In the last two years at just about this time I've written an article about how "down" Pac-10 recruiting is for the class that is about to sign in November.
And it's appropriate again this year. For the fourth straight recruiting season, the Pac-10 is doing very poorly in recruiting.
It's no wonder the Pac-10 got only two teams into the NCAA Tournament last March, and it was lucky to get two (Washington got a bid from winning the Pac-10 tournament championship).
Then, in June of last season, for the NBA Draft, only two players from the Pac-10 conference – Quincy Pondexter of Washington and Landry Fields of Stanford – were drafted. The Pac-10 Player of the Year, Cal guard Jerome Randle, didn't hear his name called.
We hate to say we told you so.
And actually, the conference's poor recruiting in 2008, 2009 and 2010 hasn't even sunk in yet to completely impact the talent level of the conference. In other words, the talent level isn't going to get a whole lot better in the next few years.
Here's an article I wrote in 2008 about how "down" the Pac-10's recruiting had been for a couple of seasons. Pac-10 Recruiting: Looking Bleak.
Last year I wrote this article about the Pac-10's recruitment of the 2010 high school class: Pac-10 Recruiting: Down Again?.
This year we took away the question mark from the headline because the 2010 Pac-10 class is stellar compared to the 2011 class that's shaping up for the conference.
So, really, we're going on the Pac-10's fourth poor recruiting season in a row. The 2009 recruiting class was particularly poor; if you took out UCLA's top-ranked recruiting class, which featured three four-star recruits and one five-star, the conference only had three other players ranked as four-star recruits. The Pac-10's 2010 recruiting class rebounded a bit, with a total of 12 four-star recruits (which still isn't great if you spread that out among 10 teams). But the 2011 class looks to be rivaling 2009, so far with only 7 total players that are four- or five-star recruits.
As of right now, the Pac-10 is fifth among the six major conference in terms of commitments from top 100 national prospects. The SEC and ACC each have twice as many as the Pac-10 so far.
Of course, the conference very well could get commitments from some more standout players in the three weeks before the early signing period. But if you look at the recruits the conference has a chance to get commitments from it, again, looks pretty bleak for 2011.
And we're not even taking into consideration how many of those four-star recruits of the last few recruiting classes didn't develop. In just glancing over the lists of committed recruits of the Pac-10 teams in the last several years, there were quite a few more J'Mison Morgans than Landry Fields. In fact, there were an inordinate number of four-star recruits that aren't even in the league anymore (or never even made it in), like Morgan, Clarence Trent, Tyrese Breshers, Michael Dunigan, Noel Johnson, and D. J. Seeley.
What has caused the Pac-10's fall and continues to perpetuate it?
It began when, in the 2008 NBA Draft, there were 12 players drafted from the Pac-10 (as we said, in comparison, in the 2010 draft there were only 2). Among those 12, seven went in the first round. Among those seven first-rounders, all were early entrants to the NBA draft, and among the 12 total drafted, 8 were early entrants.
So, eight players who had at least one more year of college eligibility remaining departed in 2008. In fact, of the seven first-rounds, there was only one who went early as a junior; the rest were sophomores or freshmen, with a total of 17 years of eligibility remaining among all of them.
That creates a huge whooshing sound of talent being taken out of the conference.
And then, it happened again in the 2009 NBA Draft. The Pac-10 had eight players drafted, and six of them had remaining college eligibility.
The Pac-10 truly was decimated talent-wise. And it truly hit last season when the conference had such a poor showing in the NCAA Tournament.
There is the long-running issue of how the talent level is down on the west coast, and that has definitely contributed to the Pac-10's "down" recruiting in the last several years. We've discussed it endlessly, how there are less elite prospects in many of the areas of the west coast that used to produce them in considerable numbers, particularly the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. Perhaps the main reason why Washington has been able to sustain some success while the rest of the conference has struggled is because the Seattle area has continued to produce a good amount of elite talent.
What has also contributed significantly are the traditional powers of the conference recruiting fairly poorly.
Arizona has rebounded with the 2011 class, but during the messy aftermath of Lute Olson's departure, it recruited more like Northern Arizona than Arizona.
