This is a much, much different situation for Stanford hoops recruiting than at this time last year. Last summer, Stanford had their point guard in the bag, a clear directive toward an elite wing target, and a relatively focused pool of big men for the third scholarship. The West Coast talent was exceptionally high, which made much of the recruiting process very transparent. The Stanford staff, in the end, were able to net their #1 choice at two of three positions, and very pleased to pull a rising talent away from the East Coast for that third spot.
Now fast forward to the present. The talent is considerably down, particularly on the West Coast, which makes life more difficult for the Stanford staff as well as the Cardinalmaniac™ recruitniks trying to follow along. While Stanford and Monty have elevated the program and recruiting feats to unparalleled levels, and optimism will not be easily quashed, the reality is that this 2002 class is a serious challenge. The Stanford-eligible prospects are relatively poor in the normally fertile California ground, many of the top national Stanford targets have already verballed to other schools, and most if not all remaining elite targets are heavy leans elsewhere.
Not a recipe for imminent success, but not that surprising.
The unmistakable trend toward earlier and earlier verbal commitments is continuing to disadvantage a Stanford program which apparently is the last of a dying breed with respect to admissions. It's disturbing and problematic for schools like Michigan, North Carolina, Kansas and U$C to be able to fully offer a scholarship to these kids as early as the spring or winter of their junior years. But Duke has now departed from any respectable admissions process or guidelines in rather grand fashion. Duke, the academic institution, is indeed elite in this country, but the standards by which their men's basketball players are assessed should carry another title altogether. Their Admissions Turnstile Authority is now accepting kids as early as December, allowing Coach K to gleefully receive their verbal commitments as early as New Year's (see Michael Thompson's Jan. 5 commitment). Strong students like Thompson may not be academic risks (Stanford was final five candidate and felt quite sure he would get through Old Union), and this argument could be turned around to say that Stanford simply has to open up a few strong files after the 5th semester and not just 6th. That is a debate for another time.
But for Duke to make an offer and accept a verbal commitment from a kid not even NCAA eligible is earth shattering. Sounds like fiction, but it's fact. When Duke took in another Chicagoland product in PG Sean Dockery, along with his 2.3 GPA and 15 ACT (the NCAA requires a 2.5 and 17), the curtain was pulled back for the world to see. Coach "Oz" K is able to in any marginally or hopeful NCAA eligible blue chip talent, and at the same time sing the praises of Duke (the institution) to those achieving scholar-athletes who would be inherently attracted to a Stanford or Duke for the academic bounty to be reaped. Thus, elite and high priority targets like 6'11" center Michael Thompson and 6'4" shooting guard JJ Redick are off the table before Monty can even pull up a chair. And in a year when a big man and lights-out shooter are the priorities, these two losses hurt big.
Returning from my rant to the point material to Stanford's current recruiting situation, the across-the-board trend for all schools not named "Stanford" to take these kids earlier and earlier is a killer with this class. Why not in 2001? And why am I not worried about 2003? Because when the talent is deep enough on the West Coast, these kids get exposed to Stanford through unofficial visits early enough to keep the Card in the game. In the case of all these East and Midwest kids lining up for Duke, Carolina, Michigan or Florida, they make decisions before Stanford usually can get in the game. They talk about taking an official visit to Stanford in the fall, but are gonzo amidst the local and regional pressure some 6 months prior.
On top of all this, you have a Stanford staff that was separated from the States by a lot of water for a couple of weeks in June (albeit during the NCAA's "quiet period"), in addition to a coach new to the recruiting role in Eric Reveno.
In total, we have a confluence of factors that have created this situation. Am I here to whine about the unfairness or unjustice? No. It is what it is, and the only constructive outcome is for the staff to focus like a laser beam on the upcoming 2003 class of talent (which they are). That, and possibly to push for Old Union to open up to earlier admissions. I don't advocate pushing the proverbial square peg through the round hole, by letting in marginal students unsuited for the rigors of Stanford classes on top of Stanford basketball's demands. But asking Old Union to examine a file of a 3.3 GPA and 1200 (P)SAT (the numbers, not coincidentally of a Mr. JJ Redick) after the first semester of a kid's junior year seems appropriate to me. You can't erase a 1200 SAT, and a kid who has displayed steady academic performance to that point in high school is a good bet. Yeah, that's the answer!
Of course, Duke accepted and offered shooting ace Redick before even his junior year, with his commitment to them reciprocated by the beginning of last October.
Back to the drawing board.