In a scene reminiscent of “The Decision,” when LeBron James announced on national television he would be signing with the Miami Heat in free agency two summers ago, the two top recruits in the ESPNU100 have finally committed to colleges for the 2012-13 season. They did so last night on an ESPNU special, with Shabazz Muhammad announcing his decision at 7:45 P.M. Eastern and Nerlens Noel one hour later.
Noel, 6’10″, a 215-pound center from Everett, Mass. (The Tilton Sch00l), will be a Kentucky Wildcat next season. The defending champions have secured their fourth consecutive #1 recruiting class, all under head coach John Calipari.
Noel, the top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2012, will join 6’7″ small forward Alex Poythress (Clarksville, Tenn./Northeast), shooting guard Archie Goodwin (Little Rock, Ark./Sylvan Hills) and center Willie Cauley (Spearville, Kan./Olathe Northwest). Kentucky will also have the services of North Carolina State transfer Ryan Harrow, a point guard who sat out the 2011-12 season after leaving the Wolfpack.
Add returnee Kyle Wiltjer, a power forward who was a top-20 recruit in his own right last year, and the Wildcats may very well be ranked #1 in the preseason in spite of losing so many starters. The team may add yet another top-10 recruit, as they are in the mix for Anthony Bennett, a 6’8″ power forward from Brampton, Ontario (Findlay College Prep). Bennett lists Oregon, UNLV, Florida, Kentucky, and Washington as his finalists, but it is believed that it is between Florida and Kentucky.
Shabazz Muhammad, a 6’6″, 215-pound small forward from Las Vegas (Bishop Gorman High School), will head west to UCLA, where he will join two other top recruits: 6’7″ small forward Kyle Anderson (Fairview, N.J./St. Anthony’s) and 6’5″ small forward John Adams (Lawrenceville, Ga./Oak Hill Academy).
This recruiting class, which is ranked third in the nation behind Kentucky and Arizona, is sorely needed in Westwood. In late February, a Sports Illustrated special feature exposed UCLA as a program on the decline, and put head coach Ben Howland on the hot seat. Howland took the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006 to 2008, losing the championship game to Florida in 2006.
Fortunately for him, this recruiting class demonstrates that Howland can still attract top talent to UCLA, something Athletic Director, Dan Guerrero, clearly needed to see. The fact that he was able to secure Muhammad despite the negative publicity shows that the Bruins are still a factor. The additions of Muhammad, Anderson, and Adams should push UCLA back into the NCAA Tournament — they have missed out on joining the field two of the last three years.
The Bruins also have a chance to add one more top-30 recruit. 6’9″ center Tony Parker (Lithonia, Ga./Miller Grove) lists UCLA, Kansas, Duke, Ohio State, Georgia and Memphis as his schools. Adding Parker to their current haul could possibly push them ahead of Arizona into the #2 recruiting class slot.
The Pacific 12 has been down in recent seasons, sending only two teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2011 — less than three non-BCS conferences, the Mountain West, Atlantic 10, and the West Coast Conference. With two recruiting classes in the top three for 2012-13, the Pac-12 has the chance to return to the halcyon days of recent past.