The plan was hatched over the summer, though coach Jim Calhoun and the rest of the Connecticut basketball program haven't offered many details. In June, Andre Drummond, the No. 2 overall recruit in the class of 2012, had quietly decided to skip an extra year in prep school and instead field offers from colleges, of which UConn was rumored to be his top choice. The problem: UConn, having failed to meet the NCAA academic requirements and been sanctioned for a recruiting violation, had only 10 scholarships instead of the usual 13 to offer, and Calhoun had already given out his allotment. Enter Michael Bradley, a redshirt freshman who volunteered to relinquish his scholarship for the season. (Bradley, who spent seven years in a Chattanooga orphanage, was expected to qualify for financial aid and regain his scholarship for the 2012--13 season.) So on Aug. 26, Drummond committed, and UConn took a significant step toward repeating as national champions.
The 18-year-old Drummond is the real deal. The 6'10", 270-pound center averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and four assists last season and led St. Thomas More (Oakdale, Conn.)—located some 30 miles south of Storrs—to the national prep championship. His power game has drawn comparisons to Shawn Kemp, Amar'e Stoudemire, even Dwight Howard, and he is already considered to be a top two pick in the 2012 NBA draft. "Every time I watch him play, I look for weaknesses," says an NBA executive. "I can't find many." At UConn, Drummond will fortify a strong interior defense alongside volume rebounder Alex Oriakhi and combine with rising swingman Jeremy Lamb to give the Huskies a dangerous inside-out attack.
While Drummond may have been the biggest headlining newbie of the off-season, here are two other star-caliber big men who also signed under unusual circumstances.
Alex Murphy, Duke Last February the 6'8", 220-pound forward committed to Duke as part of the incoming '12 class. In April, Murphy—who, having repeated his freshman year after transferring from another school, had already completed four years of high school and met the academic requirements necessary to graduate—reclassified to the class of '11 and will join a heralded crop of Blue Devils that includes the nation's top overall recruit, Austin Rivers. Murphy is a polished ball handler who can finish in traffic and line up at either forward spot.
Kevin Young, Kansas The 6'8", 185-pound junior transfer from Loyola Marymount signed a financial-aid agreement with San Diego State last November but abruptly decided in June to go to Kansas. "There's nothing [the Aztecs] did wrong that made me change my mind," Young told reporters at the time of the announcement. "I just figure this is a bigger stage and a lot more opportunity." Jayhawks coach Bill Self calls the forward "an impact player," and he's right: Young averaged 10.7 points and 5.3 rebounds as a starter with the Lions in 2009--10.