Back when Billy Donovan was an up and coming coach at Marshall (yes, youngsters, Donovan once commanded the Thundering Herd) "early" commitments had a different meaning.
Step into your time machine and venture back to 1997. In those days, an "early commitment" meant you picked a school in August, right before the start of official visits. "Early" described a pledge that happened maybe a month before September when guys would take their officials. Back then, official visits were the key and everybody was taking them. A "late" commitment meant you waited until November.
Last week, Brandon Jennings caught folks by surprise when he picked Arizona instead of visiting Connecticut and Kentucky. By the way, his de-commitment from Southern Cal came as no surprise because "de-committing" is beginning to infiltrate hoops in the same fashion it has done on the football side.
Back to Jennings.
His commitment to Arizona not only gave Lute Olson his next graduate from Point Guard U., it sent a wake up call to Larry Drew. The son of a former NBA player, Drew instantly saw a prominent option from his shortening list removed. A day later, he picked North Carolina, basically the last remaining school on his list. The point being,
"I think kids get nervous," Hargrave coach Kevin Keatts said. "It depends on the class and it's a domino effect. College coaches are putting the pressure on and kids don't want to lose out.
"The kids get scared and once one or two guys pop, then everybody pops. Plus, getting recruited can be overbearing for a good kid. But, out of 100, I'd say 5-6 will open it back up."
Surely, there are programs out there silently hoping a few kids open up their recruitments. As of Memorial Day, conservatively one can estimate that of the 150 best players I the nation, nearly 1/3 of them have made commitments. That's over 50 good players pledging to spend the next four years – or less – of their lives on a campus without ever making an official visit.
The commitment epidemic that Keatts referenced can best be seen in the point guard crop. A short glance at Scout.com's Top 10 point guards reveals that 7 of the 10 best have already made pledges. You think schools figured out how shallow the class was and moved swiftly? You bet.
All these pledges beg the question: if kids are popping early, who are the hot guys who heated themselves up this spring?
We'll tackle the question by position.
Kemba Walker, Rice High School (NY) / NY Gauchos AAU – The MVP of the Cactus Classic is on the move. Walker's hitting his stride and is on the rise past a host of kids who committed early and haven't lived up to the advance billing. With so many of his brethren off the board, expect Walker's stock to skyrocket. Scout.com Rank: will move into Top 75 soon.
Iman Shumpert, Oak Park and River Forest H.S. (Ill.) / Full Package – God blesses the late bloomers and this guy on fire. Multi-positional and beginning to his stride, Shumpert's that kid who isn't big nationally … YET. Scout.com rank: No. 15.
Demar Derozan, Compton Dominguez (Calif.) / Belmont Shore – Before the traveling season began who would have thought Jrue Holiday would have competition for the top spot on the West Coast? Well, Derozan's been bringing it and his athleticism and shot are tough to beat. Scout.com Rank: No. 35 and rising with a bullet.
Tyler Zeller, Washington High (Ind.) / Indiana Elite – Two years ago if you told us Tyler would be a better prospect than his brother (a former McDonald's All-American and current Golden Domer), we might have believed you but would have needed convincing. Nowadays, Zeller's got everyone sold. Scout.com Rank: No. 25
Samardo Samuels, St. Benedict's (N.J.) / Metro Hawks – He's far and away the biggest impact prospect at the center position. Therefore, he holds all the cards when it comes to colleges. Translation: he can drag his recruitment out as long as he wants and no one will be able to pressure him into committing and that's a powerful Trump card to have. Plus, he's improved his game since last summer. Scout.com Rank: No. 6.
WEST COAST (Greg Hicks)
There's been a lot of speculation in Southern California about where Renardo Sidney, 6-9 SO PF Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia, will play his junior season. Initially, the word was that Sidney would likely transfer to Fairfax. Then there was chatter that it could be Westchester. Now we're hearing that its possible Sidney will just stay with Artesia.
Sidney's teammate, Malik Story, went public earlier this year with his intention to transfer to Oak Hill Academy. But the latest gossip out west is that Story may too end up back at Artesia for his senior year. In the case of Sidney and Story, it sounds like nothing will be known for certain until school starts and they're both enrolled somewhere.
EAST COAST (Mike Sullivan)
It's a phrase many sports fans know as Madison Square Garden. It's utilized by the St. John's University basketball program as a weapon in its recruiting wars with other colleges and universities. The famed arena has played a big part in the Red Storm's recent recruiting success.
While in recent years the arena has suffered from some embarrassing play from both the Rangers (one Stanley Cup in 67 years) and Knicks (last championship in 1973), St. John's University is trying to lure back the fans that use to pack the Garden when Chris Mullin, Walter Berry, Mark Jackson and company use to play.
The recent tremendous recruiting class accomplished by head coach Norm Roberts and his staff have the Red Storm back on track for a possible successful run over the next couple of seasons. Recently, St. John's landed versatile guard/forward D.J. Kennedy of Schenley High School in Pittsburgh.
"Playing in the Big East and playing in Madison Square Garden helped me make my decision," Kennedy said. "It doesn't get any better than that."
Add in Justin Burrell, a much valued point guard in Malik Boothe, hard-working guard Paris Horne, a big man with upside in Dele Coker, a mending Rob Thomas, guard in Mike Cavataio and the Red Storm have a vastly different lineup next season. "St. John's can play me anywhere," Kennedy said. "It's going to be great to come in with all those great players."
Michael Goodman, a 6-foot-6 and 225 pound forward from Christian Brothers Academy in upstate New York, is recovering nicely from surgery, according to his AAU program director, Jim Hart of the Albany City Rocks.
"He has been working hard and rehabbing," said Hart. "He had to have some surgery for the ACL. But he is doing great now. It was an injury that got worse over time."
Goodman is a very talented 2009 prospect who first opened our eyes by winning the Most Valuable Player in the 16 and under Rumble in the Bronx category. Goodman was tremendous on both ends of the court and displayed some high major skills. "The high majors are aware of him," Hart said. "So it's just a matter of time before he has a list of schools."
Previously, Hart has mentioned that Goodman has interest in Georgia Tech and Syracuse. "Schools will probably look at him this summer," said Hart. "If he is okay after rehabbing, he can join us in July."