There was a time about five years ago when the conference was producing more first-round draft picks than any other conference in the nation. Oh how times have changed. While there clearly has been a huge drop off in the level and depth of talent in cities on the West Coast in recent years, the conferences marquee programs in UCLA, Arizona and Stanford have also struggled to pull in superstar players from other regions of the country.
The good news for the conference is that this all changed with the Class of 2012 with UCLA and Arizona both pulling in some of best classes in the history of conference. It will be very interesting to watch in the next couple of seasons to see if the talented classes Ben Howland and Sean Miller brought in can turn around not just the recent negative perception of their programs, but also the entire conference.
With the recent signing of some of the most heralded recruits the conference has ever seen, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the biggest recruits to sign with Pac-12 schools in the internet era (2002-present).
1. O.J. Mayo - Class of 2007 - PG - Huntington, WV - USC
-Mayo shocked the world when he committed to the school better known for its football program when he could have gone anywhere in the country. Mayo's huge splash immediately drew attention into the USC basketball program's cleanliness and it was a red flag that while regarded as the top prospect in the nation, Mayo essentially chose between USC and Kansas State as opposed to more elite programs who may have backed off. In the end, Mayo's signature ended up costing the Trojans in more than one way with then coach Tim Floyd giving a Mayo handler cash and the Trojans receiving heavy sanctions.
2. Shabazz Muhammad - Class of 2012 - SF - Las Vegas, NV - Bishop Gorman - UCLA
With UCLA beginning to look more and more like Western U from Blue Chips every day, Ben Howland was able to snag Muhammad's signature and the ultra-talented forward (along with 5-star recruit Kyle Anderson) is expected to pull the Bruins out of their recent struggles while also saving Howland's job. Battling a large amount of negative press around the program and himself, Howland was able to convince Muhammad to turn down a red hot Kentucky program and stable Duke program to try and turn around the Bruins.
3. Kevin Love - Class of 2007 - C - Lake Oswego, OR - UCLA
A once in a lifetime type player, Love was freakishly skilled for a big man coming out of high school and was perfect for the college game with his size, ball skills, motor and shooting touch. Coaches marveled over his ability to pass from the post and rebound while still being able to score at will. The son of Duck great Stan Love, it was a huge blow to Oregon and Ernie Kent when Howland secured the signature of one of the best big men to ever play in the conference. Supposedly the elder Love said that Kent did something to ruin Kevin's recruitment and whatever the slip up was, it may have ended up costing Kent his job as the Ducks under Kent were never the same.
4. Jrue Holiday - Class of 2008 - SG - North Hollywood, CA - Campbell - UCLA
An explosive combo guard, Holiday could do it all, shoot from the outside, drive to the basket, rebound and play tough defense. It looked as though Holiday would be the next great Bruin guard in the mold of Russell Westbrook, only with a better shot when Howland secured the local product's signature. It appeared that Washington had a shot to get Holiday to head North and join his older brother Justin, but the Bruins, hot off three straight Final Four appearances were one of the most attractive programs in the country at the time and sealed the deal.
5. DeMar DeRozan - Class of 2008 - SF - Compton, CA - USC
It is a testament to Ben Howland and Tim Floyd that they signed all of the top-5, or maybe just a testament to how much athletes want to play and live in LA. DeRozan is probably the most gifted this list from a straight athleticism standpoint as he could get to the basket with ease and jump out of the gym. Despite some competition from North Carolina, Floyd was able to lock up DeRozan and keep one of the best prospects to come out of the LA area in the last 10 years home.
6. Leon Powe - Class of 2003 - PF - Oakland, CA - Cal
Slightly undersized for a power forward and not overly athletic, Powe was one of those guys who could simply just play basketball. A versatile scorer, Powe was great in the post and could also shoot the mid-range a little bit. He showed some serious hometown pride when he turned down a plethora of elite programs nationwide and stayed in the Bay Area.
7. Spencer Hawes - Class of 2006 - C - Seattle, WA - Seattle Prep - Washington
A rare seven footer to come out of the Northwest, Hawes' height alone made him a coveted recruit for every school on the West Coast, but it was his soft hands and shooting touch that made him one of the most sought after recruits in the country. After a heavy courtship with North Carolina and Stanford, Hawes decided to stay home and become the most highly rated recruit ever signed by Lorenzo Romar.
8. Brook Lopez - Class of 2006 - C - Fresno, CA - San Joaquin - Stanford
Always the more highly regarded of the Lopez twins, Brook had a little more offensive game coming out of high school than Robin but both were rated so high because of their sheer size and defensive presence along with rebounding skills. An excellent student and unique character, Brook, along with his twin brother, chose Stanford early in the process.
9. Chase Budinger - Class of 2006 - SF - Encinatas, CA - La Costa Canyon - Arizona
One of the most unique prospects to ever come out of the West Coast, Budinger was a 6'8 guard with curly blonde hair that could jump out of the gym and had a deadly outside shooting touch while also being a world class volleyball player. Known for having a laid back demeanor it wasn't a surprise when Budinger chose an Arizona program known for being more relaxed over the rigid intensity of Ben Howland's UCLA program.
10. James Harden - Class of 2007 - SG Lakewood, CA - Artesia - Arizona State
An absolute pure scorer, Harden could get to the rim and stroke the outside shot with ease. Despite being from the LA area, Harden ended up choosing between Arizona State and Washington and chose the Sun Devils after an intense recruitment.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Anderson (Class of 2012 SF Jersey City, NJ - St. Anthony UCLA), Jerryd Bayless (Class of 2007 SG Phoenix, AZ - St. Mary's Arizona), Mustafa Shakur (Class of 2003 PG Wynnewood, PA - Friends' Central Arizona), Jon Brockman (Class of 2005 PF Snohomish, WA Washington), Robin Lopez (Class of 2006 C Fresno, CA - San Joaquin Stanford), Jabari Brown (Class of 2011 SG Oakland, CA Oregon), Jordan Farmar (Class of 2004 PG Woodland Hills, CA - Taft UCLA)