RTC’s Top Ten Recruiting Classes of 2010Posted by zhayes9 on October 13th, 2010
Zach Hayes is RTC’s resident bracketologist and a frequent contributor.
For the college basketball fanatic, incoming freshman are like shiny, new toys. It’s one of the true pleasures of following the sport religiously and a benefit of the current one-and-done era: every talented prospect from all reaches of the nation must compete on the college hardwood for at least one season. It gives us a chance to enjoy John Wall’s end-to-end speed, Kevin Durant’s heroics and Michael Beasley’s scoring prowess, even for just five months. A handful of coaches have assembled an accomplished group of these freshmen, whether as a complete annual overhaul (Kentucky) or an influx into an already stable core (Duke). Here are the top ten freshmen classes around college basketball this season and a preview of what fans that may not follow the ins and outs of recruiting can expect from these all-world talents:
1. Kentucky - G Brandon Knight, C Enes Kanter, F Terrence Jones, G Doron Lamb, F Stacey Poole, F Eloy Vargas
Let this sink in: John Calipari’s 2010 class is good for tops in the nation, yet his 2011 group is even better with arguably three of the top five prospects next year. This year’s collection is highlighted by Knight, Gatorade’s National High School Player of the Year as a junior and easily one of the nation’s top prospects. In fact, he’s even further along as a pure scorer than his predecessor at the point for Kentucky, with a more reliable jumper and the ability to carry his team offensively. Maybe more importantly, Knight has the mentality, toughness and competitive nature to take on the burden of leading a program of Kentucky’s stature with such lofty expectations. The class would take a considerable blow if Kanter, a Turkish import dealing with eligibility concerns, can’t take the Rupp Arena floor at any point this season. Kanter plays in the post with high efficiency and an array of advanced moves, making him the ideal replacement for the ultra-productive DeMarcus Cousins. Kanter is talented enough to be a First Team All-America candidate if he plays an ample amount of games. Like Kanter, Jones is a former Washington commit that features a tremendous outside jumper and a hard-working mentality on defense, a trait that will endear him to Calipari immediately, a coach that has always demanded equal effort on both ends of the floor. Lamb is another gifted scoring two-guard that would be the highlight of nearly every other recruiting class in the nation, while Poole is more of a slashing wing with supreme athleticism. Look for Florida transfer Eloy Vargas to earn playing time immediately for what could be a relatively thin Kentucky frontcourt.
2. North Carolina - F Harrison Barnes, G Reggie Bullock, G Kendall Marshall
This three-man class continues the steady stream of Roy Williams recruiting coups, although the Hall of Fame coach hopes that this trio has more of an immediate impact than his 2009 unit of John Henson, Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald and the Wear twins. Barnes is the near-unanimous choice for the best all-around player in the 2010 class and the prohibitive favorite to take home Freshman of the Year honors this season. Good luck finding easily noticeable flaws in Barnes’ game. He excels in the mid-range, can score in a multitude of ways, has an excellent perimeter shot, shows unwavering effort on the glass and plays with an IQ off the charts for an 18-year old. Williams hit the jackpot when he convinced Barnes to spurn Duke (can you imagine Barnes with Irving and that returning team?) and spend his one year in college at Chapel Hill. He’s a phenomenal student and a coaches’ dream, always willing to listen to advice to improve this game. The Heels backcourt is somewhat crowded with Larry Drew, II, also expected to see heavy minutes, but both Bullock and Marshall are way too gifted to keep on the bench. Bullock features a pinpoint outside jumper — possibly the best in the entire class — and has a true offensive mentality as a two-guard in Williams’ offense. Marshall is more of the pure point guard, a phenomenal distributor blessed with uncanny court vision. He could be an upgrade over Drew in a short period of time. Marshall will need to improve his shooting range to avoid defenses sagging off of him late in games.
