After five-star prospect Moussa Cisse announced his commitment to Memphis on Wednesday after reclassifying from 2021 to 2020, and with fellow five-star player Jonathan Kuminga signing with the G League’s Pathway Program this week, college basketball’s 2020 recruiting cycle is finally running out of storylines.
Even though bringing in a top recruiting class doesn’t guarantee immediate success (as CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish explains), the 2020 cycle played out predictably in some ways with Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke claiming the nation’s top three classes, according to 247Sports. But the cycle also took some surprising twists that speak to larger trends in college basketball.
Here are three takeaways from college basketball’s 2020 recruiting cycle.
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Watch out for the G League
It was a non-factor when the 2020 recruiting cycle began. But the G League’s Pathway Program became a major issue in the recruitment of elite prospects by the cycle’s end.
Kuminga reinforced how alluring of an option the program is when he reclassified from 2021 to 2020 and chose the G League this week. Kuminga, who is ranked the No. 4 overall player in the class, is the fourth top-30 prospect to choose the new option, which allows players to prepare for the NBA Draft while making money and playing a limited slate of games.
Kuminga had dozens of major college offers, but his decision to enter the G League program came as no surprise. However, three schools in particular felt the sting of this new path as it developed into a legitimate option for prospects in the 2020 cycle.
No. 2 overall prospect Jalen Green said he would have committed to Memphis if not for the G League option, and No. 30 overall prospect Isaiah Todd was committed to Michigan but instead chose to join the Pathway Program. But the worst blow for a college team came when No. 15 overall prospect Daishen Nix entered the G League program after signing with UCLA. The idea of the G League pursuing a prospect signed to play college basketball did not sit well with college coaches.
“I thought they were going to be the organization that if you wanted to go overseas or you absolutely did not want to play college 100%, that this would be the best situation for you before you go into the NBA,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said this spring. “But taking guys out of their commitments, and they’ve already signed but are continuing to talk to their parents … I really don’t agree with that.”
The advent of the G League option will likely give some college coaches pause about pouring resources into recruiting prospects who are also considering the professional option. NCAA legislation to allow players to benefit from their name, image and likeness is on the way. But it’s unclear yet if the opportunities that arise from those looming rule changes will be enough to dissuade many prospects from jumping at the six-figure signing bonuses offered by the G League.
Count familial relationships for why two of the top-three prospects in the class are going to non-traditional powers. It shows that programs should have no shame in pandering to a prospect’s close confidants if it will help them land five-star talent.
USC hired Eric Mobley, a long-time AAU and high school coach, as an assistant coach in 2018 just in time for his son Isaiah, a five-star prospect in the class of 2019, to sign with the Trojans. The move paid off in an even more significant way when Isaiah’s younger brother, Evan, signed with USC as the No. 3 overall prospect in the Class of 2020.
Now both Mobley brothers will be playing for coach Andy Enfield with their dad as part of the staff. It should make USC a preseason favorite to finish in the top half of an improving Pac-12. If it plays out according to plan, Enfield’s willingness to take a family approach to recruiting will be proven wise as he seeks to lead Trojans past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his tenure.
Oklahoma State made a similar investment by hiring Cannen Cunningham as an assistant before the 2019-20 season. Cannen, the older brother of the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2020 class, Cade Cunningham, came to the Cowboys from a spot as associate director of video operations for Tulane. The move helped Oklahoma State land Cade, who is sticking with his commitment to the Cowboys even after they were hit with a one-year postseason ban for NCAA infractions committed before head coach Mike Boynton took the job.
This is certainly not the first time college coaches have hired family members of elite prospects. But the fact that the trend played out in such a prominent way in the 2020 cycle with two of the top-three prospects is a sign of how mainstream the strategy has become.
Where is the Big Ten?
The Big Ten has now gone through consecutive recruiting cycles without landing a top-25 player and without a team finishing in the top-10 of the final team rankings.
That lack of high-profile recruiting is at odds with the league’s on-court success — the Big Ten was the sport’s best league in the 2019-20 season — but it’s something to monitor in the next couple of seasons. Big Ten teams account for six of the CBS Sports Top 25 and 1. However, the Big 12 is not far behind with five of its 10 teams in the ranking, while the resurgent Pac-12 has four teams in the ranking.
The SEC is also primed for a resurgence after a down year in 2019-20. The league snagged six of the top-12 recruiting classes in the 2020 cycle. Among them were Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama, all of whom were on track to miss the 2020 NCAA Tournament. With their rosters restocked, all three are poised to be in the 2021 field and help the SEC close the gap on the Big Ten in the conference supremacy race.
Michigan State is picking up the slack for the Big Ten in future classes by landing early commitments from Max Christie, who is the No. 11 prospect in the 2021 class, and from Emoni Bates, who is the No. 1 prospect in the 2022 class. It’s also worth noting the sustained success of programs like Iowa and Wisconsin is not predicated on flashy recruiting wins.
But the league’s last national champion was Michigan State in 2000 (Maryland was in the ACC when it won the title in 2002), and it’s fair to wonder if the league can break through with another national champion if more of its schools don’t get in the mix for five-star talent. The Big Ten’s depth and parity is likely to remain unmatched in the season ahead. But its star power is minimal compared to some other leagues, and the 2020 recruiting cycle furthered that disparity, especially as stars Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Cassius Winston and possibly Xavier Tillman, depart for the NBA.