35 Greatest Recruiting Classes Of All Time
When Top 15 recruit and five star forward Precious Achiuwa of Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) announced last week that he would attend Memphis in the fall, it immediately boosted the Tigers’ seven player haul to the top-ranked recruiting class in the country.
Achiuwa joins the No. 1 player in the country, James Wiseman (Memphis East), and four-star recruits Boogie Ellis (San Diego Mission Bay), D.J. Jeffries (Olive Branch, MS), Lester Quinones (IMG Academy, FL), Malcolm Dandridge (Memphis East) and Damion Baugh (Tennessee Prep).
Penny Hardaway’s squad will perform on the court, so we can’t yet say if it’s an all-time recruiting job, but his efforts got myself and my colleague Ronnie Flores on the discussion of the greatest recruiting classes of all time. So we started to dig, and dig, and dig some more.
Some 36 hours later, we had a list of 35 of the all-time great recruiting classes dating back to 1965 for your enjoyment, beginning with UCLA’s class of 1965.
*The list takes into consideration not only the player rankings in those respective classes (listed by number) by the most credible recruiting lists we could find, but also what immediate impact the class had during its time in college hoops. College freshman were first eligible for varsity competition in the 1972-73 season. Classes are listed in chronological order.
1965 UCLA Bruins
Class: Lew Alcindor (aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Lucius Allen, Lynn Shackelford, Kenny Heitz
Impact: The freshman team, led by these four first-year guys, blew out the varsity team, 75-60, in the inaugural game inside of Pauley Pavilion. Alcindor, Allen, Shackelford and Heitz spent their first season competing against other freshman teams and junior college programs, winning those games by an average of 57 points in front of massive crowds. All four moved into the starting lineup as sophomores and ran off three straight national championships led by Alcindor, arguably the greatest college player ever.
1970 UCLA Bruins
Class: Bill Walton, Jamaal Wilkes, Greg Lee, Tommy Curtis, Vince Carson
Impact: The eventual best player in college basketball, Walton, and the rest of this class had to play freshman ball in 1971 and showed just how good they were as sophomores by going 30-0 and winning the ’72 title over Florida State. UCLA won it again in ’73 over Memphis, but fell to NC State in the ’74 Final Four in the last season of this storied class.
1972 Indiana Hoosiers
Class: Quinn Buckner, Scott May, Tom Abernethy, Jim Crews
Impact: This wasn’t an immediate satisfaction class, but it produced long-term success. May was academically ineligible in the 1972-73 season, but his ability was on full display during his sophomore year. Bucker actually was an immediate impact freshman (10.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg) on a team that advanced the the NCAA Final Four. The Hoosiers went 31-1 in 1974-75 and lost to Kentucky in the regional finals, before going 32-0 in 1975-76, winning the national title over Michigan, 86-68. The ’75-76 Indiana squad is the last team in college basketball to finish a season undefeated.
1978 Louisville Cardinals
Class: Jerry Eaves, Scooter McCray, Wiley Brown, Derek Smith, Poncho Wright
Impact: After recruiting National Player of the Year Darrell Griffith and Bobby Turner out of Louisville’s Male High School in 1976, coach Denny Crum missed out on big targets like Albert King and Magic Johnson in 1977 and didn’t bring in much of note that fall. He needed to hit big going into the 1979 season to surround Griffith with enough talent to make a run at the program’s third Final Four in the Crum era. Although he didn’t land a superstar, he brought in excellent depth and a gem in McRay, who was joined a year later by his younger brother Rodney out of Mt. Vernon, N.Y. Scooter and Smith were impact players and Eaves and Brown were good role players as freshman. Even without Turner and an injured Scooter, who was never the same after his freshman year, Smith and Brown stepped up around Griffith to develop the program its first NCAA title in 1980. This deep class made up the core of the team that made another NCAA Final Four appearance in 1982.
1979 Kentucky Wildcats
Class: Sam Bowie (3), Derrick Hord (5), Dirk Minniefield (20), Charles Hurt (36)
Impact: Bowie and Hord came in as top five recruits and the 7-foot-1 Bowie averaged 12.9 points and eight rebounds per game as a freshman, but battled injuries throughout his career. Hord, Minniefield and Hurt were all solid pieces during their four year careers, but weren’t apart of the 1984 team which lost in the National Semifinals to Georgetown in Bowie’s fifth year.
