Publish date:

Inside College Basketball


The Big East was the big winner in attracting and retaining top

When Darius Rice, a 6'10" McDonald's All-America from Jackson,
Miss., announced on May 2 that he'd signed to play at Miami,
recruiting aficionados reacted with surprise. After all, Rice
was said to have narrowed his choice to Arkansas, Kentucky,
Memphis or Mississippi State. He had even called an April press
conference, reportedly to say that he was going to Kentucky,
before canceling it. While some observers were puzzled as to why
Rice would want to play for the Hurricanes, who draw the
sparsest crowds in the Big East--they averaged 3,995 fans per
home game last season--Rice, who ranks first academically in his
class at Lanier High, believes he made the smart choice.
"[Hurricanes coach] Leonard Hamilton has a good track record,"
says Rice, the nephew of San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry
Rice. "Miami has been to the NCAA tournament the last three
years, and I like the way he develops players. That they lost
three starters doesn't hurt, either."

Indeed, as any coach will tell you, roster turnover is a big
part of the game, especially in an era when the nation's top
recruits rarely plan on staying in college more than a year or
two--if they decide to go at all. The most successful programs
are the ones that can keep the talent pipeline flowing, and no
conference is navigating the changing tides more adeptly than
the Big East (chart, page 78). Even though it is losing 12 of
the 15 players named to its all-league teams, the Big East will
likely be the strongest conference in the U.S. next season.

--Seton Hall and Connecticut have the two top-ranked recruiting
classes in the nation, and St. John's also is bringing in a
highly rated group. (The Red Storm might have had the strongest
class of all had signee Darius Miles, a 6'9" forward from East
St. Louis, Ill., not entered the NBA draft.) Many of the incoming
freshmen won't stay long, but player defections have long ceased
to be an acceptable excuse for a program's taking a downturn.
"Everybody's losing guys. You can't cry over it," says St. John's
coach Mike Jarvis, who also lost sophomore point guard Erick
Barkley to the pros and who himself is a candidate for a job in
the NBA with the Wizards.

--Several Big East teams that failed to make the NCAA tournament
last season appear poised to step up next year. NIT runner-up
Notre Dame keeps its top six scorers--including league MVP Troy
Murphy--and adds 6'8" junior Ryan Humphrey, a burly transfer from
Oklahoma. Georgetown has an emerging star in 6'11" center Lee
Scruggs, who will be a senior, and the Hoyas will gain the
services of talented 6'11" center Wesley Wilson, who sat out his
freshman year for academic reasons.

Though the rush to the NBA by today's teen stars has damaged the
college game, it actually works in the Big East's favor because
so many of the conference's schools are located in or near major
cities and play in NBA arenas. "I like that I'm going to get to
play in a lot of NBA cities." Rice says. "You get more exposure."

Filling Up the Trophy Case

At 6'9", 260 pounds, Marion (Ind.) High center Zach Randolph is
accustomed to towering over his competition. But Randolph has
never loomed larger than he did this spring, when he put together
a remarkable string of Most Valuable Player performances. On
March 25, Randolph, a Michigan State signee, had 28 points and 11
rebounds to lead Marion to a 62-56 win over Bloomington North in
the Indiana Class 4A state championship game. Four days later he
went for 23 points and 15 rebounds during the McDonald's
All-American Game in Boston. On April 2, Randolph's game-high 24
points and eight rebounds propelled the USA Junior National
Select Team to a 98-97 exhibition victory over an international
squad in Indianapolis. Finally, on April 30, Randolph carted away
yet another MVP trophy at the Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball
Classic in Louisville, where he finished with 39 points, 24
rebounds and four assists.

"In my estimation Zach has emerged as the best prospect in the
class," says recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons. "For someone that
size, he's as quick and agile as any player I've seen."

Yet, Randolph wasn't even selected as the best player in his
state. Indiana's coveted Mr. Basketball award went to Bloomington
North 6'10" forward Jared Jeffries, who received nearly three
times as many votes from a panel of coaches and media members,
even though he scored only 10 points against Randolph and Marion
in the state title game and his team lost. Jeffries, an
All-America who signed last fall with Indiana, appears to have
benefited from Randolph's checkered past, which includes three
juvenile convictions and two 15-day stays in a juvenile detention

Randolph committed his most serious transgression in February
1999 when he was arrested on (and subsequently pleaded guilty to)
two counts of receiving stolen property after he had sold a gun
that had been stolen by a friend. Instead of playing for Marion
in the state tournament the following month, Randolph listened to
a radio broadcast of the Giants' first-round loss in the Grant
County Juvenile Center. "I remember visiting him and his saying,
'I hate this place,'" Marion coach Moe Smedley says. "I said,
'Well, you know how to keep yourself out of it.' That was a big
learning experience for him. I don't think he wants any part of
that again."

