*This is the first installment of our Top Recruit Series, which will outline the recruiting history since 2000 for each of the seven power conferences, beginning with the Big East.
The Big East's spectrum is different -- drastically -- from any other league review we're doing for this series. The conference, which has always been strong, was undeniably a perennial top-three league in college basketball from 2000-2012. Then Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Cincinnati and Connecticut splintered off to the ACC, Big 12 and American Athletic Conference, respectively.
It left many to wonder how the Big East would do as a 10-team conference that needed to invite Creighton, Xavier and Butler to the ranks to fill out a 10-team union. All told, the league has taken a slight demotion, but nothing all that drastic. It has the reigning national champ in Villanova, after all.
On the recruiting level, the Big East went from big success to a quick lull, to now being in the conversation with any other conference, basically. You look at how Villanova, Butler, Xavier, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence and Seton Hall are routinely landing top-50 players, and it's clear the Big East is set up to succeed indefinitely. Recruiting success in basketball comes down to the coach more than things like location, tradition and league affiliation. And the Big East has a lot of good coaches right now.
Still, again, to evaluate the Big East's recruiting landscape since 2000 is a tricky endeavor. Many of these programs, at the time that they landed some on the names below, were competing in different conferences. But they're Big East programs now, and we'll treat them as such for the purposes of this project.
And so, without further adieu, below we have listed our top 25 recruits since 2000 -- which we compiled using every major recruiting service's database as a point of reference -- for current Big East programs. In terms of our top 25 list, college performance was not taken into account. It's all about the recruit rank and hype.
Below our top 25, you'll see we've listed overachievers and underachievers. For that, we did take into account how players actually performed, relative to their recruit status, at the college level.
|1. Eddie Griffin||Seton Hall||PF||2000|
|2. Greg Monroe||Georgetown||C||2008|
|3. Henry Ellenson||Marquette||PF||2015|
|4. Austin Freeman||Georgetown||SG||2007|
|5. Kris Dunn||Providence||PG||2012|
|6. Isaiah Whitehead||Seton Hall||SG||2014|
|7. Ricky Ledo||Providence||SG||2012|
|8. DaJuan Summers||Georgetown||SF||2006|
|9. Dominic Cheek||Villanova||SG||2009|
|10. Jalen Brunson||Villanova||PG||2015|
|11. Omari Spellman||Villanova||C||2016|
|12. Maalik Wayns||Villanova||PG||2009|
|13. Mac Koshwal||DePaul||PF||2007|
|14. Corey Fisher||Villanova||POS||2007|
|15. Isaac Copeland||Georgetown||SF||2014|
|16. Vernon Macklin||Georgetown||PF||2006|
|17. Corey Stokes||Villanova||SF||2007|
|18. Vander Blue||Marquette||PG||2010|
|19. Henry Sims||Georgetown||C||2008|
|20. Kyle Lowry||Villanova||PG||2004|
|21. Semaj Christon||Xavier||PG||2012|
|22. Rysheed Jordan||St. John's||PG||2013|
|23. Otto Porter||Georgetown||SF||2011|
|24. Jajuan Johnson||Marquette||SG||2013|
|25. Dameon Mason||Marquette||SF||2003|
A few thoughts:
- You're probably looking at the list above and seeing on particular name not on it, a guy who is a three-time NBA champion and a surefire Hall of Famer: Marquette's Dwyane Wade, who didn't qualify academically out of high school and thus saw his ranking and reputation drop. Also conspicuously absent, Butler's Gordon Hayward, who became a lottery pick in 2010 after leading the Bulldogs to consecutive Final Fours. Hayward did not play AAU ball, so he didn't hit the recruiting rankings. (He was also considering a college career in tennis before settling on hoops.) Had he been on the radar in recruiting, he should have/would have been the clear-cut top prospect in program history. We're going to consider both of these guys special cases and thus not include them on the forthcoming list of overachievers.
- As for the list, it's not as strong as I thought it would have been, though we have current NBA guys on there, players such as Greg Monroe, Henry Ellenson, Kyle Lowry, Otto Porter and Kris Dunn. Porter, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013 draft, famously did not play AAU basketball, making his commitment to Georgetown something of a coup. Vernon Macklin and DaJuan Summers -- guys you see in the top 25 above -- were both NBA picks. Another Georgetown name, Isaac Copeland, will be instrumental to Georgetown's success this season; he averaged 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds last year.
