Commentary

Best of mid-major recruiting

Originally Published: November 2, 2011
By Chris Hansen and Brandon Clay | HoopGurlz

Kenny Brooks, Melissa McFerrin, Courtney BanghartAP Photos, Icon SMIWith a stellar 2012 class, Kenny Brooks and James Madison look to continue their run of success; Melissa McFerrin of Memphis has scored big with a five-player class; Courtney Banghart of Princeton has landed two 4-star prospects and still isn't finished.

The Associated Press recently released its Preseason Top 25 for the 2011-12 NCAA women's basketball season. Since the 2002-03 season, there has been at least one, and most of the time two, programs from mid-major conferences making their way into the preseason poll, but not this year.

Sure, Gonzaga graduated Courtney Vandersloot and James Madison similarly is without Dawn Evans. Xavier moves on without Amber Harris, TaShia Phillips, Special Jennings as well as head coach Kevin McGuff. Green Bay, Marist, Houston, all included in the 2011 season-ending poll, find themselves, along with all of the other non-BCS conference schools, shut out of the rankings.

In recruiting, only San Diego State notched a top 30 recruiting class in 2011, at 20. In 2010 Xavier was the sole mid to crack the top 30, at 18. With the 2012 class poised to sign beginning Nov. 9, we look at the top 20 mid major recruiting classes as of Nov. 1.

With more than 20 players in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100 still undecided entering November, much can change before these classes are finalized, but 2012 is shaping up rather well for many mid-major programs. Perhaps this is a sign that being rejected by the press in preseason polls is an anomaly, not the new rule.

Mid Major Top 20 Recruiting Classes

(Click the team name to see the complete class.)

1. James Madison

Conference: Colonial Athletic Association
Top Recruit: Angela Mickens, 4-star point guard
Total Commitments: 3

With Angela Mickens of Stauton, Va., a top 100 prospect and the 13th best point guard in the class, committing in July, this JMU class had the perfect setup for a haul worthy of national acclaim. That potential came to fruition in October with two more commitments -- 4-star forward Destiny Jones of Miramar, Fla., and 3-star guard Precious Hall of Tallahassee, Fla. With talent inside and out in this class, the Dukes are poised to continue vying for the title of best college program in Virginia.

2. Memphis

Conference: Conference USA
Top Recruit: Mooriah Rowser, 4-star guard
Total Commitments: 5

Not only do the Tigers add major talent with a pair of 4-star guards in Mooriah Rowser of Rockville, Md., and Jaymie Jackson of Toledo, Ohio, but Memphis also adds depth in the frontcourt with a pair of 3-star forwards committing. In all, this five-player class could rival many of those being signed by BCS schools.

3. Princeton

Conference: Ivy League
Top Recruit: Taylor Williams, 4-star post
Total Commitments: 4

Look out, because here come the Ivies. The Tigers have commitments from a pair of 4-star frontcourt prospects in Taylor Williams of Warren, Ohio, and Alex Wheatley of Upper Holland, Pa. And what better to pair with strong post play than a long-range shooter like Michelle Miller of Pasadena, Calif. If Princeton can find a way to win the Imani Stafford sweepstakes, a deep tournament run will go from possible to probable.

4. Tulsa

Conference: Conference USA
Top Recruit: Caitlyn Ramirez, 4-star forward
Total Commitments: 4

The Golden Hurricane has an impressive group tabbed for 2012, with strength inside and out. The headliner is 6-foot-2 Caitlyn Ramirez of Shawnee, Okla., who has a 4-star rating. But she's not alone. A trio of 3-star commits bolsters the Tulsa class, and Jasmine Vasquez could be the sleeper as the 5-11 guard has been out since the spring recovering from an ACL tear.

5. Texas Christian

Conference: Mountain West
Top Recruit: Veja Hamilton, 4-star wing
Total Commitments: 3

The Horned Frogs' days as a mid-major may be numbered, but signing players like Veja Hamilton of Spring, Texas, and Kamy Cole of Brock, Texas, shows they can bring in the talent to compete against their larger conference counterparts. Both of these 4-star guards bring strength and versatility to the TCU roster in time for the program's inaugural season in the Big 12.

6. Hofstra

Conference: Colonial Athletic Association
Top Recruit: Asia Jackson, 4-star point guard
Total Commitments: 5

The Pride should be plenty proud of this 2012 recruiting haul. Having commitments from what could be a starting five some day, with two interior players, two wings and a point guard, is no easy task. Asia Jackson of Peekskill, N.Y., is the highest-rated player in the class with four stars, but the quartet of 3-star commits are definitely a force to be reckoned with in the CAA for years to come.

