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Archive for Saturday, July 20, 2002

Oklahoma basketball now ‘cool’

Final Four appearances help schools in men’s basketball recruiting

July 20, 2002

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— Oklahoma lacked tradition. Indiana had too many recent postseason failures. Maryland couldn't win a national championship. And Kansas hadn't played on the season's final weekend in nearly a decade.

Before March, those were the labels pinned on the schools.

Yet one Final Four run has changed their images at least in the minds of top recruits. Suddenly, Maryland and Kansas are back at the top of prospects' wish lists, and Indiana and Oklahoma again are trendy choices.

Call it the "recruiting bounce."

"It wasn't always cool to say you were interested in Oklahoma," Sooners coach Kelvin Sampson said at Nike All-America Camp in Indianapolis. "Now that we've been to the Final Four, it's cool to say, 'Oklahoma is one of my schools."'

For Sampson, recruiting is about perception. When perception becomes reality, results follow. He's already seen it make a difference in Norman, Okla., where football, not basketball, is the passion.

Since late March, when the Sooners lost to Indiana in the national semifinals, Sampson signed Kentucky transfer Rashaad Carruth and 6-foot-10 Larry Turner, who was denied admission at Georgia. He attributes their interest directly to his squad's postseason run.

How many more top names Sampson gets in November is unclear, but the "bounce" has become almost as much an annual part of college basketball as the Final Four.

This year's big winners appear to be Indiana and OU, two schools with different basketball reputations, but similar early postseason losses in the past decade. Indiana hadn't been to the Final Four since 1992, Oklahoma since 1988. Now they're gaining the benefits.

"Getting to the Final Four established Mike Davis' credibility as a coach," said Bob Gibbons, who runs All-Star Report, a recruiting service out of North Carolina. "That's the apex of college basketball, that's what every kid dreams about, that's what every kid wants."

Whether it's national champion Maryland, with coach Gary Williams saying he's drawing more interest from top recruits, or Indiana, which has resurfaced as a favorite, all four teams appear to reaping rewards.

For Maryland and Kansas, the impact may not be as great since they already had strong traditions. Maryland reached the Final Four in 2001 and Kansas has been ranked among the final poll's top 10 six times since 1993.

KU received commitments from a pair of Oklahomans J.R. Giddens and Jeremy Case after last spring's Final Four, but that wasn't the deciding factor in either player's decision. Both had their eyes on KU a long time and said they liked the consistent excellence of the program and the current players. KU remains in the hunt for several top 50 players including David Padgett, 6-11 of Reno, Nev. and many others.

At Indiana, its unexpected postseason run has reinvigorated interest, something IU struggled with after losing on the tournament's first weekend seven straight years.

"If you watch Indiana's recruiting, it will take a quantum leap," Gibbons said.

For Oklahoma, the Final Four run was like winning the lottery.

"You can't pay for that," Sampson said. "It's unbelievable."

The payoff show ups months later on the recruiting trail.

Perhaps no coach benefited more from this year's exposure than Davis, who spent most of his first two seasons in the shadow of Bob Knight. Knight was fired in September 2000 after winning three national championships with Indiana.

Sure, Davis' Hoosiers won 21 games and upended No. 1 Michigan State his first season as interim coach. And some recruits, such as incoming freshman Bracey Wright, became more interested in Indiana once Knight left.

But a first-round loss to Kent State in 2001 also raised questions about Davis.

"I always wanted to go to Indiana," said Ndudi Ebi, a Top 10 prospect from Houston. "I wasn't always sure about them, but when they went to the championship this year, I put them on my list because Mike Davis is a winner."

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