Philadelphia, PA – Any program in the running for the No. 1 high school prospect of the 2014 high school class will need to have two roster spots open to land the blue chip recruit.
Chicago has been consistently producing some of the top names in basketball for quite a while. Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Evan Turner and Anthony Davis all came out of the Windy City to turn their respective colleges into national title contenders. Davis, the only big man of those mentioned, was the backbone of Kentucky's national title run under John Calipari in 2010.
Many think that the 6-foot-10, 265-pound Jahlil Okafor of Whitney Young High School in the Near West Side of Chicago could be the leader of an NCAA Championship squad in the not to distant future.
Davis, who had his name called first by commissioner David Stern at the 2012 NBA Draft, had plenty of help when he was at UK. Fellow freshmen Michael Kidd- Gilchrist (No. 2) and Marquis Teague (No. 29) were also picked in the first round. Three other Wildcats from that team were also selected in that draft immediately after they cut down the nets at the Final Four.
Okafor has reportedly banded together with Tyus Jones, a 6-1 floor general from Minnesota who is arguably the top point of the 2014 class. The two met as third-graders at an AAU national tournament and realized their great on-floor chemistry two years ago while playing for the FIBA American Under 16 Championship.
Davis had talent around him thanks to the recruiting skills of Calipari, who has the best incoming class in the nation for 2013 as well. Among the new stars in Lexington is the twin backcourt of Andrew and Aaron Harrison, who came in a more traditional type of package. Twin brothers going to the same school has been somewhat common in recent years. Stanford had a twin towers look with Brook and Robin Lopez suiting up for the Cardinal. Travis and David Wear not only signed with North Carolina together out of high school, but also transferred to UCLA to stay together.
Okafor and Jones are not the first pair of superstar high school athletes to collaborate on a college decision. Their union is rare considering that they grew up in different Midwest states, but it is clearly a product of the AAU system that has been impacting the amateur basketball world for some time now.
Among the schools in the running for Okafor and Jones are Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Baylor, and Ohio State.
They are not the only big time recruits who have decided to make their decision on college together. The top power forward in the class, Cliff Alexander, announced on his Twitter account that he planned on playing college basketball with JaQuan Lyle, an Indiana native playing at the powerhouse Huntington Prep in West Virginia. Lyle had recently just backed out of his commitment to Louisville.
While Okafor has a huge size advantage over most of his opponents, it will not be a huge surprise if Alexander, who is also a Chicago prep star, has a bigger impact when they both make their collegiate debuts. Lyle is not predicted to be an All-American during his final year at Huntington Prep, but he is still a capable player that any coach would be crazy to turn away.
There is no guarantee that the packages will stay intact. But both duos seem adamant on sticking together throughout the recruiting process.
That is not always the case. USC used some unorthodox tactics to insure Demarr DeRozan would become a Trojan in 2009. Tim Floyd, now UTEP's head coach, gave a scholarship to Percy Miller, Jr., better known as Lil' Romeo for his rapping career, to entice DeRozan to sign with USC. The two became friends while playing for Percy Miller, Sr's AAU team and Floyd signed them both, although Miller was hardly Pac-10 Conference material at the time. What Floyd did was perfectly legal, although risky considering it was clear DeRozan was not going to be in Los Angeles for a long stay.
Seton Hall recently added a top-20 recruit in Isaiah Whitehead out of Brooklyn's famed Lincoln High School, the same institution that Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson all attended. SHU head coach Kevin Willard has had trouble guiding the team back into the winner's circle. He has gone 18-36 through three years before landing Whitehead, which saved him from the hot seat if the 2013-14 season is another struggle. Willard didn't offer one of Whitehead's friends a spot on his roster though, instead he hired Lincoln's head coach Dwayne "Tiny" Morton to be an assistant on his staff. Willard also hired Oliver Antigua to his staff, which was instrumental in the signing of top 50 power forward Angel Delgado from Huntington Prep. Antigua coached Delgado on the Dominic Republic National Team where the two built a strong relationship.
Willard is not the first coach to shake up his staff as a way to improve recruiting results. Kansas hired Mario Chalmers' father and went on to win a national title. Calipari did the same with DaJuan Wagner's father at Memphis.
For a struggling program like Seton Hall, it may be its saving grace. A talent like Whitehead is going to attract other recruits to the school. Willard may end up having a long tenure with the Pirates thanks to his completely legal approach.
Willard was not the first and will not be the last coach to use this method to improve his talent pool. If the NCAA recruiting guidelines allow it, coaches would be foolish not to improve their programs in any way they can. The NCAA is under scrutiny more than ever, but there is nothing it can really do to prevent hirings that directly affect recruiting.
It is unfortunate because it completely changes the meaning of the first word of the often used phrase - "best man for the job."