Less than a month ago, Missouri basketball was in the midst of a dramatic downturn. The Tigers fired coach Kim Anderson after a dreadful 8-24 season, the worst record in the SEC.
Oh, what a difference a month makes.
The mood changed when the Tigers hired Cuonzo Martin away from California on March 15. Nine days later, Martin lured small forward Michael Porter Jr., a consensus top-2 prospect in the 2017 recruiting class and a former Washington commit. It was only the beginning.
A few days later, point guard C.J. Roberts confirmed he would stick with his letter of intent to Mizzou. Three days ago, 4-star point guard Blake Harris — a consensus 4-star point guard and former Washington signee — announced he also would join the program in 2017.
“I think [the energy is] high,” Martin told Power Mizzou. “But I think this program has always had that. Obviously, a few bumps in the road in the past, but I think this program has always had a tremendous amount of energy.
“This is a great brand. It’s our job to sell it.”
What’s shocking is, Martin might not be done yet. Top-30 big man Jeremiah Tilmon was released by Illinois from his letter of intent on Tuesday. The consensus seems to be that he will join Porter and Harris at Missouri. Top-10 forward Kevin Knox is also in play.
Excusive video of Cuonzo Martin walking into East St. Louis High this morning moments after Jeremiah Tilmon was released from his LOI. pic.twitter.com/NvRRWk3e2F
— Clinton Thomas (@ClintT13) April 11, 2017
Before Martin, Roberts was the lone signee, giving Missouri the No. 105 recruiting class in the nation. Weeks later, the class is up to No. 17. If Tilmon signs, the Mizzou 2017 recruiting class will move into the top 5, jumping Duke. Duke! Only Kentucky, UCLA, Arizona and Alabama would have better classes.
This meteoric rise is rare, if not unprecedented. Martin was known as a great recruiter at Cal, but this could be his highest-rated class. Hype is building quickly in Columbia, and for good reason.
Granted, getting an elite 1-and-done player isn’t enough to build an elite roster. Two years ago, LSU signed Ben Simmons, who became the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick; 5-star shooting guard Antonio Blakeney and 4-star shooting guard Brandon Sampson. Its class ranked No. 9 in the nation. LSU missed the NCAA Tournament. A year later, LSU fired coach Johnny Jones.
But unlike football teams, college basketball teams can be rebuilt in a year through transfers and recruits. Only 5 players can be on a court at the same time. The Tigers return their top 3 scorers — Jordan Barnett (12.2 points per game), Kevin Puryear (11.8 ppg) and Terrence Phillips (10.4 ppg) — which should make the transition even more seamless.
Porter should be among the best players in the conference. Top-5 players typically ascend to that level. Last year, the top-5 players combined to average 15.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4 assists per game. If Porter can do close to that, he should energize a developing roster.
Martin is on the books for 7 years and $21 million, which is a significant investment in the program and athletic department. In fact, it’s more than football coach Barry Odom’s salary. The basketball program quickly could become the face of the university. With off-court issues at Mizzou the past 2 years, this timing could not be better.