John Clay

John Clay: 'LeBron Effect' taking hold in college recruiting

UK signee Nerlens Noel dribbled against the West's Grant Jerrett on Saturday. Noel had four points and three blocks.
UK signee Nerlens Noel dribbled against the West's Grant Jerrett on Saturday. Noel had four points and three blocks. MCT

Tony Parker called a news conference for 4 p.m. this past Monday.

Parker is a 6-foot-9 center from Lithonia, Ga. ranked him as the 27th-best basketball player in the class of 2012.

Considering that most all of those — with a notable exception here or there — listed in front of him in the rankings had made their college choices, curiosity about Parker's pick heightened.

Would it be home-state Georgia? Or out-of-state UCLA?

The news conference began. An hour passed and Parker had not said a word. Others spoke. Thirty minutes. Nothing from Parker. Then 45 minutes. Nothing from Parker.

Finally, just before 5 p.m., Parker announced he would attend UCLA.

And, in doing so, he became the latest example of recruiting's latest trend.

If you're a star, go play with other stars.

Parker could have been the star for Mark Fox at Georgia. Instead, he decided to join other stars at UCLA, most notably Shabazz Muhammad (rated No. 1 or No. 2 by all the scouting services), Kyle Anderson (No. 3 by Rivals) and Jordan Adams (No. 62).

The pick prompted ESPNU to move the Bruins in front of Kentucky and Arizona in its 2012 basketball recruiting rankings. and held firm, however, placing UCLA at No. 2 behind UK.

Why the Cats? Because John Calipari has his own collection of high-class talent in Nerlens Noel (consensus No. 1 or No. 2), Alex Poythress (No. 7 by Scout), Archie Goodwin (No. 14 by Scout) and Willie Cauley-Stein (No. 34 by MaxPreps).

Call it the LeBron Effect, where high school stars, much like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the NBA, decide they would rather play with stars than against stars.

"I think top-level guys are teaming up," said national recruiting analyst Evan Daniels. "They want to go to school together, make a run at a national championship, then get to the league as quickly as possible."

Much like Calipari's 2011 haul of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer, who helped the Cats win their first national title since 1998. Now, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Teague are all going pro.

"I think Kentucky's 2011 class is a perfect example of that," Daniels said. "It's the new trend. UK's and UCLA's 2012 classes are the next ones to keep an eye on."

Another reason: The top-level players are no longer strangers. They have competed with and against one another in AAU tournaments. They play on the same all-star teams.

In this age of constant communication, they text one another, tweet one another, keep up with one another on Facebook.

"AAU has made the world smaller," said Gary Parrish, national college basketball writer for CBS Sports. "These kids know each other. They develop relationships. They want to go dominate together, then all turn pro."

There is one caveat, of course. Stars don't want to go to a school that has a star arriving at the same position.

"Kids don't like sitting on the bench," Parrish said.

That might be why the last two of the top 30 players have yet to choose a school.

Anthony Bennett is a 6-8 forward out of Las Vegas via Canada, ranked No. 7 nationally by ESPNU. Amile Jefferson is a 6-8 forward out of Philadelphia, ranked No. 16 by MaxPreps.

Kentucky reportedly is recruiting both. Neither has made a decision, however, or set a date as to when they will make a decision. Each could be waiting to see what the other is going to do.

"But elite players at different positions are now teaming up," Parrish said, "and it makes recruiting easier or harder, depending on what side you're on."

"At the end of the day, these kids care about one thing," Daniels said. "Getting to the NBA and getting there quickly. After that, they want to play with their friends and make a run at the championship."

Even though LeBron has yet to win his championship.

In 2012, Kentucky did.

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