Saturday, March 29, 2014

Newman joins Rivals 150 Rankings

Since the last time the class of 2015 was ranked, there has been plenty of action. Play from the high school season has had a strong impact on the new Rivals150, and play in the upcoming months will surely force more changes. However, in the newest edition of the rankings Mississippi combo guard Malik Newman still holds the top spot and remains the player to beat moving forward.


Malik Newman still stands atop the class of 2015.
Top 10 features stability

The biggest news of any ranking update is always at the top spot. Six-foot-3 combo guard Newman of Jackson (Miss.) Callaway was able to fight off all comers, and he continues to rule the class of 2015 roost. An explosive scorer who has added strength and become even more assertive attacking the rim to go along with his deep jump shooting, Newman is an offensive juggernaut deserving of the top spot after leading Callaway to a third straight state title.

In-state programs Mississippi State and Ole Miss would love to have him, but it's no surprise that elite programs such as Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky and many others have been in to see him. So far, Newman has been pretty quiet about his recruitment, and he's not expected to decide any time soon.

Newman isn't the only one staying put near the top of the rankings. The entire top 10 remains intact -- and heavy with post players -- even though there has been a little bit of shuffling inside of it.

Currently pushing Newman the hardest for the top spot is Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd big man Ivan Rabb. The 6-foot-9 power forward has expanded his offensive arsenal some to go along with his high-end athleticism, rebounding and ability to run the floor.

Following Rabb, big men Diamond Stone, Stephen Zimmerman, Ben Simmons and Skal Labissiere are all closely packed together in Nos. 3-6. Stone is a polished and skilled low post player from Milwaukee, while Zimmerman is a tall and lanky big from Las Vegas who can run and is at his best facing the hoop. One of only two players in the top 10 who has made an early commitment, the LSU-bound Simmons is a 6-foot-8 native of Australia with abundant athleticism and a versatile game who plays in Florida. A native of Haiti, Labissiere is a slender shot blocker with great hands, good feet and a feel for scoring the ball who has been honing his craft in the Memphis area.


The only other guard in the top 10 is Los Angeles combo guard Tyler Dorsey who checks in at No. 7. An early pledge to Arizona, Dorsey has good size at 6-foot-4, can score or distribute and is an outstanding rebounder.

Rounding out the top 10 are three more big men in Cheick Diallo, Elijah Thomas and Carlton Bragg. Diallo is a high energy rebounder and shot blocker from Mali who attends school in New York. A Texan, Thomas is a back-to-the-basket operator with sure hands, soft touch and a knack for corralling rebounds. Finally, Bragg is probably the most athletic of all the big men in the top 10. The Ohio native flies up and down the court, can make perimeter jumpers and is growing into his lengthy 6-foot-8 frame.

Two new five-stars


Jalen Brunson is one of two new five-stars.
This time around, there are only two new five-star prospects. Both point guard Jalen Brunson and center Doral Moore made big jumps during the winter.

A product of Lincolnshire (Ill.) Stevenson, Brunson moved all the way up to No. 14 from No. 28. A 6-foot-1 floor general, he is a very dangerous southpaw shooter with an outstanding feel for the game. He also has tremendous bloodlines as his father Rick is a former Temple star who spent several years as a player and coach in the NBA.

Standing nearly 7-feet tall, Moore is an intriguing center prospect from Locust Grove (Ga.) Luella and made the jump from No. 38 to No. 16. At times, he can disappear from the game when his teammates don't involve him on the offensive end. But he's always a factor defensively and on the glass where his size, length and athleticism give him the ability to develop into a high-level rim protector. When he is involved offensively, he finishes strong at the rim and shows promising touch on short jumpers and jump hooks.

Fast risers and newcomers to keep an eye on

Though neither of them quite made it to five-star territory in this update, guards Justin Simon and Antonio Blakeney are both moving up the rankings quickly and need to be watched closely. A scorer from Florida with bounce and a dangerous jumper, the 6-foot-3 Blakeney rose from No. 56 to No. 29. More of a jack-of-all trades combo guard with 6-foot-5 size, Simon is the best available guard on the West Coast and moved all the way up to No. 23 from No. 80.

