UK Recruiting

Programs embroiled in college basketball scandal still doing well on recruiting trail

Bill Self: ‘My staff and I have not and do not offer improper inducements’

KU men's basketball coach Bill Self made a statement on Oct. 24, 2018 following the verdict in the Adidas college basketball trial.
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KU men's basketball coach Bill Self made a statement on Oct. 24, 2018 following the verdict in the Adidas college basketball trial.

The dust has settled on the college basketball early signing period, and UK goes into the winter with the No. 6 recruiting class nationally, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

The Cats will surely add to their group of early commitments — point guard Tyrese Maxey and wings Dontaie Allen and Kahlil Whitney — though it’s difficult to call them the favorite for any of their top remaining targets in the 2019 class. UK will be in wait-and-see mode for the next few months, with such players as Keion Brooks, Anthony Edwards, Matthew Hurt, Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart all still pondering their college decisions.

A couple major takeaways from the 2019 recruiting cycle so far: the blue bloods are struggling, and the programs ensnared in the ongoing college basketball corruption scandal are not.

Kentucky is the only traditional blue blood with a top 25 recruiting class, and Duke, Kansas and North Carolina all have two commitments each and plenty of work to do.

Meanwhile, the top of the composite rankings are dominated by teams with ties to the early days of the college basketball corruption case. Three of the four programs’ that had assistant coaches arrested in the immediate roundup — Southern Cal, Arizona and Auburn — have top-10 recruiting classes, while the other such school, Oklahoma State, has the No. 15 class. And Louisville, which, of course, lost head coach Rick Pitino and several 2018 recruits as a result of the scandal, has the No. 5 class in the country.

Here’s a quick look at the top 10 (and others of note):

1. Arizona

Sean Miller’s Wildcats have the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, a surprising development considering their early ties to the federal investigation into the sport and Miller’s own reported ties to the scandal over the past few months.

Arizona landed a commitment Friday from top-50 prospect Zeke Nnaji, a former UK target and the first player that John Calipari visited to start the fall recruiting period. Miller also has early commitments from five-star point guard Nico Mannion, five-star small forward Josh Green, four-star shooting guard Terry Armstrong, and three-star center Christian Koloko — giving Arizona a quality recruit at each position.

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2. Southern Cal

The arrest of USC assistant coach Tony Bland on the day when the college basketball corruption case went public has done nothing to hinder the Trojans’ recruiting efforts. USC got early signatures from two five-star players — Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu — as well as four-star prospects Max Agbonkpolo and Kyle Sturdivant. The Trojans also have a commitment from Drake London, a four-star player in basketball and football who is expected to play both sports in college.

Mobley is the son of USC assistant coach Eric Mobley, who was Bland’s eventual replacement on the Trojans’ coaching staff. Another one of Mobley’s sons, Evan Mobley, is the No. 1 player in the 2020 class and is widely expected to end up at USC.

3. Villanova

Jay Wright has always brought in quality recruits, but this cycle has been a bit different. The defending national champions have parlayed their on-court success into even more highly ranked prospects on the recruiting trail, and it could lead to some one-and-done talk around that program.

The Wildcats’ early class includes top-20 national prospects Bryan Antoine and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, as well as top-100 recruits Justin Moore (No. 50) and Eric Dixon (No. 59).

Antoine and Robinson-Earl provided two of the bigger surprises in the early part of the recruiting cycle. Antoine was long thought to be a Duke lean, while Robinson-Earl — a Kansas legacy who grew up near Lawrence and played for Bill Self’s USA team over the summer — was widely expected to pick the Jayhawks. Wright beat out the blue bloods for both players.

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4. Gonzaga

College basketball fans are used to seeing the Zags near the top of the on-court rankings, but they usually don’t have recruiting classes that are rated this highly. A program that has seen much success with transfers and international players, Gonzaga has had a top 25 national recruiting class just once in the past 10 years (No. 20 in 2016) and has often been outside of the top 100 in such rankings.

This time around, Mark Few has commitments from top-50 national prospects Pavel Zakharov, Drew Timme and Anton Watson, in addition to top-150 players Brock Ravet and Martynas Arlauskas.

5. Louisville

The Cardinals lost head coach Rick Pitino and star recruit Brian Bowen — as well as some other commitments — as a result of the initial fallout from the college basketball scandal, but new coach Chris Mack has put together a stellar class in his first few months on the job.

