New Talent, Same Old College Basketball Fun
by Phil Kasiecki
With more and more players entering the NBA Draft before exhausting their college eligibility, or choosing to skip college and go for the NBA straight out of high school, recruiting is changing for college basketball coaches these days. They need players who can come in and make a difference right away, and at times need to recruit in anticipation of a player or two leaving school early to declare for the NBA Draft. Add in the changing regulations regarding AAU tournaments, and suddenly the focus seems to get away from who the best players for a program are. Add in the 5-8 rule (currently 5-9), and schools that recruit heavily via the junior college route have to rethink their recruiting strategy as well. That is now the reality of recruiting.
Declaring for the NBA from the class of 2002 were one-time Memphis commitment Amare Stoudemire (6’10” PF, Orlando (FL) Cypress Creek HS), DeAngelo Collins (6’9″ PF, Inglewood (CA) High School), Lenny Cooke (6’6″ SF, Flint (MI) Central HS), and Giedrius Rinkevicius (7’2″ C, Bridgton (ME) Academy). Stoudemire was the only player drafted, as the Phoenix Suns made him the ninth overall selection.
Even with these defections, there is still a very talented class of newcomers entering the college ranks this winter. College coaches and fans have much to look forward to, especially at schools that landed some of the best groups of players. Here, we take a look at the top recruiting classes in the country and some other schools that landed classes that will help them this season.
What can we say about Duke that has not already been said? The Blue Devils lost three players as early entrants to the NBA, but the cupboard will hardly be bare as six top newcomers will take the floor at Cameron next season. At least one new player from every position is in this class, led by McDonald’s All-American game MVP J.J. Redick (6’4″ SG, Roanoke (VA) Cave Spring HS) and combo forward Shelden Williams (6’8″ SF-PF, Midwest City (OK) High School). It doesn’t stop there: the frontcourt gets more help with the highly polished (but rail thin) Shavlik Randolph (6’9″ PF, Raleigh (NC) Broughton HS) and Michael Thompson (6’11” C, New Lenox (IL) Providence Catholic HS), while the perimeter gets help with solid floor leader Sean Dockery (6’2″ PG, Chicago (IL) Julian HS). Walking on to the team for this season will be Lee Melchionni (6’7″ SF, Fort Washington (PA) Germantown Academy), a good role player. Don’t expect the Blue Devils to fall from contention in the ACC anytime soon.
Jay Wright wasted little time bringing in the horses from the New York area: he signed four top-notch prospects from there in his inaugural campaign. Leading the way is McDonald’s All-American Jason Fraser (6’9″ PF, Amityville (NY) High School), a big-time rebounder and shot-blocker with good offensive skills. His buddy, Curtis Sumpter (6’6″ SF, Brooklyn (NY) Bishop Loughlin HS), is solid addition as he has good skills and comes to play at both ends of the floor. Allen Ray (6’1″ PG, Bronx (NY) St. Raymond HS) and Randy Foye (6’3″ PG-SG, Newark (NJ) Eastside HS) give the Wildcats two solid perimeter players who know how to score and have good basketball acumen. The Wildcats added two walk-ons late in the spring who will push the players in practice, and both are brothers of NBA players: Baker Dunleavy (6’5″ SF, Portland (OR) Lawrenceville Prep), the younger brother of Mike, and Mike Claxton (6’2″ PG, Middle Village (NY) Christ the King HS), Craig’s younger brother.
3. North Carolina
Matt Doherty will get some much-needed help with this class after a miserable season, the likes of which have not been seen in Chapel Hill in many years. Three McDonald’s All-Americans highlight this group, but the biggest one is Raymond Felton (6’2″ PG, Latta (SC) High School), the top player in the class going to college. Felton is a winner and instantly makes this team better: when on a team with little talent around him, he can take over games and he shows his incredible will to win; when surrounded by talent, he is unselfish and makes everyone better. He led his high school team to numerous upsets against bigger and more highly-regarded teams. Helping him out will be Rashad McCants (6’5″ SG-SF, New Hampton (NH) Prep) and Sean May (6’8″ PF, Bloomington (IN) North HS), the latter being the son of former Indiana All-American Scott May. Two raw post players and a walk-on fill out the class: Damion Grant (6’11” C, Wofeboro (NH) Brewster Academy) and Byron Sanders (6’8″ PF, Gulfport (MS) Harrison Central HS), with walk-on David Noel (6’5″ SF, Durham (NC) Southern HS).
4. Michigan State
The Spartans reload with this class, though it would have been nice if Marcus Taylor had done the sensible thing and stayed in East Lansing. Still, the Spartans welcome a consensus top 5 player in Paul Davis (6’11” SF-PF, Rochester (MI) High School) as the top player in a solid class. He had a terrific summer last year and was a McDonald’s All-American despite missing most of the season with a broken ankle. Matt Trannon (6’7″ SF-PF, Flint (MI) Northern) will play both football and basketball and is a strong combo forward. Maurice Ager (6’4″ SG, Detroit (MI) Crockett HS) is a talented but slight scoring guard, Rashi Johnson (6’2″ PG, Mott College (MI)) will get plenty of minutes at the point, and prep player Erazem Lorbek (6’10” PF-C, Slovenia) could see minutes on the post. Delco Rowley (6’8″ PF, Indianapolis (IN) Arlington HS) rounds out the class. This class will keep Tom Izzo’s team near the top of the Big Ten and around the top ten nationally.
