With most Recruits signed or committed where will the top 5 Remaining Prospects Land?
While the College Basketball season is over in term of games, with recruiting, coaching changes and the early NBA Draft deadline (April 10th), college basketball has developed into a year round sport. While I am waiting on the April 11th early entry deadline until I give you my 1st 2012-2013 preseason top 25, I figured I’d start out my offseason coverage with a little recruiting piece. At this point in the year most of the top recruits have already made up their minds and committed or signed with a school but some of the nation’s top recruits are still undecided as of April 10th. Most notably among this group are the top 2 ranked recruits in this year’s class, Shabazz Muhammad of Las Vegas and Nerlens Noel of Boston. These 2 have decided to announce their decision on Wednesday night on ESPNU, while other top recruits still are biding their time making a decision on their college futures. Although there are not too many remaining unsigned players, some of the highest ranked players in the class remain unsigned, all of whom should have a major impact on next year’s college basketball season. As the 2012 recruiting period winds down I will take a look at the top 5 remaining unsigned players and try and handicap where each of the 5 will be playing college ball next season. Having all just witnessed a freshman laden Kentucky team win a national title, there is no overstating how important freshmen are in this age of “one and dones” or how much they can impact the college basketball landscape. Nevertheless, these 5 players should make an immediate impact next season for whatever school they choose, as they all have the potential to change the fortunes or goals of a program. To start this list we will 1st take a look at the #1 overall recruit according to most outlets, Nerlens Noel.
1.) Nerlens Noel – Center(6’-10”, 215lbs) – Everett, Ma (Tilton School) – A late arrival to the 2012 class, Nerlens pulled a page from Andre Drummond’s book and reclassified back on February 1st. Noel who transferred from Everett High School to the Tilton School back in 2010, is eligible because he repeated a year of school at Tilton. Noel(who has the best flattop I’ve seen since Brandon Jennings circa 2008) is a shot blocker extraordinaire as his athleticism, length and instincts make him the most accomplished shot blocker in the 2012 class. Noel is also still growing into his body as he weighs just 210lbs at 6-10 and needs to bulk up before the start of next year’s college basketball season. Nerlens Noel is also still adding to his unpolished offensive game so while raw, his upside and potential is off the charts. Right now the team that lands Noel will be bringing in a tenacious shot blocker/ “shot alterer” and a very good rebounder. Offensively, Noel is raw but his elite athleticism and ability to run the floor will result in a lot of easy baskets and dunks. Noel has vastly improved offensively and has a pretty consistent hook around the basket to go along with the points he gets from alley oops and from the offensive glass. Noel also has very good hands for a big at his age and also is a very comfortable passer of the basketball. Noel has narrowed his college list to his final 3 of Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown, 3 schools that will be watching closely when he delivers his final decision Wednesday night. Of these 3 many suspect Kentucky is the favorite, as the Wildcats thrive in recruiting year in and year out, are coming off a National Championship and are seeking a replacement for departed center Anthony Davis. As good as Coach Cal is in the recruiting trenches, I think Noel gets away from him as the northeast product will choose to stay closer to home and end up at Syracuse. I know I am a Syracuse grad and rooting for Noel to pick the Orange, but in my heart I really do believe Noel likes Syracuse the best of these 3. Some of the reasons I think Syracuse nabs Noel are his longtime friendship with ‘Cuse point guard and fellow Massachusetts native Michael Carter-Williams(played AAU together), Noel’s seemingly perfect fit in Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone and even more simply the regional location of the school. Noel has been in constant contact with Syracuse’s point guard turned “recruiter” Carter-Williams lately on twitter and the two’s friendship may end up being the key factor in Noel’s final decision. Noel’s game also seems to be well suited for the 2-3 zone as his length would greatly help Syracuse’s defense and give Noel the freedom to patrol the painted area as a help shot blocker. Georgetown is the wildcard in this one and don’t discount them, as Noel is fully aware of the history and success of big men and shot blockers at Georgetown (Ewing, Mourning, Mutombo, Hibbert, Monroe, etc). This pedigree is tough to ignore but in the end I think Syracuse gets their man and replaces Fab Melo with the nation’s next great shot blocker Nerlens Noel. Noel has already stated he plans to “shock the world”, so don’t look for him to choose the obvious choice Kentucky but expect a bit of a surprise as Noel will end up in the Big East with either Syracuse or Georgetown. Syracuse edged out their rival Georgetown on the floor this past season and they will do it again in recruiting as Noel chooses Central New York and makes people quickly forget about everyone’s favorite honor roll student, Fab Melo. Noel is not Anthony Davis as he is still very raw and unpolished offensively, but he is a special shot blocker who like Davis will immediately impact the game and every possession on the defensive end.
