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Recruiting Update: 7/16

by Chris Johnson (@chrisdjohnsonn)

The commitment parade was in full swing again last week for the Wildcats, with two targeted prospects giving verbals on the same day, bringing the 2013 class to 13 total commits. Both players made it official Thursday and are rated as two-star prospects, according to Scout. Com. Here’s a brief description of NU’s two latest pickups.

Matt Harris, a WR/DB prospect from La Grange (IL), held offers from Boston College, Illinois, Wisconsin, Toledo and Miami (OH), but ultimately chose NU because he felt it was the perfect fit. Harris went unnoticed by most power-conference programs before this spring. His stock skyrocketed after several recruiting camps in June—with an assist from the track and field scene, where his performance at the Class 3A state meet offered tangible evidence of his highly desireable physical qualities—and schools became enamored with his sub-4.4 speed, elite athleticism and instinctual cover skills. He’s expected to play cornerback for the Wildcats. Check out his recruiting profile here.

Shortly after Harris gave his official nod of approval, Taylor, a 6-4, 220-pound H-back from The Woodlands (TX), followed suit, citing how the school “made me feel at home” as the primary reason for his decision. By the looks of it, Taylor has the body and speed (4.65 40-yd dash time) to contribute right away. He weighed offers from Air Force, Cal, Wake Forest and Texas State before joining OG Brad North and WR Macan Wilson as the third Texan of NU's 2013 class. While he played mostly tight end in high school, area recruiting coordinator Randy Bates was impressed with Taylor’s versatility, and thus thought he was a good fit at superback. For a closer look at Taylor, click here.

With these two latest verbals, NU jumps up one spot in the 2013 Big Ten recruiting race, now trailing only Michigan (22 commits), Iowa (16), Illinois (15), Ohio State (14) and Penn State (14). Its 2.60 average star ranking (according to Scout. Com) ranks ninth among Big Ten teams.

The 2013 class, as it stands today:

Matthew Alviti–four-star QB, Park Ridge (IL)

Sam Coverdale–three-star OT, Chagrin Falls (OH)

Brad North–three-star OG, Allen (TX)

Kyle Quiero–three-star WR/S, Oradell (NJ)

Blake King–three-star OG, Minooka (IL)

Eric Joraskie–three-star DT, Mount Carmel (PA)

Tyler Lancaster–two-star OG, Plainfield (IL)

Hunter Niswander–K/P, Peninsula (OH)

Xavier Menifield–two-star RB, Chatsworth (CA)

Macan Wilson–two-star WR, Houston (TX)

Warren Long—three-star RB, Union City (CA)

Matt Harris—two-star CB/WR, La Grange (IL)

Jayme Taylor—two-star TE, The Woodlands (TX)

More good news this week  on the football recruiting front, and Fitzgerald and staff haven’t shown any signs of slowing up as we approach preseason camp. The Wildcats aren’t in the same talent stratosphere as Michigan and Ohio State, with the two rivals maintaining their stranglehold over the Midwest’s top prospects—even making noise on a national scale with their ultra-talented hauls—but the Wildcats have built some nice momentum to this point in their 2013 recruiting efforts, and it only appears that more quality talent is on the way. This year’s class may not rank among the better groups in the Big Ten, but NU has clearly established an upward trajectory on the recruiting scene and its making a strong push to eliminate the notion that it’s a “consolation prize” for aspiring prospects passed up by other elite programs.

The 2012 class was arguably the most decorated in school history, highlighted by OLB Ifeadi Odenigbo, who is with little doubt the single most impressive recruiting coup of Fitzgerald’s head coaching tenure. The 2013 class, while solid on several fronts, lacks a true headliner, unless you want to make a case for four-star QB Matt Alviti. Point is, for NU to compete with the Big Ten heavyweights in recruiting circles, landing two or more top prospects in a single class, rather than just one, is the next order of business. Alviti is no doubt one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, but the goal should be finding another player of similar renown, irrespective of position, in the same class. Reigning in a four-star prospect here or there elevates a program’s reputation and prestige, but the only way to sustain that progress is by getting those kinds of players on a more frequent basis, not as rarely-occuring, sporadic events, and laying just the right sort of attractive foundation to lure the once-averse eyes of top high school players.

