By all accounts, the 17 players who Villanova head coach Andy Talley is bringing in for next season represent perhaps the best recruiting class in program history.

And the truth is, it could have been even stronger.

The Wildcats actually lost three verbal commitments late in the process, all to Division I-A programs. One went to North Carolina, another to Iowa and the third opted for Purdue. Stuff happens.

"That really hurts you," Talley said. "About 3 weekends ago, we thought we were finished. Then all of a sudden we're back out there looking to fill spots at certain positions. Sometimes it's a goofy business.

"Kids change their minds. It's a concern. In a way, you're a victim of your own success. So you go to your auxiliary list. You have to watch that you don't dilute yourself too much by dipping down. Fortunately, we were able to get some good kids that were still available. So we can feel good about that. When you're after the best kids, that's the kind of thing you run into. But that's the way you have to approach it.

"Some of our [assistants] get more frazzled than I do. They're the ones calling the kids at night, chasing, visiting, text messaging. I just sort of sit at mission control, handling the ups and downs. I look at it as a win-win situation. We've never lost in recruiting. If a kid comes, you win. And if he goes somewhere else, you still win if you helped him find a place that's good for him."

Even with the losses, Talley and his staff obviously won a lot of this season's battles.

The Wildcats got 17 players. Among the highlights are Richard White, a running back from Atlantic City who Talley feels was as good as any back in South Jersey. He got his quarterback of the future in St. Joseph Prep's Chris Whitney, who had some Division I scholarship offers. Louis Adeyemi was one of the top running backs in Southern California. And wide receiver Terrell Wilks, from New Haven, Conn., ran the second-fastest time in the nation over 55 meters. Talley was worried right up to the last moment that he might also lose him because of his prowess on a track.

The Wildcats also did well in the secondary, a critical area in the pass-crazy Atlantic 10. Cardinal O'Hara safety John Dempsey was one of those who had "significant" I-A interest. Matt Szczur, a wideout from Lower Cape May High, might also play baseball on the Main Line.

The Wildcats won their last four games last season to finish 6-5. To outsiders, it might not seem like a big deal. In the overall picture, it meant a bunch.

"You never want to have two losing seasons in a row," said Talley, who hasn't had very many in his two-plus decades at the school. "We beat some good teams at the end to re-establish ourselves. Kids are still going to come here because of the academics and our location, and the fact that we've accomplished a lot over a long period of time. But you always want to keep that continuity going.

"We can talk about the [Brian] Finnerans and the [Brian] Westbrooks and the playoffs and playing a I-A team every year. That keeps us in the ballpark. But you want to tie it all in to what you've done lately. Kids look for that, too. We have a history. And we have stability. That helps more than anything."

So you keep shooting high and see what that nets you. Hopefully, it's enough to make a difference in a year or 2. If not sooner. And by tomorrow, they'll already be looking toward next year's class. That's the way this stuff works.

"You're just trying to get the right mix," Talley said. "There's always some danger involved when you recruit the way we do. Sometimes you just hold your breath and hope that it works out. We've usually been able to more than hold our own. It does make it easier when you're selling a great product." *