Hard Choice may be Most Memorable

As of now, the four finalists for Devin Ebanks' services will be a team that went to the Sweet Sixteen, a team that went to the Elite 8, a team that played in the championship game, and a team that hasn't made the NCCA tournament since 1991. However, as they say, the bigger the front, the bigger the back, and the reality is that Devin Ebanks greatest glory and opportunity awaits him at RU.

Devin Ebanks is back from Texas, the second of his official visits. He took his first visit to West Virginia two weekends prior to his trip to Texas, and his travels will conclude two weekends from now when he visits Memphis. Before that, this upcoming weekend, he will visit Rutgers – the school that conventional wisdom dictates simply has no real chance for him.

After all, they ask, why would he want to go there? Bob Huggins built Cincinnati into a perennial NCAA tournament team, and now has returned to the place he apparently would most like to be at, his alma mate: West Virginia. Indeed, he bolted Kansas State after just one season, forsaking the chance to coach Michael Beasley for a year. His first season at WVU was an auspicious one, as the Mountaineers reached the Sweet Sixteen.

Texas, meanwhile, has finally been able to parlay its football tradition into success on the hardwood. A stream of high school All-Americans have been flooding into Austin in recent years, the most notable of them being the player Ebanks is sometimes compared to, Kevin Durant (although, among the talking-head analysts, it's usually in condescending terms, like "a poor man's Durant").

The strong recruiting by Rick Barnes has paid off. The Longhorns are now regular NCAA tourney participants, reaching the Elite 8 this past March.

Then of course there is Memphis, coached by John Calipari, whom we last saw blowing a nine point lead to Kansas with two minutes and twelve seconds left in the championship game. Nonetheless, the Tigers are perhaps the most marquee team of this group, and some might conclude, in light of the many goings on within the Memphis program, that they are as infamous as they are famous. Indeed, it seems as if Memphis has worldwide notoriety these days (but I'm sure it must just be nationwide).

In view of all this then, how can Rutgers, a team that has lost 39 games the last two years, and, as is famously and often pointed out, hasn't reached the NCAA tournament since 1991, afford the greatest opportunities to Devin Ebanks? The answer quite simply, is for that very same reason. In other words, what is used as the biggest argument as for why he shouldn't come to Rutgers, is actually the biggest reason why he should.

First of all, if Devin Ebanks chooses any of the other schools, is it a big deal? The answer is no, not really. In fact, not much at all. OK, so Bob Huggins, Rick Barnes, or John Calipari just landed another All-American. Wow, stop the presses! (Or, as Derrick Coleman once famously put it, "Whoop-de-damn-do!")

If Ebanks chooses Rutgers, however, he achieves the status of an instant legend in RU sports annals the moment he announces it. Rutgers has been on a recruiting roll of late (more about that in a moment), with Mike Rosario (RU's first ever McDonald's All-American) and Greg Echenique (who on a recruiting trip to Duke attended a game against North Carolina where fans chanted his name, and still chose Rutgers), but Ebanks would be even bigger still, the ultimate culmination of recent events.

Rutgers recruiting successes would become probably the biggest off-season story in college basketball, with Fred Hill living up to his reputation as master recruiter. Adding Ebanks to a group with Rosario, Patrick Jackson, and Christian Morris would be a nationally top-ranked class (and if Echenique plays this year, it's perhaps top five, though that's yet to be determined).

Simply put, the attention Ebanks would draw both to himself and to the school he picks – in this case, Rutgers – would not be close to being equaled if he chose any other school.

What would happen then is an instantaneous buzz about RU basketball not seen since Craig Carter, the RU assistant coach who is the lead recruiter for Ebanks, was in his playing days for the Scarlet Knights. And Ebanks' arrival would portend something potentially much bigger than what occurred when Coach Carter was playing (which by the way ended after he left).

Rutgers could at last begin to dream - realistically - not only of a return to the NCAA's, but perhaps something even beyond.

Corey Chandler was Fred Hill's initial signature recruit at Rutgers, who at the time of his arrival was one of the three most gifted guards to enroll at RU in the last 25 years (the other two being John Battle and Quincy Douby). He was well on his way to having a better first year on the Banks than either of them when he sustained a stress fracture in his foot, and was still good enough to make the Big East All-Rookie team.

Add Devin Ebanks to a team with Chandler, Rosario, Hamady N'diaye, Greg Echenique (either this year or next), Mike Coburn, Morris, Jackson, Dane Miller, and Rutgers fans could certainly be excused for thinking NCAA's. Indeed, RU could become a legitimate NCAA bubble team in Ebanks' very first year (the operative word is "could").

Has anyone paused to consider what it will be like around New Brunswick when RU finally makes it back to the NCAA's? Remember what the college town was like with football? Remember when fans finally absorbed the idea that RU was finally going to a bowl game? Remember that feeling? Of course, how about that now-legendary Thursday night against Louisville, when the Empire State Building was lit up in scarlet and Rutgers was the country's biggest story?

That's what it will be like when Rutgers next makes it to the NCAA's.

Will that happen at WVU, Texas, or Memphis? Will those places erupt? Just for making it? For those schools, just making is not going to cut it.

The pressure will be on them to go, and go far. Even for Memphis, a school which has lost its entire starting five, there will be enormous pressure to succeed. After all, they play in a relatively weak conference, and their recruiting class (even if it's without Ebanks) will still be the conferences best.

Also, it's worth considering the current state of affairs at the metropolitan area's two other Big East schools, St. John's and Seton Hall. Should Devin Ebanks join RU and help lead it back to the NCAA's, it's very likely (very, very likely in fact) that the success story at Rutgers won't be being duplicated at either of the two other schools. Seton Hall is in a very uncertain state, as is the future of its coach, Bobby Gonzalez. While there is some talent in South Orange, the program is a major question mark, and absolutely no one expects them to even come close to the NCAA's this year.

While Seton Hall is currently a major question mark, the feeling is that there are now few unanswered questions at St John's. The program is a disaster, and the only question that seems to currently remain is exactly when Norm Roberts will be fired. Thus, it seems that RU will be the biggest college basketball story around these parts if Devin Ebanks decides on RU – by far.

So Craig Carter, a starter on the last two Rutgers teams that made the NCAA tournament, is back at RU as the lead recruiter for Devin Ebanks - a player whose arrival at Rutgers would make them in all likelihood a strong choice to finally make it back there. Understanding that, and all implications, are the reasons why what he brings to RU and can achieve at RU are far beyond any opportunity that awaits him anywhere else.


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