3. Ohio State - C Jared Sullinger, F DeShaun Thomas, G Aaron Craft, G Jordan Sibert
Nobody would be shocked to see Sullinger challenge Barnes for top freshman in the country this season. What makes him so effective in the post is a rare combination of brute strength and touch around the rim. Always playing with confidence and a high motor, Sullinger can score in a multitude of ways down low that make him nearly impossible to guard. Expect the Columbus native to step in immediately at the center position as an upgrade from the incumbent Dallas Lauderdale. Thomas is one of Indiana high school’s top all-time scorers, a versatile southpaw forward that can finish anywhere on the floor and has the strength/athleticism to guard power forwards. Due to the return of David Lighty, Jon Diebler and William Buford, along with Sullinger entering the fray and the question mark at point guard, Ohio State has enough depth that Thomas may prove Matta’s ace in the hole off the bench this season. Craft could end up winning that open point guard competition. While his offensive game needs improvement, all Matta will need from his freshman is the ability to find his plethora of talented teammates and play capable defense against opposing point guards, two areas where Craft is very capable. Sibert could also see chunks of minutes as a freshman. The Cincinnati product is still inching back to 100% following a leg injury, but when healthy will provide the Buckeyes with another slashing wing with a scorers’ mentality.
4. Memphis - G Will Barton, F Jelan Kendrick, G Joe Jackson, F Tarik Black, G Chris Crawford
Hopefully UTEP, UAB and other Conference USA foes enjoyed one year of lackluster Memphis basketball. That brief spell is about to come to a quick and decisive end when this prized recruiting class takes the floor at FedEx Forum. Barton has the highest ceiling — a 6’6 shooting guard that can score at virtually any spot inside of halfcourt, uses his size to lock down defensively and finishes smoothly at the rim. He should start immediately alongside Wesley Witherspoon, giving head coach Josh Pastner plenty of height and versatility around his perimeter. Kendrick is another 6’6 prospect with point guard skills. He has the vision and distributing skills to direct traffic late in games for Pastner, but can also step in at the shooting guard or small forward. Local product Joe Jackson could win the point guard job immediately as another phenomenal scorer with an offensive repertoire that reaches far beyond his years. He’s been seemingly unstoppable late in games scoring the basketball, although his progress running the Tigers attack as a pure point is something to keep an eye on. Black is the top post player in this class, another Memphis kid that’s virtually unguardable with the rock deep in the paint. He should see immediate minutes alongside Will Coleman and Angel Garcia on the Tigers frontline.
5. North Carolina State - F C.J. Leslie, G Lorenzo Brown, G Ryan Harrow
Sidney Lowe may have kept his job due to this five-star class, complete with elite guard prospects and one local product that spurned Kentucky to remain in his home state’s capital. Good luck finding a more explosive athlete than Leslie, a 6’8 forward that can leap out of the gym and possesses speed and quickness to run the floor and finish with authority. Comparisons to Amare Stoudemire are prevalent because of Leslie’s offensive rebounding abilities, solid 16-foot jumper and ability to finish on the break. He should form quite the inside duo with returning all-ACC candidate and RTC Impact Player Tracy Smith. Speaking of duos, Brown and Harrow is the future backcourt for Lowe and the Wolfpack. After a year at prep school, Brown is finally eligible and ready to make an immediate impact in the ACC. He’s an elite penetrator that can score off the dribble or pull up to utilize a strong mid-range jumper. Harrow can go toe-to-toe scoring-wise with any prospect in the nation, but has plenty of maturity and development ahead of him to be an all-around point guard at ACC level competition.
6. Syracuse - C Fab Melo, G Dion Waiters, F C.J. Fair, C Baye Moussa Keita
Syracuse won’t be the #1 seed they were a season ago, but replacing Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku with Melo, Waiters and Fair isn’t a bad starting place to reload. Head coach Jim Boeheim ensured there won’t be any precipitous decline under the Carrier Dome when he signed these headlining freshmen. Melo, the top ranked center according to ESPN, is the gem of this class. He will fit seamlessly into the patented 2-3 Syracuse zone clogging the lane and halting penetration. The Brazilian import also boasts soft hands and possesses more ways to score in the paint than his predecessor Onuaku. With Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine returning, Waiters will likely come off the bench and could contend for Big East Sixth Man of the Year. He’s an aggressive scorer that loves to use his strong frame to penetrate and draw fouls at the bucket. Fair is a lanky forward that can step outside and hit a mid-range jumper with confidence. Even more exciting for Syracuse fans is Fair’s potential as a mobile and lanky defensive pest to eventually anchor Boeheim’s zone.
