Evan Jacoby, Rush The Court
Say what you want about the signing day process, one that includes kids announcing their college intentions on live television specials, but the effect of the announcements certainly meets the hype. While most of the top recruits had already made their decisions earlier this year, Wednesday night showcased the top two players in high school basketball announcing their decisions on ESPNU. Nerlens Noel (6’10” center from Massachusetts) chose Kentucky while Shabazz Muhammad (6’6” wing from Nevada) chose UCLA, enormous gains for each of these programs. Let’s take a look at what it means for the Wildcats and Bruins to each add a star recruit, as well as breaking down how teams like Georgetown, Syracuse, and Duke that were in the mix are now negatively affected.
UCLA – Despite the disappointing season in Westwood and the shaky ground under head coach Ben Howland, the Bruins have now found a way to notch a top-two recruiting class with the addition of Muhammad. Muhammad joins Kyle Anderson, another top 10 player in this class, as two talented, versatile wing players. Anderson is closer to 6’7” yet excels as a distributor with excellent awareness and vision with the basketball. Muhammad is 6’6” and more of a scorer, one whose attacking mentality should mesh perfectly with Anderson’s game. These two immediately become a potent one-two duo in the Pac-12 to match the solid talent already on the roster (David Wear, Travis Wear, Josh Smith, Larry Drew), and the Bruins may not be done. Top unsigned big man Tony Parker is also considering UCLA. The Bruins are a surefire Top 25 team heading into next season and could easily have Top 10 upside. There is reason for great optimism in Westwood, and the Pac-12 as a whole should be on the rise with Arizona and UCLA now taking home two of the top three recruiting classes in the nation.
Kentucky – The 2012 National Champions already had a very strong recruiting class for next season, but continuing the theme of the past several years the Wildcats will now welcome the top player in high school basketball — Nerlens Noel. Muhammad and Noel both had UK on their short lists, and Big Blue Nation surely wanted both to commit, but adding Noel is still a massive gain. John Calipari’s team now has a player to build around in the 6’10” Noel, who is an Anthony Davis-like shot-blocker that can have a similar defensive impact next season. He’s less skilled on the perimeter and has work to do offensively, but Noel is the No. 1 player in this class for a reason. He can be a dominant big man to pair up with the other talented freshmen Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley, and another likely one or two unsigned recruits. Kentucky once again has the top recruiting class in the country, and the Wildcats will be favorites to repeat as champions if any of the starters from last season decide to stick around for another year.
Georgetown – The Hoyas had a strong 2011-12 season but are losing their three top players – Henry Sims, Jason Clark, and Hollis Thompson – so the addition of Noel would have been a complete program-changer for Georgetown. Going back to the days of Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning, to the more recent examples of Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe, and Henry Sims, the Hoyas pump out NBA level stars up front. But the future of Georgetown won’t include any star center. It’s going to be up to Otto Porter to lead a group of young talent (Starks, Whittington, Trawick, Hopkins), which gives the program some upside in the coming years but not the elite prospect it needed to be a Big East contender next season.
Syracuse – Another Big East loser on Wednesday is the Orange, who failed to pick up the player they coveted to replace departed big man Fab Melo. Indeed, Syracuse already landed center DaJuan Coleman, but it would have liked to add a bigger defensive presence in Noel to anchor the zone defense. Coleman is a McDonald’s All-American that could develop into a dominant low-post scorer and rebounder who will mesh well with the explosive Rakeem Christmas, but adding Noel would have given this team a powerful force inside to be reckoned with. ‘Cuse is still a Big East contender and matches its bigs with Michael Carter-Wiliams, Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair, and company. The Orange are a Top 25 team heading into next season with a loaded starting lineup, but the depth won’t be an asset like it was last season.
Duke – It looked like the Blue Devils were a good fit for Muhammad, but Duke could not land the top recruit. Coach K’s team gets Mason Plumlee back to anchor a talented frontcourt, but the Blue Devils could have the same problems to break through to the elite next season without a go-to scorer and defender to lead the team. Austin Rivers is gone so the program never got to see him develop into that kind of player. Rasheed Sulaimon steps in next year to fill his place but will take some seasoning to become ‘the guy.’ Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins and company are solid perimeter players but aren’t explosive scorers or lock-down defenders. The Blue Devils will have a solid team with good depth, but Muhammad would have tied it all together to make this team a national title contender.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.