Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Even in this high-profile one-and-done era, where most top-tier prospects make their ultimate decisions not in the pursuit of the best four-year student athlete experience possible but to maximize NBA draft stock, the increasing preparedness of elite recruits to make immediate impacts has raised the stakes as coaches search for talents to elevate their teams and change their programs’ trajectories. There was no better example of this phenomenon than in 2011-12, when John Calipari took an insanely-talented 2011 recruiting class – led by otherworldly front court maestro Anthony Davis, hyper-intense perimeter dynamo Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and quick-learning point guard Marquis Teague – molded its star power around a host of savvy role players (and first-round pick Terrence Jones), crafted a coherent and disciplined unit, and surged to a 38-2 record and his first national championship. These weren’t your average freshmen; Calipari’s coup may go down as the most talented recruiting class since Michigan’s Fab Five outfit. But across the nation, each class’s blue chip prospects are increasingly entering the college game with a greater potential for immediate contribution, often in major and lasting ways. Kentucky’s title season – which officially debunked the age-old myth that one-and-done players didn’t have the intangibles to withstand pressure-packed NCAA Tournament games – paired three top-10 players with a coach well-versed in the sort of ego-grooming and steadfast discipline required to overcome any freshmen transitional issues. The match of immense talent and coaching acumen was practically seamless. Not every elite recruiting haul reaches that level of success that quickly. Freshmen talent, however large or promising the selection, does not equal championships, at least not right away.
That’s the motivation fueling the enormous hype surrounding the recruitment of Andrew and Aaron Harrison, two top-five players in the class of 2013 who have been open about their intentions to attend the same program and thus form, in recruiting parlance, perhaps the best “package deal” in college hoops recruiting history. Left in the running for the twins, who plan to announce their decision tonight at 5 PM ET, are Kentucky and Maryland, with SMU coming in at a distant (I repeat: distant) third. For the reasons I mentioned above, and a host of other enticing qualities, Calipari’s involvement is hardly shocking. Maryland’s courtship hinges on a spate of various connections: namely, Aaron Harrison, Sr.’s, Baltimore childhood and relationships with program staffers along with the twins’ longstanding association with Under Armour and the corporate bridge it constructs between their UA-backed AAU team and the Terrapins. Though Calipari has rarely missed out on a recruit(s) he set his sights on, the Harrisons and their sheltering father have shielded their preferences internally. Neither program would be a surprise. Whoever the victor, the on-court benefits are fairly straightforward: two transcendent backcourt pieces brimming with potential and promise. For Kentucky, wrapping up Harrison-squared would be business as usual, par for the course in Calipari’s recruiting history. But for Maryland, the potential long-term implications of landing two NBA-bound basketball destroyers-of-worlds, at least from a reputation standpoint, are positively transformative.