"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, October 21, 2007

We are what we are?

Recruiting for the freshman class of 2008 could not be more disappointing of late. After the fast start more than a year ago -- an early commitment from the talented Nick Williams -- MU has gone o-fer its top targets. The promise of landing a breakthrough, national recruiting class has quickly given way to doubt, frustration, and resignation about the appeal and status of the program.

The status quo remains. MU will continue to be a successful program built on the backs of the unheralded, the under-recruited, the ignored, the occasional recruiting coup, and the overachiever.

Not long ago a class of Frank Ben-Eze, Iman Shumpert, Jared Swopshire (or similar) and Nick Williams seemed plausible. After all, Crean was selling a starting center opportunity (but lost Ben-Eze), a likely starting PG slot (but lost Shumpert), and perhaps a starting SF slot (but lost Swopshire, among others).

As if on cue, when this class' bellwether target committed to Georgia Tech last week MU accepted a verbal from a player who previously pledged to a mediocre program in the Sun Belt Conference. Keep in mind, this is a player who has yet to visit MU, which is exceptionally odd since Crean has cooled on some players during official visits (as a commenter below pointed out). Obviously, Joseph Fulce fits the profile of this program.

There is clearly a recruiting ceiling at Marquette; it has been some two decades since the program lured a legitimate national top-25 player to campus. Sadly, Marquette is not a destination program for the nation's elite prospects. Meanwhile, MU fans watch as Georgetown, Syracuse, and Louisville reload with A-list talent as Crean scrambles for options C, D, E and F.

Some fans will take solace in noting that MU is getting closer on some of these big-time players, but college basketball is not darts. Close means nothing, recruiting is pass/fail. And while MU seems to offer more than a dozen kids in any given class and chases elite prospects all over the place, the payoff remains negligible.

The good news for MU fans is that Tom Crean has figured out how to build and sustain a strong program with these types of players. Crean is a master at finding diamonds in the rough, and has proven himself to be an outstanding evaluator and developer of backcourt talent. These traits will continue to serve MU well as the program matures under his stewardship. And frankly, despite these tough recruiting losses of late the program is still loaded with talent -- although its highest-ceiling talent are now upper classmen.

No offense, but you don't build a top 25 program by playing guys like Hazel, Burke or Cubillan for 30 minutes a night. It is time for a recruiting breakthrough or five. For the 2008 class, let's circle the wagons and hope for the best. Inking Tyshawn Taylor and Chris Otule would be a terrific recovery for MU -- and that is still possible.

Still, the 2009 group just became the most important incoming freshman class since the impressive haul headed by the Three Amigos. Erik Williams seems like a good start, though you have to wonder what the recent overloading at the SF slot means for the uber-talented Jamil Wilson of Racine.

Time for a rebound on the recruiting trail. Maybe a breakthrough?

Well, hope springs eternal.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post, I agree with most of what you wrote, but big-name recruits aren't everything. I was at Villanova when they landed their biggest recruit in YEARS, Jason Fraser. Several knee surgeries later, he was a bit player whil Alan Ray and Randy Foye led 'Nova to the elite 8.

Also, Wes Matthews may be a Wisconsin product, but he was a national target that MU deserves credit for landing.

All that said, losing Shumpert hurt. But MU has great facilities and an emerging record of success in the Big East that will pay off in recruiting.

Unknown said...

I think you may be a little early in presuming this Warrior, and I'm shocked that a normally optimistic fan like you would write something so pessimistic. In the case of Shumpert, it seems like the real reason he chose GT was the immediately playing they afforded (I think this says a lot about the possibility that DJ returns for his senior season). Also, I think Shumpert wanted the quickest path to the NBA (would not be surprised if he stays in college for one year like Javaris Crittenton), which GT probably provides. With regards to Ben-Eze, I think we ran into the unfortunate occurrence of a kid being led elsewhere by his advisers. Also, the lack of a big time wing in this class being added could be a blessing in disguise, with Williams coming in 2009 (who probably has a higher upside than all the 2008 wing prospects except for Mookie) and Wilson still strongly on the radar. I think 2009 has the potential to be that breakthrough class, especially with plenty of opportunity for prospects to come in and receive time after the Three Amigos graduate.

TB said...

Zuch -- not sure this is a pessimistic commentary; its rooted in reality. MU has not been able to get over the hump on the recruiting trail despite the remarkable efforts of Crean & his staff.

And yes, lets hope MU can snare Jamil Wilson -- he's the kind of player that can dole out the credibility we're talking about here. But with Williams and Fulce in the mix, what does that say about MU's chances with Jamil?