Strengths: Elite shot blocker and a very good rebounder who can completely decide a game without scoring a basket. Noel is an accomplished defender both on the ball and as a help defender and should only improve with added muscle and strength. Noel is also a tremendous athlete who can run the floor and finish above the rim. Most of Noel’s points next season will be of the layup/dunk variety but with plenty of room to grow both physically and in terms of skill, the sky is the limit for the big man from Boston.
Weaknesses: Still very raw offensively, needs to develop post moves and perfect his jump hook. Also very thin for 6-10, Noel needs to add weight and bulk up to bang with the bigger bodies of the SEC or Big East.
School List: Kentucky, Georgetown, Syracuse
Final Decision Projection: Syracuse
2.) Shabazz Muhammad – Small Forward (6’-6”, 210lbs) – Las Vegas, NV (Bishop Gorman High School) - Shabazz Muhammad who was the #1 rated recruit most of the year has seemingly taken a backseat lately to Nerlens Noel, ever since Noel reclassified but don’t tell that to Muhammad. Muhammad let his game do the talking on the biggest stage for future prospects at the McDonald’s All-American game, as the senior from Vegas threw down 21 points on the way to earning MVP honors. Muhammad is an explosive scorer, and as much potential as Noel has, Muhammad to me is the crown jewel of this class as he has the ability “right now” to become a team’s best player from the day he steps on campus. Muhammad is not going to be one of the freshmen you need to baby or monitor, as this kid is ready to make a huge impact on any team in the country and should be one of the leading freshman scorers when all is said and done next season. Muhammad’s greatest attribute is his ability to score, as he can score in a variety of ways, including in transition, in tight, from mid-range and now even from 3-point land. Muhammad is at his best from 15 feet in as he has the ability to finish strong at the rim, in tight against bigger defenders and possesses may be the best mid-range game in this year’s incoming class. He is almost unguardable from inside the 3-point line as his undervalued strength, amazing athletic ability and smooth mid-range game make him a handful for defenders. This is where his elite competiveness takes over as Muhammad’s drive and will results in him finishing inside against bigger players and outworking opponents in the low block. The one area of his offensive game that Muhammad continues to need work on is the 3-point shot, as he has become a better outside shooter but still has plenty of room to grow. Part of his problem is that he settles for this shot too much, when seemingly he can get inside or to the foul line at will. On the defensive end, Muhammad is a very underrated defender as his strength and athleticism make him a very versatile defender who is capable of guarding any of 3 positions. This is another area where Muhammad’s competitiveness shines, as the senior does not take possessions off and genuinely takes it personal when his guy scores. In summary, Muhammad is a scoring machine who continues to get better and better because of his great work ethic and competitive drive. He is also a strong rebounder on both ends and plays bigger than his listed 6-6. Muhammad is the most explosive finisher in this class, as he has amazing lift and seems to take out his frustrations on the rim. Whoever gets Muhammad is getting a polished offensively player who will immediately contribute as a scorer, rebounder and defender. As crazy as it sounds, Muhammad will likely lead his team in scoring wherever he goes as the high school senior just has that scorer’s mentality to go along with an already advanced offensive package at this stage of his career. Shabazz who like Noel will make his decision on ESPNU Wednesday night, has also narrowed his final list to 3 schools, Duke, Kentucky and UCLA. Muhammad would be a huge get for Kentucky who has the potential to have a huge Wednesday night and late run in recruiting, as 4 of the top 5 remaining unsigned prospects are considering the defending NCAA Champions. All signs point to Muhammad going to UK as he is a perfect fit for the reloading Wildcats. Muhammad who is also closely considering UCLA, in the end will spurn the Bruins out west and end up with Coach Cal at UK. UCLA needs Muhammad as he could be the key to the programs turnaround but Kentucky just makes too much sense for UK and Muhammad as the likely one and done, would immediately become one of the teams leaders and be well prepared for the pros under Coach Cal. Muhammad is the best player in this class in my book and a future NBA standout and on Wednesday night I expect him to choose Kentucky and join a tremendous recruiting class that already includes Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley, a trio of ESPNU Top 100 recruits. A lot of experts believe UCLA is close to reeling this guy in, but I disagree and see Muhammad ending up at Kentucky and becoming the next great one and done player for the Wildcats under John Calipari, joining a group that already includes John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Strengths: An explosive scorer (29.4ppg), Muhammad will make a huge impact for whatever team he signs with almost immediately as his physical tools and skillset make him the most coveted player in this class and a future star. Muhammad is an explosive finisher (won the McDonald’s All-American Dunk Contest), smooth mid-range shooter and strong rebounder who continues to improve at every aspect of his game. As good a scorer as he is, his competitiveness may be his best attribute as no one plays harder or wants to win more than Shabazz. Likely a one and done enjoy Muhammad at the college game because this guy will be an immediate star and a frequent guest of ESPN’s Top 10 plays. Muhammad exhibited his skillset in the recent Nike Hoops Summit, where he was the best player on the floor by far, setting a record by scoring 35 points in a USA loss to the World Team.
