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Late Recruits Can Put Teams Over Top

College basketball: The spring signing period takes a back seat to early commitments, but coaches know value of recruiting year-round.


If the spring signing period still were a big deal, it's unlikely the biggest recruiting news of the week would have been made by a prospect who can't sign a letter of intent for another seven months: junior point guard Brandon Cotton of Detroit committed to Michigan State.

Recruiting analyst Dave Telep says if it weren't for club tournaments that must be scouted, he figures he could squeeze a vacation into the first few weeks of April.

But spring's importance to those who follow recruiting and its importance to college teams are different matters. Late additions were crucial to some of last season's most successful teams, including Pittsburgh (Ontario Lett), Kent State (Antonio Gates), Oklahoma (Ebi Ere) and Connecticut (Emeka Okafor).

Several of this spring's recruits also figure to affect their college teams next season--one way or another:

* Kelenna Azubuike, wing, Kentucky: Azubuike is a terrific student, is bright and engaging and probably is an underrated player. That is, if you don't include Azubuike's family members among those doing the rating.

They have talked openly about the possibility of Azubuike entering the NBA draft out of high school since his junior year at Victory Christian in Tulsa, Okla.

That was one reason Azubuike was rated in the 30s and 40s among high school seniors and was not chosen for the McDonald's All-American Game. Prep scouts thought the NBA talk was laughable and were bothered by what they perceived as me-first plays attempted merely to show off his talent.

Kentucky has had no shortage of players whose regard for their skills exceeded reality, whether it was Keith Bogans thinking he was an NBA player or Rashaad Carruth believing he did not need to follow instructions to get playing time. Azubuike could compound that problem or alleviate it. He's not a great shooter, despite a 39.1 scoring average as a senior, but he is a promising passer who could create plays for teammates.

* Aaron Spears, power forward, Illinois. Last summer, Spears was a doughy, 6-9, 280-pounder who struggled to move against quicker opponents. He since has lost nearly 40 pounds and averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds for Chicago's Dunbar High.

"He's got a great set of hands," says analyst Van Coleman of the FutureStars recruiting service. "If you add hops and movement to that, Spears gives Illinois something they don't have: somebody who can go inside and use his body."

Recruit Kevin Augustine is a great shooter but needs time to grow into a big man's body. Returnees Brian Cook and Nick Smith are not overpowering. Spears gives the Illini some weight up front--but, fortunately, not too much.

* Andre Iguodala, shooting guard, Arizona. Though he signed in the fall with Arkansas, Iguodala became available when he was released from his commitment after Razorback Coach Nolan Richardson was fired.

Iguodala joins Hassan Adams of Westchester to form the best pair of freshman wings in any program. Though he sometimes struggled to score as a junior at Lanphier High in Springfield, Ill., Iguodala emerged as a superior athlete and jump shooter during the Nike All-American Camp and was essential to the Illinois Warriors' national AAU championship.

Arizona's primary problem will be finding time for those two and fellow freshman Chris Rodgers given that young perimeter players Salim Stoudamire and Will Bynum and senior Jason Gardner already are in place.

* Ricky Clemons, point guard, Missouri. Wesley Stokes proved during his sophomore year what he already had proved as a freshman: He's a terrific backup. He is a high-energy player whose value begins to decline if asked to play more than 20-22 minutes.

Stokes can work to change that this off-season, but he'll have to improve plenty to hold off Clemons, who averaged 18.2 points, 7.5 assists and shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range for a 26-6 team at the College of Southern Idaho. With all the Tigers will have going for them next season they can't afford to miss at the point.

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