1979 UCLA Bruins
Class: Darren Daye (9), Rod Foster (28), Michael Holton (43), Cliff Pruitt (95)
Impact: These four UCLA freshmen teamed with senior Kiki Vandeweghe to advance all the way to the NCAA title game, where it lost to Louisville led by Darrell Griffith. Larry Brown left for the NBA and left the program on probation in his wake and this group never achieved the projections set for it.
1982 Duke Blue Devils
Class: Johnny Dawkins (11), Mark Alarie (43), Weldon Williams (62), Jay Bilas (74), David Henderson, Bill Jackman
Impact: After a rough second year in Durham 10-17, many fans were calling for coach Mike Krzyzewski’s head, but this is the class that turned things around. Sure, Duke went 11-17 in 1982-83, but it also saw Dawkins (18.1 ppg) develop into arguably the most important recruit in school history and the player that started a Duke dynasty that won five NCAA championships in the Coach K era. Alarie (10 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Henderson (9.1 ppg) and Bilas (8.8 rpg) were also impact freshmen and this group made up the core of the team that advanced to the first Final Four in the Krzyzewski era, losing to Louisville in the 1986 NCAA title game.
1985 Louisville Cardinals
Class: Tony Kimbro (4), Pervis Ellison (17), Kenny Payne (22), Keith Williams, Avery Marshall
Impact: After winning the 1980 NCAA title and advancing to the 1982 and 1983 NCAA Final Four, it looked like Denny Crum’s proud program wasn’t on that level anymore after going 19-18 in 1985. A big reason for that was senior guard Wilt Wagner had to take a red-shirt for an injury. Similar to Scooter McCray in ’78 and Lancaster Gordon and Charles Jones in ’80, Crum found another Southern gem in Ellison. “Never Nervous” Pervis teamed up with Wagner to lead the Cardinals to their second NCAA title in seven seasons in 1986 and the Savannah, Ga. product was the first freshman ever named MOP of the NCAA Tournament. Kimbro was a three-year starer and Payne scored nearly 15 ppg as a senior.
1986 Syracuse Orange
Class: Derrick Coleman (6), Earl Duncan (15), Stephen Thompson (36), Keith Hughes, Matt Roe
Impact: Pearl Washington, a New York City playground legend, and cable television, made Syracuse a household name in the mid 1980s and coach Jim Boeheim used that to bring in some excellent recruiting classes around that time. Although Washington left a season early for the NBA in 1986, Syracuse’s recruiting class that season help the program get over the hump and advance to its first NCAA Final Four, where it lost to Indiana in the title game. Coleman (11.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg) starred immediately, Thompson was a terrific four-year standout and Duncan (after sitting out as a Prop 48) and Roe became valuable contributors on NCAA tournament teams after their freshman seasons.
1988 Georgetown Hoyas
Class: Alonzo Mourning (1), Milton Bell (28), Ronny Thompson, Dikembe Mutombo, John Tuner (JUCO)
Impact: We were tempted to place the 1981 Georgetown class with No. 1 player Patrick Ewing, but we decided to place another John Thompson haul with a No. 1 national player, Mourning (13.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg). What makes this class unique is the emergence of Mutombo, a Congo native who attended Georgetown on a USAID scholarship and spoke basically no English when he arrived. Although Bell eventually transferred and Turner dropped out, Mourning made the Hoyas a forced to be reckoned with right away as they advanced to the Elite Eight and they were quite competitive with the Twin Towers underneath for the next two seasons after that.
1989 Indiana Hoosiers
Class: Lawrence Funderburke (7), Pat Graham (15), Calbert Cheaney (31), Greg Graham (36), Chris Lawson (76)
Impact: This class was met with a lot of fanfare, especially with thoughts of pairing Funderburke with Bobby Knight, but the fun didn’t last long. Funderburke only lasted six games before transferring to Ohio State after he butted heads with coach Knight. Pat and Greg Graham were solid pieces, but Calbert Cheaney ended up being the gem of that Hoosiers’ class. Cheaney led Indiana to the 1992 Final Four and was the 1993 NCAA Player of the Year as a senior.
1990 North Carolina Tar Heels
Class: Eric Montrose (2), Clifford Rozier (5), Derrick Phelps (12), Brian Reese (13)
Impact: All four played roles in their first seasons in Chapel Hill as UNC went to the Final Four in 1991, falling to Kansas, 79-73. Montross ended up leading the Tar Heels in scoring during their run to the 1993 NCAA national title where they defeated the next recruiting class on our list. Rozier ended up transferring to Louisville where he became an All-American, while Reese (11.3 points per game) and Phelps (8.1 ppg) started and played major roles in the title run.
