Only four schools have been in the top 12 of recruiting class rankings in each of the past three seasons. There’s Duke and Kentucky, which have finished 1-2 in some order in the rankings in each of the past four classes. There’s Arizona, which has finished in the top seven for seven years running.
The fourth? Not Kansas. Not UCLA. Not North Carolina.
It’s Florida State.
And five-star senior M.J. Walker’s announcement on Wednesday that he was picking the Seminoles over UCLA, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Ohio State moved Florida State’s class to No. 8 in the country and ensured the Seminoles would once again have one of the nation’s top incoming freshman classes.
Coach Leonard Hamilton has long had a reputation as an elite recruiter, consistently getting Florida State -- and before that, Miami -- involved with five-star prospects. Florida State has had 10 players selected in the NBA draft since 2004, including four first-round picks. The Seminoles had a top-10 recruiting class in 2008, a top-20 group in 2010 and 2011 and a top-40 class in 2014 -- before the recent three-year run. They just missed on Andrew Wiggins in 2013, not backing off even when Kentucky and Kansas made him a priority.
The Seminoles have done it by heavily working Florida and Georgia. Bacon and Isaac were both in-state prospects that the Noles got involved with early in the process, while Malik Beasley -- and now Walker -- are Georgia natives. Assistant coach Charlton Young has deep ties to the Atlanta area, while fellow assistant Dennis Gates was the lead on Isaac and helped on Bacon.
Given the early-entry decisions of both Bacon and Isaac, Hamilton badly needed to land Walker. Florida State made him one of its top targets early in the 2017 recruiting cycle, but Walker took his recruitment slowly. He took one official visit in the fall, and it was to Tallahassee. The early signing period came and went without a commitment, though. The longer his recruitment lasted, the further it was since his visit, and other schools began making their moves for Walker. UCLA, Virginia Tech and Ohio State all got him on campus in the past few weeks, while hometown Georgia Tech hosted him several times.
Florida State suffered a difficult recruiting blow earlier this month, when five-star Kevin Knox shocked the recruiting world and chose Kentucky over the Seminoles, Duke, North Carolina and Missouri.
The Seminoles couldn’t let it happen again.
Florida State is coming off a 26-win season that ended in disappointing fashion, going 8-7 in the final two months of the season and losing by 25 to Xavier in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Bacon, Isaac and double-figure scorer Xavier Rathan-Mayes all left early and signed with agents, while starting center Michael Ojo and sixth man Jarquez Smith ran out of eligibility.
When Knox went elsewhere, it looked as if the Seminoles would lack the scoring punch of the past couple of seasons. Walker solves some of those issues. He’s a big-time offensive player who will immediately become one of the perimeter shooters on the team. Walker will have to shoulder most of the scoring load right off the bat, as there is only one player -- Terance Mann (8.4 PPG) -- returning who averaged more than 5.5 points per game.
There’s now reason for optimism at Florida State, though. Former ESPN 100 prospects CJ Walker and Trent Forrest will likely move into starting roles in the backcourt, while Mann will also take on a bigger role. Hamilton focused on the frontcourt in his 2017 class, with ESPN 100 shot-blocker extraordinaire Ikey Obiagu and four-star forwards Raiquan Gray and Wyatt Wilkes entering the fold. Center Christ Koumadje, at 7-feet-4, also took strides as the season progressed and will at least anchor the defense alongside Obiagu.
A step back was inevitable for Florida State without its top three scorers from last season, but Walker’s commitment gives the Seminoles a chance -- and also reaffirms Hamilton’s status as one of the top recruiters in college basketball.