Big East Notebook

Recruiting updates and preseaon reports for Big East Schools:
Ben Gordon, an incoming freshman from Mount Vernon High School in New York, has really impressed the Connecticut coaches in the early practices. Gordon has been receiving playing time at both guard positions. One UCONN coach described Gordon’s play as “really mature for this stage of his career.”
The UCONN coaches have also happiness over pleasant surprise Emeka Okafor, who is likely to gain plenty of playing time as the year progresses. Okafor, a freshman, has been solid in the shotblocking and defensive rebounding department, both important areas for any winning college basketball program.
Scott Hazleton has grown to 6-8 and seems healthy off his year ago foot injury. He has been shooting the ball well and running the floor significantly better in transition.
* Connecticut is awaiting word from forward Ike Diogu (right, who is expected to call the coaches today on his college decision. Diogu, 6-8 from Garland High School in Texas, is down to Connecticut and Arizona State as his choices. Arizona State has held the lead for the most part in this recruiting process.
The Eagles of Boston College appeared to have done a good job in making one of the top junior swingmen in the country interested in their school and program. Ben Rand, 6-6, hails from Rochelle High School in Illinois. He listed Boston College among five other Big Ten schools. Rand said he will consider Boston College as well as the Big Ten Conference when he makes his decision. Rand is a terrific scorer. He is also starting to be more consistent from 12 feet and out with his individual game. Last year he averaged 26 points a game.
He is not a highly publicized recruit. But make no mistake about it – he is a very good get for the Pittsburgh program. Ed Turner, a 6-6, 180-pound forward from Turner Carroll High School in Buffalo, New York, made a commitment a couple of months ago and Panther fans should be very happy about this. Turner averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and two steals last season as a junior. Turner had several other schools that offered including Massachusetts, Rutgers, and Siena. Turner said he wants to get stronger and work a little bit more in the weight room before he gets to the college level. Turner is known by coaches as a hard worker who can take the rock to the basket.
St. John’s, like Villanova, Louisville, and North Carolina, are involved in the recruiting process with Jason Fraser (left, 6-10 of Amityville High School on Long Island. The Red Storm have the last at-bat in this recruiting process and this is certainly an advantage for them. Fraser is also very comfortable in his surroundings and this also helps the Red Storm (See Villanova section). However, if Fraser were not to land at St. John’s, the Red Storm have already begun researching the skills of Damion Grant, a developing 7-1, 245-pound center from Brewster Academy in New Hampshire.
Grant has not yet made up his mind on whether to sign early or wait until the Spring. Big East rival Seton Hall has already offered Grant and they appear to be in good shape to land him in the Fall – if Damion decides to sign in the next two weeks.
UMASS also has a great shot at Grant along with LaSalle. Other schools might jump in on Grant depending upon who they sign early. “He's very long and athletic, according to Smith. "He has a great upside..with bigtime body," according to his coach Jason Smith. Grant did not play much last year due to an injury.
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Hilton Armstrong, a 6-9 forward from Peekskill High School in New York, still lists Rutgers as one of his top schools. "I have heard from Seton Hall, Rutgers, LaSalle, South Florida, Texas A&M, VCU, Hartford, Rider, Albany, St. Joe's, Niagara, Canisius, Central Florida, and Siena," Armstrong said. "But I might wait until the spring."
If Armstrong waits, then the list could change significantly. “I might just wait to see who is serious about me,” Armstrong said. “I want to take some visits too before I make up my mind.” There was speculation that Armstrong had committed to LaSalle, but it was not an accurate report.
Seton Hall:
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Copies of The Sporting News were placed by Marcus Toney-El’s locker by some of this teammates. Why? They were delivered there to inspire him. In the annual college basketball issue published by the Sporting News, Toney-El was listed in the Big East section of the magazine as “Most Overrated Player.” This motivated some of his teammates to light a fire under Marcus. Toney-El has been motivated by this and has played well so far in the practices and one exhibition game. Look for a big year out of Toney-El.
The Pirates coaches are also very happy with the chemistry of the team. In the exhibition game against Mickey Walker’s AAU team, Seton Hall players were passing up open shots and feeding their teammates for easier shots. Andre Barrett scored 25 points in the game and appears to be ready for a great season. The Pirates coaches are very happy.