1991 Michigan Wolverines
Class: Chris Webber (1), Juwan Howard (3), Jalen Rose (6), Jimmy King (9), Ray Jackson (76)
Impact: There is no class more highly publicized and analyzed than the famed Fab Five. Webber, Howard, Rose and King were McDonald’s All-Americans, and in fact, played on the same Mickey D’s team. The Wolverines reached back-to-back National Championship games in 1992 and 1993, but fell to Duke and North Carolina, respectively. One of the more interesting facts about this team is it never won a Big Ten championship.
1993 North Carolina Tar Heels
Class: Jerry Stackhouse (2), Rasheed Wallace (3), Jeff McInnis (26)
Impact: Stackhouse and Wallace were considered two of the top three players in the country along with Randy Livingston (LSU), while McInnis rounded out the trio of McDonald’s All-Americans. Stackhouse and Wallace took some time away from returning starters Phelps and Reese and UNC faltered in the 1994 NCAA Tournament, falling in the second round to ninth-seeded Boston College.
1994 Michigan Wolverines
Class: Jerod Ward (3), Willie Mitchell (16), Maceo Baston (17), Maurice Taylor (18), Travis Conlan
Impact: After Michigan’s Fab Five took college basketball by storm in 1992-93, Coach Steve Fisher had the hottest program in the country in the mid 1990s. He parlayed that info fine recruiting classes in ’94 and ’95. The ’94 group was labeled Fab Five II, but because leading recruit Ward never developed as advertised, the program never returned to the NCAA Final Four before facing NCAA sanctions at the end of the Fisher era. Still, the 1994 group was productive in Ann Arbor, especially Taylor (12.4 ppg) and Baston, bookend forwards who were more tough than flashy in comparison to their predecessors on the frontline.
1997 Duke Blue Devils
Class: Chris Burgess (1), Elton Brand (6), Shane Battier (7), William Avery (51)
Impact: Brand, Battier and Burgess were all McDonald’s All-American’s in 1997. Brand came in as an immediate double-double threat, averaging 13.4 points and 7.3 rebounds as a freshman. Avery (8.5 points), Battier (7.6) and Burgess (4.3) were strong supporting actors as freshmen. Duke lost to Kentucky in the Elite Eight in 1998, then fell to Connecticut in the 1999 National Championship game. Brand, a sophomore, led the team in scoring and rebounding that season and was the No. 1 pick in the 1999 NBA Draft by Chicago, while Avery went No. 14 to Minnesota.
1998 UCLA Bruins
Class: Dan Gadzuric (5), JaRon Rush (10), Ray Young (16), Matt Barnes (39), Jerome Moiso
Impact: Rush (11.4 points), Moiso (10.8 points) and Gadzuric (8.6 points) all showed early promise as long-term prospects, but things just didn’t click. The team didn’t meet expectations under Steve Lavin and Ray Young’s career didn’t pan out as most expected. The Bruins made a couple of decent NCAA Tournament runs, but the payer rankings of this group didn’t meet the on-court production.
1999 Kansas Jayhawks
Class: Nick Collison (22), Drew Gooden (26), Kirk Hinrich (46)
Impact: This class wasn’t as highly-touted as many on this list, but it was extremely productive. All three were immediate impact players as freshmen, Collison and Gooden both averaging double-figure scoring in their first season. All three of these recruits were on the 2001-02 team which lost to Maryland in the national semifinals, while Collison and Hinrich were on the squad which lost to Syracuse in the 2003 National Championship game.
2002 Illinois Fightin’ Illini
Class: Dee Brown (19), Deron Williams (38), James Augustine (87)
Impact: Bill Self brought in this class before he left for the Kansas job and the rankings of Brown, Williams and Augustine wouldn’t lend one to believe that this class belongs on the list, but the long-term impact of this trio earned it a spot. All three started from nearly every game their inaugural year and the rapport they built helped them reach the 2005 National Championship game under Bruce Pearl. Illinois lost to North Carolina, 75-70. One honorable mention recruiting class was Lou Henson’s haul in 1986 of Nick Anderson, Steve Bardo, Kendall Gill, Ervin Small and Larry Smith, but because of Prop 48 restrictions, Anderson and Small didn’t play their freshman season.
2002 North Carolina Tar Heels
Class: Raymond Felton (3), Sean May (6), Rashad McCants (8), David Noel
Impact: This trio had a rough start as all were thrust into starting roles under coach Matt Doherty. The 2002-03 Tar Heels went 19-16 overall, 6-10 in the ACC, and missed the NCAA Tournament. Doherty was out after that season and Roy Williams took over and turned the ship around. UNC won the 2005 NCAA Title over Illinois behind the production of McCants, May and Felton.
