College Basketball Recruiting: 10 Biggest Signing Coups of the Year

Thad NovakCorrespondent IMay 2, 2012

College Basketball Recruiting: 10 Biggest Signing Coups of the Year

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    Most of the pieces of 2012’s recruiting puzzle have fallen into place, and there are plenty of unsurprising results. Master recruiter John Calipari has again brought several of the most coveted freshmen in the country to Lexington, while powerhouses such as Michigan and Baylor have also secured top-notch incoming classes.

    For all the expected successes, though, some coaches managed to pull major surprises by bringing potential superstar talent to programs whose recent performance has been anything but stellar. The Pitt Panthers, coming off a disastrous 5-13 season in Big East play, look set to bounce back in a hurry after landing top-flight center Steven Adams for next fall.

    Read on for a closer look at Adams and the rest of the 10 most impressive upsets of this year’s recruiting season.

10. Robert Upshaw, Fresno State

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    Even at the highest levels of college basketball, genuine big men are hard to come by.

    That’s what makes it so remarkable that Fresno State, coming off a dismal 13-20 season in the low-profile WAC, managed to land one of the most imposing post players in the 2012 freshman class.

    Robert Upshaw is a towering 6’11”, 250-lb center who’s ranked in the top 60 nationally by all of ESPNU, Rivals.com and Scout.com.

    Even considering that Upshaw’s a Fresno native, young coach Rodney Terry deserves a lot of credit for keeping him at home rather than letting him slip away to one of California’s many more established programs.

9. Adam Woodbury, Iowa

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    In a draft class that’s loaded at the center position, Adam Woodbury may not be quite as polished as some, but he’s no slouch either.

    The seven-footer is ranked as high as No. 39 nationally (by ESPNU), which is good news for his height-challenged home-state team.

    For all that the Hawkeyes are always going to have a recruiting edge on Iowa prospects, they’re also a team that hasn’t made an NCAA tournament appearance in six years.

    With only one returning player over 6’8”, Iowa will really benefit from adding some size to compete with the rest of the always physical Big Ten—especially when it comes to rebounding, one of Woodbury’s strengths.

8. Josh Scott, Colorado

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    Colorado was one of the season’s biggest surprises as Pac-12 tournament champs, but the March Madness invite was only the Buffs’ second since 2000.

    Coach Tad Boyle’s chances of building on this year’s success went up dramatically with the addition of Josh Scott.

    Scott, a 6’9” post presence from Colorado Springs, will bring some welcome muscle to a team that relied heavily on its guards last season.

    Ranked as high as No. 38 in the nation by ESPNU, Scott will provide a much-needed scoring complement to returning star Andre Roberson.

7. Robert Carter, Georgia Tech

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    Coming off back-to-back wretched seasons (a combined 24-38), Georgia Tech has shown a remarkable ability to squander obvious talent such as Iman Shumpert and Glen Rice Jr.

    Fortunately for inexperienced coach Brian Gregory, his team’s recent struggles haven’t kept him from bringing in still another impressive athlete to speed the Yellow Jackets’ rebuilding process.

    Soon-to-be freshman big man Robert Carter brings an ACC-ready body at 6’9”, 245 lbs.

    Carter is ranked No. 33 in the nation by both ESPNU and Rivals.com, and though the Snellville (GA) native could easily have found a winning team to join, he’s staying home—to the delight of Tech fans who’ll get to see him play alongside 6’11” rising junior Daniel Miller.

6. Daniel Ochefu, Villanova

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    Few teams have built up as much negative momentum in the last couple of years as Villanova. The Wildcats closed 2010-11 on a six-game losing skid, then saw Corey Fisher’s graduation gut their offense and leave them at a woeful 13-19 last season.

    Fortunately for Jay Wright, that unpleasant recent history didn’t scare off 6’10” center Daniel Ochefu.

    Rivals.com’s 42nd-ranked player in the country could have stayed home just as easily at one of Villanova’s Big Five competitors, but his decision to sign with the Wildcats will bring a combination of size and shooting touch to a team that’s rarely had both in one package.

5. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

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    In spite of landing one of 2011’s most coveted recruits—swingman LeBryan Nash—Oklahoma State limped to a 7-11 conference record and a 15-18 season overall.

    Luckily for the Cowboys, their second straight year missing the Big Dance didn’t dissuade Texan Marcus Smart from heading to Stillwater.

    Smart, a 6’4” combo guard, has extraordinary muscle for a perimeter player and has impressed scouts with his intensity.

    He’s Rivals.com’s No. 10 recruit in the country, and in the same backcourt with Nash, he’ll make Oklahoma State a force to be reckoned with.

4. Danuel House, Houston

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    Unlike its rising-star football program, Houston’s basketball squad hasn’t attracted much attention lately. The Cougars are coming off a 15-15 season that marked the 19th time in the last 20 years that they haven’t participated in the NCAA tournament.

    That track record will turn around soon if swingman Danuel House has anything to say about it.

    House, a top-20 recruit according to both ESPNU and Rivals.com, is a scoring machine who will be an instant upgrade for an offense that was routinely held under 60 points in C-USA play last year.

3. Steven Adams, Pitt

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    Steven Adams is a mobile seven-footer with an aggressive defensive mindset.

    The New Zealand import didn’t have any hometown loyalties to influence his decision, which makes it all the more surprising that he wound up committing to one of 2011-12’s biggest disappointments.

    The Pitt Panthers, coming off a No. 1 seed in March Madness 2011, flopped to 5-13 in conference play and missed the NCAA tournament altogether last season.

    The fact that Adams was willing to look past that miserable season will help Jamie Dixon get the defense back up to his usual standards a lot faster.

2. Ricardo Ledo, Providence

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    A pure scorer with few peers, Ricardo Ledo is a 6’6” swingman who’s ranked as high as No. 6 nationally by Rivals.com.

    Any school in the Big East would’ve been thrilled to land the Providence native, but his hometown team convinced him it was worth taking a chance on it.

    The Friars are just a year removed from sending super-scorer MarShon Brooks to the NBA, but they’re also coming off a 4-14 Big East campaign and haven’t played in the NCAA tournament since 2004.

    With Ledo and fellow standout freshman Kris Dunn arriving in the fall, that streak has a real chance of ending in the next couple of seasons.

1. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

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    UCLA is, of course, one of the most storied basketball programs anywhere.

    It’s also coming off its most embarrassing season in recent memory, a 19-14 slog that included home losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State, not to mention the dismissal from the program of star forward Reeves Nelson.

    Despite a not-insignificant number of calls for Ben Howland to follow Nelson out the door, the Bruin coach has rallied to bring in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class (pending Anthony Bennett's decision).

    No player in that class means more than Shabazz Muhammad—Rivals.com’s top recruit in the country—a 6’6” SF with NBA athleticism and the explosive scoring ability to elevate this team from a postseason-free 2012 to a national title contender in 2013.