Recruiting has its up and down swings, and UConn is currently on an extreme upswing. Nobody expected this years team to do too much after losing by 30+ to Louisville in the team’s regular season finale. However, things turned around some in the AAC Tournament when they made it to the championship game, which resulted in once again losing to Louisville. After that many college basketball “experts” said UConn’s ceiling was the Sweet Sixteen.
And boy were they wrong. UConn went on another amazing run at the end of March into April to win the programs unprecedented forth national championship in the last fifteen years. No other program can say they have dominated college basketball in that time like UConn can.
With that championship many positive things come. New hardware to open the state of the art practice facility this summer, positive press for UConn and coach Ollie, and the players getting the recognition they deserve are some of the positives. However, almost all of that factors into one thing, recruiting. Recruiting is what gets you championships. You have to have the right mix of talent in each class to culminate to a championship team.
There’s no doubt that recruits we watching the game and saw the outpouring of love towards Kevin Ollie and UConn from everyone. In the following days after UConn won the championship I caught up with many of UConn’s recruits to get their reactions. Here they are:
Daniel Hamilton on how this changes things for him: “It’s a lot of expectations coming in especially coming off a national championship. I mean it doesn’t get any better than that. My first reaction was to text coach Ollie lol. I was too happy for him.”
Sam Cassell Jr.: “Go Husky Nation! I chose to attend the best school in the country!”
Prince Ali: “It’s a good feeling especially knowing that I was there before anybody. I even thought UConn would win a national championship. I guess you can call me a day 1 fan haha.”
His immediate reaction: “I just sat on my couch with my hands above my head and with a big smile on my face. Then I got up and gave my parents hugs and called my brother.”
Chase Jeter: “I was rooting for UConn and I’m glad coach Ollie got that win under his belt especially so early in his head coaching career at UConn.”
Bryant Crawford: “It definitely shows that coach Ollie is a great coach and knows how to win no matter who their opponent is. And the championship is special because that is one of my goals when I get to college. With UConn winning it opens up my eyes to see that I could be in that position one day.”
D’Marcus Simonds: “It really boosted UConn up in my recruiting! I like what coach Ollie’s doing. Got them a championship in only 2 years.”
Donovan Mitchell: “It shows how great of a coach that coach Ollie is and how great of a program they have at UConn. That one thing jumped out at me.”
Bennie Boatwright: “It doesn’t change too much for me. I’ve always known Coach KO was a great coach and UConn has amazing culture.”
Jessie Govan: “It was a great tournament run, they really played like a team and shocked the world. Congrats to Coach Ollie and UConn!”
Vance Jackson: “It means a lot. Coach Ollie is a magnificent coach and I’m happy to see him win.”
It’s safe to say that recruits took notice and they all liked what they saw. Now we just wait and see if coach Ollie and his staff can turn this momentum into commitments.
We all know about conference realignment, about how UConn got left behind as other teams from the Big East were taken (including Rutgers for Heaven’s sake) and the leftovers were forced to cobble together a league regrettably called the American Athletic Conference, or just The American. The criteria for choosing the teams seemed to be 1. it must have a football team and 2. ummm…..
So, here’s UConn in this league that was the butt of jokes from talking heads everywhere. Men’s basketball didn’t seem horrible – UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Temple seemed capable of doing some damage. Louisville, with its figurative foot out the door doesn’t count, btw. SMU was a great surprise and at one point the AAC men had five ranked teams (including Louisville). Still, the talk was about Kentucky or Duke or anyone, really, but the AAC.
The women’s side was UConn, Louisville, Rutgers, and the seven dwarves. USF is always respectable but the Bulls won’t be discussed as an NCAA championship dark horse until they get an impact player or two. But outside of UConn and USF (again, Rutgers is leaving so not part of our discussion), the rest of the rest of the AAC was dismal this past season. Only SMU, at 18-14, had a winning season; SMU and the other five teams combined for a 74-111 record. Ouch.
Now football, the money sport, was expected to be mediocre. Of the returning teams, only Cincinnati generated any kind of positive press nationally. Of course, after the conference realignment(s), Big East football viewed as poor and the AAC was the lesser sibling of that now-defunct football conference. And in the preseason no one outside of Orlando expected Central Florida to roll its way to a 12-1 record, ending its season with a 52-42 victory over Big 12 team, and #5 ranked, Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. After that game, the talking heads had to tone down their sneering a bit when they mentioned the AAC. We’ll see how long that lasts.
But in basketball, ah yes, the sport that made the Big East into a national power and created some of the most exciting college basketball games ever played, men or women, in this the AAC needed to rely on its multi-championship winning teams. The two seeding committees must have watched a lot of ESPN during the season because it underseeded – or outright excluded – AAC teams in the tourney. On the men’s side, SMU was snubbed and relegated to the NIT. The Mustangs showed why the committee was dead wrong by getting to the championship game, losing by only 2 points to Minnesota. On the women’s side, USF and Rutgers were ignored by the committee; both made the WNIT Final Four where they had to unfortunately play each other. Rutgers prevailed, again showing the committee what dopes they are.
