by Samantha Dewig
Earlier this year, Sports Illustrated put out a story on the downfall of the famed UCLA basketball program called Not the UCLA Way. The four page article took numerous shots at current head coach Ben Howland and blamed him for letting the program slip away from the “moral high ground it once was” under John Wooden.
The article called him “socially awkward and verbally abusive.” It claimed that he was the last to arrive to practice, and would often leave before it was over, declaring that Howland left leadership up to upperclassmen. It even quoted a former player saying, “If I saw him waiting for the elevator, I would take the stairs.”
Yet despite this personal attack on Howland — the article did not mention any rule violations from the coach in accordance to the NCAA, so the story was basically an over-blown and highly publicized explanation on why the author doesn’t like him — UCLA was able to secure the number one recruiting class in the nation for 2012.
Right now UCLA has the number 1, number 3, number 27, and number 62 ranked incoming freshmen in the nation in their gym for summer shootarounds. All four are ranked in the top 15 based on their positions.
The headliner of that group is, of course, Shabazz Muhammad. The Las Vegas native was the most sought-after recruit in the country and will be an immediate favorite for the Pac-12 scoring title. The physical shooting guard loves to drive to the basket and has a pretty reliable jump shot to back it up. Muhammad can pass, rebound, and defend.
Feeding him the ball will be Kyle Anderson. Though Anderson played forward in high school, many people around the Bruins program believe they will use him at the point due to his excellent basketball IQ and court vision. At 6-foot-8, Anderson could be a nightmare match-up for many smaller guards.
But while both these players are headliners on their own, it was the signing of center Tony Parker that cemented UCLA in the top spot. Not only did he set the record for longest signing day press conference ever, but Parker will add that inside presence as an incredible post scorer to balance out and spread the floor for his perimeter classmates.
The Bruins also added the #14 small forward Jordan Adams to the roster.
Tony Parker’s signing kept the Wildcats from having the top squad for the fourth year in a row, but it was still a close call.
Nerlens Noel and his high-top-fade headline the reigning national champ’s class. The center from New Hampshire will follow in Anthony Davis’ footsteps in that his expectations on the defensive side of the ball may be even higher than his offense. There has been a lot of comparison of Noel to 2006’s Greg Oden.
The Cats also signed the #3 and #4 small forwards in the nation with Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin. John Calipari described Poythress as “more explosive than Terrance Jones,” and the versatile athlete can run the floor well and score by driving to the bucket or shooting outside.
Goodwin was the first member of the 2012 class to commit to UK after snubbing his home state and angering many Arkansas-ians who had long expected him to sign with the Razorbacks.
Goodwin’s game is well suited for the dribble-drive offense. He can penetrate the lane, shoot well from a distance and is known to be a selfless passer. He also plays with tremendous effort on the defensive end, and reminds many of former UK player Doron Lamb.
The Wildcats also picked up the #11 center, Willie Cauley, as well as transfers from Wright State (G Julius Mays) and N.C. State (PG Ryan Harrow).
After a pretty weak 2011-12 season, Arizona went BIG, signing one 7-footer and three power forwards. The super big man that was on everybody’s lists was Kaleb Tarczewski, the number four center on Rivals big board out of New Hampshire.
The first thing that’s mentioned when talking about Tarczewski (other than his height, obviously) is that he is the most coachable player on the top twenty list. There’s no ego, just an extreme desire to get better. His ability to listen, and then do, is one of the things that makes him so valuable.
Grant Jarrett (LaVerne, California) is known as one of the most promising prospects in the 2012 class out west. Jarrett is a hybrid 4-man (ranked #3 PF by Rivals) with lots of range who has been improving at pretty fast rate.
He can shoot the three at a consistent rate as well as midrange. The most noticeable aspect about Jarrett’s game is how polished his footwork is, and he is effective in scoring with both hands when he gets in the paint.
Though ranked high, Brandon Ashley (Rivals #4 PF, #23 overall) is still pretty raw. However, Ashley is an extremely gifted and versatile athlete who won’t take much time before he flourishes in a college system with good coaching.
The Wildcats also signed shooting guard Gabe York (Rivals #11 SG) and power forward Matt Korcheck (unranked).
Five-star center Isaiah Austin (ranked #2 at the position) is the main reason the Bears reached the #4 spot. The 7-footer has extreme length (obviously) and uses his 7’4” wingspan and excellent timing to alter most shots on the floor when he’s back on defense. Many say that Austin is not finished growing, and could eventually reach up to 7’4.”
Ricardo Gathers, the #8 power forward, draws a lot of comparisons to Thomas Robinson and Jared Sullinger. He averaged 20.2 points, 17.0 rebounds, 4.1 blocks, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game this past season.
L.J. Rose, the #11 point guard, will join the Bears as well. Rose is a pass-first guard with good court vision who has the ability to score when his team needs it. He’s not the quickest player on the floor, but makes up for it with a good understanding of the game.
Baylor also adds center Chad Rykhoek and power forward Taurean Waller-Prince.
5. North Carolina
ESPN ranked point guard Marcus Paige as their number one point guard for the class of 2012 (Rivals had him at #4), and with current point guard Kendall Marshall leaving for the NBA, Paige should have an immediate impact for the Tar Heels.
One of the best pure point guards in the country, Paige turns into the “coach on the floor.” Though he lacks strength, Paige has first-rate court vision and passing ability and is an excellent perimeter shooter.
Four star power forward Brice Johnson joins the team as well. Johnson averaged 23.0 points, 15.0 rebounds and 5.0 blocks last season, and made a name for himself in the AAU circuit becoming a triple-double threat. He also won his high school state championships in the high jump, long jump, and triple jump. The kid’s got hops.
Joel James will look to take Tyler Zellers place at the 5 spot. At 280lbs, James is extremely strong and will push most others around in the post, becoming a very efficient rebounder. However, unlike Zeller, he needs some improvement on his scoring.
The Tar Heels also signed small forward J.P. Tokoto.
Look for my column next week as I round out the top 10.