Randolph has yet to qualify academically to play as a freshman,
though he's reportedly only 30 points shy of earning the
requisite SAT score and took the test again on May 6. He says the
time he spent in detention changed him, and he has had no further
off-court troubles since. Randolph also wrote a letter of apology
which ran in the Marion Chronicle-Tribune shortly after he served
his sentence. "I've learned some hard lessons," he says.
"Sometimes you can be on top of the world, and the next moment
you can be down."

It Ain't Over Till It's Over

While it's not uncommon for a coach to continue recruiting a
player even after he has verbally committed to another school,
rarely does one go about it as brazenly as Rhode Island's Jerry
DeGregorio did in his pursuit of Dinno Daniels, a point guard
from Tyler (Texas) Junior College. Daniels said in January that
he planned to attend Miami but instead signed with the Rams on
May 3. Afterward, DeGregorio told the Providence
Journal-Bulletin, "It's always been my theory that when a young
man commits to another school, it makes your job easier. Now you
know who your competition is."

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER When Rice (dribbling) signed with Miami, it capped a banner recruiting year for the Big East.

COLOR PHOTO: TODD ROSENBERG Spartan-to-be Randolph was the MVP of MVPs.

Conference Call

At no time is the college basketball landscape altered more
dramatically than in the six weeks following the end of the
season. That's when the last recruits announce their choice of
schools and top college and high school players declare early
for the NBA draft. (This year's deadline for early entry was May
14, and as of that date more than 20 players had made that
choice, though some could still change their minds and return to
school.) The Big East gets an A+ for how well it maintained its
balance during these seismic shifts (previous page). Here's how
the other big conferences graded out.

BIG TEN Notable losses among players with eligibility:
Jamal Crawford, Michigan; Joel Przybilla, Minnesota; Michael
Redd, Ohio State

Prominent Additions: 6'10" Jared Jeffries, Indiana; 6'9" Zach
Randolph, Michigan State; 6'6" Luke Recker, Iowa (transfer); 6'3"
Marcus Taylor, Michigan State; 6'8" Glenn Worley, Iowa Grade: B

ACC Notable losses: None

Prominent additions: 6'2" Chris Duhon, Duke; 6'8" Jason Parker,
North Carolina; 6'3" Scooter Sherrill, N.C. State; 6'10" Chris
Wilcox, Maryland Grade: B-

CONFERENCE USA Notable losses: DerMarr Johnson, Cincinnati;
Quentin Richardson, DePaul

Prominent additions: 6'9" Andre Brown, DePaul; 6'8" Jamaal Davis,
Cincinnati; 6'9" Alton Ford, Houston; 6'2" Imari Sawyer, DePaul;
6'6" Luke Whitehead, Louisville Grade: C

SEC Notable losses: Mario Austin, Mississippi State; Schea
Cotton, Alabama; Donnell Harvey, Florida; Mike Miller, Florida;
Stromile Swift, LSU

Prominent additions: 6'5" Adam Harrington, Auburn (transfer);
6'10" Rolando Howell, South Carolina; 6'8" Justin Reed,
Mississippi; 6'7" Gerald Wallace, Alabama Grade: C

BIG 12 Notable losses: Ernest Brown, Iowa State; Keyon Dooling,
Missouri; Marcus Fizer, Iowa State; Chris Mihm, Texas; DeShawn
Stevenson, Kansas

Prominent additions: 6'1" Maurice Baker, Oklahoma State; 6'8"
Travon Bryant, Missouri; 6'1" Fredie Williams, Texas Grade: C-

PAC-10 Notable losses: Jason Kapono, UCLA; Jerome Moiso, UCLA;
JaRon Rush, UCLA

Prominent additions: 6'9" T.J. Cummings, UCLA; 6'5" Desmon
Farmer, USC; 6'9" Phillip Ricci, Oregon State; 6'2" Luke Ridnour,
Oregon Grade: D