November 24, 2008

Big 12 builds on recent success

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The Big 12 has been the home to some of the nation's top players and top teams over the past couple of years.

Kevin Durant tore up the league and spent one memorable season at Texas. Michael Beasley followed him with a historic freshman campaign at Kansas State, and Kansas won the national championship last season.

The bar has been set pretty high in Big 12 basketball, and it has been an easy sell in living rooms across the country. Seven of the 12 teams in the conference are among the top 25 recruiting classes nationally, including three in the top 10.

Texas is the big winner within the conference rankings and nationally. The Longhorns are the second-rated class in the country and tops in the Big 12. Kansas is close behind at No. 4 nationally. Oklahoma checks in at No. 10 and Oklahoma State is No. 11.

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Baylor made a major recruiting splash at the end of the summer, and the Bears did it without even landing a commitment. A lot has been made about Baylor hiring Dwon Clifton, a former player at Clemson and UNC-Greensboro. Clifton also coached John Wall, the nation's top overall player, on the AAU circuit with D-One Sports.

Best of the Big 12
Best perimeter scorer: Jordan Hamilton, Texas
Best low post scorer: Keith Gallon, Oklahoma
Best passer: Tommy Mason-Griffin, Oklahoma
Best shooter: Steven Pledger, Oklahoma
Best rebounder: Thomas Robinson, Kansas
Best shot-blocker: Vander Joaquim, Nebraska
Best defender: Avery Bradley, Texas
Most versatile: Jordan Hamilton, Texas
Best in the clutch: Avery Bradley, Texas
Best basketball IQ: Avery Bradley, Texas
Best pro prospect: Jordan Hamilton, Texas
Best speed: Raymond Penn, Oklahoma State
Best motor: Thomas Robinson, Kansas
Best strength: Keith Gallon, Oklahoma
Best leaper: Avery Bradley, Texas
Best leader: Roger Franklin, Oklahoma State
Impact player: Avery Bradley, Texas
Biggest sleeper: Vander Joaquim, Nebraska
Sleeper class: Texas A&M
It was thought that Wall would commit to Baylor shortly after the hire. Wall, however, never did and has yet to visit the school since Clifton's hiring. Wall remains uncommitted and unsigned.

A year ago, no one in the Big 12 knew who Thomas Robinson was. In fact, very few coaches at the high-major level knew much about the star from the Washington, D.C., area.

After showing flashes of brilliance in the spring, dominating during the dead period in June and exploding in July, the hoops community knows plenty about the high-energy forward who is now at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H. The soft-spoken and humble forward ended the summer as one of the top rebounders in the nation and one of the most coveted players in the country.

Kansas had to make up a lot of ground to get in the good graces with the five-star forward. Robinson visited Lawrence and committed three weeks later.

The talent from the Washington, D.C., area is getting to know the I-70 roadways quite well these days. Kansas State continues to tap into the D.C. Assault AAU pipeline for top hoops recruits.

Five-star forward Wally Judge and top 100 guard Rodney McGruder became the fifth and sixth recruits from the D.C. Assault program to ink with the Wildcats since 2007.

Assistant coach Dalonte Hill was an assistant coach within the program before joining the college coaching ranks.

Biggest recruiting coup

The line to get inside the recruitment of Avery Bradley looked like the registration line at the NABC coaches convention at the Final Four. Everyone wanted to get in with the five-star guard.

Prior to the July period, Bradley said UCLA, USC, Texas, Memphis, Kansas, Arizona and Florida were his top choices. All of those schools posted head coaches on the sidelines to see and be seen with the top defensive guard in the nation.

In the end, the kid who grew up in Pac-10 country in Tacoma, Wash., and is currently at Findlay Prep in Nevada, picked Texas. His presence will be felt immediately in Austin.

Budding rivalry

Big 12: Inside the Numbers
7 Teams ranked in the top 25
27 Rivals150 prospects coming to the Big 12
4 5-star prospects coming to the Big 12
11 4-star prospects coming to the Big 12
12 3-star prospects coming to the Big 12
17 Non-ranked players coming to the Big 12
12 Number of players from Texas who signed with a Big 12 school, the most of any state
Houston has been the home of the high school point guard over the last couple of years, and this year's group of floor generals is as solid as you'd expect.

Two of the cities top scoring point guards Raymond Penn and Tommy Mason-Griffin inked with schools in the Big 12. Penn is headed to Oklahoma State, Mason-Griffin to Oklahoma. They both know how to pump in the points. The two have locked horns in Houston, and there is a great debate as to who has the upper hand. The duo traded buckets in a fall league game, both scoring more than 30 points.

The rivalry will spill over to college and will be one to watch for years to come.

Biggest miss

For at least three years, Kansas basketball fans were talking about what it would be like to see Xavier Henry on the floor of Allen Fieldhouse decked out in Jayhawks gear. No one could fault fans for thinking such grandeur thoughts.

Henry's parents both played at Kansas. His older brother C.J. committed to the school out of high school to play hoops but opted to play professional baseball instead. Henry had been on campus at least a dozen times as a recruited prospect. He was clearly familiar with the culture of Kansas hoops.

Then things started to change when C.J. left his post within the New York Yankees' minor league system and joined the Memphis basketball program. Less than four months later, Xavier decided he would suit up for John Calipari instead.

Henry's decision was one of the biggest switches of any player in the class and an obvious blow to the Jayhawks.

Daniel Orton grew up in Big 12 country in Oklahoma City. He was aggressively pursued by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State as well as Kansas, but he found his fit at Kentucky with Texas native and former Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie.

Orton, a five-star prospect and one of the top centers in the country, visited Kentucky several times and fell in love with the Wildcats' culture. His game would have transitioned quite well in the Big 12 had he decided to go that route.

Prior to moving to Tampa, Fla., for his senior year, John Henson lived in Round Rock, Texas. Henson was 20 minutes north on I-35 from the Texas Longhorns, and Rick Barnes and his staff recruited Henson prior to his accession up the recruiting rankings.

Henson committed to North Carolina in January and used the spring and summer to lock himself into a top 10 national ranking. His move to Tampa, Fla., certainly helped ease the blow to the Longhorns. Texas recovered nicely, landing Bradley and Jordan Hamilton, who are both top 10 national prospects.

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