How is SEC basketball recruiting going? As the early signing period begins Wednesday, league schools already have commitments from nine top-100 recruits. Four teams have top-25 classes in Scout.com’s 2017 rankings. And none of that includes Kentucky.
Oh, the Wildcats will be just fine, as they’re expected to land three or four top-50 players by the end of this weeklong signing period – with more coming in the spring – and contend for the nation’s best class yet again. But the SEC needs other programs to step forward and, at least on the recruiting trail, they are.
With three top-50 pledges already, Bruce Pearl and Auburn have Scout’s second-ranked class in the country, followed by No. 12 Texas A&M, No. 20 Arkansas and No. 22 Mississippi State.
“You have to be impressed,” said Evan Daniels, recruiting director for Scout and Fox Sports. “Auburn has done a really good job. I don’t think they’re going to stay at No. 2, but they’ll end up with a really solid, top-5 or top-10 class. In the past, you wouldn’t have expected to see Auburn that high on these lists.
“Same goes for Mississippi State, and they have a 5-star coming in. Texas A&M has strung together a couple of really nice classes, Alabama is doing some big things. Arkansas put together a good class, really zeroed in on key guys in their state and were able to keep them home. So overall, I think you have to say the league is recruiting pretty well.”
SCOUT.COM TOP 100 SEC COMMITMENTS FOR 2017
13. Austin Wiley, 6-foot-10, C, Auburn
26. Nick Weatherspoon, 6-2, PG, Mississippi State
33. Daniel Gafford, 6-10, C, Arkansas
37. Davion Mitchell, 6-1, PG, Auburn
41. Chuma Okeke, 6-7, SF, Auburn
55. Savion Flagg, 6-6, SF, Texas A&M
59. Alex Reese, 6-9, PF, Alabama
92. Saben Lee, 6-1, PG, Vanderbilt
100. Devontae Shuler, 6-1, PG, Ole Miss
* LSU also has a commitment from 4-star Galen Alexander, a 6-6 small forward just outside the top 100. That makes eight SEC schools with at least one 4-star pledge already.
So what’s next? Kentucky is likely to sign No. 14 P.J. Washington (6-8, PF) and No. 17 Nick Richards (7-0, C) this week and could also add No. 22 Trae Young (6-2, PG), No. 23 Lonnie Walker (6-4, SG) and No. 46 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (6-5, PG). The Cats will wait until spring for the decisions of No. 2 Mohamed Bamba (6-11, C), No. 7 Kevin Knox (6-8, SF), No. 10 Hamidou Diallo (6-6, SG) and No. 15 Jarred Vanderbilt (6-7, PF), but they’re in the mix for all.
And the rest of the SEC? They’re not done yet either. Some potential movers and shakers:
ALABAMA: The Crimson Tide already have a top-100 pledge in Reece, plus another in-state standout in small forward Herb Jones (rated a 4-star by Rivals). Now coach Avery Johnson is setting his sights even higher. Alabama has a shot at 4-star shooting guard John Petty, a Huntsville native, and 5-star point guard Collin Sexton from Georgia – both whom are announcing their decisions Thursday night. Sexton is ranked No. 9 overall in the class, Petty No. 44.
“I think they’re the favorite heading into John Petty’s announcement, and I think many would say they’re the favorite for Collin Sexton. I think that’s a battle with Kansas until the end,” Daniels said. “Get one of those guys, their class is in the top 25. Get both, you’re looking at a top-10 recruiting class.”
In basketball. At Alabama. Johnson, a charismatic former NBA player and coach, is working his magic in Tuscaloosa.
“He’s done a good job of building relationships with some of these guys early,” Daniels said. “He was the first guy on Collin Sexton, before he was even ranked in the top 100, and now he’s a top-10 player. So that staff deserves a lot of credit.”
Especially for fending off Kentucky to keep Petty in state. Cats coach John Calipari prioritized him early, and those usually go his way. Petty looked for a long time likely to end up in Lexington.
“It just shows that Avery and his staff have really focused on building a wall around their state,” Daniels said. “Kentucky, since Cal’s been there, has been picking and choosing who they want, so to beat them would be impressive.”
GEORGIA: Yes, 5-star Atlanta prospect Wendell Carter, a 6-10 center ranked No. 4 overall in the class by Scout, keeps listing the Bulldogs – and Harvard – as one of his top schools, but “I think he ultimately ends up at Duke,” Daniels said. That’s been the consensus for a while now, so don’t get your hopes up UGA fans.
On the bright side, there’s still some hope with Sexton and quite a bit with 6-7 small forward Rayshaun Hammonds from Norcross, Ga., who is ranked the No. 49 player in the class.
“They may even be leading,” Daniels said. “Rayshaun, he’s a unique talent, has a different game. You can put the ball in his hands, he’s a good passer, kind of a slasher, good athlete who can fill a couple different roles. That would be a huge get for Mark Fox, keeping a guy like him home. That would be a big deal.”
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Ben Howland has been getting it done on the recruiting trail. He landed 5-star Malik Newman in his first class, then inked a top-10 class in 2016, featuring five top-100 players, and now has the second-best 2017 commitment to date in the league with 5-star Weatherspoon.
For his next trick, he’ll try to pry 4-star center Garrison Brooks out of Auburn, Ala., and away from blueblood North Carolina to punctuate a small but stellar haul. Daniels said he thinks it comes down to the Tar Heels and Bulldogs, so it’s worth noting that Brooks’ father, George, is an assistant on Mississippi State’s staff.
The son, who is also considering Auburn, Georgia and LSU, is set to announce his decision at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
“You have to give Ben Howland a lot of credit, and Billy Kennedy at Texas A&M, too,” Daniels said. “They’re getting talent those programs don’t normal get. Those guys have been recruiting really, really well.”