Friar Basketball

On Harrell, UCLA’s Rise, and Recruiting Close to Home


1. When getting an update on Josh Fortune from long-time Hampton Daily Press high school beat reporter Dave Johnson in January, the conversation shifted to Anthony Barber, the jet quick point guard out of Hampton, who the Friars had continued to pursue after Ed Cooley took over at Providence.  At the time, Johnson noted that the Friars were still in the running, but that his best guess was that Barber would end up at Virginia Tech.

When news broke this week that the Hokies were letting head coach Seth Greenberg go after nine seasons (and one NCAA appearance), the first thought was how that might impact the recruitment of Barber, one of the top 25 players in the class of 2013 according to ESPN.  The decision could, however, have a more immediate impact on Virginia Tech – and other programs looking to pounce on a program in transition.

Soon after the announcement of Greenberg’s release, speculation began that V-Tech commit Montrezl Harrell (2012) would re-open his recruitment, with listing Providence as one of several high major schools expected to make a push for the power forward, if he were to de-commit.

I’ve long maintained that to get a true feel for a prospect that you have to see him a handful of times, but if the two games I witnessed at the National Prep School Championship were any indication, Harrell is a ferocious finisher who plays the game with the edge currently lacking in the PC frontcourt.  Standing 6’8, but playing 6’11, Harrell slammed and snarled his way to 31 points against NEPSAC Class AAA champ Northfield Mount Hermon for a Hargrave team that was undefeated before falling in the national final to Brewster.  Harrell is not one of those “I didn’t notice he had 20 already” types – each finish was louder than the next at the prep championship, and if he plays with that type of energy every game he could have a big impact on the next level.

Prior to the national Jordan Brand Classic, Harrell was named MVP of the East-West game, finishing with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 7 blocks.  With schools like Kentucky and Louisville potentially lingering, Harrell will be a hot commodity if he decides to re-open, and a huge score for any program this late in the recruiting cycle.

2. How fast can things change in nine months?  In November, Connecticut was fresh off of their third national championship, and held out hope that the late addition of Andre Drummond, accompanied with the potential emergence of Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Alex Oriakhi would lead to a second straight title.  It was a deep, versatile roster on paper.

The season saw Drummond stumble offensively at times, Oriakhi regress, with both Lamb and Napier struggling to find the consistency needed from a title contender’s top guns.  After a first round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Iowa State, and facing a ban from the 2013 tourney, Drummond is off to the NBA, ditto for Lamb, while Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith, and Michael Bradley are all transferring, leaving UConn with only six returning scholarship players, one recruit signed (the talented Omar Calhoun), and one transfer on his way in (RJ Evans from Holy Cross).  With Napier, Calhoun, and the terrific Ryan Boatright, Connecticut will have strong guard play next season, but interior depth, a staple of Jim Calhoun’s tenure, will be non-existent.

Just under two months ago Sports Illustrated painted UCLA as a program in disarray, and there were questions regarding Ben Howland’s job security at season’s end.  Now that the 6’9, 270 pound Tony Parker (#26 per ESPN) has committed to the Bruins, their recruiting class is regarded as tops in the country according to ESPN.  UCLA now has #2 Shabazz Muhammad and #3 Kyle Anderson joining a group of newcomers that includes transfers David and Travis Wear, as well as Larry Drew III (all three coming via North Carolina).  All three are eligible for the 2012-13 season.  Muhammad is the nation’s most dominant offensive force, a powerful and explosive wing who shined above all at the McDonald’s All American game.  Anderson is billed as perhaps the most versatile offensive player in the high school ranks, while Parker and returnee Josh Smith (6’10, 305 lbs) will make up a massive frontcourt for a resurgent team that has the talent to get Howland to his fourth Final Four.  They might have as much talent as any team in the country, but as we learned with Connecticut this past season, the games aren’t played on paper.


3. A question for long-time Providence fans: did Dave Gavitt have to hear “Sure, they’re good, but Ernie D, Marvin, and Hassett are all Providence kids” when they committed to PC?  Discrediting Ed Cooley for landing Ricardo Ledo because he’s a Providence native, or Kris Dunn because Cooley was in on him so early is a bit of a head scratcher.  Last I checked, a huge part of recruiting at Providence is identifying talent before others, which is what Cooley was able to do with Dunn.  In Ledo’s case, if it were that easy to keep local kids in-state, the Friars would be sporting a starting lineup featuring some combination of Alex Murphy, Eric Murphy, Mike Marra and Michael Carter-Williams.

Factor in that the Providence teams that Barnes and Ernie D grew up watching were powerhouses featuring stars like Jimmy Walker and Lenny Wilkins, and the draw of coming to Providence was far different when they committed here 40 years ago.  There were many that felt great about PC’s chances with Ledo once Cooley was hired, but most were holding their breath until signing day.


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