Late in the afternoon of April 15, the first day of the NCAA's spring signing period, DeMarcus Cousins stood at the front desk of the Westin New York, waiting for a fax. When it arrived, he signed it—while his coach from Leflore High in Mobile, Otis Hughley, took a cellphone picture—and then faxed it back to the sender. When the process was complete, Cousins received a call from assistant coach Orlando Antigua, who said, "Welcome to the family."
The family in this case was Kentucky, for whom the 6'10" Cousins, Scout.com's No. 2--rated center, will play next season. Three weeks before last Saturday's Jordan Brand Classic All-Star game in New York City, though, Cousins had been set to join another family—at Memphis. But on March 31, Tigers coach John Calipari left for Lexington, a move that created April Madness among a half dozen of the top recruits from the class of 2009.
Cousins was the first player to join Calipari at his new home, and after the Jordan game, 6'10" Oklahoma City product Daniel Orton, Scout's third-ranked center, told SI he would remain signed with Kentucky. Orton's brother, former Oklahoma State forward Terrence Crawford, said he followed Kentucky's wooing of Calipari by reading CatsPause, a fan message board. "The live feed of the door at Memphis," Crawford says, referring to a FOX affiliate's webcam trained on a building exit in late March, "was hilarious."
Calipari never did walk through that door, but he did leave Memphis, which meant that Orton's former AAU teammate Xavier Henry, the top shooting guard in the class of 2009, no longer had a coach. But Henry's letter of intent with the Tigers conveniently contained an atypical clause that allowed him to be released if Calipari took another job. "I didn't have the idea to put the [clause] in there," Henry says. "Coach Cal did it for [me]." As Henry played in the Jordan game, his older brother, C.J. (a walk-on guard at Memphis who has been granted a transfer release), sat in the Madison Square Garden stands with their mother, Barbara Adkins, who said she expects the boys to play together at either Kentucky or Kansas.
Calipari and Kansas's Bill Self were in New York too, making pitches to the Henry brothers. But both coaches are also chasing a bigger prize: point guard John Wall, a Derrick Rose clone from Raleigh's Word of God Christian Academy who is already projected as the No. 1 pick in the '10 draft. Wall was still considering eight schools last week, and his mother, Frances Pulley, says, "With all this switching up, John's lost right now. I'll just be glad when it's over." The end may not come until May, or even June. Wall is so coveted that all of his potential new families are willing to wait.
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MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY
GARDEN PATH Henry had 11 points in the Jordan game, while his college choice remained up in the air.