The 2013 Recruiting Class Might Just Be Better Than You ThinkPosted by Chris Johnson on June 18th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
The 2012-13 college basketball season was excellent. Truly, it was – from the buzzer beaters to the rotating wheel of No. 1 seeds to Florida Gulf Coast and on through every grinding Big Ten showdown and Doug McDermott scoring explosion and Russdiculous moment stashed in between. It was great. You name it, last year had it all – but for one critical distinction. It didn’t have elite freshmen talent. There was no Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant or even a John Wall to satiate the eager eyes of casual fans who pay only a passing glance to college hoops right around NCAA Tournament time to get a better feel for that year’s upcoming NBA draftees. They want to know who can make their teams better at the next level; the excitement and mystique of college basketball is beside the point. Who cares if college basketball is awesome regardless of how “loaded” the top of the draft is?! We want franchise-changing one-and-done pros! I don’t see any this year! This makes me angry!
Readers of this site, I’d like to presume, do not follow that train of thought. While Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Trey Burke, Otto Porter and Victor Oladipo are the crème de la crème of this year’s lottery group, none are likely to evolve into max-contract team-defining superstars, and guess what? The 2012-13 season still rocked. College basketball doesn’t need transcendent star power to retain its elemental excellence, but even the purists among us can easily admit: It’s more fun when the Durants and Davises and Derrick Roses of the world are pushing their respective teams to new heights. There, you win, NBA fan.
In 2013-14, you won’t be disappointed – this I can guarantee you. You’ve heard the name Andrew Wiggins, yes? The best amateur player on the planet, the dude considered decisively better than Sports Illustrated cover boy and LeBron James-compared Chicago phenom Jabari Parker. That guy. Wiggins will join Kansas this season, and probably score bushels of points every night, make more than a few Big 12 defenders look downright silly, renew the annual referendum on the iniquity of the one-and-done system, unwittingly spawn the mass-adoption among NBA fans of some witty “tank for Wiggins” slogan, maybe even shatter a few backboards. Those kinds of things. He will be great, and so will Parker, but we, college hoops nation, seem to be forgetting why the 2013 recruiting class is considered one of the best collective group of prospects to enter college basketball in the last decade. Wiggins and Parker are only the tip of the iceberg.
By now you should already be well-acquainted with the name Aaron Gordon, but if you’re not, here’s the deal. Gordon is a 6’8’’ power forward with aspirations of becoming a perimeter slasher in the NBA. His athleticism is something close to ridiculous, and his bravado – which the Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy spotlighted in a feature this weekend — is even more fascinating. DeCourcy asks Gordon about what he thinks of the frequent comparisons to Oklahoma alumnus and Los Angeles Clippers star forward Blake Griffin, and Gordon doesn’t disappoint: “I think, I can play point guard and he can’t.” The most genuine response Gordon could come up with – no humble deflections or grateful downplaying to be seen here, no sir – was arguably arrogant but extremely insightful. Gordon is a guard in a forward’s body, and that mentality shines through in the way he runs the floor, attacks off the dribble and unfurls ridiculous aerial finishes.
I do recommend you read the SN feature, packed with interesting quotes and nuggets from the U-19 team USA tryouts, which feature some of the game’s best young college players and top high school prospects. Matter of fact, it drew my attention to something most college basketball people are failing to recognize: Arizona is pretty much stacked. Gordon’s glowing potential is the best of it, but look down the Wildcats’ roster. Not only does Sean Miller’s team have star freshmen talent in Gordon and fellow McDonald’s All-American Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the fifth-ranked small forward in the class of 2013, it has a real, pass-first, not-Mark Lyons (sorry, I just wasn’t the biggest fan), true point guard. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell is a savvy distributor, and with the scoring chops of this year’s Wildcats at his fingertips – the ability to hit Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson on one possession and drop dimes to any of guard Nick Johnson and returning big men Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley on the next – there will be more than enough valuable places to distribute to.
The purpose of this winding discussion was not merely to inform you that Arizona is, in fact, good. They will be, don’t get me wrong, but if you’re looking to take something away from the last five minutes you spent reading this post, it’s that the 2013 recruiting class – the one you’ve spent all offseason hearing about how much better it is than last season’s class, how quickly it will lift college hoops into a star-studded euphoria – goes deeper than Wiggins and Parker. Gordon is just one example. There are program and conference title-melding talents spread across the college hoops landscape, and many of their recipient teams (like Arizona) are being drastically overlooked. Indiana has Noah Vonleh. Florida has Chris Walker (we hope) and Kasey Hill. Syracuse has Tyler Ennis. Louisville has Chris Jones. Kentucky has everyone I didn’t mention. Scroll up and down any generic 2013 recruiting class player ranking, and you’ll soon realize for yourself. The new wave of freshmen talent entering college basketball next season is scattered in places you may have neglected at first glance. My advice for you is simple: stop neglecting. Open your eyes.