We're in the midst of the NCAA Tournament's Sweet Sixteen, but Coach Anthony Grant and his staff are focusing hard on next season as the late signing period for basketball begins immediately following the national championship game in just a few short weeks. In this piece, I'll be examining some of the Tide's top targets for this final signing period.
Recall from my basketball recruiting overview that the vast majority of prospects for the 2010 class have already signed in the early signing period back in November. Grant and company signed two guards, Trevor Releford and Charles Hankerson, who we will be profiling in detail in future pieces. Assuming no attrition from this year's roster, the staff will be able to sign no more than two players in the late period. The scholarship limit for basketball is 13, and the Tide was two under that limit this year, with 11 players on scholarship. Two players (Torrance and Brock) graduated, while two have already signed as part of next year's entering class. That means we're back to 11 scholarship players, hence the two open spots. It looks as though Grant is for sure looking to sign at least one more player, and might very well fill out both available spots. There should be no concern about saving spots for the 2011 class, as next year's roster will feature five seniors.
Continue reading after the jump for more details on Bama's targets for the 2010 class...
The top two players on Bama's board for the late signing period appear to be two very highly sought-after power forwards. At this time, they are the only two players with firm offers from Alabama for the late signing period.
In my opinion the big fish out there at this point is Ricardo Ratliffe, considered by many to be the top JuCo prospect in the nation. Ratliffe graduated high school in 2008 in Hampton, VA, where he was recruited by none other than Anthony Grant, then head coach at VCU. Ratliffe wasn't as highly rated at that time, having yet to fill out his lanky frame and fine-tune his ball skills, and at any rate he ended up enrolling at Central Florida Community College in Ocala, FL. In his two years there he has transformed into nothing short of a beast. As a sophomore this season he averaged over 27 points and 12 rebounds per game, extremely impressive numbers for a power forward at that level.
Recruiting analysts and college coaches alike believe he is capable of coming in from day one and being a high-level starter on a major conference team like Alabama. Some even say the skills he has developed in his time in JuCo combined with his 6'9" size and athleticism could very well make him an NBA prospect if he continues his growth with a strong year or two at a major college. To say that he is precisely what we need in the post is an understatement. He is exactly the kind of player that can give us size, scoring, and rebounding in the post while taking tons of pressure off of Green.
The downsize of course for Ratliffe is the fact that we will get at most two years out of him. Not only that, but he has been quoted on a couple of occasions as stating that his main goal was to get to the NBA as quickly as possible. He believes he may be able to do that after just one year in college. Along those same lines, he has also been quoted as saying that the main things he is looking for are the ability to come in and start right away and the ability to develop his game for the next level. While his focus may be more on the NBA than winning college championships, he's simply a guy that is too good at a position where we need some immediate help for us to consider landing him anything short of a major recruiting win that could vastly improve the team's outlook for next year.
So where do we stand with Ratliffe? He recently narrowed his list to Alabama, Arkansas, Clemson, Cincinnati, Florida, and Missouri. Following the end of his season at CFCC, he took a visit to Arkansas to catch their final home game against Ole Miss before traveling to Tuscaloosa for a visit later that same weekend. He has trips upcoming to Clemson, Missouri, and Cincinnati, after which he will announce his decision during the upcoming signing period. Coach Grant recently flew to Florida to meet with him, and he has had many positive things to say about Grant, but this is going to be a tough battle. The schools we are competing against are all pretty big basketball programs and they all have a need in the post and all seem to want Ratliffe badly. One thing we do have going for us is the fact that Grant recruited him originally out of high school when he wasn't as highly rated, so hopefully that will help.
The other top target for the Tide in the post is Luke Cothron, a top-50 national high school player out of North Carolina. Cothron is a native of Alabama, so he has strong ties in the state, but he spent his last two years of high school in North Carolina. After a long recruiting process in which he was heavily recruited by several big-time programs, including Alabama under the former coaching staff, he committed to Coach Sidney Lowe and North Carolina State last fall. However, due to the uncertain nature of Lowe's job status with the Wolfpack, Cothron put off signing, unlike most high school players who sign in the early period, although he remained committed to NC State throughout the season.
