CLEMSON -- Upon returning from the Final Four this week, UCLA coach Ben Howland offered to hop a plane and visit standout recruit Milton Jennings if it might delay his college decision.
Howland didn't make the trip, knowing it would be a waste of time. Jennings, a 6-foot-9 forward from Pinewood Prep, said he basically made up his mind before this past season.
He disclosed that choice publicly Wednesday, committing to Clemson over UCLA, Florida, Georgetown and USC.
"It's important that every year under coach (Oliver) Purnell, they have gotten better," Jennings said. "And I feel like when (my class) gets into the ACC, we can get to No. 1, if they don't do it next year first."
Beyond being a major coup for the Tigers, Jennings' pledge serves as further evidence of the program's gradual improvement under Purnell.
Coupled with the commitment of Union power forward Devin Booker -- brother of the Tigers' sophomore starting center, Trevor Booker -- Clemson possesses two pledges rated among the top 100 prospects by rivals.com and scout.com in its next recruiting class.
That on the heels of a 2008 recruiting class that crept into the top 25 rankings behind 7-1 center Catalin Baciu, another consensus top-100 pick.
Booker is ranked No. 57 by Rivals and will be at the back end of Scout's initial top 100 released today.
No one in the first four signing classes Purnell recruited was among Rivals.com's top 100. James Mays, K.C. Rivers and David Potter were ranked between 100-150.
"Guys like Jennings and conceivably Booker are the types you need to keep it rolling," said Dave Telep, the national director of basketball recruiting for scout.com. "The top-25 programs typically will rotate between six to eight top-100 players in their 10-man rotation."
"Jennings is a talent. He's got a measurable skill set and can play the hybrid power forward slot and face the basket. Like his peers, there's room for improvement. But again, there's a lot to work with. This is a major score for Clemson."
Jennings foresees playing a similar defensive role to that of Mays, although he hopes to utilize more developed perimeter skills on the offensive end.
Ranked No. 35 by scout.com and No. 58 by rivals.com, Jennings averaged 18.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.2 blocked shots this season to lead the Panthers (27-4) to their third consecutive SCISA Class AAA state championship.
Yet it was his performance in an AAU game in July in Las Vegas that Jennings believes put him on the map.
Jennings got the best of a one-on-one matchup with Derrick Favors, scoring 18 points against the 6-9 swingman who is regarded as one of the top three prospects in next year's class.
The national programs then swooped in, and Jennings said UCLA finished a not-too-distant second for his services.
"There's just something about big games that makes me want to prove myself," Jennings said.
Clemson is expected to add at least one more player to its 2009 class.
• ALOHA, TIGERS -- Clemson might head to Hawaii during nonconference play next season, but not for the prestigious Maui Invitational.
The Tigers could be the headliner in the eight-team Rainbow Classic held Dec. 27-30 at the University of Hawaii.
According to a report in the Honolulu Advertiser, the field also would include Pepperdine, Coppin State, Colorado, Colorado State, Hawaii, Vermont and George Washington, where former Clemson wing Cheyenne Moore is a reserve.
School officials were unable to confirm Clemson's participation through Purnell on Wednesday.