- Jay Wright's been with Villanova for the entirety of this time span we're evaluating, and he's gone through a few recruiting philosophies. Some of the guys listed above weren't vintage Nova guys, and some believe VU's program took a dip because of it. Still, there are plenty of wins in here. Jalen Brunson at No. 10 is something that will probably start to show itself more this season, then in a huge way come 2017-18. He's just a sophomore. Nova diehards remember how critical Mouphtaou Yarou was for that team in the pre-Ochefu days. Kyle Lowry, a two-time NBA All-Star, is the only NBA pick (he went 24th in the '06 draft) of any Villanova top-10 program recruit this century. He was ranked as the 12th-best PG in his class. Side note: Villanova is still in the running to repeat as national champs even though Omari Spellman, who you see above, did not qualify to play this season.
- Marquette's Henry Ellenson was the first major recruiting success for Steve Wojciechowski's career as a head coach. Ellenson was a one-and-done player who was a top-five freshman in the nation in 2015-16. He was taken 18th by the Detroit Pistons after averaging 17.0 points and 9.7 rebounds.He was ranked ninth in his class (2015), which is the highest of any recruit from a current Big East program this century, tying Greg Monroe's ranking in the 2008 class.
- Ever since St. John's built dorms on its campus around the turn of the century, its inherit recruiting advantage (it previously could legally give players money to pay for rent and expenses, since dorms weren't an option) evaporated. The Johnnies haven't been a non-factor in recruiting since 2000 -- in fact, they had a flurry of recruiting wins under Steve Lavin -- but Dom Pointer and Mo Harkless were the only two players drafted into the NBA.
- The Isaiah Whitehead commitment essentially saved Kevin Willard's job at Seton Hall. The Hall went on a huge run last season, and Whitehead's play catalyzed the program to its first Big Dance appearance in a decade. Whitehead left school as a sophomore and was taken 42nd in the draft. Whitehead was the first Pirate picked in the NBA Draft since the late Eddie Griffin was chosen in 2001.
- Mac Koshwal had a three-year career at DePaul, finishing with a 16.1 PPG and 10.1 RPG average in 2009-10. DePaul would have cracked the list twice if Shane Larkin hadn't gotten away; after committing to DePaul, Larkin requested a transfer, citing a medical issue. He thrived at Miami, wherein he turned into a first-round draft pick in 2013.
1. Doug McDermott, Creighton. McDermott's path to playing for his dad had a twist: He was initially set up to play at Northern Iowa, but after Greg McDermott was hired at Creighton, he was let out of his letter of intent at UNI without a hassle. McDermott (one of three players in D-I history with more than 3,000 points and 1,000 rebounds) is of course the best player in school history. He was taken with the 11th pick in the 2014 draft. He was the unanimous national Player of the Year in 2013-14.
2. Jimmy Butler, Marquette. If we took NBA performance into account, Butler would be atop the list. He famously was homeless for a time as a teenager. Butler was a three-star prospect who committed to Buzz Williams' program at Marquette after playing at Tyler Junior College. Prior to that, his only college scholarship offer was Sam Houston State. He played three seasons at Marquette, finishing as a 15/6/2 guy who was an elite defender and shot 50 percent from the field.
3. Jeff Green, Georgetown. A three-star recruit back in 2003, Green had a three-year run at Georgetown that included winning Big East Player of the Year in 2007 and helping the program to its first Final Four appearance in more than 20 years that same season. He averaged 14.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He was taken with the fifth overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft.
4. Shelvin Mack, Butler. A three-star recruit who wasn't given a look by any big programs. He turned himself into an NBA pick under Brad Stevens' tutelage. Mack averaged 16.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists his junior year, which led him to declare for the NBA. He's one of a handful of reasons why Butler was able to move from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 (for one season) to, now, the Big East.
5. Jae Crowder, Marquette. Crowder was a three-star recruit who had a limited offensive skill set when he first went to South Georgia Tech -- then Howard College -- before he committed to Marquette in February of 2010. He became the Big East Player of the Year in 2011-12 and was drafted 34th overall in 2012. He made huge strides in his game, eventually averaging 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.5 steals in his final seaoson with MU. An incredible journey for Crowder, who's become a solid NBAer, too.
1. Rysheed Jordan, St. John's: The highest-ranked recruit at SJU in the past 16 years, Jordan played for two seasons with the Red Storm (12.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.6 turnovers, 42.7-percent from the field), then declared for the draft ... and failed to get drafted. He was rated as the second-best player in the state of New York in the class of 2013.
