by Rob Joyce
There’s still over two months left before this year’s college basketball champion is crowned, but we’re already looking ahead to the 2018-19 season. And regardless of what happens between now and April 2 at the Alamodome, we can all but guarantee who next year’s favorite will be to cut down the nets. That’s after Zion Williamson, the No. 2 rated prospect by ESPN, committed to the Blue Devils earlier this week.
Williamson joins an absurd recruiting class for Mike Krzyzewski, who also signed RJ Barrett (No. 1 recruit), Cam Reddish (No. 3) and Tre Jones (No. 10) for next season. Recruiting rankings haven’t been around for very long, but it’s considered the first time ever that one school nabbed each of the top three recruits in the nation. Obviously this doesn’t guarantee success at Cameron, but it’s a good start. And if they live up to the ensuing hype, they could join the list of the greatest recruiting classes in college basketball and football history. Based on college success and future pro opportunities, here are the six best (sorry, Fab Five):
6) Kentucky basketball, 2011:
This may not even be John Calipari’s best recruiting class at Kentucky, but they accomplished the most. The class consisted of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer. On the court they went 38-2, a perfect 16-0 in SEC play and won a national championship. Davis was the headliner, winning the Naismith Award and Final Four Most Outstanding Player. Then in the one-and-done era they bolted. Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist went 1-2 in the NBA Draft, Teague was picked 29th, and Wiltjer transferred to Gonzaga.
5) Florida basketball, 2004:
Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green made up the core of the Gators’ 2006 championship team. But then the sophomores all did the unthinkable – they came back the next year with a goal of repeating. Not a single one of them left, and they again repeated as national champs in 2007. Though their individual collegiate accolades aren’t overwhelming – Noah was the only All-American – the two titles more than make up for it.
Not to mention, when they did go to the NBA, Horford (3rd), Brewer (7th) and Noah (9th) all went in the top-10 and Green went in the second round. Horford is a four-time All-Star, Noah is a two-time All-Star and was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 and Brewer is still enjoying a career.
4) UCLA basketball, 1965:
A gangly 7-footer from New York City named Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) is the headliner for this class, and for good reason. After all he was a three-time All-American, two-time National Player of the Year and won three championships, earning Most Outstanding Player honors each year. Beyond Alcindor, though, were Lucius Allen and Lynn Shackleford. Allen was an All-American in 1968 and enjoyed a 10-year career in the NBA, while Shackleford, Alincdor, Curtis Rowe and Henry Bibby are the only players in NCAA history to start for three championship teams.
How good was this recruiting class? Freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity, so in an exhibition the varsity team would play the freshmen team. The freshmen won 75-60 against the defending national champions.
3) Nebraska football, 1992:
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Florida, Florida State and Miami wanted Sunshine State native Tommy Frazier to be a skill player, so he went to Nebraska to prove his worth at quarterback. Along with future NFL players Chris Dishman (OL), Mike Minter (DB), Jared Tomich (DT) and Tyrone Williams (CB) the Huskers would win back-to-back national titles in 1994 and 1995. That includes a ’95 season that’s among the most dominant in history. In going 12-0, Nebraska averaged 53 points a game, allowed just 14.5 and a single game (35-21 win vs. Washington State) was decided by less than 24 points.
Also of note, the punter in that class was Darin Erstad, future No. 1 overall pick in the MLB draft.
2) UConn basketball, 2012:
Geno Auriemma landed three of the nation’s top-15 recruits in Breanna Stewart (No. 1), Moriah Jefferson (No. 2) and Morgan Tuck (No. 15). Though Tuck missed a year with an injury, the trio went on to go 151-4 in Storrs, winning four national championships. Stewart was National Player of the Year three times, and is the only person in NCAA history to win four Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards. Jefferson won the Nancy Lieberman award twice as the nation’s best point guard, and Tuck scored 1,298 points To top it all off, Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck went 1-2-3 in the WNBA Draft.
1) Notre Dame football, 1946:
With World War II over, Irish coach Frank Leahy wasted no time in corralling recruits in what is still considered the greatest class of all time. The class boasted 42 future NFL players, had a Heisman Trophy winner in Leon Hart and went 36-0-2 in four years, winning three national titles. The circumstances surrounding such a large class, plus much stricter recruiting rules, means this class will likely never be topped.