What Ben Howland has accomplished in one month on the job is as impressive as anything the college basketball world has ever seen. In a one month span, Howland convinced a top 100 prospect to honor his Letter of Intent, is close to signing a power forward out of Idaho, and landed the number 8 prospect according to the 247 Sports composite rankings.
After Malik Newman announced his decision to play at Mississippi State, Gary Parrish at CBSsports.com wrote this piece on just how ground breaking this is by Howland. The crux of the piece is simply that a coach who was fired from their previous job, spent two years away from the game, and then landed a top 10 prospect in exactly one month after being hired has never been done so far as anyone can remember. Sure, coaches who are hired away take recruits with them all the time. Coming in without having held a job previously handicaps the coach, and Howland overcame it.
Ben Howland is making a statement. Ever since 2009 when John Calipari took over Kentucky, the SEC has been all about the Kentucky Wildcats and the Florida Gators. The rest of the SEC was mediocre or just plain bad. The gap between the top two teams and the other 12 was vast.
2014-15 saw Florida come back to the pack, and there was more teams in the NCAA tournament than there had been in a number of years. But Kentucky was still in a class by itself. The Wildcats ran the table in the regular season and were two wins away from a perfect season.
So for Ben Howland to come in and basically steal a recruit John Calipari had his sights on and locked down, it means something. And if you think it doesn’t, you’re being naive. John Calipari doesn’t lose recruits. Howland just did what many haven’t been able to for years.
There is no question Newman’s father played a big role in Newman coming to Mississippi State. But this wasn’t going to happen if Rick Ray was still the head coach. If he was, Newman would have put on a Kentucky Wildcat hat on Friday, and Big Blue Nation would be celebrating yet another top 10 prospect coming to Lexington.
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I don’t know where the Bulldogs will finish the season in 2015-16. Predictions for how people think the SEC will unfold for next year closer to November. When the Rick Ray era ended, the Bulldogs finished 12th in the SEC. It’s not unreasonable to expect the Bulldogs to be somewhere around the 4th best team in the SEC when those predictions are released. Without playing a single game, Ben Howland has taken the Bulldogs from laughingstock to contender, and the rest of the SEC is going to have to step up.