2. Wesley Green, DePaul: A four-star player and the No. 2 guy in the state of Illinois in the class of 2003, Green never averaged more than five points or five boards in a season. DePaul, at one point, was recruiting at a good level and getting solid local talent out of Chicago, but that was when it was in the nationally relevant Conference USA.
3. Dominic Cheek, Villanova: He's the third-highest prospect to attend Villanova over the past 18 seasons. He played for three seasons with the Wildcats, shooting 40 percent from the field and averaging 7.6 points. He declared early for the NBA, in 2012, and check out what Villanova beat writer David Jones wrote on PennLive.com at the time of his declaration: "A classic AAU case, a McD A-A who never learned how to play the game but was nonetheless overhyped from the time he was 15. Sometimes college coaches get cornered into taking a kid they wouldn't otherwise simply because they don't want to alienate an influential prep program's coach. I think that may have been the case with Jay Wright."
4. John Garcia, Seton Hall: Ranked as the sixth-best recruit in program history, Garcia was a five-year player who averaged 5.6 points for his career. He wound up being a solid program guy, but clearly was never the star he projected to be heading into SHU back in 2005.
5. Dameon Mason, Marquette: Ranked as the fourth-highest recruit in program history, yet he played just two seasons under Tom Crean before transferring to LSU. He was well under 50 percent from the floor for his career, and averaged 8.4 points.
Looking at the overachievers and underachievers was fun, a flashback, and tough to pare. Be honest, do you even remember guys like John Garcia and Dameon Mason? Unless you're a fan of those programs, probably not, and that's the point. With overachievers, you obviously know the names -- but those guys had no acclaim entering college. And to be reminded of those success stories, that's a big reason why I love college hoops so much.
I honestly could've filled three slots for overachievers with guys coached by Buzz Williams at Marquette. Williams kept the program strong before ultimately leaving for Virginia Tech. But here's the irony: Williams' four best players were not highly rated recruits. Lazar Hayward (2010), Jimmy Butler (2011), Darius Johnson-Odom (2012) and Jae Crowder (2012) all were taken in the NBA draft, yet you don't see their names in the top 25. The same can be said for Steve Novak, Dwyane Wade (as we've discussed) and Travis Diener -- all from the Tom Crean era, all drafted into the NBA, none of them considered high-level heading into college.
Other overachievers to consider: Ben Bentil (Providence), Kellen Dunham (Butler) and Wilson Chandler (DePaul), who left as a sophomore, was the last player from DePaul drafted in the NBA (taken in 2007). Bentil was the breakout player of the year in college basketball in 2015-16, averaging 21.1 points and 7.7 rebounds. Dunn was the best point guard in college hoops last season and went No. 5 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
If you're curious where some notable Villanova guys land on 247 Sports' list of all-time VU recruits: Scottie Reynolds ranks 12th, Ryan Arcidiacono 13th, Kris Jenkins 19th, Josh Hart 21st, Mikal Bridges 22nd and Dante Cunningham 35th. Cunningham, who has carved out a respectable NBA career, would've made my top 10 overachievers had I gone that deep.
Providence is in a resurgence thanks to Ed Cooley's coaching ability and his recruiting style. You might remember the name Paschal Chukwu. He was an OK player with PC, but now he's at Syracuse and could thrive there this season. Jalen Lindsey -- a top-1o PC recruit in the past 16 years -- will be borderline pivotal to PC's chances at reaching the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive time, in 2017.
Xavier was a flagship Atlantic 10 program for ages. Under Chris Mack, its transition to the Big East has been seamless. You see a wide spread of recruits from over the past 14 years here, and that's been a product of Xavier as an institution. It always has a good coach running the program. Semaj Christon is the only player on this list who's been drafted, but that could change with Trevon Bluiett, eventually, and almost certainly Edmond Sumner, who could be a first-round pick in 2017.
Creighton obviously will continue to see a huge bump in recruits now that it's out of the Missouri Valley Conference and in the Big East. The league overall has done a nice job of transitioning from what it was with those power schools who've now left, to being nationally legitimate and still able to recruit at a high level. Will the Big East ever again be an annual top-three league? It's hard to say that, but the conference rightfully remains as a "power" league, one that can compete on the court and the recruiting trail with every other conference.