Weaknesses: While weaknesses are few and far between when discussing Muhammad, Shabazz still needs to become more consistent as a 3-point shooter but has made strides over the last year and should continue to improve. Muhammad also has a tendency to always go left and needs to get stronger going to his right and become an even better ball handler in general. If Muhammad can continue to develop that perimeter jump shot, this guy could be scary good, as his will, athleticism and body already make him one of the best prospect we’ve seen over the last few seasons.
Final List: Duke, Kentucky, UCLA
Final Decision Projection: Kentucky
3.) Anthony Bennett – Power Forward (6’8”-230lbs) – Brampton, Ontario, Canada (Findlay Prep) – The best player left on the board not named Muhammad or Noel, Bennett(#7 ESPNU Top 100) has been going under the radar but could end up being just as big a get as either of the top 2 guys. Bennett the top ranked power forward in the class has 2 things going for him, to start he has tremendous size and a strong frame and secondly he is a great athlete for someone that size. Bennett also understands his own game and has narrowed his list of schools to 5, all 5 being schools that play uptempo, transition basketball. Their doesn’t seem to be too much separation between the teams on that list as Kentucky, Oregon, Washington, UNLV and Florida all seem to have a shot at bringing in the big Canadian. If I had to handicap the race I would say in the end it is going to be an SEC turf battle as Kentucky and Florida will battle for the services of Bennett. In addition to being a very strong and athletic post player, Bennett also has developed a very nice stroke from the perimeter and is a vastly improved 3-point shooter. Having watched a lot of tape on Bennett, a couple things jumped out at me: 1.) His motor and ability to run the floor, 2.) His ability to step out and make the 3-point shot, 3.) His hands and rebounding. All 3 of these tools will make him a huge asset at the college and eventually NBA level and are the major reasons Bennett is more advanced than many of the other forwards in this class. Like I said this is a wide open race and with Noel, Muhammad and Amile Jefferson all unsigned, expect Bennett to wait a while and let the chips fall where they may ahead of him. Outside of Florida and Kentucky, Oregon is probably next in line as Bennett’s high school teammate Dominic Artis has already committed to the Ducks, while UNLV cannot be totally dismissed because of their new uptempo style under Dave Rice and their location in relation to Bennett’s high school Findlay Prep. In the end though, I think this comes down to the 2 SEC schools as Bennett has formed close relationships with both Billy Donovan and John Calipari and seen how they have had success producing versatile big men( Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, DeMarcus Cousins at UK) and (Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Chandler Parsons, Udonis Haslem at Florida). In the end I think Kentucky will lure Bennett to Lexington, as the Wildcats will look to bolster their frontcourt after losing Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to the NBA and missing out on Noel and Amile Jefferson. Once again I see this as a tossup but Kentucky makes a lot of sense and edges out Florida in Bennett’s mind, largely due to the lasting image of them winning the National title.
Strengths: Bennett is a big strong boy, but that doesn’t mean he is one dimensional either, as Bennett’s athleticism is well suited to getting out on the break and he also possesses the ability to knock down the 3-point shot. Bennett also is an elite rebounder, and has great hands and instincts when going for loose balls on the offensive and defensive boards. Bennett is a strong outside shooter but also very strong in the low block, making him one more versatile and talented prospects at the forward position. This kid has a great motor, good touch and great versatility and is still developing, so some school is going to be very happy to have him wearing their uniform next season.
Weaknesses: This kid doesn’t really have many weaknesses to speak of but if you had to pick out one it would probably be his decision making on the defensive end. What do I mean by that? Well Bennett tends to take chances or let his frustrations cost him fouls early in games, which take him out of games for extended periods of time and forces him to the bench. Bennett needs to work on controlling his emotions, particularly on the defensive end if he wants to stay on the floor and make the impact he is capable of next season. Bennett also like most other bigs still needs work on his post game, as he has some moves but needs to continue to develop and master the full arsenal of back to the basket moves.
