Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lady Vols claim No. 1 2008 class

No need to rub your eyes or worry about flashbacks. Those "Lady Vols Sign Super Six" headlines don't mean you've teleported back to 2003.

Though it is, in a way, back to the future.

Just as she did four years ago, coach Pat Summitt has coaxed a talented half-dozen to Tennessee. For the second year in a row, the Lady Vols will have the No. 1 signing class in America, according to

Anyone still worried about life after Candace Parker?

Though declaring Tennessee the mythical national recruiting champion for the 2008 class, will not release class rankings until after the early signing period, as several key players traditionally commit later. Foremost among them this year is the No. 6 prospect, Nneka Ogwumike of Cy-Fair, Texas. She'll likely choose between Baylor and Stanford, though Duke and Notre Dame each have an outside shot.

High-school seniors can begin signing National Letters of Intent today through Nov. 21.

Though it may not match the panache of the 2004 class that Blue Star director Mike Flynn called "the greatest in modern history," Tennessee's class is impressive. During the four years since the Lady Vols' original Super Six, women's basketball has grown considerably. There is a lot more parity on the court and recruiting is far more competitive.

So landing five prospects ranked in the top 20, as Summitt did in the 2008 class, could be considered nearly as mind-blowing as her 2004 feat. It remains to be seen whether No. 3 Glory Johnson, the homegrown talent out of Knoxville, Tenn.; No. 4 Amber Gray of Cincinnati, Ohio; No. 8 Shekinna Stricklen of Morrilton, Ark.; No. 15 Alicia Manning of Woodstock, Ga., and No. 20 Alyssia Brewer of Sapulpa, Okla., can manage to stay together in a way that 2004 class could not.

Of course, this class doesn't include Candace Parker. It doesn't even include the best prospect in the class, Elena Delle Donne. That distinction belongs to Connecticut, which recruited the No. 1 prospect in the HoopGurlz Hundred for the third straight year, Tina Charles and Maya Moore being the first two. The Huskies added Caroline Doty of Doylestown, Pa., and Tiffany Hayes of Winter Haven, Fla., both of whom HoopGurlz considered interchangeable at Nos. 10 and 11. Coach Geno Auriemma's haul also included Heather Buck, a mobile post ranked 31st overall.

The story of the 2008 recruiting class really isn't the way the two traditional superpowers, Tennessee and Connecticut, dominated recruiting, it is the way the top four programs monopolized the elite prospects. The Lady Vols, Huskies, Rutgers and LSU are expected to sign, between Nov. 14 and 21, an eye-popping 13 members of's national top 20. And the four will end up signing 20 of the top 69 recruits overall.

There are three "franchise" type players in the class, according to, and Rutgers was the third program to snare one. In No. 2 April Sykes of Crawford, Miss., C. Vivian Stringer has recruited the most imposing offensive weapon in high-school basketball. No. 9 Brooklyn Pope of Dallas is not far behind, either. SoCal stars Jasmine Dixon and Nikki Speed, Nos. 26 and 27 are burners, and No. 35 Chelsea Lee of Miami, Fla., brings an inside presence at both ends of the floor.

Speaking of back to the future, Van Chancellor collected three WNBA championships and Hall of Fame credentials between stints at Mississippi and now LSU, for whom he's recruited the most top 100 prospects -- six -- in his first class. He's covered three key positions - forward (No. 12 LaSondra Barrett of Jackson, Miss.), center (No. 14. Ayana Dunning of Columbus, Ohio) and point guard (No. 17 Destini Hughes) with top-20 prospects. No. 55 Taylor Turnbow of Clarkston, Ga., and No. 69 Courtney Jones of Midfield, Ala., add even more size to the LSU front line, and No. 59 Crystal Riley of Memphis, Tenn., adds speed and ballhandling.

This year's Tennessee class does not match the balance of Summitt's 2004 class, which included two forwards (Parker and Nkolika Anosike of Staten Island, N.Y.), two guards (Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood of Lawndale, Calif., and Alexis Hornbuckle of Charleston, W.Va.) and two posts (Sybil Dosty of Tucson, Ariz., Alex Fuller of Shelbyville, Tenn.). Fuller and Parker sat out their freshman year with knee injuries and Dosty transferred to Arizona State, while Wiley-Gatewood transferred to Maryland.

So nothing, of course, is guaranteed. Four years ago, All-Star Girls Report ranked Parker No. 5 in her class. Jerry Gatewood ranked his stepdaughter, Wiley-Gatewood, No. 1 for All-Game Sports.

Parker today is considered one of the best women's basketball players in the world. Wiley-Gatewood is a senior who has averaged 6.0 points in 44 career games.

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