The Big Prize

The Big Prize

Kaleb Tarczewski may already be well-familiar with the University of Kansas, having visited on multiple occasions during the past two years, but Friday he'll get another taste of what the Jayhawks have to offer while on an official visit for 'Late Night in the Phog.'

If anything, the recruitment of Kaleb Tarczewski is testament to the difficulty of the decision faced by prep basketball prospects every year.

"Where am I going to spend the next four years of my life?"

To fans of the institutions in contention, the answer is always so simple. Why wouldn't a prospect want to come to Kansas, for example, when viewed through the lens of Jayhawk Nation? The same holds true at Arizona, Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and, well, pretty much everywhere.

Where a fanbase exists, so does the heartfelt belief that one's program is clearly, without question, the best option for any recruit.

For prospects the caliber of Tarczewski, however, rarely is the choice so simple.

Led by powerhouse east coast recruiter Joe Dooley, the Kansas staff identified the Southborough (MA) St. Mark's School product early and quickly offered a scholarship.

Not that it needed it, but their eye for talent was soon validated by the veritable flood of interest that began flowing Tarczewski's way. Eventually working his way into the ranks of the nation's elite and earning a five-star ranking from Scout.com analysts, in no time flat the athletic 7-footer held offers from some of the sport's elite - Kansas, Arizona, North Carolina and Kentucky among them.

But the Jayhawks always stood out, and for months appeared to maintain a comfortable lead – a lead built on the strength of two factors in particular according to Scout.com national recruiting analyst Josh Gershon.

First and foremost, the relationship Tarczewski built with the Kansas staff. Since the beginning of their recruitment of him, Gershon said, the Jayhawks have done "the very best job recruiting him."

"The other (factor) is the job that Kansas has done developing post players under Bill Self," he explained. "It's comparable to, if not better than, anyone in the country in that time period. So I think those are the two major factors that made Kansas look really good in Kaleb's eyes."

As a senior, this summer marked Tarczewski's last on the AAU circuit, and as it progressed he settled on a trio of unofficial visits - to Arizona, Kansas and North Carolina respectively. After the trips were complete, it was believed Tarczewski would play out the July evaluation period and then, at long last, make a decision.

The Jayhawks were up first, and the early-June visit to the Lawrence, Kan. campus certainly wasn't his first. In the past two years, Tarczewski has made his way to Mount Oread a handful of times.

That trip, like the others, was a success.

"I think he enjoyed it," said his AAU coach, and former Boston Celtics head coach, John Carroll. "I think his mom enjoyed it. I think he has a really high comfort level because he's been there numerous times."

After that, it was on to Tucson and Chapel Hill, N.C., and that's when things began to get a little bit murky.

Tarczewski's high opinion of the Jayhawks remained intact, but Arizona managed to plant itself firmly in the running as well – so much so that the two programs separated themselves from the competition, and became locked in a two-team struggle for his services.

What was it about the Wildcats that enabled them to close the gap? Like Kansas, Gershon said, Arizona is a place where if a coach can manage to actually get a prospect on campus, they can usually manage to leave an impression.

"The other thing is Sean Miller does a very good job of recruiting, and once you get him in front of a recruit he tends to have a lot of success," he noted. "They have a lot of momentum in recruiting right now. The (2011) Elite 8, they've used that very well as a recruiting tool. Derrick Williams, they've used him very well as a recruiting tool."

In the weeks that followed, Tarczewski maintained radio silence with the media with almost no exceptions, and the tentative August deadline he set for a decision came and went.

For a period of a month, maybe a month and a half, Gershon said, it became a pretty wild recruitment.

"I do think there were times when both schools were pretty close to landing him," he said. "And at the end of the day I think things kind of balanced out, maybe over the past few weeks, and he took a step back and realized 'Maybe I'm not ready to make a decision.' That's when the official visits came into play."

Back at St. Mark's for the start of his senior year, Tarczewski first attempted to set up official visits for the weekends of Sept. 17 and Sept. 24 respectively - first to Kansas, and then to Arizona.

The parties couldn't come to a complete agreement on the dates, however, and those plans were scrapped, though his desire to take the officials was not.

Finally, two visit dates were set in stone. He would head once again to Lawrence on the weekend of Oct. 14 for season-opening festivities at 'Late Night in the Phog,' and head to Arizona the following weekend for the program's annual Blue-Red scrimmage.

"I think he just wants to take one more trip to both campuses, meet with both coaching staffs one more time, and finally make 100-percent sure he's making the right decision," Gershon said.

While recruitments can and frequently do shift like the wind, Gershon added that he expects Tarczewski to take both officials before deciding - due in large part to the strong bonds he has developed with both coaching staffs.

"It just seems like to me they spent so much time working on setting up the right dates for both schools, that I couldn't see him leaving Kansas and not making good on his promise to also visit Arizona," he said. "It's recruiting, and anything is possible, and obviously he really likes Kansas. But it seems like he's going to take both visits."

Check back with Phog.net for a post-visit report this weekend.

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