Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
Say what you want about the signing day process, one that includes kids announcing their college intentions on live television specials, but the effect of the announcements certainly meets the hype. While most of the top recruits had already made their decisions earlier this year, Wednesday night showcased the top two players in high school basketball announcing their decisions on ESPNU. Nerlens Noel (6’10” center from Massachusetts) chose Kentucky while Shabazz Muhammad (6’6” wing from Nevada) chose UCLA, enormous gains for each of these programs. Let’s take a look at what it means for the Wildcats and Bruins to each add a star recruit, as well as breaking down how teams like Georgetown, Syracuse, and Duke that were in the mix are now negatively affected.
UCLA – Despite the disappointing season in Westwood and the shaky ground under head coach Ben Howland, the Bruins have now found a way to notch a top-two recruiting class with the addition of Muhammad. Muhammad joins Kyle Anderson, another top 10 player in this class, as two talented, versatile wing players. Anderson is closer to 6’7” yet excels as a distributor with excellent awareness and vision with the basketball. Muhammad is 6’6” and more of a scorer, one whose attacking mentality should mesh perfectly with Anderson’s game. These two immediately become a potent one-two duo in the Pac-12 to match the solid talent already on the roster (David Wear, Travis Wear, Josh Smith, Larry Drew), and the Bruins may not be done. Top unsigned big man Tony Parker is also considering UCLA. The Bruins are a surefire Top 25 team heading into next season and could easily have Top 10 upside. There is reason for great optimism in Westwood, and the Pac-12 as a whole should be on the rise with Arizona and UCLA now taking home two of the top three recruiting classes in the nation.
Kentucky – The 2012 National Champions already had a very strong recruiting class for next season, but continuing the theme of the past several years the Wildcats will now welcome the top player in high school basketball — Nerlens Noel. Muhammad and Noel both had UK on their short lists, and Big Blue Nation surely wanted both to commit, but adding Noel is still a massive gain. John Calipari’s team now has a player to build around in the 6’10” Noel, who is an Anthony Davis-like shot-blocker that can have a similar defensive impact next season. He’s less skilled on the perimeter and has work to do offensively, but Noel is the No. 1 player in this class for a reason. He can be a dominant big man to pair up with the other talented freshmen Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley, and another likely one or two unsigned recruits. Kentucky once again has the top recruiting class in the country, and the Wildcats will be favorites to repeat as champions if any of the starters from last season decide to stick around for another year.