RECRUITING: Pitino says program back in big way

<b>RECRUITING ANALYSIS</b> While some around the nation in college basketball circles might be rolling their eyes at <b>Martez Walker's</b> verbal commitment to Louisville last week, <b>Rick Pitino</b> says it's further evidence that his program is one of the hottest teams on the recruiting trail today.

While some around the nation in college basketball circles might be rolling their eyes at Martez Walker's verbal commitment to Louisville last week, Rick Pitino says it's further evidence that his program is one of the hottest teams on the recruiting trail today.

A 6-6 freshman from Central Park Christian in Birmingham, Alabama, Walker is just the second player from the class of 2008 to publcily announce a college commitment to date.

And while the trend in recruiting is that players are making their college decisions earlier than ever, Pitino also knows nothing is written in stone until the players actually show up on the college campus.

"Early commitments are great because it shows that someone wants to play for a certain person and school," said Pitino. "But so much can happen - so much time can elapse. So you just keep doing your job."

More importantly, Pitino says his program has finally gotten over the hump in terms of recruiting. A feat he says was especially difficult to achieve given the circumstances he inherited when he took over from Denny Crum nearly four years ago.

"We're over the hump in recruiting," said Pitino. "It's taken us three years of tedious work to get over the hump. You can't imagine how low the program had slipped in terms of the recruiting. Of all the situations I've been in, this was the most difficult to bring back the tradition and get quality players to come here."

One of Crum's problems late in his career was that he didn't develop relationships with prospects early enough to impact their college decisions. That fact created a situation where Crum often had to settle for less talented prospects very late in the recruiting process - and often those players were unheralded foreign or junior college prospects.

"You have to start (recruiting) three years in advance now with sophomores and juniors," said Pitino. "When we came in we were in with no one. We were taking players at the end of the year from overseas - the Joseph Nsima's, Simeon Naydenov's, Daouda Cisse's because they weren't there when players were sophomores and juniors cultivating relationships."

Now, with arguably the nation's top incoming recruiting class next season combined with Walker's recent commitment, Pitino says his program's recruiting has finally reached the point where he envisioned it needed to be when he arrived from Boston in 2001.

"From a recruiting standpoint it's taken us a long time to get here," Pitino said. "And things are going well."

Where is here?

"Everybody knows us right now," an excited Pitino said. "Whether it's California, Chicago, or New York. We're back in a big way - the recognition factor is back. And it's back with freshmen, sophomores, juniors and so on..."

And should make any Cardinal fan excited about the future!


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