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Landing the Harrison twins was John Calipari’s most impressive recruitment

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I mean, honestly, what did we expect to happen?

Did we really think that John Calipari and Kentucky were going to get beaten out by Maryland for two players — twins, no less — that they had been targeting?

We really thought Mark Turgeon and Maryland — neither of whom have a reputation for pulling in this kind of recruit — had a chance going toe-to-toe with the best recruiter in the country, who just may be the best recruiter ever?

The crazy thing is that, despite all the talk about Coach Cal doesn’t lose recruits he targets and how he has to be favored in every recruiting battle he is involved in, there wasn’t a single recruiting pundit who had any idea about where Andrew and Aaron Harrison were headed at the start of the ESPN U show where they made their announcement. That’s how real the chance was for Maryland to win the services of the Harrisons.

And that’s also why I believe this is the most impressive job Coach Cal has ever done on the recruiting trail.

The Harrison twins had, quite literally, EVERY reason in the world to go to Maryland. Their father grew up in East Baltimore and still has plenty of extended family in the area. Their father also has a terrific relationship with assistant Bino Ranson and with head coach Mark Turgeon, who he refers to as the “most upright citizen I have met in basketball” after seeing the way that Turgeon handled the death of a recruit named Tobi Oyedeji. The twins are also very close with a former AAU teammate named Shaquille Cleare, who is currently a freshman on the Maryland roster.

All that comes before you take into account the Under Armour factor. Under Armour was founded by a Maryland alum and former football player. Maryland is the apparel company’s flagship program, much the way that Oregon is for Nike. Under Armour has also sponsored the twin’s AAU team — coached by their father — for the past couple of summers. And pops also admitted to USA Today that the only person allowed to call his son’s cell phone was a rep from Under Armour.

Keep in mind, the last time that Coach Cal lost a recruiting battle — when Shabazz Muhammad opted to go to UCLA instead of Kentucky — it was quite obvious to those in the know what the outcome was. Why? Because Adidas had a firm grip on Muhammad. They sponsored his AAU team. They even had a sponsorship deal with his sister, who was a professional tennis player. There was no way they were letting him go to a school sponsored by Nike. If it wasn’t UCLA, he would have been headed to Kansas or Baylor or another program repping the three stripes. It seemed like Under Armour had a firm grip on the Harrisons.

In simpler terms, Coach Cal reached into Texas and beat out a school that had much better relationships with the players and that also happened to be the highest-profile program of the shoe company that had sponsored them throughout their last years in high school.

And he did it for a pair of twins, both of whom are consensus top five recruits, that complement each other perfectly in the back court and happen to be the best point guard (Andrew) and shooting guard (Aaron) in the class.

The stakes haven’t been higher for Cal, and his performance has never been better.

Good job, good effort, Maryland.

What else does Cal have left to prove?

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
Jon Lopez/Nike
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.