SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Despite its best record ever and an appearance in the NCAA college basketball championship game, it appears Syracuse University will come up empty-handed this year in its efforts to recruit the nation's top high school basketball players.
But Orangemen Coach Jim Boeheim isn't worried.
"It's not unusual in our situation," said Boeheim, whose young team is losing only four players, two of them walk-ons who rarely played. "We are in good position for next year. We've got 10 guys returning and a good freshmen class from this year. And we've got Earl Duncan, whose been sitting out (because of academic ineligibility)."
Syracuse was shut out in the early signing period for incoming freshmen last fall and Boeheim said it is unlikely the Orangemen would add anyone before the May 15 spring deadline.
With the talent Boeheim has returning next year and the players he has sitting in the wings, it isn't hard to forget about a recruiting whitewash. But that doesn't mean the veteran coach isn't just a little anguished over the ones who got away.
"Yes, we lost a couple we would have really liked to get here," he said.
Among the top prep prospects who included Syracuse among their final considerations but opted to go elsewhere were forward Marcus Liberty of Chicago, considered by many the nation's top high school player, guard King Rice of Binghamton, forward Dennis Scott of Oakton, Va., forward Bobby Martin of Atlantic, N.J., and forward Greg Koubek of Clifton Park.
Liberty signed with Illinois and Rice signed with North Carolina. Scott will attend Georgia Tech, Koubek is going to Duke and Martin is headed to Pittsburgh.
"We're still doing a little work, but most of our effort was spent on next year," said Boeheim. "We spent most of the time, maybe 75%, on juniors. We've got a nucleus for next year, so most of our effort has been geared toward the junior class in high school."
Boeheim declined to name the specific players Syracuse has been recruiting. However, tops on the list of many schools is Alonzo Mourning, a 6-10 center at Indian River High School in Chesapeake, Va., who led his team to a 29-1 record and a state championship.
National Basketball Assn. director of scouting Marty Blake has called Mourning the best high school player since Moses Malone. Mourning averaged 21.8 points per game, but it is his defensive abilities that have college coaches and recruiters making frequent trips to Virginia.
According to Blake, Georgetown, North Carolina and Georgia Tech are Mourning's top choices. But Mourning's high school coach, Bill Lassiter, said Syracuse is among 14 school's the player is considering.
"We are concentrating on getting a center next year," the coach said, looking ahead to the loss of center Rony Seikaly and his backup, Derek Brower, both juniors. "Anybody else coming in would have to sit."
The Orangemen, who finished 31-7, will lose starters Greg Monroe and Howard Triche to graduation. But returning are the team's top two scorers, sophomore guard Sherman Douglas and Seikaly, and standout freshman Derrick Coleman, the team's leading rebounder.
Syracuse also will return sophomore Herman Harried and freshman Keith Hughes at the forward position. Despite playing some small forward, Stephen Thompson is expected to play mostly guard next year, but he'll have to contend with Duncan and Matt Roe for the spot left open by Monroe.
Despite the near recruiting misses this year, Boeheim is confident Syracuse will remain a contender for many years to come because of the progress it has made in the area of recruiting, which has evolved from a Northeast-based effort to a national one.
"The key elements in our national success, in order, have been the Carrier Dome, the Big East Conference and Pearl (Washington)," he said. "Pearl put us on the map in a lot of ways. Not only was he a great basketball player, but he did even more in terms of the perception of the program and the style of play that we play here."
And now Boeheim has a near-national championship to parlay into a recruiting tool.
"I think it will help," he said of Syracuse's Final Four appearance. "But there's no guarantee. That only comes with hard work."