If there is a story line emerging from the college decisions made in recent weeks by some of Southern California’s most talented prep basketball players, it is this: UCLA and USC have re-established a recruiting presence in their back yard.
The Bruins have attracted what may be the top recruiting class in the country so far, having received unwritten commitments from 6-foot-5 swingman Toby Bailey of Loyola High, 6-9 forward J.R. Henderson of Bakersfield East and 6-5 forward Kris Johnson of Crenshaw. The three have indicated they will sign letters of intent during the Nov. 10-17 signing period.
In reality, UCLA’s breakthrough came in the summer of 1990, when prep All-Americas Ed O’Bannon and Shon Tarver decided to enroll after their original choice, Nevada Las Vegas, was placed on probation by the NCAA.
Breakthrough No. 2 came this past spring, when Charles O’Bannon turned down Kentucky to join his brother at UCLA. The younger O’Bannon, who has become one of the Bruins’ best recruiters, then helped persuade Henderson to join him in Westwood.
USC recruited what appears to be one of the best freshman classes in the country, led by 6-11 center Avondre Jones, guard Stais Boseman of Morningside and forward Jaha Wilson of San Francisco Riordan. Most significantly, the players chose USC over Arizona, the dominant team in the Pacific 10 Conference in recent seasons.
Last week, guard Cameron Murray of Glendora High committed to USC, spurning offers from high-profile programs such as Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Tennessee.
USC’s turnaround began in the fall of 1989 when Coach George Raveling was able to sign Inglewood’s Harold Miner, who picked the Trojans over UCLA, Kansas and Notre Dame. Miner’s flashy style helped revitalize USC’s program, much like Mark Aguirre did for DePaul in the late 1970s.
“No question that Harold was the catalyst,” Raveling said. “Not only did Harold bring his talents to USC, he brought an air of legitimacy to the program. He was a highly recruited local kid who proved he could stay home and achieve his career goals right here.”
Until UCLA and USC were able to reverse the trend, East and Midwest schools were regularly signing impact players from Southern California, including John Williams (Crenshaw to Louisiana State); Stephen Thompson (Crenshaw to Syracuse); Sean Higgins (Fairfax to Michigan); David Whitmore (St. Bernard to Georgia Tech); Scott Williams (Hacienda Heights Wilson to North Carolina); LeRon Ellis (Santa Ana Mater Dei to Kentucky before transferring to Syracuse); Chris Mills (Fairfax to Kentucky before transferring to Arizona); Cornelius Holden (Crenshaw to Louisville) and Brian Williams (St. Monica to Maryland before transferring to Arizona).
But the defections have clearly slowed in recent seasons. Three years ago, 6-11 center Cherokee Parks of Huntington Beach Marina broke UCLA’s heart by signing with Duke. He was joined by 6-10 center Erik Meek of Escondido. Last fall, All-America point guard Jacque Vaughn of Pasadena Muir signed with Kansas.
Although the Bruins and Trojans do not have a stranglehold on Southern California’s elite prep players, the message to stay close to home is once again being heard.
The most coveted big man on the West Coast, 6-foot-11 Omm’A Givens of Aberdeen, Wash., will visit Arizona this weekend. Givens also plans to visit UCLA, Seton Hall and Nevada Las Vegas. UCLA assistant Lorenzo Romar is scheduled to meet with Givens today in Aberdeen. Givens hasn’t decided whether to take a fifth trip, although he had an in-home visit with Kansas on Tuesday, and Duke has shown interest. He is no longer considering Kentucky or Michigan. Givens’ friend, 6-6 point guard Jelani Gardner of Bellflower St. John Bosco, is also visiting Arizona this weekend. Asked if he and Gardner are determined to attend college together, Givens said: “I’d love to play with Jelani. If it works out, it would be great. But it’s too big of a decision to let those feelings get in the way.” Gardner visited Arizona State last weekend, along with 6-10 center Mike Carson of Chino Don Lugo and 6-9 forward Maceo Baston of Dallas. The Sun Devils appear to be at the top of Carson’s list, with Oregon, Utah and Penn State also mentioned. Baston’s list includes Michigan, Nevada Las Vegas and Oklahoma State.
Mark Madsen, a 6-8, 235-pound forward from Danville, Calif., visited Stanford last weekend. Madsen, who is student body president at San Ramon Valley High, is trying to decide between the Cardinal and UCLA, which he visited Sept. 17-18. His decision may come as soon as today.
When Glendora High guard Cameron Murray made his decision to attend USC in 1994, the Trojans stopped recruiting other point guards such as 5-8 Tommie Davis of Crenshaw High and 5-9 Prince Fowler of Las Vegas Western. USC Coach George Raveling says he is committed to signing the three best players available. At the top of his list is 6-6 forward Tremaine Fowlkes of Crenshaw. Fowlkes is scheduled to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test Oct. 9, then hopes to take at least two recruiting trips before the Nov. 10-17 signing period begins. He says USC and Arizona are his top schools right now, but he is also considering Nevada Las Vegas, Kansas, DePaul and Syracuse. If he passes the SAT, Fowlkes says he’ll take a trip to Arizona Nov. 6-7.
Among shooting guard prospects USC is recruiting are 6-1 Jason Pickett of Banning and 6-3 Jeremy Veal of San Dimas. Pickett is also considering Cal State Long Beach, San Diego State, Providence and Kansas State. He has not passed his college entrance exam. Veal has a home visit scheduled with USC Friday night. His only official trip so far has been to Loyola Marymount. Veal also has a trip planned to Long Beach, where his sister Jennifer is a freshman basketball player. Other schools he is considering are Arizona State, Southern Methodist, Santa Clara and Providence. . . . Add Loyola Marymount: The Lions are hoping to receive a commitment soon from 6-1 guard Calvin Patterson of Fremont High. He is also being recruited by Washington State, San Diego State, Cal State Fullerton, USF and Colorado State.
Arizona Coach Lute Olson got some good and bad news last week. The good news was that Miles Simon, a 6-3 shooting guard from Santa Ana Mater Dei, announced that he will attend Arizona. Simon, who played with Arizona sophomore guard Reggie Geary at Mater Dei, also considered USC, California and Syracuse, among others. The bad news was that 6-6 guard Rick Price of Serra, the West Coast’s top prospect, dropped the Wildcats from consideration. So did Fowler, who also dropped Arizona State and has narrowed his choices to Oklahoma, Arkansas and USF . . . Add Arizona: 6-6 forward Tony Gonzalez of Huntington Beach High, the football-basketball standout, is scheduled to visit Arizona Oct. 15-16. On the return trip from Tucson, Gonzalez plans to make an unofficial stop at Arizona State. He also has a trip planned to Florida State, which has its own two-sport standout, Charlie Ward. The Wildcats are considered the favorite to sign Gonzalez. . . . Add Price: He visited Duke last weekend, where his host was All-America Grant Hill. He visited Kansas the previous week and Jayhawk Coach Roy Williams made another pitch in the Price home Wednesday night. Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski will visit Price tonight. Price is expected to make a decision next week. . . . More Duke: As expected, the Blue Devils received a commitment from 6-4 guard Trajan Langdon of Anchorage, Alaska. They would also like to sign Price, 6-9 Adonal Foyle of Hamilton, N.Y., and 5-10 Steve Wojciechowski of Baltimore. If Price opts for Kansas, 6-4 guard Ishua Benjamin of Concord, N.C., will be offered a scholarship.