2002 Syracuse Orange
Class: Carmelo Anthony (1), Gerry McNamara (21)
Impact: This class is important for obvious reasons. Anthony opted to go to college instead of the NBA and the rest is history. Melo immediately became the premier scorer in the country and led the Orange to the 2003 NCAA National Championship. McNamara may have been the overlooked piece to this puzzle, but his 13.3 points per game and consistent long-range shooting was instrumental in Syracuse’s success. Some include Billy Edelin in this class, but he was a 2001 high school graduate who missed his freshman season due to suspension.
2004 Florida Gators
Class: Corey Brewer (29), Al Horford (48), Joakim Noah (67), Taurean Green (70)
Impact: This group didn’t look as good on paper as many on this list, but winning followed wherever it went. They all bought in to each other and coach Billy Donovan’s system which led to it being the last group to win back-to-back NCAA titles. The Gators took down UCLA in 2006 and a great Ohio State team in 2007. Noah, Horford, Brewer and Green all shared the wealth, averaging between 12 and 13.3 points per game in their junior seasons.
2005 Kansas Jayhawks
Class: Julian Wright (7), Brandon Rush (13), Mario Chalmers (14), Micah Downs (33)
Impact: Rush started every game his freshman year, while Chalmers and Wright eventually played their way into starting roles. The Jayhawks fell to UCLA in the 2007 Elite Eight in this group’s sophomore year, but after Wright left for the NBA and Downs transferred to Gonzaga, Chalmers and Rush helped Kansas win a National Championship in 2008 over Memphis. Chalmers famously hit the game-winning shot.
2006 Ohio State Buckeyes
Class: Greg Oden (1), Daequan Cook (21), Mike Conley (28), David Lighty (41), Othello Hunter (JUCO)
Impact: This class was truly considered one of the best ever led by generational center, Greg Oden, who developed into the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Oden averaged 15.7 points and 9.6 rebounds in his freshman campaign, while Conley (11.3, 6.1 assists) and Cook (9.8) took on big time roles as well. Ohio State made a run to the 2007 National Championship game where it fell to Florida.
2006 North Carolina Tar Heels
Class: Ty Lawson (3), Wayne Ellington (4), Brandan Wright (5), Alex Stepheson (62), Deon Thompson (80)
Impact: This class was top heavy for Roy Williams with Lawson, Ellington and Wright floating around the top 10 among the various rankings. Those three stepped in and contributed immediately, while Thompson and Stepheson played more complimentary roles. Wright went one-and-done, but the other four remained to help the Tar Heels made a Final Four run in 2008. Stepheson then transferred to USC and Ellington, Lawson and Thompson won a National Championship in 2009 over Michigan State.
2006 Texas Longhorns
Class: Kevin Durant (2), D.J. Augustin (17), Damion James (23), Dexter Pittman (68)
Impact: Coach Rick Barnes used his connections with Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) coach Stu Vetter to secure the services of Durant, the nation’s No. 2 recruit behind Greg Oden who turned in one of the greatest freshman seasons in NCAA history (25.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg) before being the No. 2 pick of the 2007 NBA Draft behind the same player. Barnes’ haul also included D.J. Augustin (14.4 ppg, 6.7 apg), the underrated James (7.6 ppg, 7. 2 rpg) and a fourth eventual NBA player and four-year contributor in Pittman.
2009 Kentucky Wildcats
Class: John Wall (1), DeMarcus Cousins (3), Daniel Orton (15), Eric Bledsoe (23), Jon Hood (40), Darnell Dodson (JUCO)
Impact: John Calipari wasted no time bringing in big-time talent at Kentucky. Cal snagged five players in the top 40 and a four-star junior college transfer in Dodson. The Wildcats lost to West Virginia in the Elite Eight, then lost Wall, Cousins, Orton and Bledsoe to the NBA. It was considered a big disappointment.
2010 Kentucky Wildcats
Class: Enes Kanter (3), Brandon Knight (6), Terrence Jones (13), Doron Lamb (21)
Impact: Kanter didn’t end up playing in his short stay at Kentucky and the Wildcats still managed to make a Final Four run. Knight (17.3 points), Jones (15.7) and Lamb (12.3) were the catalysts on that 2010-11 team which fell to UCONN, 56-55, in the national semifinals.