The UConn women were expected to win and they made it look easy but how easy is it, really, when you get every opponent’s best shot and there is the weight of expectations plus the burden of protecting a perfect season? I don’t know that the UConn women and the team’s coaching staff get enough credit for mental toughness and focus. It’s easy to see Breanna Stewart and Stefanie Dolson and say UConn won because it has more talent but if talent won championships, why doesn’t Duke have any? Why hasn’t Tennessee won year after year? Why haven’t Stanford or North Carolina lived in the National Championship game with their impressive array of stars? It’s more than talent.
But the UConn men weren’t expected to win. Heck, they weren’t expected to survive a first round game against St. Joe’s yet survive they did. The Huskies rolled through the tournament, drawing on a mixture of anger at being punished for something that happened while the current players were still in high school, energy drawn from an electric Madison Square Garden crowd, and desire to redeem its good name and reputation from the talking heads that hadn’t used up their ration of condescension left over from the football season. This wasn’t a case of the planets aligning for UConn, it was sheer desire and dogged determination on the part of the Huskies. And it was beautiful to behold.
UCF and UConn, with a nod to SMU and USF, salvaged The American from the scrap heap of has-beens and wanna-bes in league’s first season. Will this jump start the league or will the departure of Louisville and Rutgers just make it another mid-major? The additions of Tulane, East Carolina, and Tulsa next season won’t generate much enthusiasm so the AAC is going to have to rely on its championship teams again. Will the presence of UCF and UConn in The American make the sports “experts” more respectful? Doubtful. After all, look how those so called experts continued to promote ACC football over the Big East even though the BE was better. Whatever. It doesn’t make the championship trophies at UConn any less shiny.
(Note: UConn also won the 2013 Field Hockey championship but The American doesn’t sponsor field hockey. UConn is a member of the Big East in that sport.)
Sources tell me that the girl ranked #1 in the high school class of 2014, A’ja Wilson, will be staying in the South to attend college. Rumor has it that Wilson will be going to North Carolina, joining a roster that’s chock-filled with blue chip players. There was no explanation given, but North Carolina, with nine guards and three forwards on the roster, need an anchor in the paint and Wilson would fill that spot. She would also most likely start in her freshman year, a draw for many young women.
If true, this leaves UConn without an incoming post player for the second year in a row. The current recruiting class consists of three guards and a wing. The returning post players for the Huskies next season are Kiah Stokes, who will be a senior, Morgan Tuck, a rising junior, and some kid named Stewart. While an incoming post player would have been nice to have on the roster next Fall, it wasn’t a must-have. But unless Geno Auriemma has a surprise recruit that he hasn’t revealed, recruiting a post player is now urgent. IF the rumors are true.
“Coach Ollie has done a great job coaching these past few years and especially this year in leading UConn to another final four. That alone tells me the caliber of coach he is, and I think it is important to play for a strong coach,” the elite power forward said about coach Ollie.
Jeter goes to high school at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. It’s the same high school that former top five recruit Shabazz Muhammad who went to UCLA came out of. He currently plays with fellow class of 2015 superstar center Stephen Zimmerman. The 6’10″ and 225lbs. power forward gets it done multiple ways on the court.
“I have to work on my shot but I am a threat in midrange. I’m a very skilled player with a lot of versatility from mid range and a great foundation in the post. I’m also a high motor player who runs the floor hard, crashes the glass on both ends of the floor, and blocks shots,” is how he describes himself. High motor players are exactly what Ollie won this past championship with. He got everyone to click and play their hardest at the right time which is extremely hard to do.
As for the national championship, Chase had this to say, “I was rooting for UConn and I’m glad coach Ollie got that win under his belt especially so early in his head coaching career at UConn.” Many recruits expressed their applause to UConn after the game was over and he was one of them.
During the interview the talented big man did say that UConn isn’t the most involved with him currently. “Coach Ollie is my main recruiter and I have spoken him the most out of his staff. He offered me in late December and we have had a few conversations but we don’t have the strongest relationship,” he explained. Despite that he is still considering UConn among Duke, UCLA, Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, UNLV, Louisville, Michigan, and USC. He did mention that he will be trimming the list sometime soon.
Jeter has many options for college and he knows what it will take for one of them to get his commitment. “I want a strong coach who I have developed a strong relationship with to carry on into my freshmen year in college and further develop from there. I also want a place where I will fit right in with the people and the program. Location isn’t much of a factor.”
With UConn’s season now being over coach Ollie and his staff will have more time to develop their recruiting targets and go after them. This could mean that UConn becomes more involved with Chase Jeter. Only time will tell right now.