Cothron has been considered one of the truly elite talents in the 2010 class for some time. He has incredible size at 6'8" and possesses elite athleticism for a player his height. He is considered to be a very strong rebounder and a strong finisher around the rim. He also has unusually well-developed ball skills for a young player his size, with range extending out to the arc on his jumpshot and the ability to drive the lane from the perimeter. He is also a solid free throw shooter for a player his size. Like Ratliffe, Cothron is a player who can come in and help immediately and would be a big talent upgrade for us in the paint. As a high school player, he's probably not quite as ready as Ratliffe to come in and be a huge factor from day one, but he has tremendous upside and has the potential to be a four-year player.
Cothron's scouting report does come with its own downside, though. Several reports have cited him as lacking intensity on the floor in both practice and games. This may simply be a result of him not needing to "turn it on" at the high school level or it may be a maturity thing. Furthermore, scouts have noted that he overestimates his ball skills at times and tries to play too much like a small forward instead of a power forward, taking too many outside shots, dribbling too much, setting up on the perimeter, etc. While these things are a concern, they all sound like things that can be coached out of him, and I have full faith that Coach Grant can do just that. Cothron is truly an elite talent, and if Grant can focus his energy and intensity on improving his game and using his impressive ball skills in productive ways, he can be a big-time player for us if we are lucky enough to get him.
Following this season, Cothron de-committed from NC State and has since opened up his recruitment. Alabama is considered to be near the top of his list, but he recently received an offer from Kentucky and coach John Calipari to add to his already-impressive list of big-time offers. In addition to Alabama and Kentucky, he is also considering offers from UConn and Tennessee, among others. He still has all of his visits left, so we may very well be seeing Mr. Cothron on a visit in Tuscaloosa very soon, although he has not yet made plans for which schools he will visit. Cothron will announce his decision after making all of his visits.
While Ratliffe and Cothron are at the top of Coach Grant's board, there are some other players gaining attention as well. We definitely want/need to land at least one of the two above players, and we'd love to take them both, but in the event we land only one of the two, it appears Grant may want to use his last scholarship to bolster depth in the backcourt and on the wing. Although to my knowledge we only have offers to the two players named above, Grant is nevertheless showing some interest to some high school players who remained unsigned. Two guys to keep an eye on here are Josh Langford and Jalen Steele.
Langford is a 6'6" small forward out of Huntsville's Lee High School. Reports seem to peg him as a small forward in themode: good size, quickness, explosiveness, can attack the rim, with perimeter skills still evolving. He originally committed to Louisville and coach Rick Pitino back in the fall but backed out of his commitment just before the early signing period. He now has offers from coach Bob Huggins and West Virginia as well as Ole Miss, Marquette, and Clemson. Grant has yet to offer Langford, but he has been showing him some interest. It's also important to note that Langford's cousin and teammate, Devin Langford, a 2011 prospect, already has an offer from Grant. It's possible that Grant could look to the elder Langford if we miss out on either of the big guys.
Jalen Steele (no relation to Ronald and Andrew) is a shooting guard out of Knoxville, TN, who signed last fall to play for coach Jeff Lebo at Auburn. However, since Lebo was recently fired, Steele may be opening things up and reports are that Grant has shown him some interest, probably due to his three-point shooting ability. Like Langford, there are no reports of an offer, but he's another guy Grant could turn to in order to fill out the class if Steele doesn't stick with Auburn and Grant has an extra scholarship.
Grant and his staff have been hard out on the trails a great deal the past few weeks, so there are likely other players that they may be targeting for the late signing period as back-ups, including some JuCo players that may be a bit off the radar who emerged as prospects just recently. In the event that we miss out on both Ratliffe and Cothron, it is likely the staff may have a back-up plan involving another JuCo post players. Unlike the previous coaching staff, the current one has a policy of playing things very close-to-the-vest in terms of recruiting. Many of the premium recruiting sites have found it difficult to come by information for this reason, so it's very possible that there could be other offers out there other than what we know, or other players the staff may be targeting.
As a final aside, I am not a recruiting expert nor am I privy to any special information. All the info I have in this article was obtained from free sites and/or free content, with the exception of the player scouting reports, which I based off of ESPN's recruiting site. I have simply condensed the information that is out there into one big summary, and that is exactly the type of thing I will continue to do in the coming weeks. If anyone comes across any tidbits relating to any of these recruits, please be sure to post in the fanpost section. If I left out any targets for the late signing period for the 2010 class in this article, please say so in the comments section.
It should be an exciting few weeks here for basketball recruiting. Stay tuned.