NCAA Basketball Recruiting: Best Bet to Land Undecided Stars in 2014 Class
Figuring out where NCAA basketball recruits will land is far from an exact science—Emmanuel Mudiay to SMU?—but top high school stars are helping by narrowing their lists. As the choices shrink, it becomes easier to gauge where a player’s priorities lie, and the educated guesses about their destinations become a little more educated.
JaQuan Lyle, for instance, just reopened his recruiting after committing to Louisville, apparently because he was worried about fighting for playing time with Chris Jones. That offers hope to a school such as UConn, where PG Shabazz Napier will graduate just as Lyle would arrive.
Will the Huskies sign Lyle, or will another point guard-needy program snap him up? Read on for more on the Indiana native, along with the rest of the 20 most impressive uncommitted players in the recruiting class of 2014.
20. Devin Robinson
Favorites: UConn, Florida, Indiana, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State
A major key to Devin Robinson’s recruitment is how he feels about playing out of position.
A natural SF at 6’8”, the versatile prospect would likely be pressed into PF service at a program short on quality post players (UConn or Oklahoma State in particular).
A deeper roster would mean more competition, but also a better chance of playing on the perimeter, where his ball-handling and passing skills could really come through.
Look for Tom Crean to hold off a late charge by conference rival Michigan and make Robinson a Hoosier.
19. Reid Travis
Favorites: Duke, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Stanford
Obviously, there are still plenty of schools in the running for Reid Travis, and it’s no surprise they want him. The cousin of Penn State standout Ross Travis is already built like a college PF at 6’8”, 240 lbs.
The younger Travis is a classic Tom Izzo big man, but with Michigan State pursuing so many players on this list, the bet here is that Izzo won’t have time to close the deal in this instance.
Instead, look for Travis to stay home with the other Big Ten squad on his list and become the first recruiting coup for new Minnesota coach Richard Pitino.
18. Ahmed Hill
Favorites: Florida, Florida State, Indiana, Marquette, Missouri
Hard-nosed defense is the common theme among Ahmed Hill’s five finalists, but Hill will also bring plenty of offense.
His ability to produce as either a ball-handler or a shooting guard would be especially welcome in the fast-paced attacks of Florida or Missouri.
That’s not the only edge the Tigers have, as they’ve already secured a commitment from Hill’s friend JaKeenan Gant (the other elite Georgia product in this class).
Although they aren’t officially a package deal, expect Hill to follow his buddy to Columbia and revitalize Frank Haith’s slumping recruiting record.
17. Kameron Chatman
Favorites: Arizona, Michigan, Oregon, USC
Kameron Chatman’s top five once included UConn, but the SF prospect’s father told SNY.tv recently that he hadn’t heard from the school. That could well be Kevin Ollie’s loss, as the rangy wing would be a nice addition to the height-challenged Huskies.
Of the four programs still obviously in the running, Oregon and USC have obvious playing time available, while Michigan and Arizona could be much more crowded.
Look for the smooth-passing youngster to head to Eugene and shine in Dana Altman’s ball-moving half-court offense.
16. James Blackmon Jr.
Favorites: Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan, North Carolina
Although James Blackmon Jr. is only on this list because he decommitted from Indiana in August, don’t think the Hoosiers are out of the running. The Marion (IN) native is still taking a long look at joining the next wave of talent in Tom Crean’s backcourt.
That said, Blackmon is looking for a shot at the NBA, and at 6’2”, that means learning to play the point.
Kentucky’s John Calipari sends his recruits to the pros better than any coach in the country—and doesn’t mind having a shooting-guard type running his offense—so look for UK to be the pick here.
15. Malik Pope
Favorites: Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State, UCLA
As a slashing small forward who likes to play uptempo, Malik Pope would fit nicely on any of the programs near the top of his list.
The California product is obviously leaning towards the West Coast, though, so Kansas (which has a lot of irons in the fire anyway) is a low-percentage player here.
The other big question is whether he’d rather be the star of a team (on a depleted Aztecs roster) or one star among many (UCLA).
Look for Gonzaga, which has pursued him (ahem) doggedly and offers a happy medium in terms of roster depth, to come out on top.
