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College Basketball: The 14 Best Recruiters in the Game

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistOctober 25, 2012

College Basketball: The 14 Best Recruiters in the Game

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    There are a number of factors that are needed to build a consistently successful college basketball program, the least of which is a coach that can recruit talent.

    After all, even the best coach in the world can only go so far without capable players. Mike Krzyzewski is great at what he does, but the list of stars he has had at Duke would make most coaches quite jealous.

    The direct correlation between convincing the best players to attend one’s school, and winning, makes the best recruiters list and best coaches almost exactly the same.

    Read on to see the 14 best recruiters in college basketball today. All class rankings and recruiting facts are courtesy of Scout.com.

John Calipari

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    Love him or hate him, you have to tip your cap to John Calipari when it comes to recruiting.

    Just look at the streak he has put together in his short tenure at Kentucky. He brought the top-ranked class to Lexington from 2010- 2012, and he also has the most talented class in 2013 by a wide margin.

    If it seems like every time you log onto your favorite sports site there is more news of the Wildcats bringing in another 5-star prospect. In the past month alone, the Harrison twins, James Young and Marcus Lee (4-star) have committed to Calipari's program.

    It’s not just because of the lure of Kentucky that Calipari is bringing in all these prospects. He also made a habit of bringing talented, professional-caliber players, to the non-power league teams of Massachusetts and Memphis.

    Marcus Camby and Derrick Rose were critical pieces, but the Tigers and Minutemen would not have made the Final Four without the depth that Calipari built there.

    If Calipari continues to recruit at this pace, the Wildcats will be adding plenty of Final Four trips to the ones they've made in the past two seasons.

Rick Pitino

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    Louisville may be overshadowed a bit by its national champion neighbors, but Rick Pitino has always been one of the best recruiters in the country.

    Kentucky fans know that from experience.

    As the head man of the Cardinals, Pitino has brought in: the No. 5 class in 2005, No. 9 class in 2006, No. 4 class in 2008, No. 21 class in 2009, No. 7 class in 2011 and has the No. 5 class so far for 2013.

    Pitino has plenty to sell when he is on the recruiting trail. He has taken three teams to the Final Four, has professional experience and has a national title under his belt. Furthermore, he has directed a handful of players into the NBA which matters a lot to prospects.

    Nevertheless, he has his work cut out for him if he hopes to keep up with the Wildcats.

Tom Crean

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    With all the love Indiana has been getting this offseason, it’s hard to remember just how bad the Hoosiers were when Tom Crean inherited the mess that Kelvin Sampson left.

    However, the Cream and Crimson have steadily improved in each of Crean’s four seasons in Bloomington: They went 6-25 his first year, 10-21 the next, and 12-20 his third season. In Crean's last year the team went 27-9, a year that was capped off with a trip to the Sweet 16.

    Crean’s ability on the recruiting trail is a major reason why there has been such a quick turnaround in Indiana. By convincing players such as Cody Zeller to come to Bloomington, Crean has once again made the Hoosiers program a nationally dominant one.

    This past season’s class was ranked No. 6 in the nation, so expect Indiana to be near the top of the polls in the future.

Thad Matta

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    Thad Matta’s prowess on the recruiting trail is a primary reason for the basketball resurgence that has taken place in Columbus under his watch.

    In fact, there is no way that Ohio State would be coming off of a Final Four trip and three consecutive Big Ten championships without it.

    Matta brought in: the No. 8 ranked class in 2011, No. 3 ranked class in 2010, No. 2 ranked class in 2008, No. 7 ranked class in 2007 and No. 2 ranked class in 2006.

    The most famous of those groups was 2006’s “Thad Five” that included Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., David Lighty and Daequan Cook.

    Matta didn’t bring in a particularly notable class in 2012, but that was largely due to uncertainty regarding the scholarship situation with Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas contemplating the NBA. With plenty of scholarships available for 2013, expect to see the Buckeyes near the top of the rankings come national signing day.

Ben Howland

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    In case you forgot that UCLA and Ben Howland are forces to be reckoned with in the college basketball world and on the recruiting trail, take a look at the 2012 recruiting rankings.

    The Bruins brought in the No. 2 ranked recruiting group in the country this offseason, behind only to John Calipari and the defending champion Wildcats. Since no one is beating Kentucky these days, that's as impressive as a coach can get.

    But 2012 wasn't exactly Howland’s first trip near the top of the rankings. Howland brought: the No. 16 class to UCLA in 2010, the No. 9 group in 2009, the No. 12 class in 2007, the No. 13 class in 2005 and the top overall group in 2008.

    While it is fair to perhaps question how successful Howland has been in terms of wins and losses with all that talent lately, he is clearly a talented recruiter.

    We will soon find out if Shabazz Muhammad and company can fill the shoes of Kevin Love, Jrue Holiday and Russell Westbrook this winter.

Josh Pastner

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    Josh Pastner hasn’t quite accomplished what John Calipari was able to do at Memphis (although the official record books would tell you otherwise), but he is a formidable recruiter in his own right.

    In his first full recruiting year at Memphis, Pastner brought in the No. 2 ranked class in 2010; a group that included Will Barton. Furthermore, Pastner currently has the No. 4 ranked group for the 2013 recruiting season, and there is plenty of time left to add a piece or two.

    Pastner makes this list because he has kept the Tiger program relevant after the losses of Calipari and players like Derrick Rose. It’s not exactly easy to keep a Conference USA program afloat after those types of personnel losses, but he has done just that.

Tom Izzo

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    Tom Izzo is a better coach than he is a recruiter.