Final List: Kentucky, Florida, Oregon, UNLV, Washington
Final Decision Projection: Kentucky
4.) Amile Jefferson – Power Forward (6’-7”, 190lbs) – Philadelphia, Pa (Friends Central High School) – Another talented power forward in this 2012 recruiting class, Jefferson has recently narrowed his college list down to 4, as Duke North Carolina State, Villanova and of course Kentucky jockey for his services. Jefferson is a player with huge upside, as while he has put up great high school numbers and is already a very good player, there is potential for him to get even better and become a great player. If Jefferson is to take his game to that next level he will need to do 2 things in the near future. First and foremost Jefferson will need to fill out that wiry 6-7 frame, as he currently weighs in at just 190lbs, far too light for someone who plays the 4 position. Secondly, Jefferson needs to add a jump shot as right now Jefferson lacks the perimeter games of many of the other forwards in this year’s class. On the other hand, Jefferson already does a lot of things well, including score in and around the rim, rebound and block shots. Jefferson is able to surmount his lack of a jump shot, with a crafty post game that includes a variety of baseline moves, slashes and off balance shots. Having watched a lot of tape on Jefferson, one sees that he is just scratching the surface of his potential, as he has a rather limited game at the moment because of the absence of a perimeter game. One also sees a tremendous motor and great length, as Jefferson competes on the glass and on the defensive end has shown a knack as a shot blocker because of his length and timing. Despite not being a threat from the perimeter, Jefferson can score as he has great touch and finishing ability inside and averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds this season, leading Friends Central to their 4th straight Pennsylvania Independent Schools State Championship. As far as Jefferson’s list goes all 4 of the schools have a definite angle they will pitch to the senior from Philly. Duke will pitch their coaching with Coach K, success both in the ACC and nationally, and their success in preparing players for the NBA. NC State on the other hand will be pitching the future and how next year they have a roster that can compete for an ACC title. NC State already has a great recruiting class and Mark Gottfried will try to lure Jefferson into joining an incoming group that already includes Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis. Kentucky will be pitching their success under John Calipari and the fact that they are coming off of an NCAA title. Finally, Villanova will try and sell the hometown factor, and explain how Jefferson can help reestablish Villanova as the elite team in Philadelphia and play in front of all his friends and family. In the end though, I think Jefferson will choose to leave Philly and take his talents to Durham, North Carolina and play for Coach K. To me this comes down to Duke and NC State and in the end I think Duke’s history and legacy as a basketball power will be too tempting for young Jefferson to turn down. It’s not hard to sell a program like Duke when you’ve had so much recent success and Jefferson is a very smart basketball player who understands great coaching and knows he will have a chance to succeed both on and off the floor at Duke. This kid has a chance to be special and if he ends up Duke, in a few years I expect this kid to thrive under the tutelage of Mike Krzyzewski.
Strengths: Jefferson has tremendous length and athleticism and has already shown himself a good rebounder, finisher and defender, despite his thin frame. That being said this kid should continue to get better as he expands his offensive game and further develops his body. Jefferson will contribute early on as his craftiness inside, length and soft touch will make him a factor at whichever of the 4 schools he lands. Kid has a great attitude and is a proven winner and with the right coaching and a little hard work, this kid could be someone who could have a very successful college and professional career.
Weaknesses: Not to harp on it, but Jefferson needs to bulk up as 190lbs is too light and too skinny for someone who is 6-7 and plays the power forward position. Jefferson also has a very limited game from the perimeter and would greatly benefit from adding the element of the outside shot and expanding his range. Jefferson plays hard and understands his limits, and if he can add some muscle and fill out his frame and improve his midrange shooting, this kid could become a very dangerous offensive player.
