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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 Football, who had rescinded his commitment shortly after Bassett's resignation, announced that he's headed to Tennessee.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.

Quick Slants

  • Georgia Tech missed out on stud WR Roscoe Crosby, who opted to sign with ACC rival Clemson. But George O'Leary still put together a superb class, says one SEC assistant who lost out to the Jackets on some talent. "[O-lineman] Kyle Wallace is really smooth and [QB Damarius] Bilbo was the most underrated QB out there." Another reason for folks in Atlanta to be grinning: the 24-man class averages a 3.1 GPA and 1,100 on the SAT.

  • In the spirit of South Carolina standout Ryan Brewer, a former Ohio football prep star who was passed over for his lack of size, we bring you Jeff Backes. The reigning Ohio Mr. Football, the 5-10, 185-pound RB from Columbus signed with Northwestern and is a perfect fit for Randy Walker's system. The Wildcat coach loves to bring in hard-nosed, quick RBs with the idea that they could blossom into WRs, DBs or even linebackers. But don't expect Backes to get converted right away. He's strong and has legit track speed; he just needs to mature more physically.

  • New Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen is known as an offensive whiz, but his first big signee should bolster the Terp defense right away. Randy Starks, a 6-5, 290-pound run-stuffing D-lineman, figures to make an impact on the nation's 89th-best run D. The Terps beat out Penn State for Starks.

  • Wondering why Southern Miss always has such a good defense? (Okay, it doesn't keep you up at night, but consider that USM plays in Conference USA and the school sits within sniffing distance of some pretty rank livestock, coach Jeff Bower deserves huge praise for landing all the talent he does.) Anyhow, this year's big coup for Bower is OLB Derrick Ducksworth of Mize, Miss.. A 6-2, 222-pounder with what scouts say is a great motor and nasty attitude (and shaky grades), Ducksworth switched on Tennessee at the last minute to sign with Southern Miss.

  • Oklahoma fans should temper their enthusiasm just a little. Slick TB Donta Hickson, a great runner-receiver and ideal fit for the Sooner system, still hasn't qualified and might end up getting detoured to NE Oklahoma JC. The 5-10, 188-pound Texan is taking a prep class to achieve the necessary test scores. He still has four more shots to pass.

    Bruce Feldman covers college football for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at

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