The Changing Spring Landscape

Wall Set The Tone

A decade ago, the first day of the national spring signing period was boring. Basically, nothing happened. Aside from a few jucos or late bloomers, the day wasn't even a blip on the radar. Times have changed.

In a few weeks, I'll turn 36 … I think. After 21 and 30, does it really matter anyway? The point is there are milestones in life that matter and some that change with time; take the spring signing period for instance.

A decade ago, the spring signing period was a time when new coaches who took over programs of fired coaches put their best cards on the table, hoping to dominate the table. I remember Jim Boeheim scored Preston Shumpert late in the period. Recently, Arkansas landed Patrick Beverly in the spring. In the past, few were ever able to uncover enough aces in the spring to make a difference. My how times have changed.

When Bill Self was still at Illinois, he scored a fall commitment from Charlie Villanueva, an impact recruit from New York. Villaneuva didn't sign his letter of intent just in case Self bolted for a new job. A few months after his commitment, Self was in Kansas and Villanueva, who worked the system properly by not signing, penned a letter with Connecticut.

Last spring was the single biggest recruiting event on the calendar, from my perspective. As John Wall tried to pick a dancing partner, interest in recruiting mounted. The high-profile coaching change at Kentucky turned the McDonald's All-American game into a game of Twister for a variety of coaches. All of a sudden, impact talent was on the board and uncommitted. A normally boring spring turned into a tumultuous few months that went a long way toward altering the landscape of the college basketball scene. Kentucky went from also-rans to championship contenders for The Dance because a kid named Wall and a larger than life big they called "Big Cuz" signed their dance cards late.

Years ago, those guys would never have been on the board. Back in the day, it was harder to get out of signed letters of intent and even more difficult to score an impact recruit late. John Wall not only altered the landscape of the SEC this year, he may have been the catalyst for this spring's bevy of available recruits.

While players seem calm and cool as we heard toward TV announcements on signing day, coaches can't bluff a hand. There's a sense of nervousness in every office still involved with a major player.

"You're putting your eggs in one basket," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "You have to get him. If you lose a guy early you can recover. If you lose a guy late you can't recover. It can make it hard to put a (good) team together."

Let's be honest. Kids like attention. No one got more attention than Wall last year. He lives smack dab in the middle of ACC country and was recruited by one of the nation's most prestigious basketball schools and EVERYONE in between. People in Raleigh who wouldn't know a Wall from a window were into recruiting and keeping up with John. Nationally, there was much of the same.

Wall was the rage. His junior teammate at the time, C.J. Leslie, sat back, took it all in and figured his time was coming. If we're right, Leslie will be the last of the big boys to decide. He took his cue from Wall and by all accounts, isn't ready to have the spotlight shine on anyone else. Numerous big timers will sign today, but we don't expect Leslie to pop. He's the Class of 2010's most high-profile holdout.

In addition to the attention and adulation showered on the 2010'ers, there is another variable complicating the decision-making process of two high-powered recruits. Both Ray McCallum and Trey Zeigler are sons of mid-major coaches. Sign with their fathers and each props up his family's program; not to mention they each get to spend four more formative years with Pops. Remember, Ray Sr. and Ernie Zeigler are coaches too and they would prefer to win more than lose; their sons can help that cause.

Speaking of winning, elite kids are also starting to get hip to the idea of playing together. Nowadays, there's a prevailing thought of banding together to gain attention which is best for the long run.

"If you want to go fast, go (play) by yourself," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "If you want to go far and get better, go (to school) together. They see if we do this together, we all may benefit. It's all changing."

We have been reporting on the various leanings, rumors and fluctuations of the nation's best recruits for months now. Today, a host of them will reveal their choices. I think the majority of them have known for a long time where they are headed. Move over Chris Moneymaker, these guys can play poker too.

So, if you're into the recruiting game and love the thrill of the chase, this day is for you. Don't worry if you happen to miss the action this year. We'll get the sequel next year with a whole new deck of cards and a fresh table of players.

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