Ever since the one-and-done rule was instituted, college basketball recruiting has been critical to shaping the national title race.
With so many superstar freshmen joining the collegiate ranks for one season, the nation’s top programs are tenaciously competing both on the court and on the recruiting trail. Kentucky, Kansas and Duke were able to land these impact prospects this year, but there are plenty of fish in the sea for 2014.
Read on to see some of the best sales pitches coaches can utilize this year. The Top 10 of the current USA Today Coaches Poll was used to determine “top” programs.
Has there been a coach in the country to better use the one-and-done rule than John Calipari?
Seemingly every season (Robert Morris NIT losses notwithstanding), Kentucky loses half its roster to the NBA only to reload and find itself in the Top 5 again. With the caliber of players Calipari brought in as part of his 2013 class, it is almost surely going to happen again next year.
The Wildcats have been pumping players to the association at an elevated rate since Calipari arrived. For as much as fans want players to love their schools as much as they do, the goal for the majority of the nation’s top recruits is to reach the pros. College is almost like a pit-stop for a lot of these prospects, and Kentucky has turned itself into the biggest and brightest farm system for David Stern.
Simply put, if you succeed as a Wildcat you will find yourself being drafted sooner rather than later.
Every program on this list makes a habit of winning, but Michigan State does it in a different fashion than the others.
Tom Izzo, who is certainly on the short list for the best coaches in the country, doesn’t typically reel in recruiting classes stock-loaded with 5-star studs, a la Kentucky or Duke. He also isn’t landing many one-and-done stars that breeze through college quicker than the tutors can do their homework.
Michigan State has a brand, and it is defined by a hard-nosed, physical style of play. You will be recruited to join the Spartans because you fit their system, aren’t afraid to mix it up on the court and have the ability to maximize your talent.
The All-Big Ten teams are almost always littered with Spartans who started their careers as afterthoughts on the recruiting trail and finished as potential All-Americans and NBA prospects.
It may be a small sample size, but there is nobody hotter in college basketball the past two years than the Louisville Cardinals.
Rick Pitino has built an absolute juggernaut with this program, as evidenced by two straight Final Fours and the national title banner that is now hanging in the rafters. And with Louisville spending a year in basketball purgatory in the American Athletic Conference before joining the ACC, there is no reason to think the winning will stop anytime soon.
The past couple of years will have a ripple effect on the Cardinals’ recruiting, which will set them up perfectly for the much-anticipated entrance into the ACC. There are more Final Fours on the horizon for Pitino and company.
Look at some of the coaches on this list—Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, Tom Izzo, John Calipari, Bill Self, Thad Matta, etc. We are talking about the best of the best, and each has a resume loaded with championships and NBA players that came through their respective programs.
But, the name Mike Krzyzewski just has a different ring to it at the college level.
Coach K may be the best to ever do it in college basketball, and he continues to add to his illustrious career every season. Duke is still a national power (both on the court and on the recruiting trail), and he has branched out as the head coach of the USA National Team in recent Olympics.
He has the respect of colleagues, opposing fans, the best players in the world (college or pro) and can pitch all of this to recruits assuming he isn’t too humble. These other coaches are at the top of their profession, but there’s just an aura around Coach K.
Call it East Coast bias if you want (although the Mountain West received a lot of love all season last year only to fall flat on its face in the NCAA tournament), but there is only a small handful of teams in the first USA Today Coaches Poll that play out West.
And of those teams, Arizona is in the best position to become king of the West Coast.
Sean Miller is a recruiting star. The program itself is steeped in history and success, and the fanbase is one of the most rabid in the country. Miller delivered on these advantages by landing one of the best classes in the nation for 2013 and should continue to haul in 4- and 5-star prospects.
Think of all the elite talent that comes out of the West Coast, especially from California. It could certainly be intriguing for these prospects to come to Arizona if the Wildcats establish themselves as the best nearby program going forward.
Each of these programs is defined by winning and tradition, but the mystique surrounding the Kansas basketball experience is quite unique.
From the fact that the inventor of basketball, James Naismith, is basically the godfather of the program to the haunting echoes of the “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk” chant, there is a distinguishable aura surrounding the team. Throw the loud and intimidating Allen Fieldhouse on top of all that, and recruits taking their official visits will certainly walk away impressed.
Andrew Wiggins and company will likely add to the winning pedigree that defines Kansas basketball this year. There will most assuredly be future top-notch recruits who will look to do the same.
Each of these top programs has its own distinguished brand, but Syracuse’s is particularly unique.
They are the kings of New York when it comes to college basketball, and Madison Square Garden almost seems like its second home. Even though the Big East tournament is no longer on the docket for the Orange, chances are, over the course of a four-year career, you will get the chance to play there as a Syracuse commit.
Outside of a successful Knicks squad, no brand of basketball fires up the Garden more than Syracuse. There has even been discussion about moving the ACC tournament to New York, and Syracuse’s new presence in the conference makes it seem like an inevitable move.
The lockdown defense of the 2-3 zone and the three-point shots that rain in when the Orange are playing at their best will smoothly transition to the ACC. Jim Boeheim and company will have Syracuse suffocating all new opposing offenses for years to come.
It really isn’t fair to point out the weather so quickly when discussing Florida. After all, Billy Donovan has built quite the winning pedigree in Gainesville, but every program on this list racks up wins almost every season.
The thing that really separates the Gators from everyone else here outside of Arizona is the fact that they win in the sun. And recruits will notice this during basketball season, which just so happens to take place in the dead of winter.
It may seem somewhat silly on the surface, but when these high-school kids take their recruiting visits, they remember factors like this as well. One January weekend, they may be sloshing through four inches of sleet and snow in Ann Arbor, while the next, they are walking through a beautiful campus in the sunshine state in their flip-flops and sunglasses.
Florida is a national power because it wins and wins often, but this is the one thing that really separates it from the other programs on the list.
Everyone remembers the “Fab Five,” but Michigan basketball has been downright terrible by its elevated standards for the majority of the years following Chris Webber and Jalen Rose’s departure.
From the 1994-95 season through the 2009-10 campaign, the Wolverines missed the NCAA tournament completely 12 times, were eliminated in the first round twice and eliminated in the second round twice. Never did they make it past the second round.
But John Beilein has started a resurgence in Ann Arbor. Michigan made the national title game last year behind the efforts of National Player of the Year Trey Burke, it won its first Big Ten title in 2011-12 (shared with Ohio State and Michigan State) since 1986 and is positioned to continue succeeding in the future thanks to recruiting.
The Wolverines are back on the college basketball map for the first time in seemingly forever. Recruits will certainly begin to take notice.
Since Thad Matta took over at Ohio State, there has not been a better program in the Big Ten outside of perhaps Michigan State, depending on if Tom Izzo’s three Final Fours to Matta’s two impress you more than Matta’s conference titles and list of NBA players.
The Buckeyes have won at least a share of five of the past eight regular season Big Ten championships and three of the past four conference tournaments. Furthermore, there has been at least one Ohio State player taken in the past seven NBA drafts, and seven of the nine players drafted since Matta took over were first round picks.
And for recruits who simply aren’t impressed with the Big Ten titles, Final Four appearances and NBA draft pedigree Matta is pushing, the best basketball player in the world happens to be a public Buckeye supporter. LeBron James has a permanent locker in the basketball facility at Ohio State, has provided the program with plenty of equipment and isn’t shy to profess his Buckeye love.
That certainly can’t hurt on the recruiting trail.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.