(This is the latest installment of our Top Recruit Series, which will outline the recruiting history since 2000 for each of the seven main basketball conferences. This column focuses on the American Athletic Conference.)
The first thing you notice about a list of the top recruits for current American Athletic Conference programs since 2000 is that it's basically dominated by two schools and limited to just four.
The list of 25 breaks down like this:
Consequently, it should come as no surprise that Connecticut and Memphis have also enjoyed the most on-the-court success among current AAC schools since 2000. The Huskies have been to 12 of the past 17 NCAA Tournaments, made the Elite Eight six times in that span, the Final Four four times in that span, and won national championships in 2004, 2011 and 2014. That's strong. Meantime, the Tigers have been to 10 of the past 17 NCAA Tournaments, made the Elite Eight three times in that span, and the Final Four once.
Add it up, and UConn and Memphis have combined for nine Elite Eights since 2000.
That's seven more than the rest of the league combined.
And no AAC schools but UConn and Memphis have made the Elite Eight since 2001.
Such is a direct result of recruiting rankings below.
|1. Dajuan Wagner||Memphis||SG||2001|
|2. Andre Drummond||UConn||C||2011|
|3. Derrick Rose||Memphis||PG||2007|
|4. Tyreke Evans||Memphis||PG||2008|
|5. Rudy Gay||UConn||SF||2004|
|6. Lance Stephenson||Cincinnati||SG||2009|
|7. Adonis Thomas||Memphis||SF||2011|
|8. Will Barton||Memphis||SG||2010|
|9. Taliek Brown||UConn||PG||2000|
|10. Alton Ford||Houston||C||2000|
|11. Kemba Walker||UConn||PG||2008|
|12. Darius Washington||Memphis||SG||2004|
|13. Joe Jackson||Memphis||PG||2010|
|14. Rodney Purvis||UConn||SG||2012|
|15. Daniel Hamilton||UConn||SG||2014|
|16. Stanley Robinson||UConn||SF||2006|
|17. Charlie Villanueva||UConn||PF||2003|
|18. Alex Oriakhi||UConn||C||2009|
|19. Austin Nichols||Memphis||PF||2013|
|20. Jalen Adams||UConn||PG||2015|
|21. Jelan Kendrick||Memphis||SF||2010|
|22. Rashad Anderson||UConn||SF||2002|
|23. A.J. Price||UConn||PG||2004|
|24. Jermaine Lawrence||Cincinnati||SF||2013|
|25. Yancy Gates||Cincinnati||PF||2008|
A few thoughts:
* It is both interesting and sad that Dajuan Wagner is the most heralded recruit to enroll at a current AAC program since 2000 considering how his career unfolded. ESPN ranked the 6-2 guard as the No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2001 -- ahead of Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler, all of whom skipped college and went straight to the NBA. Wagner then averaged 21.1 points in his lone year at Memphis. But the Tigers somehow missed the NCAA Tournament despite a stacked roster that also included two additional future NBA players in Antonio Burks and Earl Barron -- plus college studs like Kelly Wise, Scooter McFadgon and Chris Massie. So that was disappointing. And Wagner's NBA career also fell short, but of no fault of his own. Injuries and illnesses derailed things quickly. The New Jersey legend only appeared in 103 games before essentially being forced into retirement.
* Kemba Walker isn't among the top 10 recruits since 2000 for current AAC programs, but he's the most iconic college basketball figure of the bunch. The 6-1 point guard averaged 23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists while guiding the Huskies to the 2011 national title. He got 16 points and nine rebounds in the final game of that NCAA Tournament -- a 53-41 victory over Brad Stevens' Butler Bulldogs.
* Darius Washington will forever be tied to those missed free throws in the title game of the 2005 Conference USA Tournament. But what some don't realize is that he actually had a pretty good college career. The 6-2 point guard averaged 15.4 points as a freshman and 13.4 points as a sophomore. He was the second-leading scorer on the Memphis team that made it to the Elite Eight in 2006. (The leading scorer on that team, by the way, was Rodney Carney -- an unheralded recruit who scored 1,901 career points at Memphis and spent parts of five seasons in the NBA.)
* Rashad Anderson was never a star at UConn. But he did finish his career with 1,432 points after averaging a career-high 12.8 points as a senior. Also: the 6-5 guard made 276 3-pointers and left UConn as the school's all-time leader in that category.
