This year’s NCAA tournament has been full of great stories, from Florida Gulf Coast’s Cinderella run to La Salle going from First Four to Sweet 16 to the Big Ten placing four teams in the final 16.
But what about the stories behind the stories -- the tales of how some of this year’s March Madness stars ended up at their eventual schools and helped shape this year’s tourney? To delve into those, this week’s top 10 looks at the 10 best recruiting stories from players and teams in the Sweet 16.
Top 10 Recruiting Stories From the Sweet 16
1. Trey Burke, Michigan
Mick Cronin is not going to want to hear this again, but it’s true. Burke was going to Cincinnati. It was nearly a done deal. But one last call to Michigan’s staff changed the fate of two programs. According to recruiting lore, Burke’s father called a final time asking Michigan if it was interested in Burke. If the answer was no, then Burke was going to Cincinnati. This was in late July of Burke’s pre-senior summer. Remember, it wasn’t like the now All-American was hot stuff then. He was good -- a late top-100 player -- but he wasn’t the player then that he has become. Ultimately, Michigan said it wanted Burke and the Wolverines landed him a few days later.
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Florida Gulf Coast's Brett Comer almost ended up at Florida Atlantic.
2. Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast
There’s a lot to this story. Florida Atlantic accepted a commitment from Comer before his junior year, after he visited the school unofficially and did the same with Miami (with no offer from the Hurricanes). But when Comer’s father died of cancer, he had second thoughts and asked out of his letter of intent. There was a point when playing at nearby Rollins College was on the table. To make a long story short, I remember the day he committed to FGCU and how excited that staff was. They were also fortunate because at that time the school had no business nabbing an outstanding mid-level player like Comer, who was a high school teammate of Austin Rivers. Suffice it to say, it’s worked out well for all parties.
3. Dominic Artis, Oregon
Make no mistake about it, Artis wanted to go to UCLA. How do I know? He committed there and was happy to be a Bruin -- for a little while. But after Ben Howland accepted a commitment from top-10 recruit Kyle Anderson, who intended to run the point, Artis decommitted from UCLA a few weeks later. For Dana Altman, turns out that Anderson’s commitment to UCLA was Ducky.
4. Kenny Boynton, Florida
Billy Donovan has won a ton of serious recruiting battles in his decorated career. One of the more public tussles was the recruitment of Boynton, for whom Donovan bested Duke, Georgia Tech and Texas. A great story emerged from Donovan’s home visit with Boynton. The coach brought a Nerf gun with him to Boynton’s house and laid it on the table. He told Boynton and his family to pick up the gun and shoot him if they thought he wasn’t being truthful. Donovan emerged unscathed and weeks later landed himself a new shooting guard.
5. Tyrone Garland/Ramon Galloway, La Salle
La Salle’s two best guards were recruited, signed and played for two ESPN broadcasters. That’s right, Seth Greenberg scored a commitment from Garland at Virginia Tech and Darrin Horn, a first-year broadcaster for ESPN, landed Galloway at South Carolina. Both eventually transferred and have prospered for John Giannini at La Salle.
6. LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State
The day Ross pledged to Ohio State, the national recruiting reaction was, “What??” Few saw Ohio State as a viable option for the well-traveled Mississippi native. And there were times when the pledge looked like it might not hold up. Prior to Ross’ freshman season he wasn’t cleared academically and, again, no one was sure if he would ever play at Ohio State. But the player who once had a hard time committing to playing hard has turned his game and his fortunes around at Ohio State. An unlikely college selection turned into a great NCAA redemption story.
7. Carl Hall, Wichita State
The Shockers and the VCU Rams have history on the court and off it. VCU has beaten Wichita State twice on the court the past few seasons, notably in last year’s first round of the NCAA tourney. Wichita State paid the Rams back by winning on VCU’s home court this season. The rivalry, however, runs deeper. When Hall was in junior college, he had quietly committed to VCU. But (insert Lee Corso voice here), “Not so fast, my friends.” Eventually, Hall wound up signing with Wichita State.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
Duke and Michigan State have already tussled once this season -- on the recruiting trail -- with the Blue Devils edging the Spartans for No. 2 recruit Jabari Parker.
8. Jabari Parker, 2013 Duke recruit
Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski have already had one showdown this season. But it wasn’t on the court. Instead, they tangled over No. 2 overall recruit Jabari Parker. The Spartans were silver medalists for Parker as Coach K took the gold. Their recruiting war will also leak into next year as both Duke and Michigan State are heavily in contention for the nation’s top two juniors, big man Jahlil Okafor and point guard Tyus Jones. Another good recruiting tangle between teams that will play in the Sweet 16 was Indiana versus Syracuse for top-10 senior Noah Vonleh, who signed with the Hoosiers.
9. Russ Smith, Louisville
There was a time during Smith’s prep school year at South Kent (Conn.) when Louisville looked like a major stretch. Seriously, I’m not the only person who thought he was going to have a difficult time playing for the Cardinals. Here’s a snippet from his evaluation in November 2009: “Score first PG; great at line, needs to distribute better; can he score vs. size?” Well, it turns out he can score versus size. Rutgers, St. John’s and Houston thought he could too, but Louisville was the place he’d always wanted to attend.
10. Solomon Hill, Arizona
When Sean Miller took the job at Arizona, the USC Trojans were sitting on the Pac-12’s best recruiting class at the time. Well, when Tim Floyd stepped down at USC, Miller stepped up at Arizona. He landed USC commits Derrick Williams and Hill from the Trojans in transition. Both played key roles in the emergence of Miller as a West Coast recruiter. A year later, guard Nick Johnson committing to Arizona gave Miller added street cred out West.
Thank you very much.