North Carolina adds to its riches with early basketball signees
No. 1 North Carolina also has the top recruiting place with five stars
Villanova and Texas filled their needs and continue to build nationally
If Illinois can keep the next two classes committed, the Illini will rise again
Currently enjoying an embarrassment of riches on the court, North Carolina coach Roy Williams insured his program's future success by stuffing five-star prospects under his mattress over the last year.
The first blue-chip talent to commit was John Henson, a 6-foot-10, 200-pound forward from Tampa, Fla. Following suit, California twins Travis and David Wear added height (both are 6-9). Perhaps most important to next season's transition team is St. Patrick's (Elizabeth, N.J.) guard Dexter Strickland, a natural scorer who the Tar Heels are banking on to assist current frosh Larry Drew II with ball handling duties once Ty Lawson speeds off to the NBA.
As quickly as Williams and the Tar Heels sprinted to the top of the 2009 rankings, Texas and Villanova closed the gap in the fall and early winter. Last week the 'Cats gained a verbal commitment from wiry sharpshooter Dominic Cheek, who was high on UNC early in the process. Though he can't sign all of the nation's top players, the loss of Cheek is further proof that Williams and his staff tried to horde as many as they could.
1. North Carolina
Signees: Henson, Strickland, Leslie McDonald, Travis and David Wear
Outlook: Whether the 6-9 Wear twins can measure up to their classmates' lofty expectations is yet to be seen, but with a group of players that seem tailor-made for a program big on interchangeable parts, they should function well.
Signees: Mouphtaou Yarou, Maalik Wayns, Isaiah Armwood, Cheek
Outlook: Wildcats coach Jay Wright will have to manage the heightened expectations attached to this class. Last Friday, Cheek joined Wayns and Mouphtaou as the third top-25 recruit in the 2009 class, which also includes a dynamic, underrated swingman in Armwood. With Scottie Reynolds looking more and more like a four-year player and sophomores Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher growing into their positions, competition for playing time should be interesting next season.
Signees: Jordan Hamilton, Avery Bradley, Shawn Williams
Outlook: No program fills Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustine-sized holes quite like Rick Barnes and company, and the Longhorns' three-man class looks to be another group of need-based fits. With the tools of a top defender and a great first step, Bradley, who moved from Bellarmine Prep in Seattle to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas this school year to improve his grades, is the face of the class, but Jordan Hamilton will shoot his way into the spotlight as well. As your proverbial glue guy, Williams will be a vital cog in the machine.
Signees: Xavier Henry, Nolan Dennis, Darnell Dodson, Will Coleman
Outlook: In the city of FedEx, no one does packaging quite as well as John Calipari. Though he has taken a DNP in each of the Tigers' seven games, New York Yankees farmhand C.J. Henry's greatest contribution was on the recruiting trail as he assisted in procuring a signed Letter of Intent from his younger brother, Xavier. Built to bang in the lane as well as stroke from deep and pull-up from midrange, Xavier, the nation's top offensive threat, follows the beaten path of Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans to Tennessee. Still involved with blazer John Wall, the addition of a second top 10 player could be enough to push the Tigers over the top.
Signees: Elijah Johnson, Thomas Robinson
Outlook: Not even a national title banner-raising ceremony could convince Xavier Henry to breathe in the rare air of the Phog, but Thomas Robinson adds more meat to Bill Self's youthful frontline. At 6-8, 220 pounds, the Maryland bruiser prepping at Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, N.H.) came out of the woodwork last year, but still must prove he is more than a blend-in player on offense. Seeking a sure-shot prospect, the Jayhawks, who have three freshmen from New Jersey high schools (Markieff and Marcus Morris, Tyshawn Taylor) remain involved with New York wunderkind Lance Stephenson.
Signees: Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy, Deshawn Painter
Outlook: If the signing of Boynton also leads to the commitment of Team Breakdown backcourt-mate Brandon Knight, then Billy Donovan's ever-growing reach will have proven most effective in the Sunshine State. How good is Boynton? Word has it that Jai Lucas heard his footsteps coming when he decided to transfer out of the program. Add Murphy, an efficient, 6-10 big man with an inside and outside skill set, and the Gators, who are seemingly set in the backcourt with Nick Calathes and Erving Walker, are building for another NCAA run.
Signees: Christian Watford, Bawa Muniru, Jordan Hulls, Derek Elston, Maurice Creek, Bobby Capobianco
Outlook: The program's anchor is still securely lodged in the Midwest, but that didn't stop reconstructionist Tom Crean from reaching out to the south for Watford -- a 6-8, 215-pound swingman from Birmingham, Ala. A slasher with body control he should be Crean's cornerstone in trying times and play well off Creek and Muniru. Proving that Kelvin Sampson was not wholly a negative for the Hoosiers, Elston of Tipton, Ind., kept his verbal to Indiana despite Sampson's departure and signed with Crean.
Signees: Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson, Mike Moser, Brendan Lane, Anthony Stover
Outlook: Ben Howland tightened his hold on California as he signed five locals. No Love or Holiday-type highlights the list, but rangy forward Honeycutt (6-8, 180 pounds), who cuts a figure similar to Tayshaun Prince, is a threat from the perimeter and should benefit from a college strength and conditioning program and a few In-N-Out runs. Complementing last year's run on guards, no member of this class is under 6-8. Just picture the Bruins' relentless defense with arms flailing in seasons to come.
9. Georgia Tech
Signees: Glen Rice Jr., Mfon Udofia, Brian Oliver, Kammeon Holsey
Outlook: If Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt can keep top-ranked forward Derrick Favors -- this class's premier frontcourt prospect -- in state, then he will be back to building an ACC title contender. As of now, the class has nice Peach State pieces in Rice and Udofia, but Favors, who is also being courted by N.C. State, Memphis and Georgia, would be a gem from their backyard.
Signees: Brandon Paul, Tyler Griffey, D.J. Richardson, Joseph Bertrand
Outlook: Operating under the premise that each quality talent signed by Illini coach Bruce Weber is a step toward the faithful forgiving the loss of one-time commit Eric Gordon, Weber's haul made great strides. Richardson, who is teaming with Texas signee Avery Bradley at Findlay Prep, can get to the cup and fill up a box score, and Griffey poses threats to defenses with his face-up abilities. Already looking ahead to next year's class, Weber has commitments from two top-25 juniors. If he can keep them committed, full forgiveness may be nearing.