It wasn’t a big surprise, but it was a mild disappointment that Miller Grove forward Tony Parker chose UCLA over Georgia (and others) yesterday. Parker claimed to be attracted to the “pressure” and the challenge of making a name for himself away from home, and he was also eager to be a part of one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.
If you’re wondering why Parker would choose a school on the opposite coast, even one with the tradition of UCLA, the answer more or less comes down to one man: Bruin assistant Korey McCray. McCray was previously involved with the Atlanta Celtics AAU program before UCLA hired him a year ago, and he leveraged that relationship to land not only Parker but fellow Georgia prospect Jordan Adams. As UCLA coach Ben Howland admitted, “Were (McCray) not on staff we wouldn’t have gotten either one of those kids.”
That’s not to imply any wrongdoing or dirty recruiting. It’s simply a logical outcome from a strong pre-existing relationship with a youth coach. Georgia got on well with Parker’s family, and Parker made several trips to Athens. There was a good relationship there, and the Bulldogs were a serious contender for one of the spring’s top unsigned prospects.
Unfortunately for Georgia, coming in a close second doesn’t get you any more than the schools that were dropped months ago. Georgia is left with a nice recruiting class, but that class is still heavy on backcourt players. That’s good since Georgia will be replacing senior guards Ware and Robinson, but it also means that the team missed out on a chance for a big impact on the frontcourt. Without any surprise late signings, Georgia’s frontcourt will look much as it did this past year. They’ll have the improvement from an offseason of work, sure, but the personnel will largely be the same.
UCLA will be an interesting team to watch next season. They’ll have to meld a strong incoming class with an unusual mix of returning players that will include three disgruntled former North Carolina players. Coach Ben Howland is under scrutiny not only for a string of poor seasons but also a culture that took a pretty strong hit in a Sports Illustrated piece earlier this year. Howland and his staff have responded with a great effort in recruiting, but they’ll have immediate expectations to turn this talent into the wins and titles that have eluded the program since last decade’s Final Four trips.
If you have an hour, you can watch the farce that was Parker’s announcement ceremony. The school has a link to the video up here, or you can wait until the commemorative 6-DVD set comes out in time for Christmas.