Providence recruited Donovan Mitchell, a talented lead guard in the Class of 2015, as well as any program can recruit a player.
For two years, the coaching staff stalked him, building a relationship and watching his games and doing all the little things that it takes to convince a kid to come to your college to play basketball for you. They didn’t stop recruiting him when a broken wrist kept him out the summer after his sophomore season and their interest didn’t fluctuate when Mitchell’s ranking on the major recruiting websites remained in the borderline top 100 range. They were, many believed, the favorites to land his services.
This summer, the Friars were court side for every game that Mitchell played during the July live period, with at least one assistant and, often times, head coach Ed Cooley getting a front row look as Mitchell’s stock began to soar. From Philly to Springfield to Atlanta to Vegas, the Friars trailed Mitchell as he put together sterling performance after sterling performance, collecting scholarship offer after scholarship offer.
When it was all said and done, Mitchell had gone from a borderline top 100 recruit to a borderline five-star recruit; from a kid that was a target for the high-major programs in the northeast to someone that was being targeted by heavily by one of the nation’s best basketball programs, Louisville.
He played his best basketball in front of the right people at the right time, and it was all over for Providence before they even knew what hit them. Last Thursday, less than a month from the time he received an offer from the Cardinals, Mitchell committed during a visit to the campus. He never even took an official visit to Providence.
That’s the kind of miss of the recruiting trail that is going to sting, but it’s also one that schools like Providence know all too well. The best programs are going to get the best players, and often times it doesn’t matter how good a relationship with a coaching staff is or how much effort one program has put into a kid’s recruitment.
They want to play for the best programs in the country, which is why Mitchell’s recruitment is a textbook example of why granting the Power 5 conferences the autonomy to play their athletes a stipend isn’t going to significantly change the power structure in college basketball. I wrote about that very point extensively here.
Louisville won the 2013 national title a year after playing in the 2012 Final Four. The school will make the jump from the American to the ACC this season, putting itself in what is likely the nation’s premier basketball conference. He’ll play every meaningful game in his career on national television, and there will be a lot of meaningful games during the years that he spends on campus. He’ll compete for league championships and national titles. He’ll play in front of 22,090 fans every time the Cardinals take the court at the KFC Yum! Center.
That said, Providence isn’t a bad program. Cooley has done a terrific job rebooting that program despite the fact that arguably the three best recruits that he’s brought to campus in his tenure — Ricky Ledo, Kris Dunn and Brandon Austin — have done next to nothing in a Friar uniform. He’s got a very good 2014 recruiting class entering the program this season and his 2015 class is off to a good start. In Cooley’s third season, the Friars made the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade, and sent their star guard to the NBA.
They’re peaking right now. Outside of Villanova — maybe — I’d say there is an argument to be made that Providence has the brightest future of any program in the Big East.
But none of that changes the fact that Providence isn’t Louisville.
And this is without Louisville having the ability to pay for full cost of attendance scholarships or to fly family members of their players to NCAA tournament or all of those things that the Power 5 conference schools are going to be able to provide with the new autonomy ruling.
So if Providence loses a kid it prioritized for two years to Louisville, who recruited him for a month. What is really going to change when the rules change?