Move over Kentucky, UCLA is the presumptive top ranked college basketball program in the nation. UCLA added another big piece to one of the nation’s top college basketball recruiting classes Monday when ESPN 100 center Tony Parker joined the Bruins.
The decision by Parker, the 6’9, 270-pound native of Lithonia, Ga., to attend UCLA over Ohio State, Duke, Georgia, Kansas and Memphis, instantly pushed the Bruins ahead in the standings. On Monday afternoon, Parker, the No. 26 overall prospect in the ESPN 100 and No. 7-ranked center, announced at a special ceremony at his high school that he would take his talents to Westwood next season, committing to UCLA and once-embattled head coach Ben Howland. After reaching the NCAA tournament in five consecutive seasons with coach Howland –including three straight Final Fours and one trip to the national championship– the Bruins have missed the tourney in two of the last three years. Last season, they finished in the middle of the pack in a mediocre Pac-12, at 19-14 overall and 11-7 in conference play. Now, with a pair of top-five players in the country in tow, Howland has put the Bruins back on the map with the signing of Parker and bumped juggernaut Kentucky from having its fourth-consecutive No. 1 class.
The Bruins’ class jumped from No. 12 to No. 3 in ESPN’s team rankings two weeks ago when the No. 2 overall prospect –the Naismith Player of the Year and McDonald’s All-American game MVP– Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) decided to join Kyle Anderson (Fairview, N.J. / St. Anthony), the No. 5 overall prospect, and Jordan Adams (Lawrenceville, Ga./Oak Hill Academy) No. 41, among UCLA signees. Now, the Bruins add another McDonald’s All-American in Parker, into the equation.
UCLA hopes their freshmen will collectively make an immediate impact, the same way Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist delivered the National Championship for Kentucky and coach John Calipari. And just like Kentucky, the Bruins are almost guaranteed –and expected– to be good, or at least immensely improved over their disappointing performance in the past three seasons. Parker will add post presence to the class’ dynamic tandem of Muhammad, a super athletic scorer, and Anderson, a triple-inside-outside-threat. The star freshmen already had bonded at All-Star games and summer camps before deciding to sign together– taking a page from the Miami Heat’s Big Three playbook by joining forces. With Parker on board, the Bruins’ return to national prominence is imminent– or back to something that will resemble what UCLA basketball once was after recruiting four top-50 prospects.
Naturally, in college basketball the rankings are subject to change. No. 1 today could be No. 2 later this spring. Coach Calipari and Kentucky have already landed the nation’s No. 1 recruit in 6’10, 215-pound center, Nerlens Noel (Everett, Mass. /Tilton). Currently, they’re in the running for Anthony Bennett (Canada/ Findlay Prep), the No. 7-ranked player in the land. If the 6’8, 230-pound forward selects the Wildcats as his destination, coach Cal’s team are projected to leap over UCLA and sit right back on top of the rankings.
But for now, the Bruins own the top spot. It’s Coach Howland’s second time recruiting such a prestigious group. In 2008, Jrue Holiday headlined what could best be described as an underachieving bunch that included multiple transfers. Though Muhammad is the best prospect of the new recruits, he won’t define UCLA’s freshman class. His stay is expected to be short in Los Angeles. This class will need Anderson –who was the first to sign after leading St. Anthony’s to two perfect seasons, finishing 66-0– Parker and Adams to carry the load if Muhammad departs after his freshman season. Like Kentucky before them, the young Bruins’ legacy will ultimately judge where they stand in NCAA history.