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Early signing period begins today

Five-star Indianapolis power forward Trey Lyles is all smiles after putting on a Kentucky hat after he announces where he will play basketball while surrounded by his parents Jessie and Thomas Lyles at Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis last week. Lyles is expected to sign his National Letter of Intent today. / Matt Detrich, The Indianapolis Star

College basketball’s early signing period begins Wednesday, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Unlike the first day of the February signing period for football, you won’t see legions of college sports fans surreptiously watching ESPN on their smart phones or refreshing their browsers to see the latest reports of signings.

Only four of the nation’s top 10 men’s basketball recruits are expected to sign a National Letter-of-Intent today: Prime Prep (Dallas) point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who is expected to sign with Southern Methodist; Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) small forward Kelly Oubre, who will sign with Kansas; Montverde point guard D'Angelo Russell, who is expected to sign with Ohio State; and Arsenal Tech (Indianapolis) power forward Trey Lyles, who has said he will sign with Kentucky.

“For the top 10 or top dozen players, most of them are waiting for the best package, the best deal,” said basketball scout Rick Bolus. “Sometimes they’ll wait until the spring signing period, because they become more valuable. Some coaches will need to sign a five-star player to keep their job.”

That’s not to say the early signing period isn’t important. Plenty of players below the top 10 will don baseball caps of their future schools Wednesday and put ink to paper. Also, Wednesday is only the beginning of a one-week signing period that will see top prospects announce their future schools, and in some cases, actually sign.

The biggest announcement this week is expected to come Friday when Whitney Young (Chicago) center Jahlil Okafor and Apple Valley, Minn., point guard Tyus Jones are expected to announce their “package deal” of signing with either Kansas, Duke or Baylor. The pair played together on USA Basketball teams and have said for more than a year they will sign with the same college.

“It seems like these guys really thought it out,” said national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer of 247sports.com. “They’ve forged a bond and have played well together. I think everyone thinks Okafor and Jones are going to the same school.”

Two other top players expected to announce their choice Friday are Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) small forward Stanley Johnson and Curie (Chicago) forward Cliff Alexander.

Meyer said he’s surprised that more elite players don’t delay their signings or commitments.

“They have leverage,” Meyer said. “A lot of the players who haven’t given a commitment just haven’t made up their mind. To me, it’s kind of odd that these kids are signing with schools without having seen them play the season before they’ll be there.”

The actual signings can be anticlimactic. Unlike in football, once elite players are in their senior year and announce their college choice, it’s rare for a player to change his mind.

For the big names who will sign early this month, there is at least one advantage.

“It’s a great relief for him to have this out of the way,” Arsenal Tech coach Jason Delaney said of Lyles. “When you see pictures of him smiling when he made the announcement he was going to Kentucky, that was genuine. I think if you’re fully convinced of your decision, signing early is a good thing.”

Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight agrees.

“Stanley (Johnson) is probably going to announce Friday or this weekend,” McKnight said. “The glamor is over at this point. He doesn’t want to disappoint any of the coaches recruiting him, but it’s better for those coaches to know so they can move on.”



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