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San Diego State bolsters an already strong recruiting class with five-star Malik Pope

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Steve Fisher (Getty Images)

Moments after five-star forward Malik Pope revealed he had chosen San Diego State over a long list of suitors Wednesday night, fellow Aztecs commit Trey Kell sent out a quick tweet expressing his enthusiasm.

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Malik Pope (Rivals.com)

"SDSU future looking real bright right about now," Kell said.

It's hard to argue with Kell given the recruiting class San Diego State coach Steve Fisher is assembling. Not only do the Aztecs have commitments from the highly touted Pope, one of the top shooting guards on the West Coast in Kell and promising Canadian point guard Kevin Zabo, they also are one of the leaders for top 100 forward Zylan Cheatham.

The centerpiece of the class is Pope, a bouncy 6-foot-8 forward with the ability to handle the ball on the perimeter and shoot from behind the arc. Gonzaga and Kansas were the other finalists for Pope, but when heralded 6-foot-7 forward Kelly Oubre committed to the Jayhawks this week, Pope cancelled a visit to Spokane scheduled for later this week and announced he was San Diego State-bound.

One of the factors that sold Pope on San Diego State was the Aztecs' interest never waned even after Rivals.com's No. 17 prospect fractured his leg in February and rebroke the same leg again in September. Assistant coach Justin Hutson, who had recruited Pope at UNLV before rejoining the Aztecs’ staff in April, flew to Sacramento and reaffirmed San Diego State's interest.

“They always made him a priority, and they did that from the beginning," LeRohn Dodson, Pope's club coach at Team Superstar, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Kansas, Gonzaga, UCLA did a good job recruiting him. But San Diego State did a better job recruiting him. After his injury they recruited him even harder, and that was important to him. He’s a really loyal kid."

The circumstances of Pope's commitment are reminiscent of one the Aztecs once received from Chase Tapley, another Sacramento-area prospect who went on to star at San Diego State from 2009-2013. Hutson actually offered Tapley a scholarship as he lay in a hospital bed recuperating from a broken leg he suffered as a sophomore, a show of commitment that Tapley later told Yahoo Sports "meant everything" to him.

"I was like, 'Jeez, my leg's broken and these guys still want me?'" Tapley said. "I really appreciated that. In the back of my head, I knew that was the school I wanted to be at."

San Diego State will probably struggle to score in half-court sets with Tapley and Jamaal Franklin gone from last year's NCAA tournament team, but the Aztecs' defensive and rebounding prowess should keep them from falling too far this year. And by the 2014-15 season, look out, because the fruits of a some strong recruiting classes should begin to really pay off.

By then, J.J. O'Brien and defensive standout Skylar Spencer will still be there to anchor the frontcourt and Arizona transfer Angelo Chol will be eligible to provide shot-blocking and rebounding as well. And in the backcourt, the Aztecs figure to have versatile guard Winston Shepard, defensive stopper Dakarai Allen and athletic wing Matt Shrigley in addition to the newcomers in the 2014 recruiting class.

Even better for the Aztecs, they may not be done yet if they can secure a commitment from Cheatham in the coming weeks. That would mean 2014 would bring Chol, Zabo and three Rivals 150 prospects, five players who might make a pretty good starting lineup for the Aztecs someday.

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