    That’s less of a knock on his recruiting ability and more of a praise of his tremendous coaching abilities. If you go by Scout’s rankings alone, the Spartans always bring in a solid class, but they never really have those dynamic groups like the Kentuckys and Dukes of the world.

    And yet, Michigan State has been such a regular at the Final Four in the past decade that Izzo has more trips than the vast majority of programs across the nation.

    Nevertheless, Sparty consistently shows up on the recruiting ranks to the tune of: the No. 13 class in 2012, No. 19 class in 2011, No. 10 class in 2010, No. 17 class in 2008, No. 9 class in 2007 and No. 12 class is 2006.

    Izzo regularly gets the players that fit his system, and he will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

Scott Drew

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    You have to be a persuasive recruiter to convince 18-year-old high school prospects to come to Waco, Texas.

    Scott Drew took a program that was still devastated by the murder of Patrick Dennehy, and everything that went with it, and turned it around at a startling pace. In fact, Drew has two Elite Eights under his belt largely due to his recruiting prowess.

    The Bears have been on a role lately on the recruiting trail. Drew got the No. 17 class in the country to come to Waco in 2011, but it is his 2012 group that has Baylor fans the most excited.

    The prospects that make up that class are ranked No. 4 in the nation–sandwiched between powerhouses such as Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Louisville.

    It should be an exciting season for Baylor.

Billy Donovan

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    For some reason it seems as if Billy Donovan is too often overlooked when discussing the best coaches in the nation.

    He may not be a Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari, but he has two national championships under his belt and the Gators are always among the best teams in the SEC and nation.

    A primary reason for that on-court success is Donovan’s track record as a recruiter.

    After all, convincing this group to come to Gainesville–Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green–was one of the best things that ever happened to Florida basketball.

    The future also looks bright for the Gators because Donovan currently has the No. 3 ranked class for 2013. What’s more is, he still has time to make that group even better.

Bill Self

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    Kansas has won eight consecutive Big 12 championships.

    Considering the level of competition the Jayhawks have faced over that time frame and the fluid nature of college basketball today, that is downright impressive.

    And it doesn’t happen without Bill Self’s recruiting ability.

    The Kansas coach has recently brought in the likes of: Tyshawn Taylor, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins, Josh Selby, Xavier Henry and Thomas Robinson.

    However, if Scott Drew is going to get credit for convincing high school students to spend their collegiate years in Waco Txs. then Bill Self has to get recognition for his geographic persuasive abilities also.

    The plains of Kansas don’t exactly scream Los Angeles, Chicago or South Beach to these prospects.

    It’s a testament to Kansas’ tradition and Self’s recruiting and coaching prowess that the Jayhawks can basically be written in as Big 12 champions in pen at the start of every season.

Sean Miller

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    He hasn’t been out West for very long, but Sean Miller is certainly starting to find his recruiting groove at Arizona.

    The Wildcats' lead man brought in the No. 4 ranked class in 2011, No. 3 ranked group in 2012 and currently has the No. 14 ranked group for 2013.

    It is a direct result of Miller’s recruiting that Arizona is once again in the USA Today Top 25. This year’s group of freshmen alone includes three 5-star big men and a 4-star shooting guard.

    Throw in the transfer of Mark Lyons from Xavier (who Miller coincidentally recruited to Xavier), and the Wildcats could have an entire starting lineup of new players if they wanted.

    If Ben Howland and Miller continue to recruit at the pace they have recently, the Pac-12 will soon become the Pac Two.

Mike Krzyzewski

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    There is no doubt that Mike Krzyzewski has a lot working in his favor when it comes to convincing high school kids to don the right color jersey.

    After all, it isn’t exactly easy to turn down someone with four national championships, an Olympic gold medal and a sterling reputation among basketball’s elite.

    Plus, it’s Duke we are talking about. Hate the Blue Devils or love them, college basketball would not be the same without the historic program. Cameron Indoor Stadium oozes history, and the names hanging from the rafters don’t hurt either.

    But to simply attribute Coach K’s recruiting success to external factors wouldn’t be fair to him.

    There are plenty of coaches who struggle at historically elite programs, and Krzyzewski has basically been the architect of Duke’s tradition.

    The Blue Devils will be in good hands as long as Krzyzewski is in charge of persuading future players to come to Duke.

Roy Williams

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    Things more certain in life than North Carolina getting a top 10 ranked recruiting class: death, taxes, the Cubs not winning the World Series and everyone in Ohio getting 50 calls and emails this week pertaining to the election.

    Recently, Roy Williams brought: the No. 9 class in 2012, No. 9 class in 2011, No. 4 class in 2010, No. 3 class in 2009, No. 5 class in 2008, No. 1 class in 2006 and No. 4 class in 2005 to Chapel Hill.

    It was no coincidence that Williams and Calipari were on television as much as anyone else during the past NBA draft. With all the talent that each recruits to their respective programs, it is almost a guarantee that there will be plenty of players heading to the professional ranks.

    With Williams at the helm, the Tar Heels will remain as one of the blue-blood programs in all of college basketball.

Jim Boeheim

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    It almost seems as if college basketball fans take Jim Boeheim for granted since he has been around for so long.

    The Syracuse coach has not fallen off in terms of his recruiting ability.

    In fact, Boeheim signed: the No. 15 class in 2006, No. 2 group in 2007, No. 7 class in 2010, No. 11 class in 2011 and No. 15 group in 2012.

    It will be interesting to see how Boeheim reacts on the recruiting trail after the Orange move to the ACC. Either he will use the additional exposure Syracuse will undoubtedly receive in a new conference to land even better players or he will struggle to keep up with powerhouses such as North Carolina and Duke.

    Given Boeheim’s track record of success both on the court and as a recruiter, I wouldn’t bet against him.

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