“Holy Toledo, Batman.” “Martha, put on your dancin’ shoes.” “I’m coming Elizabeth, this is the big one.”
Three trite and cliched statements to describe awe, joy, and shock…but they don’t come close to giving the appropriate measure of significance to the recruiting event of 03 October, 2008. Possibly the coup of the 2009 basketball recruiting year.
With that opening stanza, I had proceeded to write a piece on the MVC’s David conquering 3 PAC-10 Goliaths. I went on to extoll the remarkable ascent-rise of Creighton’s recruiting over the last several years.
Anon, much to my chagrin – Goliath (in the guise of UCLA) won the recruiting battle for WC Center Anthony Stover. It was a good battle and CU learned a great deal from the process, but as I stated over at the Cafe – I’m not a fan of consolation prizes. The story still deserves to be told:
a.k.a. (Close only counts in…) Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
Little David (Missouri Valley mainstay, Creighton University) today NEARLY defeated not one, but three mighty PAC-10 Conference powerhouses in the current round of the college basketball recruiting wars. The prize was one of the last top 100 players available on the West Coast, 6-10 SoCal center Anthony Stover. Anthony is rated as high as the #11 Center nationally (Scout.com) in the 2009 class.
Creighton became a player in the Stover recruitment in the spring of this year, and surprisingly to many, survived several cuts. In the process the early leader Oregon St and other contenders fell away, leaving Arizona, ASU, UCLA, and incredibly – Creighton, as Anthonys’ Final Four schools.
Most of the experts and the West Coast fan bases gave short shrift to or outright ignored the Bluejay coaching staffs’ efforts. Many of the national analysts proclaimed ASU, Arizona, and UCLA, respectively, as the rotating favorites for claiming Stovers’ services. Alas, ultimately the pundits were proved correct by UCLA. The prognosticators assumed the Jays would fall out of the battle, unable to sustain the fight against the West Coast juggernauts. However, armed only with a slingshot and “stones” the size of bowling balls, little David (CU) displayed amazing tenacity, hung in there, and stayed the course. Creighton, at 1/5th the size of these public school behemoths, NEARLY outdueled, outwitted, and outlasted the marquis PAC-10 schools head-on, in what would have been described as the recruiting “upset of the year“.
Coach Dana Altman and his staff put forth an excellent strategy of maintaining a commendatory stance & comments towards the competition, while diligently emphasizing Creighton’s unique academic, environmental, and athletic advantages, as one of America’s top small, private universities. Tactically, the Jays challenged the seeming overwhelming advantages of the larger schools with targeted statistical reporting countering the imprecise, erroneous, and often misleading information coming from the PAC-10 contingent. When the smoke cleared, Goliath had won the close battle, and although whupped this time, little David limped away contemplating what went wrong and how to improve upon his gameplan.
And while this episode’s ending is par for the course, the fact that CU was able to mount such an ambitious campaign and able to legitimately compete against Top 10 competition is intriguing.
Sometimes smaller is better. Creighton has developed a very efficient California recruiting pipeline to its’ Omaha campus. Counting their 2009 haul (top California player PG Andrew Bock of Rialto) the Bluejays have shuttled 7 top West Coast players to the Midwest over the last 6 years. CU’s recruiting efforts have evolved over the years, from the mad scramble nationally (as an independent University) for leftover, late bloomer, and developmental “diamond in-the-rough” players, into the efficient, orchestrated, and well-oiled machine in use today. This is one of the benefits of a highly capable, stable, and well entrenched coaching staff. Even with the tremendous odds against them, the Bluejays didn’t back down, nor did they quit. They fought it out with the Big Boys despite the odds. Yes, in the end Creighton lost this battle, but there will be other battles in the ongoing recruiting wars.
The cadre of Creighton assistant coaches are experts in player assessment and evaluations, and rarely stray from the prototypical Creighton player (smart, academically sound – well skilled – high basketball IQ). They recruit to the academic & athletic requirements of CU’s system and today the Jays routinely sign highly talented 4-Star recruits. As a result, over the past decade, we have continually seen Creighton listed in the various college basketball rankings for sustained excellence and achievement. If the Jays last 3 recruiting classes are any indication, they are just getting warmed up. The Bluejays are among the shortlist of Fast Rising schools to keep an eye on over the next few seasons. Kudos to Coach Altman and his top flight coaching staff at Creighton, on the great battle waged in the Stover recruitment. It was a grueling loss, but the silver lining here is the knowledge that the Bluejays can compete at this level. Along the way there will be victories as well as defeats, but from all appearances, Creighton is here to stay. Welcome to the recruiting A-List.
Way to go, little David.