14. Dante Exum
Favorites: Indiana, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan, Oregon
The big question about Dante Exum is whether he wants to be the next great Australian import in the NCAA, or in the NBA. The 6’6” combo guard has the ability to succeed at both levels, but may well skip the former.
Indiana, the only school he’s visited thus far, seems a poor fit for Exum’s fast-breaking style.
He might opt for North Carolina (where his dad Cecil played), but as he’s reportedly 50/50 on attending college at all, the NBA is a better bet than any of his five finalist schools.
13. JaQuan Lyle
Favorites: Arizona, Baylor, UConn, Indiana, Kansas, Memphis
One of the few bad things to happen to Louisville during its national-champion offseason was the loss of 2014 commit JaQuan Lyle. The high-powered scoring PG seemingly didn’t want to battle Chris Jones (who would be a senior) for playing time as a freshman.
Lyle told ESPN that it would be tough to turn down Kansas, but with Naadir Tharpe likely back as a senior, the Jayhawks aren't an obvious favorite, either.
Instead, look for the the Memphis Tigers to swoop in and snag Lyle, as they offer both a wide-open backcourt (three seniors graduate, led by PG Joe Jackson) and a talented frontcourt headlined by junior-to-be Shaq Goodwin.
12. Kelly Oubre
Favorites: UConn, Florida, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Oregon, UNLV
The wide assortment of programs on Kelly Oubre’s list is a testament to the power of the three-point shot. Oubre isn’t as versatile as other top SF prospects in this class, but he’s a sensational marksman, and any style of offense can find room for one of those.
As reported by Rivals.com (by way of the Sporting News), the Texan may have trimmed his list to the two most active schools of this recruiting cycle: Kansas and Kentucky.
Given the likely surplus of SF options in Lexington, the bet here is that Kansas—which is likely to lose Andrew Wiggins—will be the team to land Oubre.
11. Goodluck Okonoboh
Favorites: Duke, Florida, Indiana, Ohio State, UNLV
Strikingly, after signing both Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel, Kentucky isn’t even a player for 2014’s closest analogue: Goodluck Okonoboh. The 6’9” center is the class’ best shot-blocker by a healthy margin, though he has little else to offer at this stage.
Okonoboh’s defensive mindset would seem to make Ohio State or Florida the best bet, but there’s a wild card to consider.
As noted by Scout.com (via Twitter), Okonoboh played AAU ball with current Indiana freshman Noah Vonleh, so count on Tom Crean to continue his reconstruction of the Hoosiers defense with his best shot-blocker yet.
10. Devin Booker
Favorites: Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri
Noted as much for his on-court intelligence as for his jump shot, Devin Booker faces a challenge to his off-court intelligence in deciding among a quintet of the nation's best programs.
His dad Melvin was a conference Player of the Year for Mizzou two decades ago, but that alone won't be enough to send the son to the Tigers.
Michigan's John Beilein has been courting the younger Booker for years, but according to Mlive.com, Ann Arbor isn't the likely destination for the 6'5" guard, either.
Instead, Kentucky—which recently added Booker's friend Tyler Ulis as a 2014 PG commit—has taken the lead as it looks for replacements for the presumed one-and-done Harrison twins.
9. Justise Winslow
Favorites: Arizona, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Stanford, Texas A&M, UCLA
As talented as Justise Winslow is in his own right, the 6'5" SF's greatest value lies in his ability to make his teammates better.
That being the case, it's hard to see him picking a depleted team such as Stanford or Texas A&M when he has national championship-caliber options available.
No coach in the country has a better track record with glue-guy types like Winslow than Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, and that's not even the Blue Devils' only edge in this race.
Count on Coach K—with some help from Winslow's pal and former AAU teammate Rasheed Sulaimon—to close the deal with the Texan standout.
8. Stanley Johnson
Favorites: Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Oregon, USC
A California native, Stanley Johnson has an unsurprising Pac-12 slant to his recruiting list. Of that trio, the presumed favorite is Arizona, which has loaded up on forwards in its recent top-tier recruiting classes.
