By JP Finlay
At 5 p.m. on Thursday the fortunes for the Maryland Terrapins basketball team will change drastically. Or they won't.
A pair of incredibly talented high school hoopsters from Texas, Aaron and Andrew Harrison, will decide between the Terps and the defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats.
The amount of hype for the Houston area brothers is hard to imagine; the Harrison twins have been featured in most every major publication in the country and the decision between Kentucky and Maryland will air live on ESPNU.
Most high-school basketball recruiting experts share the view that the Harrisons will immediately transform whatever team they join into a Final Four contender.
Predictions also say that the Harrisons will play for one year in college before bolting to the greener pastures of the NBA. Aaron, a 6'5", 205 lb. shooting guard, and Andrew, a 6'5" 210 lb. point guard, are considered NBA lottery picks, a draft position no Maryland player has attained since Chris Wilcox in 2002.
At first glance, one might thing that Maryland has little business recruiting players of this caliber.
The Terps have not landed two consensus Top 5 players in the same recruiting class in at least a few decades, and possibly never. Legendary Maryland coach Lefty Driesell recruited at a very high level for many years, but the Harrison twins are spoken of as the best "package deal" in college hoops history.
Gary Williams, Maryland's more recent coaching legend and the only coach to deliver a national championship to College Park, rarely brought in nationally recognized recruits like the Harrisons. Williams achieved his highest levels with players that were under-looked by other programs and developed into stars at Maryland.
However, current Maryland coach Mark Turgeon has made recruiting a high priority.
In his first year at the helm of the Terps, Turgeon has brought in a Top 20 recruiting class according to most recruiting outlets, and the coaching staff is active with many of the best players throughout the country. But Maryland is going up against Kentucky -- college basketball royalty -- and its famed head coach John Calipari.
Calipari has many critics and a history of NCAA violations at previous coaching stops in Memphis and UMass, but nobody can dismiss his recruiting prowess.
Calipari routinely brings in the best talent in the country before sending players on to the pro level. Kentucky is a national college basketball brand and has arguably the largest, most hoops-crazed fan base in the country. They won the title last year and made the Final Four in 2011.
Although Maryland has a strong basketball tradition and William's 2002 title, the Terps have not even made the NCAA tournament in two years and had some down years in the decade since the championship.
On the surface, the Harrisons would be crazy to go anywhere but Kentucky. But this thing has many layers.
Turgeon, formerly of Texas A&M before coming to Maryland, has known the Harrison twins for years. Aaron Harrison Sr., the twins father and AAU basketball team coach, has a good relationship with Turgeon, and an even better relationship with Maryland assistant coach Bino Ransom.
Harrison Sr. grew up in Baltimore and has known Ransom since they were both school boy athletes. Though the family currently lives in Texas, the Harrison family has firm roots in Baltimore and family that still lives in the area.
Shaquille Cleare, a freshman big man from Texas and former AAU teammate of the Harrisons, will play at Maryland this fall. Cleare, by way of Twitter, is friends with the Harrisons and has encouraged the duo to join him in College Park.
The recruitment also goes beyond just geographic connections to the Harrison's family. Enter the shoe companies.
For more than two decades, sneaker companies have played a major role in college basketball recruiting. This has rarely worked to Maryland's benefit. That may have changed now, with Maryland's intricate relationship with athletic apparel company Under Armour.
A recent USA Today article highlights the ties that the Harrison family has to the Baltimore-based company, specifically the head of basketball marketing for Under Armour Chris Hightower. What that means for the twins college choice remains to be seen.
Under Armour is not Nike, the sneaker company of choice at Kentucky. Nike is the big boy on the block, the dominant player in AAU basketball. But Under Armour is cool, a new player on the scene that is unafraid to take on Nike.
In college basketball recruiting, that means sponsoring AAU teams. AAU teams are traveling amateur basketball clubs, and a big sneaker contract can pay for teams and players to travel the country and play in tournaments that college coaches attend.
Harrison Sr. coaches his twin sons on a Houston-area AAU team sponsored by Under Armour. By some accounts, this may be more important than any familiarity the Harrison's have with Maryland, the coaching staff, or Cleare. Then again, it may not.
Somewhere in all this mystery, two high school kids have to make a decision. It could be Kentucky. It could be Maryland.
Kentucky has a mountain of momentum, and the appeal of recent success. Maryland has had its successes too, but they do not match Kentucky's. What Maryland does have is family, friends, and Under Armour.
Will it be enough?