Another West Coast product making a big move is Las Vegas small forward Ray Smith. The 6-foot-7 wing put up huge numbers as a junior and climbed 34 spots from No. 66 to No. 32.

The highest ranked newcomer to the 2015 Rivals150 is 6-foot-9 power forward Deyonta Davis. A product of Muskegon (Mich.) High, he is an athletic big who attacks the glass, runs the floor and shows a lot of promise as a mid-range jump shooter. In many ways, he is similar to a young version of Adreian Payne, and like Payne, he's going to play his college ball at Michigan State.

Just behind Davis as a high ranking newcomer is another impressive big man. Greek-born Georgios Papagiannis came over to the States to attend the Westtown (Pa.) School and has made a large impact. At nearly 7-foot-2 with a big frame, he isn't a speed demon but plays with an edge and takes up lots of space. He enters the rankings at No. 44 but could make another big move as we learn more about him. It is important to note, though, that rumors keep swirling that he could return to Greece after his junior season to play pro ball.

Finally, shooting guard Admon Gilder made the single biggest move inside the Rivals150. A 6-foot-3 shooting guard from Dallas (Texas) Madison who is a savvy scorer and high-IQ player, Gilder won his second state title in 2014 and made a meteoric rise of 74 spots from No. 123 all the way to No. 49.

High-level talent in Class of 2016

Jackson tops expanded class of 2016 rankings
There are still a lot of players to see from the class of 2016, and there will be plenty of players putting themselves on the national radar this spring. But after a long winter it is time to not only update but expand our initial top 35 from the class to a top 60. While the list expands, the player at the top remains the same as Detroit shooting guard Josh Jackson holds down the top spot heading into the grassroots/travel ball season.

Josh Jackson has everything an elite scorer needs.
Top five creating separation
Ever since the class of 2016 first started making noise on the national level last year, the core group of No. 1 Josh Jackson, No. 2 Harry Giles, No. 3 Thon Maker and No. 4 Jayson Tatum has maintained a level of separation from the rest of their classmates. As far as Rivals.com is concerned, No. 5 Seventh Woods has made his way into that group.
Since he is at the top, we'll start with Jackson. A lengthy 6-foot-6 shooting guard from Detroit (Mich.) Consortium, Jackson is a gifted athlete with every tool an elite wing scorer needs. Jackson can shoot from deep, he creates off the dribble and he can finish above the rim in traffic. While skinny, Jackson displays toughness on both ends of the floor and is as good a defender as there is in the sophomore class.
Despite missing his entire sophomore season after suffering a major knee injury during the summer of 2013, Giles deserves to stay in the second spot. A 6-foot-9 forward with length and athleticism, the High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan product is right out of the new age hybrid forward mold because he can play above the rim but also face the hoop and attack off the dribble a bit.
Standing nearly seven-feet tall, Maker is highly productive and versatile. Not saying that he is Kevin Garnett, but the big man from the Carlisle (Va.) School has a frame and athleticism that is similar to that of a young KG. Maker is a shot blocker, a force on the glass and can really get out and move in transition. Most impressive about Maker is that he is a pretty good ball handler and a very good shooter between 12 and 17 feet, given his youth and size.
Probably the most highly skilled of the 2016 top five, Tatum is a 6-foot-7 do-it-all wing at St. Louis (Mo.) Chaminade. The school has produced NBA talents such as David Lee and Bradley Beal, and Tatum is looking more and more like a safe bet to one day follow in their footsteps. Although he isn't an overwhelming athlete, he has an incredibly high basketball IQ and can play anywhere from the point guard to the power forward on the high school level.
Pushing his way into elite status in the class of 2016 is Woods. A truly freaky athlete who became a YouTube sensation because of his electrifying dunking as a freshman, the 6-foot-2 point guard at Columbia (S.C.) Hammond School has quietly been building his game. Because he's so athletic, Woods sometimes moves too fast for his own good, but defenders are almost powerless when it comes to keeping him in front of them, his jump shot has developed nicely, and he has much more of a killer instinct on the court. He still has a lot of work to does, but the raw tools are too impressive to ignore at this point.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Starting Five: Jackson not going anywhere



Over the weekend, Josh Jackson -- the No. 1 player in the class of 2016 -- won himself a state title in Michigan. In Missouri, Texas signee Jordan Barnett had an epic performance to help his team win one. Those two and much more are featured in this week's Starting Five.