7. Pepperdine

Conference: West Coast Conference
Top Recruit: Kelsey Brockway, 4-star forward, No. 76 in the class
Total Commitments: 3

The Waves' headliner, 6-1 forward Kelsey Brockway of Palos Verdes, Calif., wasn't out on the exposure circuit a lot, but when she was, she was impressive enough to earn the No. 76 ranking in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100. She is joined by a pair of 3-star swing players, Keitra Wallace of Brea, Calif., and Amanda Lovely of Palo Alto, Calif. Keep an eye on Wallace, who is a fierce competitor completing her transition to wing from the forward spot.

8. Drexel

Conference: Colonial Athletic Association
Top Recruit: Rachel Pearson, 3-star wing
Total Commitments: 4

The Dragons are set to ink a four-player class for 2012 and get the benefit of inheriting a pair of high school and club ball teammates. The 3-star duo of Meghan Creighton and Rachel Pearson, seniors at Archbishop Carroll and teammates for the Philly Comets, gives Drexel a classic point guard in the 5-7 Creighton and a long wing with range in the 5-11 Pearson.

9. Grambling State

Conference: Southwestern Athletic Conference
Top Recruit: Alexus Johnson, 4-star forward, No. 71 in the class
Total Commitments: 2

The Tigers elevated their status with the late October addition of Alexus Johnson of Broomfield, Colo. She brings the combination of height at 6-2 and incredible athleticism. The No. 71-ranked player in the class is just scratching the surface of her potential. She's not the only addition -- or Johnson -- as 3-star wing Breonna Johnson of Little Rock, Ark., brings her athleticism and length to Grambling State, too.

10. Dayton

Conference: Atlantic 10
Top Recruit: Bre Elder, 4-star guard
Total Commitments: 2

For the Flyers, this class is about quality and fit more than quantity. With the commitment of 5-8 guard Bre Elder of Lebanon, Ky., a 4-star prospect, Dayton has a perfect match. Elder is that player who doesn't get all the credit but usually gets results and overachieves for her size. Adding Lexi Carpenter of Woodbridge, Va., a 3-star prospect, gives the program a scoring-minded option to Elder and gives Dayton depth on the perimeter.

11. Chattanooga

Conference: Southern Conference
Top Recruit: Tatianna Jackson, 4-star guard
Total Commitments: 2

Mocs head coach Wes Moore and his staff are known for reloading with talent year-in and year-out. This class is no different, as UT-Chattanooga has added two of the better backcourt prospects in the Southeastern region. The fact that this class is in the mix with just two prospects on board is a testament to how good Alicia Payne of Memphis, Tenn., a pass-first point guard, and Tatianna Jackson of Dallas, Ga., a bona fide scorer, are.

12. George Washington

Conference: Atlantic 10
Top Recruit: AAaliyah Brown, 3-star guard
Total Commitments: 3

The Colonials wasted no time making sure that they picked up size to help protect the home floor in the nation's capitol. Anjaleace White of Delran, N.J., a 6-2 post, and Dalacy Anderson of Bolingbrook, Ill., a 6-1 forward, give coach Mike Bozeman an interior presence to keep opposing Atlantic 10 offenses away from the rim. Aaliyah Brown will bring her guard skills all the way from League City, Texas, to Washington, D.C., to assist with handling security on the perimeter.

13. Alabama at Birmingham

Conference: Conference USA
Top Recruit: Kayla Anderson, 3-star forward
Total Commitments: 5

UAB coach Audra Smith has the Blazers in the mix of the Conference USA race annually, with a championship game appearance two seasons ago. She's reloaded with a five-player class full of versatility and talent. Kayla Anderson from Hoover, Ala., leads the way at the forward position and will share the frontcourt with forward Dy'man Webb of Flint, Mich., and post Brittany Winbourne from Baltimore, Md. At guard, UAB will welcome talented point guard Essence Baucom of Charlotte, N.C., and in-state guard Chelsee Black of Bessemer, Ala.

14. Houston

Conference: Conference USA
Top Recruit: Taylor Gilbert, 3-star forward
Total Commitments: 4

After going undefeated in Conference USA play during the 2010-11 season, the bar is high on all levels for the Cougars and coach Todd Buchanan. Led by hometown prep products Taylor and Tyler Gilbert, this recruiting class should help them continue to stay in the upper echelon of the league. They have also added two other in-state prospects with forward Marche Amerson of Bryan, Texas, and point guard Alecia Smith from Cedar Hill, Texas, to round out the class.