2011 Kentucky Wildcats
Class: Anthony Davis (1), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2), Marquis Teague (4), Kyle Wiltjer (22)
Impact: A recruiting class can’t get much better when three of the four guys you bring in start basically every game en route to a National Championship. Davis scooped up every award you can imagine, including Wooden Award and AP Player of the Year, as he averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game, while Kidd-Gilchrist put up 11.9 points and 7.4 boards a contest. Davis and MKG were the top two picks in the 2012 NBA Draft and Teague went 29th to Chicago. Wiltjer played two solid seasons, but transferred to Gonzaga after his sophomore year in Lexington.
2013 Kentucky Wildcats
Class: Julius Randle (3), Andrew Harrison (5), James Young (6), Aaron Harrison (7), Dakari Johnson (9), Marcus Lee (19), Derek Willis (115)
Impact: Randle, Young and the Harrison twins started from the get-go, as the Wildcats had to make up for the departures of Davis, MKG, Teague, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb whom all ended up being first round picks in the 2012 NBA Draft. Those four, along with sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein, led Kentucky to another National Championship appearance where it fell to Connecticut, 60-54. Randle and Young opted for the one-and-done route with Julius going to the Lakers at No. 7 and James to the Celtics at No. 17. The Harrison twins and Johnson stayed another year before making the jump to the pros. Lee had three average seasons before transferring back home to Cal.
2014 Duke Blue Devils
Class: Jahlil Okafor (1), Tyus Jones (4), Justise Winslow (12), Grayson Allen (17)
Impact: Okafor was an absolute beast at the college level, putting up 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds a night in leading Duke to the 2015 NCAA National Title. Winslow (12.6 points, 6.5 rebounds) and Jones (11.8 points, 5.6 assists) flourished in their starting roles. Okafor (No. 3) and Winslow (No. 10) went in the Lottery of the 2015 NBA Draft and Jones was taken 24th overall.
2014 Kentucky Wildcats
Class: Karl Anthony-Towns (5), Trey Lyles (13), Tyler Ulis (21), Devin Booker (27)
Impact: If you look at the stat sheet for the 2014-15 Wildcats none of the numbers will blow you away. No player averaged more than 11 points per game, but the balance was clear as six Kentucky players scored between 6.4 and 11 points per night. Towns started every game, while Lyles made his way into 21 first five appearances. Booker and Ulis played key bench roles as Kentucky won its first 38 games of that season. The Wildcats run to a perfect season was halted by Wisconsin in the 2015 NCAA national semifinals. Towns was the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Lyles went No. 12 and Booker No. 13.
2017 Duke Blue Devils
Class: Marvin Bagley III (2), Trevon Duval (4), Wendell Carter (7), Gary Trent, Jr. (18), Alex O’Connell (58)
Impact: This was a much-heralded coup for Coach K. He grabbed three of the top seven players in the country, including Bagley who reclassified up a class to head to Durham. The lanky lefty was as good as advertised, dropping 20 points and 11 rebounds a night for the Blue Devils, while Trent, Carter and Duval all joined him in the starting five and averaged double-figure scoring. Duke won 29 games in 2017-18, but fell to Kansas, 85-81, in the Elite Eight. Bagley (No. 2) and Carter (No. 7) were selected early in the 2018 NBA Draft, but Trent fell to the second round and Duval went undrafted.
2017 Kentucky Wildcats
Class: Hamidou Diallo (10), Kevin Knox (11), Jarred Vanderbilt (12), P.J. Washington (15), Nick Richards (17), Quade Green (22), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (34)
Impact: Kentucky didn’t land any of the top five players in 2017 as it’s accustomed to doing basically every year, but this seven player haul was absolutely ridiculous for Calipari. All seven contributed in a big way before Vanderbilt lost his season early to injury. The Wildcats ended up struggling in SEC play, finishing fourth in the conference with a 10-8 record before falling to Kansas State in the 2018 Sweet 16.
2018 Duke Blue Devils
Class: R.J. Barrett (1), Cam Reddish (3), Zion Williamson (5), Tre Jones (14), Joey Baker (48)
Impact: Duke needed to reload in 2018 after losing its top five scorers to the NBA Draft and Coach K did so by bringing in three of the top five players in the country. Williamson’s impact was not only felt on the floor from the jump, but also on the airwaves and on social media as the viral dunking sensation was plastered all over every sports morning show you can think of. Barrett lived up to his lofty expectations, Reddish showed flashes of why many considered him one of the more versatile scorers in the country and Jones made sure the team was running like a well-oiled machine. The Blue Devils won 32 games before losing to Michigan State, 69-68, in the 2019 Elite Eight.