Jackson cements top billing

On Friday, we will update our rankings for the class of 2016. In a previous Starting Five, it was mentioned that the top wasn't likely to see much change. After watching current No. 1 Josh Jackson's performance for Detroit (Mich.) Consortium in Michigan's Class C title game there is no reason to hide that Jackson will retain his top billing.


Josh Jackson should hang on to his stop atop the 2016 rankings.
A 6-foot-6 shooting guard, Jackson battled through early foul trouble to finish with 22 points, 13 rebound and four assists (official box gave him three). While that is certainly a fine stat line, it wasn't an absurd or abnormal line for a star player -- regardless of ranking -- to string together. But there was nothing normal about the way Jackson achieved those numbers.

Though not a point guard by any means, Jackson is a very deft ball handler and passer. He doesn't just dribble and make the correct pass, he does both at a high rate of speed, and his ability to freestyle on the basketball floor without getting clumsy is quite remarkable for a sophomore. He has tremendous size for his position to go along with his athleticism and skill. Oh yeah, he is a dangerous shooter who gets tremendous elevation on his jump shot, which combined with a lightning release makes him virtually unguardable.

Of course, even the nation's best sophomore has plenty to improve on. Jackson isn't just thin, he is a string bean; and that lack of bulk and strength can allow some lesser players to body him up and slow him down. At times, Jackson is also a little careless with the ball, so cutting down on turnovers is also important. Then, like any other young player, Jackson has to keep learning how to bring his "A" game each time he touches the floor.

Jackson's recruitment is going to end up taking place at the highest level as local big boys Michigan and Michigan State try to fight off others such as Kentucky, Louisville and Kansas plus many more for his services. His development should be plenty of fun to watch regardless of where he ultimately ends up in the rankings. But for now, his spot at the top of 2016 is safe.

Epic game for Barnett

There's no need to sugarcoat it: The knock on senior Jordan Barnett has been that his effort has been spotty and he wasn't always the most physical of players. After watching his progression at St. Louis (Mo.) CBC, it is probably time to go ahead and dispatch with those notions.

On Saturday, Barnett scored 43 points and grabbed 20 rebounds to lead CBC to an overtime win over Columbia (Mo.) Hickman to claim a class 5A state title. He shot 15-of-22 from the floor and made 12 of 15 free throws. He dominated in the paint, finished on the break, hit some jumpers and played with lots of emotion. It was a performance that will long be remembered in his home state.

Currently a four-star prospect ranked No. 106 in the class of 2014, the 6-foot-7, 190 pounder headed to Texas was already likely to get at least a little bit of a bump up in the rankings based on his play in front of Rivals.com in December. Now, Barnett has made a pretty strong case to be included somewhere in the top 50-75 players in his class.

Big decision on hand for five-star

The recruitment of 2015 five-star prospect Luke Kennard will be over before Monday ends. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard who currently ranks No. 16 in the Rivals150 is going to announce his decision during a 7:45 p.m. ET press conference at Franklin (Ohio) High.

. He has a much longer list filled with big names, but his decision is essentially going to come down to Duke, Kentucky or perhaps Ohio State. A big-time shooter, Kennard was at Duke officially earlier this month and has seen plenty of the other campuses. On decision day, the behind-the-scenes buzz has him leaning in the direction of Duke. Neither the Wildcats or Buckeyes would be a surprising choice, but the expectation as of early Monday is that he will be a Blue Devil.