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After landing three-star point guard prospect Jaren Sina two weeks ago, there was little coach Bill Carmody and staff could do this week to up the ante. But it's hard to find fault with the news that leaked on Twitter late Sunday night. Pekin (IL) three-star guard Nate Taphorn has verbally committed to the Wildcats, joining Sina as the Wildcats' second 2013 pledge. Taphorn's decision comes as a bit of a surprise after a recent interview with Chris Emma of Scout. Com where the 6-6 guard sounded downright wishy-washy on his recruitment, with all signs pointing to a September decision date. Taphorn, who received an offer from the Wildcats after an impressive performance  in April at the Nike Spring showdown, held offers from Bradley and Drake, among others. Carmody attended one of Taphorn's AAU games this weekend, apparently his last as an uncommitted prospect. Taphorn is the prototypical Bill Carmody player, a lanky wing with a deadly three-point stroke whose high-basketball IQ is well suited for NU's complex Princeton system. He played against John Shurna, a former member of the Illinois Wolver AAU squad, in an open gym when he visited in May, and comparisons between Taphorn and NU's all-time leading scorer have already made their rounds in conversations with local scouts and talent evaluators.

The Wildcats had long since considered Taphorn one of their top priorities, so it's no doubt refreshing to see them seal the deal on another prospect. From a sheer name recognition standpoint, Sina is the more significant pickup, but Taphorn, at least as far as I can tell from conversations with people who have seen him play, is a talented player with a bright future in high-major college hoops. NU seemed like the right fit, and Taphorn confirmed as much with his decision. With its second pledge in tow, it'll be interesting to see where NU looks next. However it plays out, the 2013 crop, as it stands of this writing, is promising, and NU appears to be laying the foundation for a strong future. Sina was the headliner Carmody needed to kick off the 2013 pledge cycle, to catch the eye of top prospects still wavering on NU's total package and add an aura of intrigue to a program that for so long has struggled to bring in players of Sina's ilk. Taphorn--whether or not Sina factored into his decision--is buying what Carmody is selling on the recruiting trail, and the coming months will reveal if this string of success is anything sustainable for NU's future talent gene pool.

Another interesting nugget involves 2015 WestChester (IL) point guard Jordan Ash, who reportedly received an offer from NU Saturday at the Chicago Summer Challenge while playing with Illinois Wolves, his AAU team. PurpleWildcats. Com’s Jeremy Woo relayed the news via Twitter last night. Normally I wouldn’t include something like this in a weekly recruiting update. But the fact that Carmody and assistant Tarvaras Hardy, who reportedly attended the Challenge over the weekend, offered Ash as an incoming high school freshman points to his soaring value on the recruiting circuit. It’s not often that you find point guards this good and this well-rounded before they hit ninth grade, and while he’s bound to draw interest from some of the Big Ten’s top programs if he continues to tear up the Illinois AAU circuit, NU is making clear its intentions of participating in what should be a heated bidding war for Ash’s services. If you’re buying the hype, a practice many coaches, players and scouts have long since taken up, get the lowdown on Ash’s recruitment.

While Jordan Ash has an NU offer on the table, Jabari Parker, the consensus No. 1 prospect in the class of 2013 from Chicago’s Simeon high school and the centerpiece of a recent Sports Illustrated magazine cover touting him as “the best high school basketball player since LeBron James”, confirmed this week he’s officially taken NU off his list of potential destinations. He revealed Wednesday on his Twitter account—is there any other way to make important sports-related proclamations these days?—the 10 schools still in the running for his services, with just one Big Ten program, Michigan State, making the cut. Parker can practically handpick his landing spot, though it remains to be seen where he’ll ultimately end up. With a quick glance at his list—a blue blood-tinted kaleidoscope featuring large doses hall of fame coaches and national championship lore—Parker’s choice should be an advantageous one, no matter where he takes his silky smooth jump shot, PhD-level basketball IQ and see-all floor awareness. For NU, Parker was always a long shot, much less a realistic target, so his latest update shouldn’t come as huge shock for Wildcats fans.