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Horn's class stacks nicely

The nature of basketball recruiting is far from exact. Those who are considered experts have wildly varying opinions about the potential of college prospects.

But everyone seems sure of this: The South Carolina men's basketball program is set to bring in its most impressive class in years.

Monday was a big day for the Gamecocks, who gained two commitments, including the highest-ranked member of their class. They have five commitments for next year, reaching the projected scholarship limit; the next signing period starts Nov 11.

There is an outside chance the class could get better. Stacey Poole, a top-30 player according to Rivals.com and analyst Bob Gibbons, is set to announce his decision tonight on ESPNU. Experts think Poole will pick Kentucky, but the fact USC is in the running impresses observers.

"If they were to come up with Stacey Poole, that would be just an incredible class for Darrin Horn in his second year," Rivals.com analyst Jerry Meyer said. "It's a great class regardless."

For now, the biggest name is Damontre Harris, a 6-foot-9 center ranked No. 56 by Rivals.com. He committed on Monday along with 6-5 swingman Brian Richardson.

Bruce Ellington, ranked 94th by Rivals, committed earlier this month. Forward R.J. Slawson, an athletic player who experts say will fit Horn's system well, committed over the summer.

The first commitment came from guard Eric Smith last year. There has been speculation that Smith will land at a different school because he and Ellington are both undersized guards. But Smith's father said USC's coaches remain committed to his son.

According to NCAA rules, Horn and his staff cannot comment on players until they sign.

USC beat out such big-time programs as Florida, Maryland and Wake Forest for Harris. He often draws comparisons to USC center Sam Muldrow, though most think Harris will be better.

"He's a guy - rattle off the name of a top school - and they'd be happy to have him in the fold," said Michael Plante, an analyst for ESPN.com. "Harris, to me, is the linchpin that makes a very good class."

Then there is Ellington, who will draw plenty of comparisons to USC point guard Devan Downey simply because both are 5-9. Ellington isn't as good a shooter as Downey, according to experts, but he is as potent with the ball.

"He's the X-factor in that class," Meyer said. "He's the guy who could potentially be the difference-maker."

USC needed a strong class, said Pointe, a former assistant at Auburn and head coach at Jacksonville State. After the upcoming season, the Gamecocks will lose Downey, a two-time first-team All-SEC selection. Forward Dominique Archie, who has started every game of his college career, is also a senior, as are Evka Baniulis and Brandis Raley-Ross.

"The bottom line, and I think coach Horn knows, this is the kind of class that he's got to put together to maintain the competitive balance," Plante said. "He's probably as excited about it as the fans are from the standpoint of, 'We had a big challenge ahead of us, and we were able to get good kids to commit.' But at the same time, those are the kinds of kids you have to bring in in order to compete."

Rivals.com updated its class ranking Wednesday, and South Carolina was eighth. It has a good shot to finish in the top 20, Meyer said.

Either way, he thinks the class is a "perfect fit" for USC and what Horn is trying to do with the team.

"He's got to find the guys right in his region who are diamonds in the rough or, for whatever reason, North Carolina, Duke, these traditional powers in that area don't recruit. He's done that with this class," Meyer said. "He's found the guys that he believes fit his system. And these are good players, no question."

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