I'm an optimist with Wilson though, seems like MU has a great shot to land him.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever heard of Steve Novak and arent we a top 25 program this year and probably next even if DJ leaves?

TB said...

"Have you ever heard of Steve Novak and arent we a top 25 program this year and probably next even if DJ leaves?"

Yes I have heard of Steve Novak. He was the RSCI rated #57 player for the class of 2002.

Also - yes, MU is in very good shape for these next two seasons even if James calls it a career.

That was never at issue...along those lines the point is that the current underclassmen are not as high-ceiling as the upper-classmen they'll have to replace. For instance, in the case of Barro there is nobody to replace him yet and MU wiffed on its top center target.

Just one example of the importance of closing out the 2008 class strong and having a blowout 2009 class. Meanwhile, MU will win a ton of games in the next couple of seasons.

Anonymous said...

"Yes I have heard of Steve Novak. He was the RSCI rated #57 player for the class of 2002."

By the time he graduated, don't you think he was one of the top 25 players (college) in that class. I think this is just an example of how these rating services are not that accurate.

I agree with you about Barro.

I was just as disappointed as everyone else. But, as you point out, the program will be fine if we have a good 2009 class.

Anonymous said...

I think the coaching staff has a hard time closing the deal with the recruits. Example Shumpert was MU at least 3x's. Was he offered a scholarship on his first visit? Based on other recruiting publications he was not. Was he offered a scholarship on his second visit? I don't know. When he came to MM he already had other offers from GT and UNC. I feel we open the door for him to leave. His selection was based on if he broke his leg he will feel more comfortable at GT instead of MU. Eventhough MU is closer to home for him and his family. A second item is why not have you top recruits visit at the same time. You can get them to know each other and feel comfortable with each other. Example FBE he should have been here for MM or when Shumpert was here. This would have shown Shumpert that we want to build around his talent. If Louisville and Memphis(Conference USA) can get the talent there is no reason MU cannot get the top talent.

TB said...

"By the time he graduated, don't you think he was one of the top 25 players (college) in that class. I think this is just an example of how these rating services are not that accurate."

Agreed. A couple of things --

MU has somewhat plateaued in terms of recruiting -- relatively similar types of players and profiles. After nearly a decade of success under Crean, nabbing more of your priority targets is something I would have expected more of by now.

As you point out, TC has shown that he can develop talent while its on campus as u point out - - he's been terrific with that.

Losing Shumpert won't kill the MU backcourt or the program. Far from it. But the credibility that comes with a kid like that would pay off in spades down the line, making it more difficult for kids to look away from MU.

Gene Frenkle said...

"Losing Shumpert won't kill the MU backcourt or the program. Far from it. But the credibility that comes with a kid like that would pay off in spades down the line, making it more difficult for kids to look away from MU."

Solid point NY Warrior. That's the point I was trying to get at last week.

Losing Shumpert, while not program-altering, is a disappointment and hurts MU from a national standpoint. The program's not going downhill under Crean. But, getting a blue-chipper like that would have opened the eyes of a lot of people around the country and put them on notice that MU seems to be for real.

I don't think this latest article was pessimistic, just realistic in the concerns that a lot of fans have. I'm a big supporter of Crean, but I don't like everything he does. He doesn't walk on water. And for him, he/they must breakthrough in the NCAA tournament this year with a couple wins. If they don't this year, people will be calling for his head. It will also give other programs a chance to negative recruit against MU. And lastly, it will put even more pressure on them to land a great '09 class.

Let's hope they can land Otule.

Anonymous said...

Crean spent way too much effort to recruit Shumpert-- a player we did not need. He should be making the all out effort ("Hummer" etc) on the types of players we need.

Also, this kid, who handled himself so well, is the kid who liked Clemson because of their school colors. And oh by the way, that was because everyone else liked Illinois and he wanted to be different so he chose a school with the same colors. Yes, I know he's just 18 years old, but that seems like some mighty fuzzy thinking on the part of a couple of people.

Anonymous said...

We seem to be able to consistenly recruit decent guards and small forwards (Tony Miller, Wade, Diener, Matthews, James, etc) -so I don't think Shumpert's decision hurts as much as it may seem.

It's the failure to get a big body that continues to disappoint and to keep MU down. The real issue is that Crean's offense (and I use that term loosely) is designed to function through a big man down low and out around the top of the key. Crean has never recruited that guy (except for transfer R. Jackson). It doesn't have to be the super-athletic top-50 recruit guy that can score at will. Just a smart, big bodied banger that has hands and can distribute the ball. A big body will take us deeper into the post season.

