Almost a year ago to the day, Claude Bassett sat in a 10x20 conference room. He was surrounded by 2,000 videocassettes, 200 name plates broken down by position and an arsenal of glazed donuts. Then Kentucky's recruiting coordinator, the Texas-sized Bassett was plotting out the Wildcats' recruiting strategy for the Class of 2005 and literally licking his chops at his school's prospects.
Coming off a big year, where he landed blue-chippers Antonio Hall and DeWayne Robertson, Bassett envisioned the Cats challenging the big boys for top talent not only in the Deep South, but in Texas and Pennsylvania too. Blue-chippers Montrell Jones, Joe Dipre and Derrick Johnson all seemed within reach.
Bassett gushed as he talked about why kids love the Cats: They throw it all the time, they have a record of true freshmen playing right away, they have a grass field and they play in a great conference. Near the top of his 18 reasons why 'You Should be a Wildcat,' Bassett was pleased to point out, "we are a Nike school, and kids really love that."
By fall, Jones, a WR from Louisville and Dipre, a LB from Erie, Pennsylvania, already had verballed to UK. Then Bassett resigned, one day after a season-ending loss to Tennessee. School officials learned he cashed a $500 check made out to the university by a local retired banker. Bassett later admitted to sending $1,400 in money orders to Memphis high school coach Tim Thompson. Four other UK assistants also tendered their resignations. More allegations of wrongdoing began to surface as the school conducted its internal investigation of the football program.
Finally, the other shoe fell. On Tuesday -- just 24 hours before National Signing Day -- head coach Hal Mumme was squeezed out. Jones, Kentucky's Mr. Football, who had rescinded his commitment shortly after Bassett's resignation, announced that he's headed to Tennessee. Dipre, who backed out last month, signed with Pittsburgh, while another local star, WR Harry Lewis, also did a 180, signing with North Carolina. UK did manage to secure 17 prospects, led by linebacker Chad Anderson, the cousin of Antonio Hall. It was a valiant effort by new coach Guy Morriss and his staff, but it yielded a class most recruiting analysts say ranks at the bottom of the SEC.
It's amazing how fast these things can change.
Gator Haters are smiling these days, knowing that three big-timers rejected Florida in favor of Florida State (RB Eric Shelton and DB Jerome Carter) and Tennessee (Jones) at the last minute. Two others reneged on oral commitments to sign with Georgia (WR Fred Gibson) and LSU (DT Torran Williams). And four of those squads are on the Gators' schedule the next two seasons. "They were a big loser this week," said one rival recruiter, without much sympathy. "I'm not really sure why. Most schools can follow up a great year with a great year, but for some reason, kids don't see them as a hot team right now."
In fact, UF only signed one Parade All-American, QB Ingle Martin, and he'll redshirt in 2001 and could end up as a safety.
Bruce Feldman covers college football for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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