KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Like the old woman who lived in a shoe, Louisville basketball Coach Denny Crum has so many players he doesn't know what to do.
Crum reaped a bumper harvest of high school recruits this spring, leading the nation, but the Louisville staff got so exuberant it wound up with more players in the Cardinal nest than NCAA rules allow.
Louisville inked six prospects, leaving them with 17 players on scholarship. NCAA rules say you can sign as many as six players in one season but you can't have more than 15 players on scholarship when the season begins.
Basketball scholarships are technically binding for one year at a time, but the vast majority of coaches have an understanding that when they sign a player it's for four years. Some coaches have been known to run off players when they find themselves over the limit. Coach Crum says that's "a strong possibility" at Louisville.
"I'm just not going to worry about it for a while," he said. "The situation will take care of itself eventually. I don't worry about the number of signees. I'm not going to get concerned until this fall. The situation will change by then, but I can't say exactly what will happen. But I told all my players their scholarships were on the line after our loss to Tennessee (100-84) in the NIT. Those that don't do what they're supposed to do could have their scholarships pulled. I would rather have a freshman who wants to play than a more experienced player who's not willing to work."
Louisville's recruiting coup surprised a lot of college coaches, especially their signing of the top forward prospects after already having signed three inside players (giving the Redbirds nine inside players).
Louisville wound up with five of the Top 100 prospects in the nation, edging North Carolina for the annual recruiting championship.
(Villanova, Iowa, North Carolina State, Clemson, UCLA, Duke, Virginia and Southern California rounded out the top 10).
But Crum is not ready to guarantee the Cardinals a future NCAA title just yet.
"I never judge freshmen classes until they're juniors or seniors," he says. "By then they will be known to be able to play or not to play. We're happy we got most of the players we went after and it gives us reason for hope. As far as this being our best recruiting class since the Darrell Griffith year we'll just have to wait and see. Signing stars doesn't always mean championships. Houston had Akeem Olajuwon and Virginia had Ralph Sampson and they didn't win any NCAA championships with them."
Louisville signed 6-8 Tony Kimbro of Louisville, 6-8 Pervis Ellison of Savannah, Ga., and 6-7 Kenny Kenny Payne of Laurel, Miss., to lead their recruiting list, with 6-4 guard Keith Williams of Louisville and 6-8 Avery Marshall of Myrtle Beach, S.C., joining them from the all-star list.
Meanwhile, North Carolina coach Dean Smith was raking in his own stack of blue-chip players, the Tar Heels signing three of the top 30 prospects in the country, including the No. 1 recruit in 6-3 guard Jeff Lebo of Carlisle, Pa. The Heels also got 6-5 Kevin Madden of Staunton, Va., regarded by many as the best player in the country, and 6-6 Steve Bucknell of Byfield, Mass.
"We're happy to get the follows we got but there is such a parity among high school players anymore that it's difficult to rate one recruited group over the other," says coach Smith. "It's like a two-handicap golfer playing a one-handicap golfer: the two-handicapper is going to beat the one-handicapper a great deal of the time. There's rarely a high school superstar who is a sure-thing college superstar. Ralph Sampson was one of that kind of rarity. And there were no Sampsons out there this year."