College football has National Signing Day every year and it's an orgy of ridiculousness complete with recruits one-upping each other's press conference gimmicks, adult fans torturing themselves over the decisions of 18-year-olds and adult coaches and analysts feeding the beast the whole way. As a college basketball fan, I've always been jealous.
College hoops has the occasional big announcement, but there's rarely a superstar who stays uncommitted until his senior year, let alone all the way until Signing Day in April. Plus, where a "verbal commitment" in football is every bit as superficial as it sounds, a basketball player's commitment is generally a contract that doesn't get broken. But this year was different.
Shabazz Muhammad was the consensus No. 1 recruit in the country for the past few years, and he remained uncommitted until Wednesday night, when he chose UCLA. Nerlens Noel is the superstar who entered the Class of 2012 at the last minute and overtook Muhammad as the No. 1 recruit over the second half of this year. Wednesday night, he chose Kentucky.
Those guys deciding late lent a layer of drama to what would otherwise be a forgettable day on the college basketball calendar, so in that spirit, here's a few thoughts on what went down.
SHABAZZ TO UCLA
Because this is the Internet age, we know where he was going about 20 minutes before he announced his choice on ESPNU. So much for drama!
Shabazz Muhammad has informed all the coaches involved that he will be committing to UCLA.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) April 11, 2012
Anyway, Shabazz announced for the Bruins, but the real entertainment came with the sarcastic backlash, most of which looked something like this, from Jeff Goodman at CBS.
Adidas, um I mean UCLA, wins the Shabazz Muhammad Sweepstakes. Shabazz stayed loyal to adidas entire way.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanCBS) April 11, 2012
There's backstory here. Muhammad's sister is a professional tennis player ranked somewhere in the 300s and she's got an endorsement deal with Adidas. All throughout Muhammad's recruitment there were rumors that he wouldn't be signing with anyone but an Adidas school.
And that's exactly what happened -- UCLA is arguably Adidas' most prominent college hoops client, and he spurned two Nike schools (Duke and Kentucky) to go with the Bruins. Of course, UCLA also has Kyle Anderson coming in, one of the best hoops traditions in the country, and they were thousands of miles closer to Shabazz' hometown than Duke or Kentucky.
I'm sad he didn't go to Duke because it would have been so much fun watching Cameron Crazies turn on two freshman superstars in two straight years, but that's okay.
If Shabazz really chose UCLA because Adidas takes care of his sister and his family, good for him. Here's to hoping the NCAA can never prove anything.
There was also this, from Seth Davis at Sports Illustrated:
For the record Shabazz is a good player but he's not the Next Big Thing. As number 1 players go he's average. Certainly no Anthony Davis.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) April 11, 2012
For the record he's right and he's wrong. From what I've seen, Shabazz is a high volume shooter but not a great shooter; he's a powerful athlete who won't be quite as dominant in the NBA. He's probably not going to revolutionize the sport just by showing up. But if he's not Michael Jordan, let's not pretend he won't be the best player in the Pac-12 next year.
WHAT'S HAPPENING AT BAYLOR?
At one point the ESPNU anchors explained that both of Baylor's basketball coaches -- Kim Mulkey of the women's team and
Bryce Scott Drew of the men -- were found guilty of breaking the NCAA's text messaging rules. I'm pretty sure that means the NCAA took a long look at Baylor this year and in the end couldn't prove anything beyond text message violations that will cost both coaches two scholarships.
Good for Baylor -- it's always nice when the NCAA investigators come up empty. But regardless of what's happening (or not), it still makes no sense that they've been able to lure this many superstar recruits to Waco, Texas. There's gotta be something going on, right? Related: Isaiah Austin, the No. 3 recruit in America and 2012's best NBA prospect, is headed to Baylor.
ESPNU GOES ALL CNN ON US
As a longtime fan of networks using stupendously unnecessary technology, it's good to see that college basketball is getting the touch screen technology to adjust recruiting rankings throughout the night. You might see a waste of money, I see a sport hitting the big time.
NERLENS NOEL PICKS KENTUCKY WITH HIS HAIR
This was just fantastic.
You have to applaud the originality there, as well has his commitment to the drama -- he kept his hood on throughout his pre-announcement interview. When he announced he paraphrased LeBron James, but between his warbled delivery, "I'll be taking my talents, for college, to play ..." and the hair as the punchline, it was pretty great, and nothing like LeBron's Decision. Everyone always wants to turn Signing Day into a Decions-like excuse to sermonize about Misplaced Priorities, but as far as college sports is concerned, that battle was lost a long time ago.
You may remember Noel as the subject of a New York Times feature back in March, a clichéd look at the BIG SCARY recruiting world, which I responded to here. Wednesday he was just the best player in the country, and he was clearly having fun with the process.
Before he announced, Twitter was buzzing that he'd go to Georgetown, which might have been even cooler than Kentucky. Watching a one-and-done superstar play for a buttoned-up powerhouse like Georgetown would have been so much more interesting than seeing another freak of nature go through Calipari's machine in Lexington. Having said that, he probably made the right call, and this image will be so much fun for the next 12 months.
If you think about it, Cal would have a high-top fade if it'd help him with recruits.
WHY KENTUCKY WON'T WIN FOREVER
After Noel announced, the analysts on ESPNU were marveling at Kentucky's recruiting dominance and one of them asked, "Is it even fair? Is it even FAIR?" In a recruiting context, no. Calipari is so much better than anyone else in America that it's shocking when he loses someone like Muhammad, and it's a foregone conclusion that guys like Noel will end up at UK every single year.
But it was something Seth Davis tweeted earlier in the night that reassured me that Kentucky won't win 10 straight national titles. He ranked the last 10 No. 1 prospects like this: "LeBron, Howard, Oden, Wall, Beasley, Shabazz, Rivers, BJ Mullens, Selby, Gerald Green." He left out guys like Harrison Barnes, who was No. 1 in most rankings a few years ago but never really materialized as a superstar at UNC. The point is, it's a total crapshoot at the top.
With football's signing day, there are running backs and receivers and linebackers who are so physically dominant that they'll obviously be great in college, too. Then there are quarterbacks, and even among the best QBs in the country, about half of them never pan out for one reason or another. Intangibles, work ethic and luck play a huge role in who pans out, and there are only a handful of "sure things" every 10 years.
Basketball is a sport where pretty much everyone is a freak athlete, so what sets a running back or a linebacker apart becomes a common denominator for shooting guards and power forwards at the top of their class. In other words, basketball recruits are pretty much all quarterbacks.
What John Calipari's done at Kentucky is incredible and impossible to replicate anywhere else, but it's probably not a coincidence that he won his title with the one player (Anthony Davis) who came out of nowhere on the recruiting scene. Calipari and his staff were recruiting him before the rest of the country knew he was a superfreak from the year 2075. They won't always get so lucky.
Most years Kentucky will be choosing from the top 10 players in the country, and roughly half the guys will be slightly less dominant than advertised. Not many will be Anthony Davis; most will be more like Terrence Jones. They'll always be good, but just because Kentucky can beat everyone in recruiting doesn't mean they'll beat everyone on the court. The best players come out of nowhere as often as they come from the top 5.
So on a ridiculous night's broadcast where the dominant theme was Kentucky's recruiting dominance, it was strangely reassuring to realize that Kentucky will be rolling the dice like this for years. They may always dominate recruiting, but college basketball is another story.