The day we have all been waiting for is nearly upon us. Tomorrow marks the opening of college basketball’s second signing period in which recruits can finally sign their letters of intent to play for a team at the collegiate level. For Cincinnati, you can expect Titus Rubles to fax over his LOI as early as tomorrow morning. The JUCO out of Blinn College finally ‘officially’ verballed to the Bearcats about a month ago despite being rumored to want to join Mick Cronin’s squad since January. In essence his commitment was less a surprise than it was pleasant and he is absolutely a welcomed addition.
However the biggest story for Bearcat fans tomorrow will be the tracking of Chris Obekpa. His recruitment has taken him from Connecticut to Providence to Cincinnati, St. John’s, and Oregon. You always have to be nervous about losing a recruit to UConn because no one truly knows what goes on (or changes hands) between Jim Calhoun and a recruit behind closed doors. But with the program already missing the 2013 Big East Tournament and in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies were dropped from the running. There is little to worry about regarding the Providence Friars since they have a pretty sizable class and they are, well, the Providence Friars.
The three remaining schools were Cincinnati, St. John’s, and Oregon. The Bearcats of course put on a heck of a show for Obekpa’s official visit in which UC obliterated rival Louisville in front of a sold out, blacked out Fifth-Third Arena. Chants of ‘Chris Obekpa’ could be heard from the student section. Then the highly sought after power forward visited St. John’s. Living in the New York City area, this only made sense and was anticipated for months. The visit that really worried me came just a weekend later when he traveled to Niketown, Oregon. The Ducks are well-known for tapping into the Nike revenue stream. I’m not saying that they would have offered him illegal benefits but Oregon has loads of new facilities courtesy of their multimillion-dollar neighbor. I was having flashbacks of Kenneth Bynum picking Tennessee at the last minute over Cincinnati.
4.11.2012 UPDATE: According to Chad Brendel who does a phenomenal job covering Bearcat basketball recruiting for BearcatLair.com, Obekpa has not visited Oregon yet. He will do so at the end of April so you can probably just go ahead and ignore the ‘Oregon’ references in here as he has not seen the campus yet. The information about UC and St. John’s still stands but Oregon appears to be very much in the mix.
But now it seems that Obekpa wasn’t swayed by the glitz and glamor of Oregon’s facilities in favor of playing for young, successful coaches. That’s what Cincinnati and St. John’s will offer him and it seems Obekpa will decide between the two in this signing period. The Bearcats can offer the power forward quite a bit of playing time next season. Yancy Gates has since moved on and none of the big men on the current roster proved that they could pick up the slack next season. Obekpa might not be a lock to start in 2012-13 but there’s nothing to say that he can’t rotate in earning 10 – 15 minutes per game. The Johnnies can offer a similar deal with Moe Harkless declaring for the NBA Draft. But what might give Cincinnati an edge is that Mick Cronin has proven to be slightly more successful than Steve Lavin. He can point to the back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and two-straight 26-win seasons to sway Obekpa. Lavin has proven to be a phenomenal recruiter but that has yet to translate into consistent winning at St. John’s. That’s not to say the Johnnies’ head coach won’t succeed consistently in the future (I think he will) but he can’t offer the resume that Mick can.
As of right now I’m confident Mick Cronin will be getting a fax with Chris Obekpa’s LOI and his John Hancock on the dotted line. But as I’ve said understanding the mind of a recruit is the furthest thing from a perfect science. Only Chris Obekpa and the members of his inner circle have a good read on where he will be going. Let’s just cross our fingers he wants to be a Bearcat just a little bit more than a Johnny.
Be sure to check back in with Bearcats Nation for further updates on Obekpa’s recruitment.