Don't expect a decision from Turner on his birthday


Myles Turner will visit Texas later this week.
Monday just happened to be the 18th birthday of 2014 five-star Myles Turner. Far and away the most high profile player who still has a decision to make, the No. 6 player has been the subject of plenty of rumors.

The most recent rumor over the weekend was that the Trinity (Texas) Euless post man would announce a decision to celebrate his birthday or by midweek. As far as Rivals.com can tell, there is no truth to the rumors.

Turner has remained steadfast that he will visit Texas officially before making a decision, and he will make the trip to Austin on Thursday and Friday.This weekend, Turner will begin his tour of the nation's All-American games by heading to Chicago for McDonald's All-American festivities.

It is quite possible that Turner has a better idea of where he is leaning and when he wants to announce his decision than is being let on. However, for now it would not appear that any date has been set, and there has been nothing from the Turner family about any decision date or timeline.

Spring travel begins this weekend

With the end of the high school basketball season, the grassroots season has begun. At Rivals.com, we will hit our first event this Saturday when we travel to the Washington, D.C., area for the Metro Challenge 60.

A one-day showcase event featuring much of the DMV area's top talent from the classes of 2015, 2016 and 2017, the event looks to be a great one. The area is one of the most talent-rich in the country and all indications are that the event will be loaded.

After finishing up in D.C., we'll be off to Chicago for McDonald's All-American game festivities beginning with Sunday. Unfortunately, a few of the workouts are closed to the media (but open to those like myself who have a vote for the game) so we won't be able to report on each and every session. But there will still be plenty to talk about.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pearl hiring makes waves

This week, we waited a day to do our usual Starting Five and it turned out to be a good decision. Tuesday morning, Auburn hired Bruce Pearl in what could turn out to be a big move. The Pearl hire leads this week's topics for discussion.

Can Pearl turn it around at Auburn?

Let's face it, everybody involved with and who follows college basketball knew that it was only a matter of time before Bruce Pearl landed on his feet. All season long he has been rumored to be a candidate for several projected openings, and Auburn was one of them. Stuck in the basement of the SEC, the Tigers had to do something bold if they wanted to turn around their fortunes. The hiring of Pearl, who lost his job at Tennessee due to NCAA infractions, is bold.


Bruce Pearl proved he could win in the SEC at Tennessee.
Pearl has been a lighting rod for discussion among coaches and fans for quite some time now. Whether it be because of what happened at Tennessee (where a photo of current Ohio State point guard and former Vol commit Aaron Craft attending a barbecue at Pearl's house started an investigation that led to his firing), turning in Illinois over alleged improprieties in their recruitment of Deon Thomas when he was an assistant at Iowa in the late 80's, or his bombastic personality, Pearl gets people talking. But for the most part, people who have been around Pearl love him, and he has been incredibly well-liked by the fans, alumni, boosters and players at all of his stops.

Most importantly, Pearl is a proven winner at every stop he's ever made. At Tennessee, Pearl took the Volunteers to the NCAA Tournament during each of his six years as head coach. Before that he took Wisconsin-Milwaukee to two NCAA appearances, and he won an Division II title at Southern Indiana. Right now, what Auburn needs more than anything else is a proven winner, and there is no way to argue that Pearl isn't a habitual winner.

Because of his experience in Knoxville and the SEC, Pearl is already intimately familiar with recruiting the region, and given previous results it is hard to envision anything but success from him and his staff -- which will almost certainly include longtime assistant and recruiting ace Tony Jones -- on the recruiting trail.

In the grand scheme of things, Pearl was going to be hired somewhere, and he was more than likely going to be successful at the program that hired him. Auburn was very smart to get an agreement in place early and make sure that his next stop was on the Plains.

Will he or won't he?

One of the most intriguing players who is still available in the class of 2014 is a kid that most American fans don't know much about. However, many know about his father. I'm talking about Domantas Sabonis, the son of legendary big man Arvydas Sabonis.

