Evans Seven: Programs taking their recruiting to a new level
While the blueblood programs remain Goliaths on the recruiting trail, there are several other programs that have been excelling lately. In this week’s Evans Seven, we highlight seven schools that are enjoying unprecedented recruiting success. These programs are accomplishing more than they ever have during the Rivals.com era, and they seem poised to continue winning on the recruiting trail going forward.
2022 Rankings: Top 75
It is not as if Bruce Pearl has struggled to land national talent during his career. Whether it was Duke Crews and Tobias Harris at Tennessee or Chuma Okeke, Horace Spencer and Austin Wiley during his early years at Auburn, Pearl has consistently been a go-getter on the recruiting trail (though he did serve a three-year show cause penalty for recruiting violations at Tennessee).
But, in recent years Auburn has been a competitor not just for the best talent in its region but also nationally. Sure, five-stars Isaac Okoro and Sharife Cooper weren’t forced to go far to from home for college, but the Tigers were in the final two for Fresno native Jalen Green and remain in the mix for top-ranked junior Jon Kuminga. The Tigers appear to be in position to have even greater success every March going forward.
Mark Few has made the Zags not only a dominant fixture out West, but also nationwide. Gonzaga used to rely on international talent along the lines of Ronny Turiaf and Kelly Olynyk. The Zags also had early recruiting wins such as Austin Daye and Nigel Goss-Williams, but it hasn’t been until the past few years that Gonzaga has become a recruiting behemoth in the U.S.
Gonzaga has shown that it can defeat home-state programs for players like Drew Timme, Zach Norvell and Jalen Suggs. It would seem that Gonzaga can now devote its efforts to recruiting across the U.S. It took a shot at five-star Walker Kessler last fall and the Zags among the early favorites for top-five junior Chet Holmgren. While the 2000s were about Gonzaga’s dominance internationally, the 2020s could mark the beginning of the era when the Zags are just as strong domestically.
Tasmin Mitchell was a great win for the in-state program years ago, as was Ben Simmons, but LSU has never succeeded so often in the recruiting waters as it is right now. It has reeled off a five-star commitment every cycle for the past three years, and that steak is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
Whether it was Naz Reid from New Jersey, Emmitt Williams from Florida, Cam Thomas from Virginia or Jerrell Colbert from Texas, Will Wade has shown that he is able to recruit not only within his state (as he did with Javonte Smart), but he can also snatch the best talent nationally. (Wade was suspended in March, 2019, for potential recruiting violations but was later reinstated.) The Tigers are expected to enroll at least eight newcomers in the fall, and they may not be done yet. Five-star junior Moussa Cisse, a likely reclassification target, is the next player in the Tigers' sights.
Stanford started out the month by reeling in Ziaire Williams, the program’s highest-rated recruit during the Rivals.com era, and the Cardinal also just celebrated the commitment of the program’s highest-rated guard recruit in Isa Silva. The successful recruiting of those two players marks the best month the program has had in the past two decades.
The Cardinal are used to relying on uncovering hidden gems that turn into major steals, players such as Tyrell Terry, Spencer Jones and KZ Okpala. But if Stanford can continue to build on its recruiting success, it could be just the beginning of many other five-star commitments, with the next potentially being top-15 junior Harrison Ingram.
Tennessee is definitely on the rise in the recruiting world. A quick look at its incoming class confirms that, thanks to the commitments of two five-star prospects who will follow Josiah James, the Vols' five-star win from a year earlier. Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson are two highly reputable guards who should transform the complexion of the SEC program, morphing it from a developmental team to a program that prides itself on a blue-collared ethos while also having elite talent. This could be just the beginning of what is to come, too, as the Vols are in a great spot with five-star juniors Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith and Kennedy Chandler.
6. TEXAS TECH
Chris Beard has built the Red Raiders by recruiting under-the-radar talent that quickly morphed into college superstars and then NBA first-round selections, players such as Zhiare Smith and Jarrett Culver.
But Texas Tech has begun to jostle with the bluebloods on the recruiting front. Beard landed the program’s first five-star prospect a year ago in Jahmi'us Ramsey, who has a chance to be a lottery pick in this year's NBA Draft. Beard landed another five-star again last fall as he lured Nimari Burnett to Texas Tech. Top-25 classes might just be the new normal is in Lubbock as long as Beard is at the helm.
Granted, Jay Wright has always been able to recruit some the best talent in the Northeast, but the past few recruiting cycles have arguably been Villanova’s best. Corey Stokes, Corey Fisher, Jason Fraser and Kyle Lowry were among his earliest wins, but his more recent ones go toe-to-toe with those from 10 to 15 years ago, and the way they fit Wright's system compared to their predecessors could be even better (except for Lowry).
With players such as Jalen Brunson - who will go down as one of the college game’s best ever at the lead guard spot - Cole Swider, Saddiq Bey, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Bryan Antoine, Villanova has been on a roll. With four-star junior Nnanna Njoku already in tow and Max Christie and Trevor Keels in their sights, the Wildcats should continue to be a team with plenty of momentum.