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October 10, 2013For the majority of his recruitment, Elk Grove (Calif.) Laguna Creek 6-foot-9, 200-pound forward Malik Pope was not being actively recruited by San Diego State. Pope kept in touch with SDSU head coach Steve Fisher maybe once or twice a year or so ago, but with schools all over the country vying for the 5-star prospect's services, it's understandable why the staff would turn towards other recruits more within reach.
But that all changed last April, when San Diego State made the (re)addition of Justin Hutson to its staff and the Aztecs surged right up into contention.
"For Malik, it came down to Kansas and SDSU," LeRon Dodson, Pope's AAU coach for Team Superstar said. "And at the end of the day, San Diego State had the edge because of Justin Hutson.
"Everybody but Kentucky and Duke had offered Malik, pretty much all the national schools - so for San Diego State to come out of the blue in the past six-to-eight months when Hutson got there, come on strong and close the deal - that's huge."
Pope's landmark commitment all started about two years ago, when Hutson - during his time as an assistant coach at UNLV - was one of the first recruiters to watch Pope at an AAU event held in Las Vegas. He was one of the first recruiters to recognize Pope's potential and began to build up a strong bond with him during the early stages of his recruitment.
Hutson saw a long, lanky shooter with similarities to former SDSU wings Kawhi Leonard, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas, whose combination of size and athleticism led the Aztecs to a deep NCAA Tournament run and 34-3 (14-2) record in 2011.
So when Hutson rejoined the San Diego State coaching staff during the spring, the stars aligned and he was able to pitch Pope the idea of taking another shot at the Final Four with him on board.
"Honestly, San Diego State wasn't in the mix at all until Coach Hutson came back," Dodson said. "He kept that relationship strong and told Malik, 'I'm at San Diego State now. We had a great situation at UNLV, but we have a great situation at San Diego State... look at the guys we've brought in and helped develop them.' Coach Fisher and Hutson truly believe they can help develop Malik just like they did with Kawhi Leonard, Jamaal Franklin and all the other successful guys they have had at that position.
"I'm telling you right now, Coach Hutson is one of the top assistants in the country if you look at what he's done at San Diego State, UNLV and now back at San Diego State. And as for right now, he's putting together a class just as good, if not better than, any of the schools in the Pac-12. He's good, man; he's a very good recruiter. That guy works his tail off. Nobody recruited Malik harder, other schools recruited him well, but nobody recruited him harder than Coach Hutson. He was always on him and always made him a priority. Malik really appreciated that. Then when he visited San Diego State for his official, he loved the city, the team and really liked Coach (Brian) Dutcher and the rest of the staff and people out there. He felt comfortable with the entire program and decided to pick San Diego State."
Pope, currently ranked as the 17th best prospect in the nation by Rivals.com, is the highest ranked commitment in the program's history.
"His talent is through the roof and he is a potential first round draft pick in the future," National Basketball Analyst Eric Bossi said.
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