Currently, Sabonis plays professionally in Spain for Unicaja Málaga. He is a 6-foot-10 lefty who like his father has an incredibly high skill level, soft touch and an advanced feel for the game. Many who scout Europe feel that he is the best Euro prospect for his age group (players with a 1996 birthdate) and given the film that I have been able to evaluate, I can understand why people make that statement.

The reason that I'm writing about him today is that the word had been that Sabonis would announce over the weekend whether or not he would like to start getting paid for his play in Europe or come to the United States to play college ball. But, as of this column Sabonis hasn't announced his final decision.

Having preserved eligibility up to this point by declining to be paid, Sabonis could be an impact recruit and would spark an intense recruiting battle. But that's not going to happen. Gonzaga has been highly proactive in the recruitment of the European star, and if Sabonis does decide to play in the States, he will almost assuredly be doing so in Spokane for Mark Few.

While his official announcement has been delayed, behind-the-scenes talk points to him ultimately ending up in a Gonzaga uniform.

Pflueger gets defensive


Rex Pflueger is proving to be a shutdown defender.
For much of his career, class of 2015 four-star shooting guard Rex Pflueger has been known as an outstanding scorer. Standing 6-foot-4, perhaps even pushing 6-foot-5, he has prototypical two-guard size, a long frame, a nice looking shot and great length. As a junior at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, though, Pflueger hasn't really stood out for his offense.

Playing alongside 2014's No. 3 player -- and one of high school basketball's true alpha dogs -- Stanley Johnson, Pflueger has certainly had his moments offensively. However, where Pfluger has really stood out is on the defensive end. He routinely draws his opponent's best scorer and he has routinely proven that he can shut him down. I saw it again for myself Friday night when he harassed San Diego State-bound Rivals150 shooting guard Trey Kell into a tough night.

What makes Pflueger such a good defender is really a combination of many things. He moves very well laterally, he has a long reach and most of all he seems to really accept the challenge of being a defensive stopper. From what I have seen, he is one of the top perimeter defenders in the class of 2015, and that only cements his status as a high-major prospect.

Seeing without seeing

Every now and then, something happens that allows me to look at a player in an entirely new way. That happened over the weekend when I watched Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola make a huge comeback to move into the quarterfinals of the CIF Division I state playoffs. The Cubs did so without Arizona-bound Parker Jackson-Cartwright after the point guard who ranks No. 57 in the class of 2014 was dismissed from Loyola earlier this season .

I'm not going to get into what Jackson-Cartwright did or didn't do to get dismissed other than to say that by all accounts it was a non-legal mistake that he has obviously paid a heavy price for. Having watched him over the years, spoken to people who know him and reflected on things that I did as a 17-year old that could have gotten me into hot water, I don't have any more worry about him getting into trouble as a college player than I do any other prospect. As far as I'm concerned, it is a non-issue.

But that's not what I want to talk about anyway. I want to talk about how by not seeing him lead the Loyola offense I was able to see him an in entirely different light. Rivals150 junior Max Hazzard deserves a ton of credit for sliding over to the point guard spot and leading Loyola to wins. He's done an exceptional job. However, it is impossible to watch them play and not see how much they miss PJC running the show. Loyola didn't look nearly as cohesive as they did when I saw them in December with PJC running the show and they were clearly missing his vocal leadership as much as they were his playmaking.

There are still legitimate questions about how well PJC's 5-foot-9, 150-ish pound frame will hold up to the rigors of Pac-12 basketball. But there can't be any questions about his skill level and ability to lead a team. I'm not entirely sure yet what that means for him in terms of the final 2014 Rivals150, I just know that by not seeing Parker Jackson-Cartwright play I gained an entirely new appreciation of his game.

Smith could end up a nice pickup

Lost amidst the rush of Nebraska making the NCAA Tournament is the fact the Huskers landed themselves a nice prospect on the recruiting trail. Tim Miles and company picked up a nice St. Patrick's Day score when they landed one of the top remaining point guard prospects in the country, Tarin Smith.

