Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Not exactly great PR for new UConn staff

With my duties covering the UConn women's basketball team and their NCAA basketball record winning streak, I've been running a little behind schedule addressing some issues on this blog that are on my radar including the challenge of putting together a recruiting class with a change in coaching staffs.

I will get around to that but I do need to give my take on what has taken place over the last couple of days with UConn's recruiting class.

First, former UConn commits Ryan Dickens and Jake Byczko posted on their Twitter accounts yesterday that they were reopening their recruiting process and former UConn assistant coach Vincent Brown tweeted his disappointment at scholarship offers being pulled this close to national signing day following a coaching change. If the dots couldn't already get connected, this story on Dickens having his scholarship pulled by UConn would certainly do the trick.

This is not a good look for UConn. First of all, since Dickens is not signed, there's nothing UConn can say on the record to refute this report. I know this happens in recruiting. I just saw a tweet that said there were 189 football decommits last January. Still, it's a part of the recruiting process that is hard to deal with and harder to defend regardless of how often it happens. My hope is that Dickens (who tweeted that he was offered by URI) and Byczko land on their feet and have a great four or five years of college both on and off the field.

I also get the other side of the story. Randy Edsall is trying to salvage this recruiting class and improve the talent level of a program coming off a 3-9 season. There was already a perception that Bob Diaco's staff weren't the best at identifying talent (although one UConn decommit started as a redshirt freshman at South Florida and another one recently was offered by Baylor). Edsall and his staff do have the right to look at the players who committed to UConn when Diaco was running things and determine that those players either don't fit the scheme or don't have the talent or aren't as good of a fit as other players the Huskies are recruiting. There's not a painless way to navigate through this process especially when a coaching hire is made in late December and the staff is being finalized as the open recruiting period gets underway. Certainly this is not exactly the kind of press the UConn program is looking for especially with some national media types posting about it on social media. Ten years ago something like this would generate a little initial attention that would quickly subside. In this age of social media and blogs, the heat on UConn figures to be more sustained and more intense.

I'm sure people will think that this will impact Edsall's recruiting efforts. The reality is something different although getting players out of the schools where the decommitted players are coming from might take some doing. You may remember the story of former UConn receiver Frank Battle, who had his offer pulled from Syracuse. Or the situation under Diaco's watch when UConn commit Logan Marchi had to reopen his recruitment when it was determined that he wasn't going to be accepted into school even though I was told by a source that was far from the whole story. Syracuse has continued to recruit in Florida, the Huskies have continued to recruit in Connecticut. The fact is that players will head to the school and university that best fits their needs and the thought that other schools will use this news against UConn, I'd be willing to bet that those same schools have some recruiting skeletons in their closets so good luck with that.

Currently UConn is at 10 commitments for the current recruiting class including early enrollee Omar Fortt. Because of my women's basketball coverage responsibilities, I wasn't able to attend Walter Camp festivities over the weekend. I wanted to catch up with UConn commit Ryan Fitton who I noticed has been following plenty of staff members from Rutgers on Twitter. My colleague Sean Patrick Bowley caught up with Staples coach Marce Petroccio who confirmed that Fitton has been offered by Rutgers so it is a situation we will be monitoring. Also, UConn commit Dallas Hobbs recently was offered by Washington State so we'll see if there are changes to the number of committed players.

If my math is correct (and with the way Diaco gave out scholarships to walk-ons I could have missed a player or two now on scholarship) UConn should have 23 scholarships available. With 21 players on scholarship in the junior class, there shouldn't be a need to hold back scholarships to balance out the classes. Obviously these next couple of weeks are going to be interesting to say the least as an brand new staff is out pursuing prospects.

Now to what I have been meaning to write about, back in 2014 seven players remained committed to UConn who had committed when Paul Pasqualoni was the head coach while eight pledged to the Huskies after Bob Diaco was hired.

The pre-Diaco group was highlighted by Arkeel Newsome, UConn's leading rusher in each of the last two seasons, Jamar Summers, Luke Carrezola and Alec Bloom. Trey Rutherford and Brice McAllister have also earned time as starters out of that group. The only one who did not was Tom Rodrick, who left UConn due to medical reasons and landed at UMass. Vontae Diggs, UConn's second-leading tackler in 2016, Ron Johnson and Ryan Crozier are the players who were recruited by Diaco in 2014 who have had the biggest impact. Johnson announced via Facebook that he would be transferring. Tony Watkins, Steve Hashemi and Sheriden Lawley (named UConn's most improved player last season) have also earned playing time while it is too early to tell what sort of impact Dan Oak and James Atkins will have with the Huskies.

The point of all of this is I would say that the last time the Huskies were in the situation they are currently in, UConn secured commitment from key players both before and after the coaching change. It will be interesting to see how things shake out in the next few seasons regarding this year's recruiting class.


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