However, Sean Miller isn't just competing with his conference rivals for Johnson, but also with the 500-lb recruiting gorilla of John Calipari's Kentucky program.
Calipari's proven success with the similarly skilled Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will likely carry the day and send Johnson to Lexington for his college career.
7. Rashad Vaughn
Favorites: Arizona, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Minnesota, USC, UNLV
Even as Rashad Vaughn trims his list of prospects, he still has a wide variety of teams to choose from. The 6’6” Minnesotan is deadly as a pure jump shooter, but he also brings enough versatility to succeed in multiple offensive styles.
Vaughn is finishing his high school career at Nevada’s Findlay Prep, meaning that both UNLV and Minnesota could get a hometown advantage here.
However, after playing with other superstars at Findlay, Vaughn is even likelier to land at Kansas, which offers an ideal combination of elite teammates and probable playing time in the backcourt.
6. Myles Turner
Favorites: Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, SMU, Texas
Luckily for him, he can satisfy either of his mutually exclusive urges by picking Duke.
The Blue Devils’ shortage of quality big men offers immediate playing time, and if he wants to stay in school, he’s already on one of the best academic campuses in the nation.
5. Kevon Looney
Favorites: Duke, Florida, Michigan State, Tennessee, UCLA, Wisconsin
Much of Kevon Looney’s decision may come down to where he sees himself on the floor at the college level. The combo forward rebounds like a big man but has the comfort level of a wing on the perimeter.
At 6’8”, he’s on the small side for an NBA PF, so the likelihood is that he’ll opt to hone his SF skills at Tennessee or Wisconsin (where he'd be on the small side for the low post anyway).
Look for the Milwaukee native to stay close to home and play a Ryan Evans-type role for Bo Ryan and the Badgers.
4. Trey Lyles
Favorites: Kentucky, Louisville
You know a recruit is elite when he’s cut his finalists to the last two national champions.
Trey Lyles is the top-ranked power forward in the class of 2014 (depending on what you call Cliff Alexander), and he’s parlayed that status into a trip to the very top of the college hoops pecking order.
Already 6’10” and 255 lbs, Lyles has the body to play in the NBA now. That makes a one-and-done college career a high probability, meaning that one-and-done guru John Calipari and his Wildcats are the pick here.
3. Tyus Jones
Favorites: Baylor, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State
The trick in projecting Tyus Jones’ destination is that he and top-ranked center Jahlil Okafor are hoping to land at the same school. Rampant rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, that won’t necessarily be Duke.
Jones, a cerebral PG, would be a great fit for the Blue Devils, but the mammoth Okafor isn’t the style of big man who usually succeeds in Durham.
Instead, look for the duo to pick Ohio State—where Thad Matta is due for another insanely stacked recruiting class—and follow ex-Buckeyes classmates Mike Conley and Greg Oden on the path to the national title game and the NBA draft lottery.
2. Cliff Alexander
Favorites: Arizona, DePaul, Illinois, Kansas, Memphis, Michigan State
Cliff Alexander isn’t the tallest center (6’9”, 260 lbs), but there isn’t a stronger or more explosive recruit in the country.
The hard-dunking, hard-blocking Chicagoan has an obvious interest in staying close to home, which will be bad news for Arizona’s perennial frontcourt recruiting efforts.
With his physicality and rebounding acumen, he’s an ideal Big Ten prospect. Look for Tom Izzo to get his next big star with a center who (as noted by Mlive.com) “like[s] everything about” the Spartans.
1. Jahlil Okafor
Favorites: Arizona, Baylor, Duke, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State
As discussed for Tyus Jones, the Minnesotan point guard is looking to team up with towering Jahlil Okafor at the college level.
Although Chicago native Okafor has a couple of schools on his list that Jones isn’t considering, the package deal is the likeliest scenario.
As much as this conjunction of NBA-bound recruits screams “Kentucky,” John Calipari’s crowded frontcourt may not be the ideal place for the hulking (6’10”, 265 lbs) Okafor.
Instead, expect to see him and Jones head to Columbus, where Ohio State has no significant inside presence and already has talented wings D’Angelo Russell and Keita Bates-Diop set to join the class of 2014.