A product of legendary Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony, Smith is a 6-foot-1 competitor who can run the show or play the role of scorer. Most importantly, he fits the culture that Miles and his staff have been building at Nebraska. Smith is a grinder, a tough kid who plays with physicality and who doesn't have a lot of notoriety. Molded by arguably the best high school coach of all time, Bob Hurley, at St. Ant's, Smith is a winner who is about team. Look for him to really help the Huskers depth on the perimeter, play good defense and provide offense in spots during his first couple of years. Don't be surprised if he ends up starting at least two years before his time in Lincoln is done.

Loyola, Sierra Canyon rally for victory

LOS ANGELES -- The CIF playoffs continued on Saturday in the Los Angeles area. Rivals.com was able to watch as home standing Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola and Chatsworth (Calif.) Sierra Canyon advanced to the state quarterfinals with dramatic come-from-behind wins.
Thomas Welsh dominated the interior with his passing and rebounding.
The day started at Loyola where the Cubs hosted Mission Viejo (Calif.) High in a Division 1 round of 16 game. Led by McDonald's All-American and UCLA bound big man Thomas Welsh and 2015 Rivals150 combo guard Max Hazzard, Loyola is still in the process of adjusting to life without four-star senior point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright who was dismissed from the school early this season. Making the trip up to L.A. from Orange County, Mission Viejo brought a scrappy and quick squad led by one of the class of 2014's biggest recruiting steals, Boise State bound small forward Chandler Hutchison. For most of the game, Loyola was in serious trouble. Hutchison was a little off with his shooting and not having one of his best games, but the 6-foot-6 wing was very active on the glass and in transition and got a lot of help from his teammates. Heading into the fourth quarter, Mission Viejo had built up a 49-35 lead and looked like it would be advancing. The fourth quarter, though, was a much different story. Loyola dug in defensively and caused the Mission Viejo offense to sputter. As had happened throughout the game, any possession that featured a touch by the near seven-foot Welsh in the post resulted in a great Loyola shot. Welsh finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds, but his biggest contribution may have been his outstanding passing out of double teams. Even when he didn't make a pass that led directly to a basket, he would put the defense into a scramble mode where the next pass resulted in a good shot. The person benefiting and stepping up the most because of this was Hazzard. After playing most of the season off the ball next to Jackson-Cartwright, he has taken over point guard duties and spent most of the first three quarters setting up teammates. During the fourth quarter he took on a bigger role as a scorer, hit four threes and scored 16 of his 24 points. His final two were the most important. Trailing by one with just 10.7 seconds to go, Loyola needed to go the length of the court and score. On top of that, Mission Viejo had only given two fouls and was in position to foul out the clock. After a couple of fouls, Hazzard somehow eluded two defenders trying to foul him at half court and made it all the way to the rim where he was fouled on a shot with 3.1 seconds left. Hazzard calmly sank both free throws in front of coaches from Boise State, Pepperdine, UC Davis, San Diego and Santa Clara to give Loyola the improbable 60-59 win. Immediately after the game, we were able to make our way up to Chatsworth as Sierra Canyon hosted San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) J'Serra in a Division IV round of 16 game.
Cody Riley's only bucket of the second half was important.
Sierra Canyon boasts one of the youngest, but talented, rosters of any high level team in the country. Sophomore point guard Devearl Ramsey is a four-star prospect while freshmen Cody Riley and Ira Lee both look like they will be high major prospects. Just like Loyola in the previous game, the home standing Trailblazers really struggled early. While they played with max effort, they missed several early free throws and one layup after another. Led by Northwestern commitment Johnnie Vassar who scored a game high 20 points and sophomore big man Jayce Johnson's work on the glass, J'Serra was able to build a 30-21 halftime lead. During the third quarter, Sierra Canyon turned up the pressure and made a serious comeback. While its young stars struggled, senior guard Jamani Spencer was huge, scoring many of his team-high 15 points. While Canyon pressed on one end forcing J'Serra into one turnover or bad shot after another, they attacked the rim relentlessly on the other end and converted enough to take a 42-39 lead headed into the fourth. In the fourth, Vassar tried to put J'Serra on his back and will them to victory. The sub six-footer is a big time athlete with extreme speed and plays a hair on fire style. While a bit out of control, he was getting to the rim and making things happen and even allowed J'Serra to build a six-point lead with just over five minutes to go. Then, after scuffling to get going for much of the game, Sierra Canyon's young stars made plays that mattered. An intense competitor with quickness, Ramsey got to the rim and made big free throws while the 6-foot-7 Riley delivered the biggest shot of the game. Scoreless and on the bench for much of the second half, Riley hit a twisting bucket on the right side with just over a minute to go to take a 57-56 lead. Ramsey finished things out by sinking four straight free-throws in front of coaches from Portland and Pacific to complete Sierra Canyon's 61-56 comeback win.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Starting Five: Where does Stanley Johnson rank?

