Most seem to be in favor of early signing period

November, 11, 2009
Xavier Henry, a bit nervous, anxious and overall uncomfortable, sat in front of an ESPNU camera at this time last year and put on a Memphis hat, choosing the Tigers over Kansas.

KU coach Bill Self wasn't thrilled to lose Henry. He had envisioned him as the missing piece for the Jayhawks' potential title run in 2010 if everything went as scripted in 2009 (and it did with the development of last season's Sweet 16 team behind Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich).

But a year later -- as the 2009 early signing period begins -- Henry is nowhere near Memphis. He's at Kansas, ready to do what was planned for the Jayhawks: help them to the national title in Indianapolis this April.

The class Henry would have joined at Memphis had everyone signed on as expected -- Darnell Dodson, DeMarcus Cousins and likely John Wall -- ended up at Kentucky.

"I'm of the belief that if you lose a guy, he's gone,'' Self said. "I don't want guys to lose jobs, but yes we have benefited from coaching changes. Tyshawn Taylor was another one when Tom Crean left Marquette.''

So how important is that early signing period again?

Well, a year ago, there were stipulations in national letters of intent. For example, the one that Henry signed stated that if John Calipari wasn't the head coach, then Henry didn't have to go to Memphis. That's gone now. The NLIs with stipulations tied to a coach have been eliminated by the NCAA.

If that rule had been in place last year, Henry would have had to go through the process of getting out of his NLI.

"In our case, all the kids that we were recruiting for 10 months were for Coach Calipari,'' said new Memphis coach Josh Pastner, an assistant to Calipari the previous year. "They wanted to play for him and they should.''

Ohio State standout Evan Turner agrees with that assessment.

"I think the NCAA should put some type of rule in there where if there is a different coach then you can get out of the letter,'' said Turner, a junior guard. "It's a different coach. That's a serious different game plan. You fall in love with one thing and then what's the point of going there if he's not there?"

Yet, Turner would still not change a thing about the early signing period, even if it locks in a player without knowing what will happen with the head coach.

"I was excited to go to college and if a kid is comfortable with his decision then he should go ahead and sign,'' Turner said.

Several already have. Several more will during this week-long signing period.

Duke will get (based on ESPNU rankings) No. 6 point guard Kyrie Irving and could land No. 1 small forward Harrison Barnes if he chooses Duke from a list that includes North Carolina, Kansas, Oklahoma, UCLA and Iowa State when he makes his announcement on ESPNU on Friday afternoon. With a major haul, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski would be able to concentrate on the season at hand and prepare for the World Championships in Turkey this summer.

As for Pastner, he locked up No. 1 shooting guard Will Barton (along with his point guard brother, Antonio) without ever coaching a game. On Tuesday, UCLA got a commitment from No. 1 center Josh Smith. Ohio State and Baylor got the top two power forwards and No. 2 and 3 overall in the class of 2010 in Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones, respectively.

But there are others who will likely wait until the month-long spring signing period. That could be the case for No. 4 Brandon Knight and No. 8 Josh Selby, two of the top three point guards in the class.

And it's hard not to blame them as they try to deal with a position of strength to see who needs them, what happens at each school in terms of coaching stability, NCAA tournament performance and whether or not a player at their position leaves for the NBA draft.

The NCAA's new NBA draft withdrawal date that makes players decide on returning to school by May 8 will actually play into some late signing decisions since it falls in the month-long spring signing period. In the past, when the date for NCAA players wasn't until mid-June (it still is as far as the NBA is concerned), a player would have to sign before knowing if someone at his position was returning to that school. Now the decisions will have been made.

Still, the consensus among the coaches is for players to sign early for their benefit and the university's.

"If there is a coaching change, they can get out of it,'' Ohio State's Thad Matta said. "They always do anyway. I think the early signing period is good. One thing I always tell the kids is to enjoy your senior year. With the Internet and the media and all that stuff, it's taxing on the kids. Put it behind them and just go out and play your best basketball. Your senior year of high school is one of the great years of your life.''

Pastner said that signing early allows the high school senior to concentrate on his academics (i.e. getting eligible for some) and ensure they're doing everything to be ready to make that adjustment to college life.

"This can put the pressure aside for the players,'' Pastner said of signing early.

For Pastner, the momentum he'll get this signing day, before he ever coaches a regular-season game, is important for his own credibility in the Memphis market. In addition to the Barton brothers of Baltimore, the Tigers also plan on signing No. 5 point guard Joe Jackson and quickly rising Chris Crawford, both from Memphis high schools.

Syracuse will also pull in quite a slew of talent this week, with three top-100 players in No. 3 shooting guard Dion Waiters, No. 2 center Fab Melo and No. 12 small forward C.J. Fair.

"It's good to get it out of the way,'' Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of the early signing period. "You can concentrate on your high school career. It's absolutely better.''

But to ensure the early signing period is maximized more efficiently, Self would like to see a tweaking in the rules regarding official visits. He said it's difficult for a school like Kansas that isn't near a lot of players to get them into Lawrence earlier for unofficial visits, since official visits cannot occur until a player's senior year. That hasn't hampered KU from landing top classes, though. Some feel official visits are overrated, since so many players are committing without seeing the campus -- or at least only seeing it during a summer camp.

The key is to make September the evaluation period for sophomores and juniors. Self said if you were to have September be about recruiting players for the November signing period, you would be out on the road nearly every day possible.

And that's why it's imperative for a coach to lock up as many top players in the fall as possible. That way he can just concentrate on coaching his team during the season and then possibly find time to see underclassmen during the year.

"I don't want to be on planes flying all over the place as the head coach during the season,'' Self said. "You want November recruiting to be done so you can have a leg up on the next year during the year.''

There will be plenty of hype around who signs this week. And there will likely be some destination changes for some of these players if there is a coaching change in the spring, even with the new tweak of the NLI. Rarely will a school hold back a player from leaving if the new coach had nothing to do with him.

So the early signing period is here to stay. Just like always, the spring signing period will have a few significant holdouts -- like Patrick Patterson three years ago choosing Kentucky over Florida and Duke or Wall's decision last spring -- that will greatly affect the following season. But the major headlines are done this week to allow everyone to take a deep breath and focus on the now in high school and in college instead of perpetuating the interest on the future commitments during the season.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer




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