting guard reneged on Mississippi State and chose Tennessee.

13. Vanderbilt, four signed prospects prospects

After having success on the court, Kevin Stallings continues to bring in quality talent for his program. First, Vanderbilt beat out top competition for ESPN 100 small forward Jeff Taylor's signature. Then, the Commodores won another heated battle when former Pepperdine recruit point guard Brad Tinsley, another ESPN 100 player, picked Vanderbilt. Taylor and Tinsley join fellow ESPN 100 prospect Lance Goulbourne and versatile power forward Steve Tchiengang in Stallings' very impressive 2008 recruiting class.

14. Memphis, two signed prospects, two verbal commits

Memphis had no prospects signed during the early signing period, but the Tigers compensated for the lack of early activity in a big way; they closed with a strong performance during the late signing period. The Tigers have two interior prospects in the fold with ESPN 100 power forward Angel Garcia and talented, but enigmatic post-graduate player Matt Simpkins. In April, John Calipari won the Tyreke Evans sweepstakes when the supremely talented guard chose the Tigers. Calipari followed that up with a signature from versatile wing prospect Wesley Witherspoon, another ESPN 100 player that has a great deal of potential.

15. Oregon, six signed prospects

Ernie Kent has assembled his best collection of young talent since taking over in Eugene. He started off with a bang, getting five signatures from talented recruits, led by McDonald's All American center Michael Dunigan. Fellow Chicagoans power forward Josh Crittle and shooting guard Matthew Humphrey will join Dunigan in the Northwest along with highly-regarded prospects Teondre Williams and Drew Wiley. This class received a tremendous jolt when point guard Garrett Sim, a former California recruit, chose to remain in-state to play for the Ducks.

16. Michigan State, three signed prospects

Tom Izzo is not one to waste time; the skilled recruiter filled each of his three available scholarships during the early signing period. The trio of talented newcomers will likely be led by Ohio power forward Delvon Roe.

17. Alabama, three signed prospects

Mark Gottfried was proactive in getting three skilled frontcourt players to commit in the fall. The Tide will count on their top-rated recruit, 6-foot-8 center JaMychal Green, to contribute on both ends of the floor.

18. Louisville, four signed prospects

The Cardinals took a small tumble in the rankings, after getting off to a very quick start during the early signing period. Guard Melquan Bolding gave Louisville a verbal pledge during the early signing period, but he will not play for Rick Pitino. The Cardinals did manage to get a signature from shooting guard Kyle Kuric, though he committed to Louisville early. The Cardinals do have a beast of a big man in top-five prospect Samardo Samuels. Swingman Jared Swopshire should provide the Cardinals with more depth on the perimeter and if enigmatic power forward Terrence Jennings discovers his game, he could have a major impact alongside Samuels.

19. Kentucky, four signed prospects, one preferred walk-on

Yes, Billy Gillispie can recruit the upperclassmen as well as the younger kids. He secured commits from two ESPN 100 wing players in studs Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins during the early signing period. Gillispie has since added "preferred" walk-on shooting guard Landon Slone and two talented junior college players, small forward Kevin Galloway and center Josh Harrellson.

20. Nevada, six signed prospects

The Wolfpack doubled their early signing period lot, adding three more players to an already-impressive group. McDonald's All-American Luke Babbitt headlined Nevada's early group that included ESPN 100 guard Mark McLaughlin and talented guard London Giles. Nevada added depth to its frontcourt during the late-signing period with signatures from forwards Ahyaro Phillips, Dario Hunt, as well as juco prospect Joey Shaw.

21. Washington, four signed prospects

Lorenzo Romar knows how to evaluate guards -- Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy are evidence of that fact. The fact that this class has three stellar backcourt players is a scary prospect for opposing coaches in the Pac-10. Capable scorers Elston Turner and Scott Suggs are the top two players in the group.

22. Syracuse, three signed prospects

Jim Boeheim signed three versatile combo forwards in the fall. Washington, D.C., prospect Kris Joseph is an inside-outside prospect who could make his mark on the Big East in time.

23. Duke, three signed prospects

Duke had two prospects signed during the early signing period with signatures from very talented guard Elliot Williams and Oleg Czyz, a power forward with some untapped potential. The Blue Devils benefited immensely when highly skilled ESPN 100 power forward Miles Plumlee requested and received his release from Stanford. Fortunately for Duke, Plumlee opted to play for in Durham, where he will team with his brother Mason in 2009.

24. Pittsburgh, five signed prospects

The Panthers received four signatures during the early period led by ESPN 100 small forward Nasir Robinson. During the late signing period, juco point guard Jermaine Dixon joined the Panthers, providing more depth and stability in the backcourt. Pittsburgh also has talented guards Travon Woodall and Ashton Gibbs in addition to power forward Dwight Miller as members of their 2008 recruiting class.

25. Minnesota, five signed prospects

Tubby Smith's first real class at Minnesota is a good one. The group is highlighted by centers Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson. Juco forwards Devron Bostick and Paul Carter could make an early impact.

Honorable Mention:

Virginia, Oklahoma, Indiana, LSU, Missouri, Xavier, New Mexico and Southern Illinois.

Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates. Recruiting coordinator Joel Francisco contributed to this report.