Vaught's Views: Smith's recruiting on the rise

April 28, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Remember two years ago when it looked like Tubby Smith had lost his recruiting touch?

Top players not only were going to other schools, but many were not even listing Kentucky among their final five college choices. For a school that prides itself on being considered one of the nation's elite basketball programs, that was troubling.

However, Smith clearly has elevated his recruiting touch in the last few months.

It started when he persuaded New York guard Ramel Bradley, considered a top 50 recruit by some recruiting analysts, to sign with Kentucky in November.

The momentum hit a higher gear when guards Joe Crawford of Detroit and Rajon Rondo of Louisville both decided to sign with the Cats this month. They are considered among the nation's best high school guards and, combined with Bradley, give Kentucky perhaps its best-ever signing class of perimeter players.


If that's not enough to show that Smith's recruiting has improved, there is Randolph Morris. He's the talented Atlanta center who many think is leaning to the Wildcats over hometown Georgia Tech or a jump to the NBA.

Morris is scheduled to make his future plans known May 6. If he picks UK, Smith will have the nation's No. 1 recruiting class and put to rest any and all doubts about his recruiting ability.

Smith already has jump on 2005 class

But even more impressive might be the jump Smith already has on the 2005 class. Tyler Hansbrough, a consensus top 10 recruit, has already made a visit to Kentucky. The 6-8 forward has narrowed his choices to North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky. He recently ruled out Florida and Missouri and could make his college choice in the next few months.

But it gets even better for Smith and Kentucky. The UK coach recently visited Tasmin Mitchell, who is considered the nation's top 2005 recruit. The 6-7 forward is from Louisiana and his godfather, Butch Pierre, is on the LSU coaching staff. Yet Mitchell said Smith was the first head coach to visit him this spring and that obviously made a lasting impression on him even though he's also listing Louisville and UCLA as teams that appeal to him.

Clearly Smith and his staff have decided that they have to upgrade Kentucky's talent to become a national championship contender again. The Cats have had successful regular seasons recently under Smith, but have lacked the overall talent to get back to the Final Four since 1998.

Maybe part of the credit should go to assistant coach Scott Rigot, who was brought on board two years ago because of his recruiting skills. Maybe part of the credit also should go to assistant coach Reggie Hanson, who has had time to mature as a coach.

Or maybe it's just that Smith not only has become more active in recruiting, but that he has also decided to once again go after marquee players even if that means risking not having them in the program for a full four years.

Several could think about leaving early for NBA

Crawford and Rondo could think about early NBA departures after a couple of years at UK if they are as good as advertised. Morris certainly would have the same thoughts. Hansbrough and Mitchell likely are already thinking they might be ready for the NBA before their college careers end.

But there's nothing wrong with recruiting players so good that they can leave early. Those are the type of playmakers that win national titles and the kind of playmakers UK has lacked in recent years.

It doesn't mean Smith will abandon his philosophy of looking for players that fit his system. The coach had to like the way Bradley played in the Derby Classic last week. He had 22 points in his team's 123-108 loss. He also had nine assists.

Another UK signee, Adam Williams, also played in the Derby Classic. He's volunteered to go to prep school for a year to help UK's scholarship numbers. His offense needs work, but his defense in the Derby Classic made it easy to see why Smith likes him.

Lonnell Dewalt also played in the all-star game. He's a wide receiver, but when football season is over at Kentucky, he's going to play basketball. He's a physical player and had 13 rebounds and six blocked shots in the Derby Classic. He'll provide some toughness that Smith likes and Kentucky has lacked.

Still, as valuable as role players are, championship teams need stars and that's why Smith's recent recruiting success could bode so well for Kentucky's future.

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