The Carmelo Anthony (right) watch will last throughout the winter and into the Spring. Anthony, one of the best players in the 2002 class, has wonderful offensive skills. He can step past you in a flash and hammer you from the outside. But Anthony is taking the proper approach to all of this attention. He is on the record (and off the record right now) as saying he is going to play for Syracuse. “He has never wavered in his desire to play for Syracuse,” Oak Hill Academy head coach Steve Smith told us. “He is also making sure he gets himself ready academically.”
So Anthony recently took the ACT and SAT. He is within striking distance of qualifying academically. “I expect him to get it,” Smith said. “Because he is working hard. Carmelo has done everything we have asked him to do.”
But the Orangemen fans have a right to be nervous about Anthony changing his mind. He would not be the first high school player to switch his plans when the money on the table appeared more realistic. It’s likely that Anthony will have a great season for Oak Hill and then he is going to have to seriously consider jumping to the NBA. The money will be there if he has a great year. It will be up to Carmelo and his family then to decide.
There aren’t many top big people still available in the class of 2002. It’s why many schools, including Villanova, are considering waiting until the following year to utilize a scholarship if they don’t land a big man. Jason Fraser right now is the primary target for the Wildcats. Fraser told us last night that he still lists the Cats as having the slight edge. But St. John’s has the last at-bat. St. John’s would be the comfortable choice for Fraser, who is very close to his family.
Fraser’s situation reminds us of the Brad Buckman (left) process. Buckman explored other schools beyond his comfort zone – the Austin, Texas area. Then he decided to stay home because of his closeness with his family and being comfortable with the surroundings. Since September 11th, this has become more of a factor in the recruiting processes. Recruits have turned down long airplane trips to visit schools and have instead decided to stay within driving distance of their families. This certainly keeps Villanova in the recruiting process but does not help Louisville or North Carolina (both of these schools Fraser has also visited).
Fraser visits St. John’s this weekend. He hopes to have a decision during the Fall signing period of November 14th-21st. But he won’t rule out waiting to the Spring.
Sani Ibrahim (right) is on the radar screen for West Virginia, according to head coach Steve Smith. But sources close to Ibrahim indicate to us it will take an incredible school effort by Ibrahim to land in the qualifying column and be able to play college basketball next season. However, it might be wise to stay in touch with Ibrahim, who is likely to go the JUCO route if he does go the college way. Sani could get himself straightened out academically and be available to some school in a couple of years.
Of course the downside is the time and the effort placed in this recruiting process. Sani could go JUCO and have a great career. It’s likely then he would jump to the NBA. But currently he is not ready to make the jump. He has to pull off a great season to land as a lottery pick in the June 2002 NBA draft.
Virginia Tech fans will be very happy when they watch Shawn Harris, a 6-3 guard/small forward play for their program. Harris moved his game to Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, where he hopes to boost his academic credentials. Once he clears himself of that obstacle, he is likely to be a very good player for Virginia Tech. Harris is a strong swingman who displayed an improved stroke from beyond the three point arc this past summer. He is very adept at posting up other guards and muscling inside for baskets against bigger opponents. Harris averaged 25 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals per game at Matoaca last year. Harris was only a few answers shy of qualifying last year. But he appears to be motivated in improving his game and taking care of things in the classroom, according to the coaches at Fork Union.
Notre Dame will have an excellent shot at Ben Rand, 6-6 of Rochelle High School in Illinois. "I like Notre Dame and the Big East," Rand said. "I am likely to choose between the Big East and Big Ten." For sure the Irish have stiff competition from the Big Ten as well as Big East rival Boston College. But momentum is certainly on the side of the Irish. Notre Dame must secure a good run during the NCAA tournament to turn some juniors eyes. This is the best weapon any program can have during the recruiting process. The Irish already have their point guard in Chris Quinn and have solidified their frontline with Rick Cornett and Torin Francis. What they now need is another scorer. And Rand could be the answer. Ben said he doesn't plan on doing anything until next Spring. Remember, he's just a junior.