News broke earlier this morning as four-star college basketball recruit Shareef O’Neal (son of former NBA center Shaquille O’Neal) announced his commitment to play for coach Steve Alford at UCLA this upcoming fall, a program that just earlier this season lost three players due to a shoplifting incident during their overseas trip to China. This decision to join another program stems from just a few days prior, in which O’Neal announced his de-commitment from the University of Arizona amid the FBI investigation surrounding head coach Sean Miller and the alleged exchange of roughly $100,000 with representative Christian Dawkins in order to ensure that current star forward Deandre Ayton would come and play for the Wildcats. Miller has been noticeably absent from the last few games due to the allegations, and the university has yet to comment on the situation in a manner that truly explains what is going on.
The addition of the 6’9”, 250-pound O’Neal should allow the Bruins, who now have the third-best recruiting class for the 2018-19 season in college basketball, to become formidable opponents in the Pac-12 conference moving forward, despite the loss of LiAngleo Ball and other high-profile recruits over the past two seasons.
But this particular move could have a much more significant effect on the landscape of college basketball next season – and may alter the course of the sport entirely.
In addition to Arizona, several other major collegiate programs have been named in the Christian Dawkins scandal – including behemoths of the sport like Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State and Kansas. Each program has a top twenty-five recruiting class for the 2018-19 season, and has been known to attract multiple “one and done” players since the term was coined following the disallowance of players to go directly from high school to the pros. They’ve helped turn college basketball into the financial powerhouse it is today, even if some of it comes from the criminal underworld of recruiting and endorsement.
If these programs fall under NCAA investigation and subsequent punishment, they could face a variety of penalties including loss of scholarships, banishment from the postseason and even the death penalty in the foreseeable future. These infractions may have immediate impacts as well, as current athletes including Michigan State forward Miles Bridges and Duke guard Wendell Carter have been listed on the indictment sheet and could face losing their eligibility as well as costing their teams an opportunity to play in the postseason.
The fallout could have impact even further than this spring, as players in the next recruiting class may have to abandon their plans to attend certain schools and thus shift the balance from those of the traditional giants we’ve seen across the landscape to those not listed in the report.
Take a look at Duke – who has the top three recruits in the upcoming class in R.J. Barret, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson. Despite each seemingly poised to follow the formula of playing college for a single season and getting scooped up in the lottery the next spring, the impending consequences that may be handed down by both the NCAA and FBI may cause these players to change their minds about deciding to attend the university – even if it is for a miniscule amount of time. The rulings may even impact those closer to home for us, as former Badgers recruit and Whitnall High School star Tyler Herro, who decided to reverse his verbal commitment to the university and later decide to play for coach John Calipari at Kentucky, may also face the repercussions handed down by the investigation and lose a shot at competing for a national title. After all, if you were forced to play college basketball for one season, wouldn’t you at least want the collateral of being able to play in the tournament?
O’Neal deciding to leave Arizona is not entirely surprising, yet it may serve as the breaking point for other recruits in the class at both big and small programs alike. Could this initial decision end up causing other players intending to play for these programs to change their minds? Or could it lead to the formation of an entirely new system moving forward?