Louisville has six early signees: top-50 prospects Aidan Igiehon and Samuell Williamson, top-100 recruits David Johnson, Jaelyn Withers and Josh Nickelberry, and Huntington Prep power forward Quinn Slazinski, the No. 211 player in the class. (Johnson is a standout guard at Louisville Trinity and the No. 1 player in Kentucky, according to the 247Sports composite rankings).

ESPN actually ranks the Cards’ class as the best in the country.

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6. Kentucky

If you’re reading this far, you probably already know all about UK’s early recruiting class. It consists of five-star point guard Tyrese Maxey, five-star wing Kahlil Whitney and four-star wing Dontaie Allen, a standout player at Pendleton County and an early favorite for Mr. Basketball.

Whitney (No. 8 overall) and Maxey (No. 10) are the only top-10 players in the 247Sports composite rankings who have already committed to a team, other than No. 1-ranked Memphis signee James Wiseman.

Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari talks to the media on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, about recruiting. UK lost out on James Wiseman, the top recruit for the class of 2019, who announced Tuesday he will attend Memphis.

7. Oregon

Oregon was not affected by the first stage of the college basketball scandal, though some serious allegations against the Ducks’ program were raised during the first trial to come from that investigation last month. Recruiting hasn’t suffered.

Oregon has picked up high-profile commitments from top-50 prospect CJ Walker and top-100 recruits Isaac Johnson and Chandler Lawson over the past couple of weeks, to go along with an earlier commitment from Chris Duarte, the No. 2 junior-college player in the country.

8. Florida

Mike White has just three signees in the early period, but it’s quite the trio. Scottie Lewis — a longtime UK target who nearly picked the Wildcats — is the headliner and ranked No. 12 nationally. He’s joined by five-star point guard Tre Mann (No. 26 overall) and four-star center Omar Payne (No. 39).

9. Ohio State

The Buckeyes also have three top-50 signees, a group led by five-star point guard DJ Carton and featuring forwards Alonzo Gaffney (No. 40 overall) and EJ Liddell (No. 49). Ohio State hasn’t had a top-20 recruiting class since 2015.

10. Auburn

Tigers assistant coach Chuck Person was one of the four assistant coaches arrested as a result of the college basketball corruption case, and Auburn lost star recruit EJ Montgomery — now a UK freshman — in the aftermath of that drama. The program has rebounded on the recruiting trail with five early commitments for next season, including top-50 prospect Isaac Okoro and top-100 player Tyrell Jones.

Others of note

Memphis has the No. 12 class in Penny Hardaway’s first full cycle in charge, and James Wiseman — the No. 1 player in the country — is the headliner. The class also includes former UK commitment DJ Jeffries and three-star Memphis native Malcolm Dandridge. The Tigers are still considered major players for five-star recruits Matthew Hurt and Trendon Watford, in addition to a few prospects who might reclassify from 2020 to 2019. Hardaway’s probably not done yet.

Florida State has the No. 13 class nationally, but the Seminoles are the early favorites for Anthony Edwards, who recently reclassified to 2019 and is now the No. 4 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings (and No. 1 overall on 247Sports’ own list). Edwards would give FSU a top-five class nationally.

Alabama (No. 16) and Texas A&M (No. 19) are the only other Southeastern Conference programs with top-25 recruiting classes so far. Bama has three commitments, while the Aggies have four early signees.

Duke is No. 27 nationally with early commitments from just two players: small forward Wendell Moore (No. 24 overall) and shooting guard Boogie Ellis (No. 37). The Blue Devils are still in the mix for top-10 recruits Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Isaiah Stewart.

North Carolina has the nation’s No. 35 class with commitments from five-star post player Armando Bacot and top-150 prospect Jeremiah Francis. The Tar Heels are also in the mix for Matthew Hurt and have the most buzz for Cole Anthony, the No. 3 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Kansas has just two commitments, but neither is ranked in the top 100 nationally, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. The Jayhawks have long been thought to be the favorite for Matthew Hurt, though he doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to a commitment. KU’s class is ranked No. 50 in the country, and the program was also mentioned prominently in the first trial to come from the college basketball investigation.

KU Jayhawks basketball coach Bill Self spoke Wednesday about the ongoing Adidas trial and the decision to sit Silvio DeSousa, during Big 12 basketball media day on Oct. 24, 2018 in Kansas City.