In the big picture, college basketball was robbed of some of its future stars by the NBA. Take away guys like Ndudi Ebi, James Lang, Kendrick Perkins and Travis Outlaw and you take away four elite level talents that would have been standouts early in their careers.
Overall, 2003 was an average year for college basketball. This class won't go down as one that re-stocked the cupboard from early defections. Half of the schools we ranked among the 10 best classes after the fall signing period we negatively impacted by the NBA or via transfer (see Duke). When it was all said and done Florida State proved to be the big winner.
Most observers in the game figured Leonard Hamilton would improve the talent level at Florida State, but few thought it would happen so swiftly and with this kind of success. Kudos to the Seminoles for a remarkable effort.
Class of 2003 Recruiting Class Rankings
1. Florida State: It's pretty remarkable when you think about it. Instead of Bobby Bowden landing top billing in Tallahassee it's Leonard Hamilton making waves: Top prospect: Vakeaton Wafer (No. 15).
2. Louisiana State: This group is built for speed, transition and full court, attacking basketball. There's a good mix of players and three rank in the Top 40: Top prospect: Brandon Bass (No. 14).
3. Maryland: The Terps knocked on doors from coast to coast to come up with this effort. Balance is the buzz word and big men hold the key to this class. Top prospect: Michael Jones (No. 22).
4. Kansas: Roy Williams' parting gift to the program was another class laced with talent and athleticism. Bill Self has some pieces to work with here. Top prospect: David Padgett (No. 4).
5. Michigan State: Two McDonald's All-Americans and a Top 100 big man is good enough for us. The mighty Spartans come at you in waves on the wing. Top prospect: Shannon Brown (No. 5).
6. Syracuse: Jim Boeheim's late addition gave him a pair of Top 25 prospects and a class graced with two wing studs and a pair of potential starters inside: Top prospect: Demetris Nichols (No. 24).
7. California: Four players ranked in our Top 100 is an impressive feat and when one of them is a Top 10 talent, Bears fans some reasons to get excited. Top prospect: Leon Powe (No. 8).
8. Michigan: Tommy Amaker landed some coveted size to go along with Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan. This class provides a solid foundation for the future. Top prospect: Dion Harris (No. 23).
9. Connecticut: How many teams can boast that they added a Top 10 talent in the spring? Jim Calhoun's staff has a new guard, forward and center on the way. Top prospect: Charlie Villanueva (No. 7).
10 Arkansas: This class should serve as the foundation upon which Stan Heath begins reconstruction of the program. Two bigs and two wings gets it done. Top prospect: Olu Famutimi (No. 20).
11. Louisville: Rick Pitino loaded up with a pair of junior college standouts and a point guard who is going to have to pick up some of the slack Reece Gaines left behind. Top prospect: Nate Daniels.
12. Missouri: The Tigers waited all year long for their favorite Lithuanian to say "yes" and he finally did. The rich get richer in Columbia. Top prospect: Linas Kleiza (No. 13).
13. Mississippi State: Travis Outlaw's sprint to the NBA really hurt this class. However, we love Gary Ervin a ton and transfer Shane Power is a proven player. Top prospect: Jackie Butler (No. 33).
14. Oklahoma: The Sooners used connections in Minnesota and convinced a pair of teammates in Ohio to get this ranking. Look for them to get Longar Longar back after a prep year. Top prospect: Andrew Lavender (No. 29).
15. Southern Cal: Wonder twin powers activate. Shape of two high-flying wing men. Henry Bibby is nothing if not loaded in the athleticism department and they signed a PG late. Top prospect: Rodrick Stewart (No. 35).
16. Florida: A late surge with a former SEC signee gave the Gators a pair of Top 50 talents to go with a pair of shooters in the backcourt. Top prospect: Chris Richard (No. 44).
17. Cincinnati: No secret here as the strength of this class lies in its fine junior college additions. The Bearcats spilt up four grants with two high schoolers and two jucos. Top prospect: Robert Whaley.
18. Illinois: Remember, this was a Top 10 effort with Charlie Villanueva in the mix. Still, the Illini added three good players at three different positions. Top prospect: Richard McBride (No. 32).
19. Virginia: Two wing standouts are the centerpieces of this class. The Cavaliers will need their late big men signees to raise their games. Top prospect: J.R. Reynolds (No. 60).
20. Georgetown: Here's a class that quietly snuck up on us. With a pair of top 100 kids, the Hoyas have a shot blocker and a point man of the future. Top prospect: Darian Townes (No. 62).
21. Pittsburgh: If size matters, the Panthers have it. The landed a trio of huge post targets to go with a small forward. Ben Howland was thinking big. Top prospect: Chris Taft (No. 43).
22. Wake Forest: Skip Prosser's point guard of the future is the best program guy in Winston-Salem since Tim Duncan. A star is born in the ACC. Top prospect: Chris Paul (No. 9).
23. DePaul: This is the kind of class a young head coach needs. There's guy at each position, skilled players and some athletes. Overall, a good collection. Top prospect: Wesley Green (No. 53).
24. Temple: The Owls rallied during the spring period and did a nice job. There's some size to go along with wing firepower and Dion Dacons' determination. Top prospect: Wayne Marshall.
25. Xavier: The sum is greater than the individual parts. Indiana's Mr. Basketball highlights a balanced collection of talent. Top prospect: Justin Cage (No. 71)
Honorable Mention (listed alphabetically): Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Charlotte, Duke, Gonzaga, Iowa State, Kansas State, Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Marquette, Miami, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Old Dominion, Oregon, Providence, Richmond, South Carolina, Tennessee, UNLV, Valparaiso, Villanova.
There's no doubt that the NBA was able to put together the best recruiting class in the nation this year as David Stern's boys pillaged the high school ranks for five of our best players. However, when the smoke cleared in the college ranks, it was Florida State standing out as the big winner.