Final List: Kentucky, Duke, NC State, Villanova
Final Decision Projection: Duke
5.) Tony Parker – Center (6’-9”, 270lbs) – Lithonia, GA (Miller Grove High School) - One of the top centers in the 2012 class, the Georgia product has a lot of talent and a lot of remaining potential suitors. How many exactly? Well at least 7, as Parker (ESPNU #26) right now has his list “trimmed” to 7 different schools, as Duke, Georgetown, Ohio State, Memphis, Kansas, UCLA and hometown Georgia all have ideas about adding the powerful big man. The first thing anyone notices about Parker is his size, and it’s hard not to considering the man stands 6-9 and goes at around 270lbs. Parker’s size is both a blessing and a curse, as on one hand he can be a dominant post player because of his width and ability to carve out space and back down smaller defenders. On the other hand his size has been an issue at times in terms of conditioning and stamina, as his weight sometimes forces him to the bench for spells of rest. Recently though Parker has worked hard on getting in better shape and has dropped some weight and improved his conditioning over the past year. Parker will need to continue to monitor his weight and conditioning as we go forward in order to stay healthy and ensure he can fulfill his fullest potential. Parker though is not just a big body who relies on strength and power inside, although he doesn’t lack either when push comes to shove. Parker also possesses great hands and great feet, as he has surprising quickness when executing post moves and snatches up everything in terms of passes and rebounds. This wide body and soft hands make him a handful to defend as Parker can seemingly get position any time he wants and has the hands to complete the catch and the touch to finish at the rim. Parker has so much skill for a guy this size as his feathery touch from as deep as 15 and polished post moves make him one of the more advanced big men in this entire class. Parker has a series of accomplished post moves as he can go with the lefty hook, the up and under or even face up on a defender and take him off the dribble. Quite frankly, Parker is a rare talent who has so much skill for someone his size and if he can get his conditioning and stamina under control, this guy could be a beast for years to come in the low block. Parker’s hands are among the best in this year’s class as the big guy snags everything whether it be a rebound or pass and has very strong hands protecting the basketball from defenders. Like I said, Parker’s main weakness is his physical conditioning and stamina as he needs to improve his stamina, so that he can stay on the floor longer and help his team on the offensive end. Parker also at times seems a bit disinterested on the defensive end and needs to pick up the intensity defensively, if he ever wants to evolve into a complete basketball player. In terms of his college choice, Tony Parker will have to decide whether or not he wants to go to Ohio State or Kansas and replace a Sullinger or Robinson, go out west and try to help UCLA reestablish themselves as an elite program after a down year, or stay close to home and carve out his own legacy at the University of Georgia. Parker also could choose a wildcard as Memphis, Duke and Georgetown all have historic legacies and reputations and have shown a knack for developing good NBA players. Don’t underestimate the implications the decisions Noel, Jefferson and Bennett make, as all 3’s choices could help clear up a very cloudy recruiting picture for Tony Parker. In the end I think this battle comes down to 3 schools, as Ohio State, UCLA and the wildcard Georgia make the most sense for me. Ohio State will try and sell Parker on being the next the Jared Sullinger, as they would plug him at the same role and have a nice returning nucleus in Aaron Craft, DeShaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr. UCLA is a tougher sell as a tumultuous season filled with on-court disappointments and off-court distractions has tarnished the recent run by the Bruins under Ben Howland and resulted in a lot of uncertainty surrounding that program. That being said how hard is it to sell UCLA? Despite last year’s struggles this is still the program that has 11 NCAA Championships and produced an endless number of successful NBA big men (Kareem, Bill Walton and even more recently Kevin Love). UCLA also has already secured commitments from top 100 players Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, and is in the running for the overall #2 Shabazz Muhammad, so recruits do not appear to be looking too much into last season’s struggles. Georgia is the other spot that seems like a nice fit, as Mark Fox is trying to establish the Bulldogs as a basketball program in a football hungry state. Fox would build around Parker and last year’s McDonald’s All-American Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and try and solidify Georgia basketball as a player in recruiting in the talent rich Peach State. In the end I’m not sure UCLA is a very good fit for Parker, and see the kid staying close to home and signing with the hometown Georgia Bulldogs. Most of the schools Parker is considering are far away from his family and friends but look for Mark Fox to net a huge win in recruiting and snag the hometown kid with the huge upside. Parker chooses Georgia over UCLA and Ohio State, as the idea of playing in his own backyard is too appealing for the talented center to pass up. Parker at Georgia also has the luxury of knowing he will be the focal point, something he will not be at other schools like UCLA, Ohio State, Kansas or Duke. If there is a real wildcard in this it’s Georgetown as their success with big men could be tempting to Parker, assuming Noel does not choose the Hoyas.
Strengths: Parker is a very big, very skilled and very polished post player who has a very advanced post game for a player of his age and experience. Parker has a very soft touch around the basket and even as a face up, mid-range shooter, and also possesses great feet and tremendous hands for a big man. Parker’s size also can be a great advantage as he can carve out space wherever he wants to on the floor and his strength and variety of post move make him a tough cover.
Weaknesses: The major issue with Parker going forward will be conditioning and stamina as the big man will need to shed some weight and improve his conditioning, if he is going to be able to play big minutes and fulfill his potential. Parker also needs to pick up his intensity on the defensive end of the floor, as at times he takes defensive possessions off, partially due to conditioning issues. Parker can dominate his position if he can keep his weight and conditioning in check, something that skilled bigs like former Mississippi State forward Renardo Sidney and UCLA’s Joshua Smith have struggled with the past 2 seasons.
Final List: Kansas, Ohio State, Memphis, UCLA, Georgetown, Duke, Georgia
Final Decision Projection: Georgia