You have to hand it to UCLA. The Bruins got every recruit on
their wish list, including three McDonald's All-Americas: 6'11"
Dan Gadzuric of Den Haag, the Netherlands; 6'5" Ray Young from
St. Joseph Notre Dame in Alameda, Calif.; and 6'7" JaRon Rush
from The Pembroke School in Kansas City, who seemed like a lock
to go to Kansas till he was blown off by Jayhawks coach Roy
Williams. (Williams took exception to Rush's criticism of his
substitution patterns and stopped recruiting him.) Add 6'11"
Jerome Moiso from Guadeloupe and 6'7" Matt Barnes of Fair Oaks,
Calif., and UCLA has a class that some observers are calling its
best since the John Wooden era, one that recruiting expert Bob
Gibbons, who publishes All-Star Sports, says "might even rival
Michigan's Fab Five."
All of which probably means that condolences are in order for
Bruins coach Steve Lavin and his staff. For in this era of early
entry into the NBA draft, getting the top recruiting haul
generally precludes you from winning a national title. "You may
win the battles, but you lose the wars," says Gibbons. "Are
these guys going to get you to the Final Four? Not likely as
freshmen. A top class looks great in print and gets the alumni
fired up, but those might be the only short-term benefits."
The short term is the operative time frame with players like
Gadzuric, the top center prospect in the nation, who seriously
considered the NBA before signing with the Bruins, and Rush, a
slashing scorer who found fault with Williams's substitution
patterns because he didn't think they would allow enough
opportunity for "NBA scouts to come see me play." Neither
figures to spend more than two years in Westwood before going pro.
It's too early to pass judgment on Duke's top-ranked 1997-98
freshman class, but a look at previous No. 1 recruiting hauls,
as ranked by Gibbons, shows they often come up short. The
1996-97 UNLV freshmen failed to make the NCAAs that season and
were first-round losers this year. Neither the 1995-96 Arkansas
class nor the 1994-95 Michigan group ever made it beyond the
Sweet 16. The 1993-94 North Carolina class so disrupted the
chemistry of the '93 NCAA championship team that the Tar Heels
lost in the third round in '94, though those recruits did make
it to the Final Four a year later, before Rasheed Wallace and
Jerry Stackhouse bolted for the pros. Even Michigan's Fab Five
of 1991-92, the standard against which all other recruiting
classes are measured, never won a Big Ten title, much less a
national crown, though they did twice make it to the NCAA
championship game. The one recent top recruiting class to win a
national title was Kentucky's of 1992-93, and it took four years
and several other good recruiting crops for that to happen, in
"I'm finding that the more secure programs are backing away from
the top prospects," says Gibbons. "What they've found is, if you
can't keep a player for at least two years, you're better off
without him. Georgia Tech has never recovered from losing
Stephon Marbury." Indeed, when Marbury, the prize of Tech's
class of 1995-96, left for the NBA after one season--and a Sweet
16 finish--Tech went in the tank: The next recruiting class and
season (9-18) were disasters. Villanova took a similar slide
(from 24-10 to 12-17) after forward Tim Thomas left following
his freshman year, 1996-97.
Similar troubles may befall UCLA. What worthy big man will want
to sign with the Bruins until he knows Gadzuric's plans? The
problem is, most recruits sign in November or the following
April, but the top players don't declare for the NBA draft until
May. "It can leave you with a hole," concedes UCLA's recruiting
coordinator Michael Holton, "but we'd like to think that we've
acquired a level of depth so that one player's departure isn't
going to devastate us."
Whether the Bruins have established the kind of depth that
allowed Kentucky to withstand early departures and still win two
national titles in three years remains to be seen. True, Lavin
can now claim two consecutive top-five classes. But so can UNLV
coach Bill Bayno, who got that No. 1 class in 1996-97 and the
No. 4 in 1997-98 and has only a first-round torching in the
NCAAs to show for it.
Oklahoma State's Big Man
BIGGER THAN THE OKEFENOKEE
When you are bigger than 7-foot, 275-pound Bryant (Big Country)
Reeves of the Vancouver Grizzlies and 7'3" 345-pound Brad (Big
Continent) Millard of St. Mary's, you can take whatever
geographic designation you want as a nickname. Yet Roy Candley,
a 7'2", 388-pound Baton Rouge resident who just signed with
Oklahoma State, retains a relatively modest one. "My friends all
call me Big Swamp," he says.
Though Candley, whose dad and mom are 6'5" and 6'2",
respectively, has been big for as long as he can remember--in
fifth grade, he was 6'6" and wore a size 17 shoe--nobody at
Panola College in Carthage, Texas, knew exactly how big he was
as a freshman in 1996 until he stepped on the scale at the local
Texas Transportation Department truck weighing station. Since
tipping that scale at 430 pounds, Candley has lost weight with
regular treadmill work and emerged as a player with Big 12
Last year, using what Panola coach Rennie Bailey calls "the
softest hands on a big guy you'll ever see," Candley shot 54.0%
and averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Though
Candley did all that while carrying those 388 pounds, Oklahoma
State coach Eddie Sutton is expecting him to melt further, to at
least 335 by the fall. "You've heard of big-man projects?" says
Sutton. "I'd say he's a really big project. He's got a lot of
hard work ahead of him, that's for sure."
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT K. BROWN POWERHOUSE Gadzuric (50) gives UCLA the top recruiting crop, but will that mean an NCAA title? [Dan Gadzuric in game]
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FEIG HERCULEAN EFFORT Candley is now less than 400 pounds but remains a project for the Cowboys. [Roy Candley]
THE CLASS OF THE RECRUITING CLASSES
A survey of leading recruiting experts reveals the winners in
this year's recruiting derby to be, with the notable exception
of Arizona's Lute Olson, recently hired coaches eager to make a
big splash. Could it be that older, wiser heads are staying away
from the big-name stars who make up the strongest recruiting
classes, yet tend to turn pro after a year or two?
Rank School Signees Skinny
1 UCLA 5 Third-year coach Steve Lavin has had two
straight strong classes, but can he keep
blue-chippers, especially Dan Gadzuric and
JaRon Rush, in Westwood?
2 DePaul 7 Pat Kennedy, in his second year with the
Blue Demons, snared 6'6" star Quentin
Richardson and two others from the
strongest Chicago crop in 20 years.
3 Arizona 6 Bill Walton's 6'8" son, Luke, and Richard
Jefferson are part of a strong but
relatively star-free class that Olson might
keep together long enough to bring the Cats
4 LSU 11 Second-year coach John Brady brought in a
bunch, but top catch Stromile Swift, a 6'9"
forward, has yet to qualify academically.
5 Florida 5 Third-year coach Billy Donovan has done
what predecessor Lon Kruger couldn't: keep
players home. Four Floridians join 6'8"
swingman Mike Miller of Mitchell, S.Dak.,
in the best Gator haul ever.