Who’s Got Next? The Impact of Friday’s Big AnnouncementsPosted by Sean Moran on November 18th, 2013
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday marked a landmark day for college basketball recruiting. In a span of one hour, four consensus top 10 prospects in the 2014 recruiting class announced their college decisions. If there is anything fans learned this week it’s how important top freshmen are to some of the premier programs in the country. Jabari Parker (Duke), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Julius Randle (Kentucky), and Aaron Gordon (Arizona) all captured the nation’s attention during last week’s game action, but on Friday it was time to learn where the next batch of sensational freshmen were going to play their college ball. Normally Kentucky is the school associated with showcasing talented incoming freshmen, but with Friday’s announcements it was Duke, Kansas, and Arizona all coming out as this year’s big winners. Not only will these three schools stay in the national title picture in 2014-15 as a result, but each has served notice that it has adapted its philosophy and will not back down to Kentucky for top recruits in the future.
Duke received the first good news of the day when five-star center Jahlil Okafor and five-star point guard Tyus Jones simultaneously revealed Duke hats from their high school gymnasiums. It was widely known that the 6’11” Okafor and the 6’1” Jones planned to play at least one season of college basketball together and Duke capitalized on their friendship that had formed through USA Basketball training camps. Okafor hails from Chicago and is considered the No.1 player in the country while Jones comes from Apple Valley, Minnesota, and is ranked No.4 in the country as a point guard. The commitments give Duke two players who will fill key positions of need for the Blue Devils.
Right now the Blue Devils are a perimeter oriented team lacking a true post presence. Next year the big-bodied Okafor will command double-teams down low which will create open outside shots for the plethora of talented Duke wings. With scorers on the roster in Rodney Hood, Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones, Okafor will have plenty of space to operate down low. The big man can finish with either hand and will also have the space to execute his favorite left-to-right hand spin move from the block. As for Jones, he will join point guard Quinn Cook in the backcourt and will showcase his tremendous court vision, ball-handling skills, and NBA range on his jump shot. With these commitments, Duke has ensured a team that will once again have championship aspirations even if any current players decide to go pro early (and Parker is obviously a good bet to do so).
While Bill Self and Kansas lost out on Okafor and Jones, the Jayhawks definitely did not come away empty-handed during the big day as they picked up Okafor’s AAU teammate, Cliff Alexander. The five-star big man picked the Jayhawks in a close decision over Illinois after he momentarily picked up an Illinois cap before switching to his actual choice of the Jayhawks. The 6’9” Alexander is a physical freak who is ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the country. He is known for his shot-blocking and dunking abilities, but has also improved his offensive game remarkably over the past year. For years the Chicago native has played under the shadow of Okafor, but at Kansas he will flourish in Self’s high-low offense which will allow him the ability to operate both down low and outside of the paint. The Jayhawks currently start Tarik Black at center and bring freshman Joel Embiid off the bench. Next season they will lose Black due to graduation and possibly Embiid to the NBA as the raw but talented seven-footer is a projected top 10 draft pick.
While Alexander will stabilize the low post for the Jayhawks, it will be five-star small forward Kelly Oubre who will help offset the loss of Andrew Wiggins. The 6’7” Oubre is considered the best small forward in the class of 2014. He committed to the Jayhawks in October after attending their Midnight Madness and is a lethal shooter from the outside as well as an athletic slasher who can put points up in a hurry. While Wiggins is a lock to go pro, another Kansas freshman in Wayne Selden will have that option as well. Along with Oubre the Jayhawks will return their starting point guard in Naadir Thorpe and back-up Frank Mason along with current freshman Brannen Greene and sophomore Andrew White III on the wing. The Jayhawks are still working on their 2014 recruiting class and are in contention for the three remaining uncommitted prospects that are ranked in the top 15. Similarly to Duke, the current five-star recruits for Kansas will help offset the losses expected after the season and they will keep Kansas in the national title picture.
Not to be outdone by Duke and Kansas, Arizona continued its west coast recruiting dominance as five-star small forward Stanley Johnson announced for Sean Miller’s Wildcats on Friday. The commitment of Johnson gives Miller his fourth straight top five recruiting class as he continues to stockpile the Wildcats with great talent. The 6’6” Johnson is fresh off a dominant summer where he was almost impossible to guard and is now listed as the No.7 player in the country. As one of the strongest wings in his class, Johnson used his strength time and time again to attack the rim while also showing off improved ball-handling abilities while playing point forward for the Oakland Soldiers. Three current Wildcat starters in Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson, and Brandon Ashley hail from this program. Gordon is likely one-and-done, and other players such as Johnson, Ashley, and Kaleb Tarczewski could entertain the prospect of declaring early, but Miller’s excellent recruiting classes will keep the Wildcats as the premier program out west for years to come. Along with Johnson, Arizona also has commitments from five-star power forward Craig Victor, four-star point guard Jackson Parker-Cartwright, and Kadeem Allen from junior college.
With all of the announcements on Friday, the 2014 recruiting rankings were shaken up a bit as Duke has emerged with the top-rated class. This spot is usually reserved for Kentucky. Ever since John Calipari came to Lexington in 2009 he has signed the No.1 ranked recruiting class every year since. While the Wildcats are likely to drop from the top spot this year, they still have two five-star recruits in power forward Trey Lyles and center Karl Towns Jr. to go along with four-star point guard Tyler Ulis and shooting guard Devin Booker. Calipari noted he wasn’t done with the class of 2014 and while Kentucky could eventually reclaim the throne, the reshuffling of class rankings also indicates a certain shift in recruiting philosophies. Calipari was the first coach to fully embrace the one-and-done philosophy, but now Coach K, Bill Self, and Sean Miller are following suit.