7. Duke - G Kyrie Irving, F Josh Hairston, G Tyler Thornton
Depending on either your burning hatred or undying affinity for Duke, adding the top-ranked high school point guard in the country to the defending national champions that return two All-America candidates is either reason to panic or celebrate. Irving has considerable pressure heaped on his shoulders, from replacing the ultra-efficient Jon Scheyer to taking the reins of a team most prognosticators believe are the clear-cut preseason #1 team. Irving is one of those rare breeds of point guards that’s equally competent passing and scoring, reminding most evaluators of former Duke floor general Jason Williams. His passing is elite as Irving is seemingly always able to find open teammates for easy looks. His court vision and precision with the basketball cannot be taught. Irving is also a fantastic scorer either exploding to the tin or knocking down the deep jumper. Hairston — a versatile power forward that loves to face up — may see some time this season alongside Ryan Kelly as the subs for both Plumlees in the Blue Devils frontcourt. With Smith graduating and Irving a likely one-and-done, look for capable point guard Tyler Thornton to compete for the starting job in 2011-12.
8. Michigan State - C Adreian Payne, G Keith Appling, F Russell Byrd, F Alex Gauna
The losses of Raymar Morgan and Chris Allen surely sting for a Michigan State team with aspirations of notching another Final Four on Tom Izzo’s belt, but the two most talented replacements — Payne and Appling — should be able to come close to matching their overall production. Payne has all of the gifts necessary to become an elite college power forward and even mold himself into an eventual first round draft choice. He just needs the effort and tenacity to match the skill set every night in a rugged Big Ten. Payne is extremely athletic with great hands and scoring ability on the low block, but it’s up to Izzo to whip him into shape and adopt some consistency. Appling should find himself in the guard rotation immediately. He’s a gifted scorer that constantly attacks the rim both in the halfcourt and in transition. Appling can also defend both guard positions, an overall repertoire that should endear him to Izzo immediately. It’s an autumn tradition for various State players to be hampered by injuries. This year’s winner is Byrd, a talented prospect that will miss 8-10 weeks due to a second surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot and could redshirt.
9. Illinois - F Jereme Richmond, C Meyers Leonard, G Crandall Head
Expectations immediately escalated in Champaign when point guard Demetri McCamey opted to return for his senior season rather than remain in the NBA Draft. With the twin towers of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale back along with this impressive three-man class, a top-15 squad isn’t out of the question for Bruce Weber (or a Big Ten title, according to Doug Gottlieb). Richmond is the blue chip prospect of the group- a 6’7 wing that can knock down jumpers with high efficiency from the mid-range and makes an impact defensively due to his tremendous length. Richmond’s athleticism is evident when he takes off for electric dunks that should have the Orange Krush in bouts of hysteria this season. Leonard is a developing center prospect that’s grown to seven feet but is comfortable around the perimeter. His ball-handling and passing skills are fantastic for a big man. Head may be Richmond’s first replacement at small forward off the Illini bench. His athleticism allows him to star in transition, but what should earn him playing time under Weber is an unmatched intensity on defense.
10. Tennessee - F Tobias Harris, G Jordan McRae, G Trae Golden
The jewel of Bruce Pearl’s best recruiting class to date, Harris won’t wow you with acrobatic moves and highlight-reel dunks, but instead takes a workmanlike mentality to his craft. The New York native is consistent, intelligent, patient and dedicated. He doesn’t force poor shots and will remind fans of a polished senior rather than an inexperienced freshman. His skills combined with consistency and maturity is a lethal recipe. He’ll make for what should be a capable frontcourt tandem with Brian Williams. McRae is a pure scorer, a next-level offensive performer that will be able to carry the Volunteers scoring-wise at times in the future. He has much more of a killer instinct than current Vol guard Scotty Hopson. The final standout of the class is Golden, an aggressive, slashing two-guard that uses his strength to draw contact and finish effectively at the rim. With the departures of Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince from a team that was already average offensively, all three newcomers will be expected to chip in on the scoring front immediately.
Also considered: Missouri, Wake Forest, Texas, Florida, Stanford.