SEC adds to incoming talent in late period
[rl]The SEC boasts the best incoming class in the country and a trio of others that cracked the national top 25.
That talent influx puts the southern schools at No. 4 overall in the nationwide conference rankings.
Gators reload, others keep up
After winning consecutive National Championships, the Florida Gators have remained in the headlines more for what is happening off the court than on it.
Billy Donovan turned down Kentucky, then the Memphis Grizzlies. He later accepted a job with the Orlando Magic. Prospects from the nation's top recruiting class were left scratching their heads. Enter Virginia Commonwealth head coach Anthony Grant as the likely new head coach. Enter Donovan again, exit Grant.
Now, it appears the Gators' recruits will be playing for Donovan – and likely for their entire college careers. What an offseason.
Now that the dust has almost settled, Florida fans can get excited about the talent coming to Gainesville next season. Donovan and his staff signed a five-man class. Each one is ranked in the top 70 in the country, led by Orlando-area standouts Nick Calathes and Chandler Parsons. The Lake Howell teammates won a state title in their final year in the Sunshine State prep ranks.
St. Louis-area native Alex Tyus, the No. 49 ranked player in the nation, has been in Gainesville since the first of the year. He's a bouncy forward that should see playing time immediately. Adam Allen, another Florida native, will carve out his niche because of his high energy and do-anything-to-win attitude.
The Gators moved from the fifth overall spot in the team rankings to the No. 1 spot when Jai Lucas inked with the SEC school. Lucas became a high priority once Taurean Green opted to turn pro. Lucas is the seventh-ranked point guard in the country.
A day after Donovan turned down the Kentucky job, the Wildcats hired Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie. Gillispie went right to work on the recruiting trail. His first two priorities were former Michigan signee Alex Legion and Patrick Patterson. Legion was released from the Wolverines when Tommy Amaker was let go, and Patterson was the best unsigned player in the country during the spring period.
Gillispie landed both players. Patterson projects to be an instant starter, and Legion will play a major role for the SEC team next year. The duo boosted Kentucky to the No. 13 class in the nation after being unranked.
Once again, Alabama has put together a quality class. Mark Gottfried has a backcourt of the future in Senario Hillman and Rico Pickett. The 1-2 punch might be as athletic as any incoming backcourt in the country. In-state forward Justin Knox could be the biggest surprise in the SEC. The Tide check in at No. 24 overall in the team rankings for the class of 2007.
The LSU Tigers are the final team in the SEC to crack into the national rankings at No. 25. John Brady and his staff have a potential superstar in Anthony Randolph from Dallas.
Jerry Meyer's take: Billy Donovan capitalized on his first national championship by landing two five-stars and two four-stars in the fall. After winning his second consecutive title, he landed four-star point guard Jai Lucas in the spring signing period. … Kentucky jumped into the top 15 of the team rankings when the Wildcats finally got the marquee power forward they've been after in Patrick Patterson. … Alabama has a strong backcourt coming in, but post player Justin Knox could be a surprise in the SEC … Anthony Randolph brings some star power to LSU … Georgia has some needed frontline help coming to Athens.
Five gems to watch
Randolph, the top-ranked incoming rookie in the SEC, checks in at No. 12 in the nation. The 6-foot-10 small forward is a mismatch problem because of his size, length, ball-handling skills and overall potential. His stay in Baton Rouge could be short.
Calathes and Parsons have a great chemistry together, and the two five-star prospects fit the mold of the former Gators. They are unselfish and understand the team concept. Calathes is a dead-eye shooter with off-the-charts basketball smarts. Parsons' game is similar to former UF standout Mike Miller.
Expect Patterson to step in and play a big role for the Wildcats from Day One. The five-star forward is perfectly suited for the SEC because of his rough and tough approach to the game and his natural strength down low.
Don't be surprised to see several highlight-reel appearances from Hillman this winter. He is a tremendous athlete, and his perimeter game improved by leaps and bounds in his senior year.
The recruiting drama, particularly late in the game, will spark some interest between Florida and Kentucky next year. Patterson turned down Florida and picked Kentucky. Lucas turned down Kentucky and picked Florida. The two friends will never defend each other on the floor, but there is an interest there because of the relationship.
Also keep an eye on this point guard matchup: Vanderbilt's Keegan Bell and Georgia's Zac Swansey. Bell originally committed to Georgia but opted out of his pledge and picked the Commodores. Georgia quickly responded and landed Swansey, an in-state floor general. The players have similar games.
Filling the void
Replacing a lineup that won two National Championships is a near-impossible feat. But Florida will feature a new starting five, and the incoming players will be tested earlier than most in the conference. The freshmen definitely have talent, but few are physically ready for starter's minutes in the SEC.
Lucas fills Green's role. Calathes fills Lee Humphrey's role. Parsons will play the wing position left by Corey Brewer. Allen is a valuable reserve. Tyus might be the most ready physically, and his athleticism should compensate for the loss of Joakim Noah. Returning player Marreese Speights will assume the post position left vacant by Al Horford's departure.
The task won't be easy, but Florida doesn't have a choice. The price of elite-level success for two years is a youthful team with high expectations.
Inside the numbers
The SEC is bringing 21 nationally ranked players from the class of 2007 to the conference next season. Four are top-20 players, nine are four-star prospects and eight are between Nos. 100 and 150 on the Rivals150.
Ten of the 12 teams in the conference inked players that are in the top 150. Florida signed five such standouts, while Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi State all inked three each.