Buried beneath the hoopla that is college football’s national signing day is a surprising statistic about another upcoming recruiting class at USC.
The men’s basketball team currently has the No. 34 group of prospects in the country, according to ESPN.
Yes, the team that just fired its coach, sits at 9-13 overall (good for ninth in the Pac-12) and is coming off the worst season in school history has a higher-ranked incoming recruiting class than the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Coming in at No. 34 would be an absolute travesty for USC coach Lane Kiffin and the football team. Even his biggest supporter, Athletic Director Pat Haden, would have no choice but to let him go if the Trojans finished with anything less than a top-10 class in 2013.
But for the basketball program? A top-40 ranking after years of bringing in transfers and dealing with its own sanctions would be a fantastic development for whoever ends up as the next USC coach. Now, the challenge is keeping the new recruits from bolting before basketball signing day. That could be a problem.
The cream of the crop is Kendal Yancy-Harris, the No. 77-ranked player in ESPN’s top-100 list. He’s a hyper-athletic 6-foot-4 point guard from Richardson, Texas who would present the Trojans with a different look at the position after senior Jio Fontan graduates.
The only problem? Yancy-Harris was recently granted a partial release from USC following the dismissal of former USC coach Kevin O’Neill. He’s received offers from more than 10 schools, including the University of Missouri, LSU and Kansas State. Rivals.com reports that USC interim coach Bob Cantu and even Haden have been in contact with the top recruit, and they remain hopeful he’ll stay with the Trojans. If he bolts, the class loses its credibility. USC needs Yancy-Harris as they regroup next season and try to start fresh post-O’Neill.
The Trojans have four other recruits in the fold, including small forward Roschon Prince from Long Beach, Calif. Prince is the No. 21-ranked small forward in his class according to ESPN and, as a resident of Southern California, is an important get for the men’s basketball program. USC has long tried to tap into the basketball hotbed of Los Angeles but has often lagged behind crosstown rival UCLA. Prince isn’t a blue-chip talent, but he fills a need at the forward spot and should be able to contribute in some capacity as a freshman.
Julian Jacobs, a point guard from Las Vegas, Nev., is a similarly ranked player to Prince. He’s the top recruit in the state at his position and chose USC over the likes of Utah, Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s. If Yancy-Harris sticks around, it’s tough to see where Jacobs fits in for the short-term. But there’s no such thing as too much backcourt depth, and Jacobs might end up being thrust into a larger role if Yancy-Harris goes elsewhere.
O’Neill’s influence on the program remains with the last two signed recruits, Nikola Jovanovic and Kahlil Dukes. Never afraid to take a risk, O’Neill brought in a bevy of unknown players during his tenure, including junior forward Dewayne Dedmon. Jovanovic fits that mold as well. Hailing from Serbia, he’s playing his senior season at Arlington Country Day School in Florida this season. ESPN has him pegged as the No. 2 power forward in the state, but his ability to contribute at the next level is still up in the air.
The same applies to Dukes, a shooting guard from Hartford, Conn. Unlike Jovanovic, there’s a strong body of work on his resume. He averaged more than 21 points per game for Capital Prep High School as a junior and led his team to the Class S title game. Even still, he’s listed as a two-star recruit in part because he plays against lesser competition. There are reasons for optimism, though — Detroit Pistons rookie Andre Drummond played at the same high school as Dukes, and he turned out pretty well. And when Dukes had a chance to shine against fellow D-1 opponents in an Amateur Athletic Union tournament in Las Vegas, he dropped 41 points in a single game.
Unless the Trojans lock down another Nick Young or O.J. Mayo, it’s hard to imagine the program getting much attention for its recruiting efforts anytime soon. This year’s class, however, offers a rare glimmer of hope for a team in desperate need of a positive sign for the future. Football is king at USC and national signing day only serves to reaffirm that. But depending on how the class of 2013 shakes out for men’s basketball, USC fans might look back on this group of recruits as the launching point for a new beginning.
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