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Who are the best recruits in Colorado Buffaloes history?

Quincy Allen committed last week, asking us when the last top-50 recruit made it to Boulder.

Recruiting rankings don’t tell you which players will ultimately succeed — just look at the top 10 recruits in 2012 — but they are a good measure of talent. Every coach wants to coach the most talented players they can, as long as they’re not complete head cases. Most coaches would rather recruit a ready-made scorer than someone they have to develop for years. Unless you’re making one-transaction recruiting pitches, it takes years to gather enough momentum to recruit those at the top of the class.

Colorado has recruited stars before and they’ve had excellent recruiting classes, but never have they had a surprise commitment from a top-50 player in a part of the country they don’t even recruit. That’s why Quincy Allen is a such a get: the 4-star wing from D.C. is a pure scorer, someone they don’t even have to coach to get buckets. He will surely improve on defense, but damn, he’s getting first round grades already. (Lawson Lovering, a 7’1, 230-lbs. center, is the 52nd-ranked recruit, but he committed to CU when he was a local 3-star recruit.)

Quincy Allen’s commitment asked an important question: who are the best recruits in Colorado history? Here’s a list of that, based on basketball-reference’s Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI) rankings. I would rank players by their recruiting score — Josh Scott was a higher rated recruit than Allen even if he wasn’t as highly ranked in his class — but there’s no historical database sorting by that. It’s also worth noting that recruiting rankings became a thing in the 1990s, so there’s no Cliff Meely or Scott Wedman here.

1. David Harrison — 13th ranked recruit, Class of 2001

The best recruit in Colorado history, David Harrison was a 7’0, 260-lbs. center who was an impact player his first day on campus. In his three years on campus, he averaged 15 points, 8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, all of which earned him a reputation as an imposing center who was eventually drafted in the first round of the 2004 NBA Draft. CU was able to land him because Ricardo Patton was a gifted recruiter and was still riding the momentum of Chauncey Billups’ impact.

2. Chauncey Billups — 18th, 1996

If Billups wasn’t a Denver kid, there’s absolutely no way Colorado lands him. It shaped the future of CU basketball that the best ever in-state recruit (1) wanted to stay home, (2) was good enough to carry CU to the NCAA Tournament, (3) became a 5-time All-Star and Finals MVP and (4) actively supports Buffs basketball. You don’t need to see the college stats of a player who had his number retired.

3T. Quincy Allen — 48th, 2021

So far, Quincy Allen is in rarefied air. We don’t know how he’s going to develop, particularly on defense, but he’s a smart kid who has a beauty of a pull-up jumper. Tad Boyle was very active in his recruitment, so you know he has plans for such a gifted scorer.

3T. Jose Winston — 48th, 1998

I had no idea who Jose Winston was before writing this, but about five seconds of research tells me that he’s likely the biggest recruiting bust in CU basketball history. In three years on campus, he averaged 3 points per game on 37% shooting. He did average 6.5 assists as a junior, so maybe I’m being mean, but Patton didn’t exactly find his Billups replacement at point guard.

5. Josh Scott — 50th, 2012

Josh Scott was a 10-year veteran as a freshman, more or less. He knew exactly what he could and couldn’t do, had post moves on post moves, and was the heart of a fantastic defensive team. Maybe he was a lower ceiling than the players above him — the top 10 recruits that year include Shabazz Muhammad and Ricky Ledo — but I’ll take the walking bucket every time. It’s just too bad Derrick White wasn’t eligible to play Scott’s senior year, when the latter carried the Buffs to the NCAA Tournament with Xavier Talton starting at guard.

6. Lawson Lovering — 52nd, 2021

Lawson Lovering committed to CU way back in October 2019, right before he started blowing up as a nationally ranked prospect. The kid from Cheyenne, Wyoming has grown to 7’1, 230-lbs., is developing a nice shooting stroke, and is surprisingly skilled for his size. He’s getting better every day and now finds himself near the top-50 in national recruits. Lovering is going to be a type of center we’ve never seen in Boulder.

7. Stephane Pelle — 64th, 1999

The all-time leader in career rebounds, Stephane Pelle is perhaps underrated because he is sandwiched by Billups and Harrison in program history. The Cameroonian native came to CU by way of Mercerberg, Pennsylvannia, and starred in Patton’s player-friendly environment. A physical two-way presence, Pelle was twice named All-Big XII and had a long career in Europe.

8. Xavier Johnson — 67th, 2012

The first of many sweet-shooting, left-handed wings, Xavier Johnson could carry the Buffs when he got hot, but his career was mostly defined by his inconsistency. Johnson was in a recruiting class with Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon (and Xavier Talton), good for the 17th ranked class in the nation, the highest CU has ever finished.

9. D’Shawn Schwartz — 75th, 2017

No disrespect to Schwartz, but it does speak to how fickle recruiting rankings that he was rated higher than McKinley Wright and Tyler Bey, both of whom will likely play in the NBA. Schwartz does pop off time to time, but it seems that he doesn’t know how good he is at getting buckets.

10. Tre’Shaun Fletcher — 100th, 2013

The last recruit on this list, Tre’Shaun Fletcher has a special place in my heart. Another scoring lefty wing, Fletcher struggled to find playing time behind Xavier Johnson and George King. Aside from the occasional hot shooting night, he never found his footing and eventually transferred to Toledo. There, he realized his potential, put up 18 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists per game, and was named MAC Player of the Year.