Billy Donovan continues to bring in some of the nation’s best talents, despite missing on a few top players. This class has just one McDonald’s All-American, but Anthony Roberson (6’2 PG, Saginaw (MI) High School) is one of the top players in the class. He is a terrific floor general with excellent range on his jump shot and plays good defense, and he also plays bigger than he is. Matt Walsh (6’6″ SG-SF, Fort Washington (PA) Germantown Academy) is a very versatile offensive player with no shortage of confidence. Mario Boggan (6’7″ PF, Mouth of Wilson (VA) Oak Hill Academy) is an Udonis Haslem-like post scorer. Rasheed-Al Kaleem (6’4″ SG, Charlestown (MA) High School) gives them a deadly long-range bomber who can also do some other things and helped lead his team to three consecutive state titles.
Lute Olson continues to bring in top-notch talent, and athletic players as well. Andre Iguodala (6’6″ SF, Springfield (IL) Lanphier), viewed as a McDonald’s All-American snub by some, and versatile Hassan Adams (6’5″ SG-SF, Los Angeles (CA) Westchester HS) headline the class. With the upper-classmen there, neither may play much right away, but both have great potential. Chris Rodgers (6’3 PG-SG, Portland (OR) Wilson HS) will get time at both guard spots off the bench, and Chris Dunn (6’7″ SF, Hobbs (NM) High School) is viewed by some as a sleeper talent.
The Illini needed guards since their starting guards are gone, and they got good ones to headline this five-man class that also showed Bill Self’s ability to get some of the top in-state talent. Top 40 players Dee Brown (6’0″ PG, Maywood (IL) Proviso East HS) and Deron Williams (6’3″ PG-SG, The Colony (TX) High School) are the backcourt of the future in Champaign. The Illini also lost three key players up front, but have replenished some of the talent lost. Aaron Spears (6’9″ PF-C, Chicago (IL) Dunbar HS) and James Augustine (6’9″ PF, New Lenox (IL) Lincoln Way HS) should see good minutes on the post. Kyle Wilson (6’8″ SF-PF, Dallas (TX) Jesuit HS) could see time at both forward spots.
Gary Williams will try to reload with this excellent class to complement his holdovers, though he has made his mark developing players who aren’t elite talents coming from the prep ranks (see: Dixon, Juan and Baxter, Lonnie as prime examples). McDonald’s All-American and local product Travis Garrison (6’8″ PF, Hyattsville (MD) Dematha HS) is the jewel in the class. JUCO transfer Jamar Smith (6’8″ SF-PF, Allegany College (MD)) should play right away as well, though the Terps have good holdovers up front. John Gilchrist (6’2″ PG, Virginia Beach (VA) Salem HS) will see minutes backing up Steve Blake. Nik Caner-Medley (6’7″ SF, Portland (ME) Deering HS) will get his share of minutes at small forward in part from the lack of a small forward among the holdovers, though classmate Chris McCray (6’4″ SG-SF, Capital Heights (MD) Fairmont Heights HS) will probably see some time there as well.
The Bearcats lost one of the nation’s best players and some bodies up front, but this class should help keep them near the top of Conference USA. Bob Huggins went the JUCO route for one-time Florida State signee Tony Bobbitt (6’4″ SG, Southern Idaho (ID)) and Kareem Johnson (6’9″ PF-C, Chipola College (FL)), both of whom could start right away. Eric Hicks (6’6″ SF-PF, Greensboro (NC) Dudley HS) is the top prep player in the class, and he will figure into the plans up front immediately. Fans will be happy with Alabama native Chadd Moore (6’2″ PG, Mouth of Wilson (VA) Oak Hill Academy), a good shooter who should contribute right away and perhaps at shooting guard as well as the point. Armein Kirkland (6’7″ SF, Tyler (TX) Lee HS) rounds out the class.
Although Kentucky is not getting the elite players from the prep ranks like they have in the past, Tubby Smith has kept up the talent base in Lexington with this class. That was a must considering the off-court issues that have plagued the program in recent times and led to the departure of several players. Kelenna Azubuike (6’6″ SF, Tulsa (OK) Victory Christian HS) thought about jumping to the NBA, but the prolific scorer wisely opted to play college ball. JUCO transfer Antwain Barbour (6’5″ SG-SF, Wabash Valley (IL)) will probably start right away, perhaps at the point with Cliff Hawkins being ineligible at least until December. Bernard Cote (6’9″ PF-C, St. Lambert (Quebec) Champlain) may have to play more than Tubby would like to with the personnel losses they have incurred, but he has potential. Brandon Stockton (5’11” PG, Glasgow (KY) High School) will also get minutes at the point guard right away with Hawkins’ absence. The Wildcats add depth with two in-state walk-ons, Preston Lemaster (6’3″ SG, Paris (KY) Bourbon County HS) and Ravi Moss (6’2″ SG, Hopkinsville (KY) University Heights HS).
Honorable Mention (and the top player in each)
Georgia Tech (Chris Bosh, 6’10” PF-C, Dallas (TX) Lincoln HS)
Indiana (Bracey Wright, 6’3″ SG, The Colony (TX) HS)
Iowa State (Tim Barnes, 6’1″ PG, Southeastern (IA) CC)
Michigan (Daniel Horton, 6’3″ PG-SG, Cedar Hill (TX) HS)
Notre Dame (Torin Francis, 6’10” PF-C, Marion (MA) Tabor Academy)
Syracuse (Carmelo Anthony, 6’7″ SF, Baltimore (MD) Oak Hill Academy)
Tennessee (John Winchester, 6’3″ SG, Milford (CT) Academy)
Wake Forest (Eric Williams, 6’9″ PF-C, Wake Forest (NC) Rolesville HS)
Washington (Brandon Roy, 6’5″ SG-SF, Seattle (WA) Garfield HS)