* If Washington will forever be tied to those missed free throws, Yancy Gates will always be linked to that landed punch in the infamous Cincinnati-Xavier brawl. But it should be noted that he was a nice college player, too. The 6-9 forward averaged double-figures in points all four years at Cincinnati and finished his career with 1,485 points and 916 rebounds.
1. Jermaine Lawrence (Cincinnati): Lawrence played one season at Cincinnati and then transferred to Manhattan. He averaged 4.8 points for the Jaspers in the 2014-15 season but didn't appear in any of the final six games because of a "violation of team rules." The 6-10 forward was suspended for half of the following season because of a failed drug test. And then he withdrew from school and ended his college career.
2. Jelan Kendrick (Memphis): Kendrick is the rare McDonald's All-American who was dismissed from his team at Memphis before ever playing a game. He ended up spending one season at Ole Miss and two more at UNLV. But the 6-6 guard never averaged more than 7.1 points in any season.
3. Adonis Thomas (Memphis): Thomas is among the more heralded prospects in Memphis history -- a local product who chose the Tigers over Florida and UCLA. But his two-year career produced nothing of substance. The 6-7 wing only played 19 games as a freshman before suffering an injury, then returned for his sophomore year and only averaged 11.7 points while shooting just 40.5 percent from the field, 29.2 percent from 3-point range. He's now playing in Italy after going undrafted.
4. Taliek Brown (Connecticut): Brown was a top-10 prospect in the Class of 2000 who never averaged double-figures in points in four years of college. The 6-1 guard averaged just 6.3 points while shooting 20.0 percent from 3-point range as a senior.
5. Sean Banks (Memphis): Banks isn't on the above list. But he was a consensus top-35 recruit in the Class of 2003 who was actually tremendous as a freshman while averaging a team-high 17.4 points for a program that featured two future NBA players. But he returned for his sophomore season disinterested, disruptive and out of shape. The New Jersey native was eventually benched by coach John Calipari and punched by teammate Arthur Barclay -- all of which led to Banks being ruled academically ineligible midway through the season. He's been in and out of jail ever since. His most recent mugshot looks like this.
1. Jordan Clarkson (Tulsa): Clarkson was ranked 211th in the Class of 2010, according to 247Sports. And he's outperformed that ranking easily. He averaged 11.5 points as a freshman at Tulsa and 16.5 as a sophomore before transferring to Missouri, where he averaged 17.5 points and then entered the 2014 NBA Draft. The 6-5 guard spent the past two seasons with the Lakers. He signed a $50 million contract in July.
2. Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati): Kilpatrick was ranked 338th in Class of 2009, according to 247Sports. And yet he still managed to score 2,145 points in his career while leading Cincinnati to four straight NCAA Tournaments from 2011 to 2014. The 6-4 guard was an Associated Press First Team All-American in 2014. He's now a member of the Brooklyn Nets.
3. D.J. Stephens (Memphis): Stephens was ranked 241st in the Class of 2009, according to 247Sports, and is among the lowest-rated recruits Josh Pastner ever enrolled at Memphis. Regardless, the high-flying wing became the face of the program in his senior year. He's now a member of the Memphis Grizzlies.
4. Shabazz Napier (Connecticut): Napier was ranked 74th in the Class of 2010, according to 247Sports. But he averaged at least 13 points as a sophomore, junior and senior, and he was a member of two national championship teams. The 6-1 guard was the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player in 2014 and a consensus First Team All-American that same season.
5. Quinton DeCosey (Temple): DeCosey was ranked 269th in the Class of 2012, according to 247Sports. But he averaged at least 12 points for three straight years, from 2013 to 2016, and helped the Owls to two NCAA Tournaments in his career.
The list of "overachievers" is my favorite thing here because, man, how great are those stories? Sean Kilpatrick went from a prospect ranked in the 300s to a First Team All-American. Jordan Clarkson went from a prospect ranked in the 200s to a multimillionaire. D.J. Stephens went from a recruit who was signed strictly as a body for practices to a dude who is now dunking like crazy for the Memphis Grizzlies.Inspiring, each and every one of them.
And it really should serve as a reminder for everybody each National Signing Day. Yes, the best prospects usually become the best players, and the schools that get the best players usually win more than lose. What's happening now at Duke and Kentucky serves as evidence.
Still, nothing is guaranteed.
The so-called great ones don't always become great.
But the overlooked nobodies sometimes do.
And that's among the cool things about the sport of college basketball.