Spring recruiting saga starts with Huggins, Sampson
Posted: Wednesday May 10, 2006 1:10PM; Updated: Wednesday May 10, 2006 3:49PM
Bob Huggins wasted no time in convincing recruits -- and the media -- that K-State is about to enter the big time.
By 2007 or 2008, players such as Darrell Arthur of Kansas, Michael Beasley of Kansas State, and Damion James of Soon-To-Be-Determined U will be household names in college hoops. And the circumstances of how they arrived at school -- the results of what we'll call the Huggins Effect and the Sampson Effect -- will likely have been forgotten. But make no mistake: The off-the-court events that have transpired in the spring of 2006 will have a significant impact on the seasons to come.
Two chain reactions, sparked by the hiring of Bob Huggins at Kansas State and Kelvin Sampson's jump from Oklahoma to Indiana, have had a domino effect on recruiting and affected at least 20 teams and a host of high-profile players. Arthur, Beasley and James were all initially destined for other schools; and if you haven't heard of these prospects, here's a bit of context: Imagine if three '05 college forwards who were similarly rated recruits -- say, Texas' LaMarcus Aldridge, LSU's Glen Davis and UConn's Rudy Gay -- had matriculated at different schools. How much would that have altered the national landscape?
Here, we'll break down the chronology of the two effects, and all of their national reverberations -- and you'll realize just how much has been afoot in this so-called offseason:
THE HUGGINS EFFECT
Schools impacted: Kansas State, Charlotte, Auburn, Washington, Xavier, Cincinnati, and every other team recruiting O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker ...
March 23: K-State knew what it was hiring when it plucked Huggins from the ranks of the unemployed: A controversial figure who was not only forced out at Cincinnati in 2005 and had 19 former players or recruits charged with crimes, but also a coach who would do everything in his (considerable) power to resuscitate the Wildcats from a Big 12 also-ran into a force. Overnight, if possible. Huggins' first hires were Frank Martin, a Cincy assistant with Florida recruiting connections; and Dalonte Hill, a Charlotte assistant who was responsible for obtaining the commitment from Beasley (the No. 2-ranked player in the Class of 2007) who formerly played for Hill on the D.C. Assault AAU team.
Reverberations: Every school chasing players with a Huggins connection starts to get nervous -- for good reason. K-State is suddenly relevant and, on the recruiting path, dangerous.
Jason Bennett, a 7-3 center from Jacksonville, stayed loyal to Huggins and signed with Kansas State in April.
April 12: Twenty days after Huggins' hiring, he lands his first recruit: 7-foot-3 (and coordinated) center Jason Bennett of Jacksonville, Fla. How is a blue-chipper convinced to leave sunny Florida for the blandness of Manhattan, Kan., you ask? It's all in the connections. Bennett orginally had committed to Huggins at Cincinnati -- then backed out after his firing. Martin, the assistant, is pals with Bennett's AAU coach, Art Alvarez of the Miami Tropics, and knows Bennett's high school coach, Rex Morgan, from Arlington Country Day. And when Huggins was jobless, he was able to attend Bennett's games -- and keep contact with the player -- outside of the strict purview of the NCAA. A fringe benefit of being unattached to a school.
Reverberations: Auburn was the runner-up for Bennett, and would have landed him had Huggins not secured a major D-I gig for 2006-07.
April 19: The Wildcats nab their second Florida stud, Daytona Beach Community College shooting guard Blake Young, a highly-touted juco scoring machine. The aforementioned Florida ties, plus the fact that Young's DBCC coach, Brad Underwood, was a former KSU player, helped lure Young to Manhattan.
Reverberations: Washington wanted to add Young as the final member of its already loaded '06 class. The Huskies, like the Tigers, got Hugginsed. KSU now has two new starters to surround star Cartier Martin -- and a team that looks like a darkhorse to make the NCAA tournament next season.
May 2: Beasley tells the press at the King James Classic in Akron, Ohio, he has decommitted from Charlotte. What, did you think Hill was coming to coach at KSU and not bringing his recruiting prize along for the ride? Beasley's high school coach at Oak Hill Academy, Steve Smith, said in mid-April he expected the lefty power forward to follow Huggins and Hill to Manhattan, and went as far as telling the Wichita Eagle Beasley would be "crazy not to go to K-State." Beasley has yet to officially make a new commitment, and has a few Big East teams on his trail, but ... this one isn't too difficult to piece together.
Reverberations:Bobby Lutz and Charlotte got hit with a 50-pound anvil on the head. Beasley was the biggest recruit ever to commit to Charlotte. And Lutz and Huggins were pals -- Lutz spoke at a Sept. 29 roast of Huggins in Cincy, saying, "America is a great country. Because if Nancy Zimpher [the woman who forced Huggins out] can be president of the University of Cincinnati, anything is possible." So Beasley gets poached by the guy Lutz publicly defended seven months earlier.
Will O.J. Mayo end up in Manhattan in 2007?
May 3: The Huggins news-making machine keeps on rolling, this time to announce a three-year scheduling deal between KSU and Xavier, with the series' first game set for Jan. 3, 2007. The reasoning behind this is deeper than the obvious, return-to-Cincy angle: The Nos. 1 and 4 recruits in the class of 2007, point guard O.J. Mayo and small forward Bill Walker, play their high-school ball at North College Hill just outside of the Queen City. And while Huggs wasn't working this season, he was "working" -- legally, outside of the NCAA -- on recruiting Mayo and Walker, a likely package deal, to his then-unspecified coaching destination. A news-making splash in Cincy during the duo's senior prep season will keep K-State on their minds.
Reverberations: Every other school recruiting Mayo and Walker (and I'm not gonna list them, because everyone would take these kids) is put on notice. It also fuels speculation that Mayo's brief dalliance with a transfer to Oak Hill Academy -- after he was briefly suspended by NCH -- was part of an effort to get him tighter with the likely KSU-bound Beasley, with whom he and Walker are already friends.
The State of Things To Come: With Bennett and Young in the fold for '06, K-State can make an immediate run at the big dance. If Beasley arrives in '07 -- and brings Mayo and Walker with him -- then they contend for the Final Four. The caveat: None of the '07 kids has visited Manhattan yet and had the chance to realize -- to put it nicely -- that it's not exactly a "destination" campus. But will that matter?
"Until these guys actually visit there," says Scout.com recruiting analyst Dave Telep, "it's hard to determine what they'll do. Despite the assumption Huggins is just going to get these guys, they're still going to have to be recruited."