I question why Crean consistenly fails to recruit this type of player. Why can't he come up with one of the SEVERAL bigs pulled in by the Badgers and the Spartans every year? I don't know. (I love Barro, but he is not the big-bodied banger that we need.) Michigan State out bodied us last year - a big reason MU lost is because it's hard to make jumpers under pressure. You need a big to maintain balance on offense.

I think Crean needs to stop trying for the top-20 recruits and start focusing on the local bigs. We need to beat out the Badgers in our local recruiting before we ever become a top-tier program.

Anonymous said...

...and Jimmy Mac should be the next bobble

Anonymous said...

Remember the guys that have recently been recruited Nick Williams and the MM guys are coming because of the contacts of the assistant coaches. This makes Crean's coastal exploits even more worrisome.

The sad/bad part of all this is, these comments are not helpful to the school I love, HOWEVER, they are the fact. This lack of being realistic is becoming too repetitious. What goes??

Anonymous said...

Which foreign language translator do we use to understand the previous post?

Anonymous said...

Help me out... What is wrong with Cubilan?? He will be an exceptional player his last few years at Marquette!!

Anonymous said...

Cubillan's defense and effort are great. But unfortunately he is too one-dimensional on offense. He can shoot, and only when wide open.

Unknown said...

In this case of this recruiting season (and a little bit in 2007) it has been a case of hard luck more than anything. TC did everything right in the Ben-Eze recruitment, but the people controlling Big Frank's recruitment pushed him elsewhere (that's the only logical explanation for how Frank ended up at Harvard when he had knocked it down to Marquette and VT). In the case with Shumpert, there is nothing TC can do about the fact that he stocked the roster with good guards. Shumpert wanted the easiest opportunity for immediate PT (and the chance to shine), which GT provided. In the case of Nankivil in 2007, I still think Keaton comes to Marquette if its purely his decision. Now, that would be informed conjecture with regards to Nankivil (as opposed to Ben-Eze), but I don't think you can blame TC for Keaton ending up at Madison.

Now, on the flip side, I think you have to give TC credit for landing key targets like Christopherson and the Williams boys early. While they almost become forgotten men during the more heated recruiting season because we landed them early, they were obviously important targets since TC wanted them to come aboard early. Also, Mbakwe was a key target for the program for a couple of years, and will be an important part of the future foundation of the program.

We may not have landed everyone we wanted the last couple of seasons, but still have a very nice base of talent after the Three Amigos graduate. I would be confident with a roster that featured Christopherson, Nick Williams, Erik Williams, Hayward and Mbakwe, with 2008 and 2009 far from finished in recruiting.

Anonymous said...

So if Fulce has more of an impact as a 21 year old sophomore than Swopshire or Goulbourne have as 19 year old freshmen, does your viewpoint change?

Also, do you really think that a Top 10 rated player like Wilson is worried about Williams and Fulce keeping him from getting playing time? Just look at Mookie Jones committing to Syracuse with Kris Joseph and Southland already committed to the Orange.

TB said...

"So if Fulce has more of an impact as a 21 year old sophomore than Swopshire or Goulbourne have as 19 year old freshmen, does your viewpoint change?"

No, but I'm not sure what you mean. I never indicated getting Fulce was bad, just that he was roughly option F. If anything, Fulce is a classic Crean recruit -- under the radar, perhaps under-recruited with a nice upside if he has the grades. That said, if he's good (hey, he might be) its nuts to think that MU was spread so thin chasing Goulbourne, Woolridge, Mookie and Swopshire -- while it seems that they woulda preferred Fulce anyway. If they think Fulce can play at that level, fine, take him and move on -- and focus on other top priorities.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that Coach Crean is supposed to land some of these high profile recruits. That was where his reputation was made. He is paid a significant salary for that reason. We have brand new facilities, a great conference affiliation and plenty of TV time. A top 20 team with a whole in the middle that gives immediate playing time to a talented post player and no one is interested????? Good thing we have a new assisstant coach he is the only one attracting any talent.

Anonymous said...


The new official MU basketball motto.

Did you seriously use the term "as the basketball program matures" (or similar)? HELLO. It's going backwards, if anything.

Crean spends too much time chasing pipe-dreams... Wilson is a good target as a local kid, but Crean needs to stop wasting his time chasing 5-star kids in the backyards of elite programs.

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