Stanford's program is still recovering from the upheavals it experienced through a couple of head coaching changes. It brought in a decent 2010 class, but recruited poorly in 2009 and 2008, and now, so far for 2011, the Cardinal doesn't have a commitment. Admittedly, they don't have many scholarships available since they've taken quite a few players in the last two recruiting classes, but they would be able to make at least one, if not two, scholarships available for the couple of recruits they're pursuing. Plus, in giving out 8 scholarships in two recruiting classes, it's not a good sign that only two of them are four-star prospects.
UCLA, which seemed to be carrying the conference in recruiting there for a while, has had a downward turn. In 2008, UCLA was responsible for 5 of the conference's 12 four-star (or better) recruits. In 2009, it supplied four of the conference's seven four-star (or better) recruits. But those two classes have, so far, not lived up to expectation. And then, coming off a losing season in 2009-2010, UCLA has struggled to recruit the 2011 class, with just one commitment (albeit a four-star) so far.
Then, the teams that have taken up the slack of the conference powers in terms of recent success in the conference – Cal and Washington – have not been able to truly translate that into superior recruiting success. Washington won the Pac-10 in 2008-2009, and then made it to the NCAA Tournament again last year, and is favored to win the conference this year. They've arguably been the best program in the conference for the last several years, but haven't really been able to recruit at a superior level. They've brought in good recruiting classes, but not difference-making types, the kind that gets you ranked among the top ten classes in the nation populated with five- and four-star prospects.
Cal won the Pac-10 last season, and lost all of its starters to graduation, so you'd think recruits would perceive a chance at immediate playing time on a program that is on the upswing. But Cal has just one commitment from a 2011 recruit, pulling out a two-star prospect in the last week or so to keep it from going recruit-less on signing day. It's 2010 class, which are current freshmen, would be described as decent at best.
Arizona State, too, might be lumped into the category of teams that can't translate success on the court to success in recruiting. They finished second in the conference last season, and have had three winning seasons in a row, but their recruiting has been particularly unremarkable. They signed a decent class for 2010, but in 2011 they have one commitment, from elite point guard Jahii Carson, and now there are rumors Carson might consider getting out of his commitment because ASU has struggled to get commitments from other talented 2011 recruits.
WSU had it going there for a while under coach Tony Bennett, but then finished 10th in the conference under first-year coach Ken Bone last season. So, whatever boost the conference might have gotten in recruiting from a recently surging WSU program looks to have been lost.
Oregon has struggled in recruiting in the last several years as former head coach Ernie Kent was basically a lame duck. New coach Dana Altman recently made a big splash in 2011 recruiting by getting a commitment from five-star Jabari Brown, but the rest of his 2011 class is still pedestrian. Altman will have a long way to go before he starts recruiting at a consistently high level.
Oregon State always struggles to recruit, and it's been no different in four years under coach Craig Robinson.
USC, of course, is trying to get on track with new head coach Kevin O'Neill and get past the specter of NCAA sanctions. It was, of course, banned from post-season play last year, and had a scholarship taken away for both last season and this season. Its coaches will also have their total number of recruiting days limited to a degree during this academic year. USC had a decent 2010 class, nothing spectacular, and now has followed that up with a very disappointing 2011 class so far.
As of now, the prospect for a stronger conference, based on improved recruiting, doesn't look particularly promising. For the conference to recruit well, it definitely needs its traditional powers of UCLA and Arizona to return to their successful ways. When UCLA was going to three Final Fours the entire conference recruited well. But both programs look like they could still be a couple of years away from returning to the college basketball elite.
When the Pac-10 was collectively recruiting well, there were also a number of other programs that were consistently top 25-caliber, like Stanford and Washington, and despite Washington holding up its end of the bargain in terms of success on the court, the conference needs as least one more program to consistently be top 25. And then there is the capability of translating that into recruiting, which Washington's Lorenzo Romar has done to a certain degree, but not really on an elite national level.
It's also a matter, as we alluded to, that the conference has so many new coaches in its ranks, fairly unestablished coaches within the conference that haven't also established a strong recruiting profile. It would provide a drastic boost to recruiting if coaches like ASU's Herb Sendek, Stanford's Johnny Dawkins, Altman and O'Neill showed the ability to over-achieved in recruiting at their respective programs over the next few years. So far, that hasn't seemed to be the case.