Seton Hall coach Tommy Amaker has never so much as tasted a beer, and he only sips wine on special occasions. However, on the evening of Aug. 6 Amaker got the kind of phone call that could drive a man to drink. Eddie Griffin, a 6'9" forward from Philadelphia's Roman Catholic High who is widely regarded as being among the top three high school seniors in the nation, rang Amaker at home to report that he intended to sign with Seton Hall. "You're serious, right? You're not joking?" Amaker asked. When Griffin replied he was indeed coming, Amaker told him, "Eddie, I don't drink, but I'm going to open a bottle of champagne."
New Year's Eve came early for Amaker, who in only his third year at Seton Hall assembled the nation's top recruiting class during the 1999 early-signing period, which began on Nov. 10. Besides Griffin's, Amaker also collected letters of intent last week from two other elite prospects—Andre Barrett, a crackerjack 5'8" point guard from New York City's Rice High, and 6'6" swingman Marcus Toney-EI from nearby Seton Hall Prep—as well as from 6'7" Damion Fray, a promising forward from Jamaica. "Every year there's a 'greatest recruiting class in history,' " recruiting analyst Tom Konchalski says, "but they usually go to schools who have been on top or have great tradition. Seton Hall doesn't have those things."
Toney-El verbally committed on the first day of the July evaluation period. "That really got us out of the blocks," Amaker says. Toney-El and Barrett were roommates during the Adidas ABCD Camp in Teaneck, N.J., in early July, and Toney-El importuned Barrett to follow him to Seton Hall.
Meanwhile, Barrett and Griffin played on the same team at ABCD and were remarkably simpatico. "Every time he grabbed a rebound, he was looking for me because he knew he was getting the ball back," Barrett says. Thanks largely to Barrett, Griffin ended up as the third-highest scorer in camp, and the two started talking about playing in college together. Griffin was considering North Carolina at the time, but Tar Heels coach Bill Guthridge wouldn't offer Barrett a scholarship because he was vainly holding out for Omar Cook, the top-rated point guard in New York City, at Christ the King High.
Barrett and Griffin had taken unofficial visits to Seton Hall last spring, and they started talking seriously about that option while rooming together during July's Eastern Invitational Camp in Trenton, N.J. Griffin, however, said he wouldn't commit until Barrett did. "He didn't think I was serious," Barrett says. Barrett called Amaker on Aug. 4, and Griffin committed two days later.
The sequence of events stands in stark contrast to Amaker's first season on the recruiting trail, when he barely missed out on Al Harrington, who entered the NBA draft. That loss hurt, but being so close still seemed to elevate Seton Hall's profile, which led to Amaker's success this fall. "You have to be in the game before you can win it," he says. "Sometimes you do everything you can and you wind up thinking, How the heck did we lose that kid? Then one day you wake up and you're thinking, How the heck did we get him?"