Before we can begin to assess a program's tradition, infrastructure, NBA pedigree or even coaching as it pertains to the recruiting trail, there's this little matter of geography.
College football fans understand the critical nature of location. Our colleagues on the gridiron recruiting side are working feverishly in advance of signing day, and fans know that Texas, Florida, California and a handful of other states produce the most talent and that frequently college programs within those states will dominate the recruiting rankings.
But the basketball landscape functions differently. Because the number of national blue-chip prospects in a given class is so small, today's hotbed could be tomorrow's wasteland. Or a state less heralded for its annual march of prospects to the McDonald's game can produce an epic haul in a special year.
As many players will make college choices with home in mind, the link — and the luck — becomes clear.
For this week's roundtable discussion, then, we queried our national basketball recruiting team to probe which college programs may be situated best from a geographical standpoint as the 2015 recruiting cycle approaches. As you'll see below, there could be quite a few Golden smiles on signing day next November.
Brian Snow: I think one team you really have to look at is UNLV. If you exclude the Findlay Prep kids, which aren't native to Las Vegas, the Rebels still have five-stars Chase Jeter and Stephen Zimmerman as well as four-star forward Ray Smith right there in their backyard. If UNLV can land two of the three somehow, that would be absolutely huge. Dave Rice has done a very good job on the recruiting trail, and keeping these three is going to be tough, but it could be a major boon for the Rebels future if he can.
Another school would be Ohio State. The Buckeyes already have one quality in-state commitment in A.J. Harris. He is a very solid point guard in a class without many of them, and then two five-star prospects are located in the state in the form of Luke Kennard and Carlton Bragg. Landing either of the two is going to be very difficult, but still any time a place like Ohio has five-stars like that it is a major advantage for the Buckeyes.
Evan Daniels: I think UNLV certainly has a built-in advantage right now. The Las Vegas high school scene is picking up and more and more talented prospects are emerging in the area. In 2015 alone there are two top 20 prospects -- Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter -- plus highly regarded four-star wing Ray Smith. Then toss in the Findlay Prep team that UNLV always recruits and there's a good recruiting base for the Rebels.
I also think Steve Alford and Andy Enfield have a chance to make a splash at their respective schools because of the amount of talent in Los Angeles and the surrounding area. Among the available 2015 top 100 recruits in the area are Chance Comanche, Aaron Holiday, Marcus LoVett, Justin Simon (more San Diego, but still), Jeremy Hemsley, Roman Davis, New Williams, Bennie Boatright, Stephen Thompson and Rex Pflueger.
Josh Gershon: While UCLA is always going to have some advantages in recruiting local prospects, the team's current talent level isn't down for new head coach Steve Alford and he's been able to be picky in choosing which SoCal area recruits to prioritize, while also targeting several top players nationally.
USC's new head coach, Andy Enfield, wasn't given the same luxury and walked into a major rebuilding project. If you were to combine that with a weak SoCal, that could really add some time to reviving the Trojans' program. Thankfully for Enfield, there are a number of Top 100 caliber prospects in Southern California in 2015.
Between Justin Simon, Aaron Holiday, Jeremy Hemsley, Stephen Thompson, Jr., Rex Pflueger, Kendall Small, Cameron Walker, Roman Davis, Chimezie Metu, Chance Comanche, Bennie Boatwright, New Williams and Marcus LoVett, USC has a long list of local players to consider, a good portion of which Enfield could use to help speed up the Trojans' rebuilding process.
Rob Harrington: There's no question that California looks strong in both an absolute and relative sense in the junior class. The Pac-12 is enjoying an improved season this year, too, which will help those programs keep more top prospects within the conference. This isn't just about UCLA, USC, Cal and Stanford; Arizona (which has become the regional juggernaut), Oregon, Colorado and others in the West need to recruit California successfully.
I'll also add where the junior class looks weak: the Southeast. In recent seasons some great players and a deep abundance of high-majors have emerged from those states, but the 2015 haul looks down significantly and that will apply a great deal of pressure to SEC and ACC schools that tend to recruit best within their home region.
Evan Daniels, Brian Snow, Josh Gershon and Rob Harrington contributed to this report