15. Delaware

Conference: Colonial Athletic Association
Top Recruit: Jade Clark, 3-star wing
Total Commitments: 5

The Fightin' Blue Hens are one of the nation's most talked about mid-major programs over the past couple of years, since the addition of former top-ranked prep Elena Delle Donne. Judging by their current class, headlined by three-star forward Jade Clark out of Ashburn, Va., the coaching staff is capitalizing on the positive momentum. Three-star wing Alecia Bell from Newport News, Va., and Jazmine Missouri of Upper Marlboro, Md., give the class depth and backcourt help.

16. Denver

Conference: Sun Belt Conference
Top Recruit: Paige Bradley, 3-star guard
Total Commitments: 3

In a Sun Belt Conference that becomes more competitive each season, Denver's class has positioned the program to compete with anyone in the league. Kailey Edwards of Broomfield, Colo., gives the team an athletic guard who can get to the basket, while Paige Bradley of The Woodlands, Texas, provides another perimeter option who stretches defenses with her shot-making ability. At 6-1, Kelly Preston of Waunakee, Wis., gives the Pioneers some size to complement the versatile backcourt options.

17. New Mexico State

Conference: Western Athletic Conference
Top Recruit: Abby Scott, 3-star wing
Total Commitments: 3

Coach Mark Trakh is off to great start in getting the Aggies to the top of the ever-competitive WAC. With three perimeter players in the class, this group should give him plenty of scoring and ballhandling. Abby Scott of Madras, Ore., Sasha Weber of Lacey, Wash., and Shay Young from San Diego, Calif., all bring varying skill sets to the table that will help the Aggies increase their scoring from 65.5 points per game in 2010-11. The program also is waiting to hear from 3-star forward Khadijah Shumpert of Oakdale, Minn.

18. Gonzaga

Conference: West Coast Conference
Top Recruit: Chelsea Waters, 3-star wing
Total Commitments: 3

Gonzaga was the Cinderella story of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, with senior point guard Courtney Vandersloot leading the charge for coach Kelly Graves' program. But the Zags were the class of the WCC before Vandersloot, and with the addition of 3-star prospects Chelsea Waters of Lewiston, Idaho, and Elleson Tinkle of Missoula, Mont., the program will continue to play giant-slayer. Two-star prospect Kiara Kudron of New Boston, Mich., a 6-foot-2 wing, rounds out the team's 2012 recruiting class.

19. Loyola Marymount

Conference: West Coast Conference
Top Recruit: Deanna Johnson, 3-star point guard
Total Commitments: 4

Best known for the days of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, Loyola Marymount is seeing a transformation on the women's side. After a four-player class in 2011, the Lions have wasted no time putting together another four-piece filled with talented prospects. In-state prospects Brianna Kennedy of LaVerne, Calif., and Sophie Taylor of Lafayette, Calif., have been recruited to provide frontcourt depth, while Deanna Johnson from Norco, Calif., will run the point. The lone out-of-state prospect is Amanda Moore of Seymour, Ind., one of the better spot shooters in the class.

20. Virginia Commonwealth

Conference: Colonial Athletic Association
Top Recruit: Jenice Winter, 3-star wing
Total Commitments: 4

Coach Beth Cunningham has two three-star scoring threats locked and loaded. Forward Jenice Winter from Brooklyn, N.Y., brings an interior scoring presence, especially off loose-ball and rebounding situations, while guard Adaeza Alaeze of Parkville, Md., brings the ability to put the basketball in the hole after attacking the rim off the dribble. Both should have a chance to help the program stay near the top of the CAA.

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ESPN HoopGurlz Rankings Panel

Brandon Clay is a contributor and national recruiting analyst for ESPN HoopGurlz. He is also the publisher of the JumpOffPlus.com National Scouting Report and the owner of Peach State Basketball, Inc. Clay has been involved in the community since 2001 as a recruiting analyst, event operator and trainer. He can be reached at bclay@peachstatehoops.com or you can follow him on Twitter @peachstatehoops.

Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at chris.hansen@espn.com.

Keil Moore is a contributor and national recruiting analyst for ESPN HoopGurlz. He is also the Director of Scouting for the JumpOffPlus.com National Scouting Report - a division of Peach State Basketball, Inc. Moore has been involved in the community since 2007 as a recruiting analyst and trainer. He can be reached at kmoore@peachstatehoops.com.

Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.

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