Seventeen down, 83 to go

Although much of the sports world cast its eyes on college football this weekend, Washington landed a key commitment from No. 60 junior Jaquori McLaughlin.

But while McLaughlin’s pledge obviously carries significant weight for the Huskies, his decision also underscored an emerging theme in the Class of 2016: These guys are ready to end their recruitments.

With nearly 20 percent of the top 100 already off the board, college coaches — back on the road for two live weekends next spring, unlike 2014 when there was only one — might face a surprising and relatively scarce crop of uncommitteds when they hit the road in April.

Already, at least three potential McDonald’s All-Americans have announced a college choice. At a time when 2016s are just beginning their junior seasons, that’s an awful lot of activity at this stage. Pac-12 programs Arizona (T.J. Leaf) and UCLA (Lonzo Ball) hold the most prized commits, with Pittsburgh (Mustapha Heron, pictured above) also jumping out to gain a blue-chipper.

There doesn’t appear to be any driving reason for the commitments, just that each recruitment stands as a process unto itself. Players act with very different perspectives and sometimes motives, and of course support groups can vary wildly. If anything, however, we might have expected a slower rate of junior commitments given that — due to the crimped spring — college coaches had less time to evaluate underclassmen on the travel circuit this year.

From a geographical standpoint, the West has been the most active so far. Five players from California alone — three ranked, two unranked — decided early, while Oregon, Washington and Arizona also have produced one junior pledge each. You don’t want to read too much into sample sizes this miniscule, but macro-trends in recruiting tend to start minuscule and explode from there.

Remember, it was just one class at Kentucky — 2009, which included John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins among others — that fundamentally shaped the recruiting landscape into what we know it as today. No one should expect 17 juniors to carry a similar impact, of course, but clearly one player’s decision can influence the destination and timing of another’s.

All that said, the usual caveats apply. For one thing, who’s to say that a player or two who’s committed now won’t back off later? We see that occurrence unfold every cycle, and there’s no reason to believe the 2016 class will behave any differently. Moreover, all of the top 10 remain on the board and quite a few prospects appear to have sized up long, dramatic recruitments that may not fully actualize for another 16-18 months.

And then there’s the simple matter of rankings being highly soluble at this juncture. Without question, new ranked players will emerge in the coming months, and those prospects tend to be undecided rather than committed. And if a player pledged early to a lower-level program, of course that commitment is more likely to become unglued after he blows up. That’s just the way it works.

But while there are reasons not to draw strong inferences from the early commitments, no one should overlook their significant and potentially wide-ramifications, either.

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