Starting Five: Where does Stanley Johnson rank?

 
THE RIVALS150: Class of 2014 - Class of 2015
Over the weekend, the nation's No. 3 player Stanley Johnson led Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei to a CIF Southern Section open division championship. Now in pursuit of state title number four, how does Johnson's high school career stack up against other California greats? Rivals.com National Basketball Analyst Eric Bossi touches on that and other subjects in this week's Starting Five.

Stanley Johnson is in the twilight of a legendary high school career.
How does Johnson stack up against other Cali greats?
Saturday night, the nation's No. 3 player Stanley Johnson did what he has always done and that's come up big when it mattered most. During a CIF's open division Southern Section championship game, Johnson scored 28 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and sank all eight of his free throws in the fourth quarter to help Mater Dei fight off a scrappy Chino Hills (Calif.) High squad 48-44. Next up, Johnson and Mater Dei will pursue a 4th straight state championship.
Watching the game on DVR Sunday, a few things popped into my head. One, I wasn't the least bit surprised to see Johnson do what he did. As much as any other player in 2014, Johnson has the type of competitive fire and drive that makes him a clutch, money-time player. Second, I started to wonder just where Johnson's high school career stacks up against other stars from the state of California?
Given that I don't live in California and have only been in the business since the summer of 2000, there are probably lots of guys that would need to be discussed like Paul Pierce, Reggie Miller, Jason Kidd, Bill Walton etc. But, I don't have the frame of reference to know where they were as high schoolers or how they did. So, I decided to limit things to the players that I have seen come along.
Among the best Californians I've seen are James Harden, Jrue Holiday, Tyson Chandler, DeMar Derozan, Brandon Jennings (though he didn't finish his high school career in California), Chase Budinger, Russell Westbrook, Dorrell Wright (another who finished his career out of state) and Trevor Ariza. Up until now, I would have said that Jrue Holiday was the best high school player I saw in that bunch. The for now is because as far as I'm concerned, Stanley Johnson should sit atop of the list as best high school basketball player I have ever seen from California. Does that mean he will be able to match those others accomplishments on the college and pro levels? Only time will tell, but there is zero question that Johnson's career will go down as legendary.
How to rate Dusic?
Might as well stick with somebody that is committed to Arizona for this week's second topic. Over the weekend, Dusan Ristic committed to the Wildcats. For those who don't know, Ristic is a seven-footer who arrived at Bel Aire (Kan.) Sunrise Christian in January to complete his senior season. The Wildcats had found out about him while he was still overseas and laid some serious groundwork to get things done.
So the question is, how do we rate him? For now, this is the plan. Ristic has gone into the system as a four-star prospect but a decision on whether or not to include him and how highly to rank him in the final Rivals150 is yet to be determined. I'm hoping to make a trip down to Bel Aire -- I live just about two and a half hours away -- to see him in person. From what I have seen on film and in some very limited minutes during a televised game his size listing looks legit, he looks to have soft hands and he looks to be quite skilled.
Ahmad one to watch this spring
Over the weekend, Jeff Rabjohns of our Indiana site had a good story on the Hoosiers offering 2015 target Esa Ahmad. Currently, Ahmad is an unranked three-star combo forward, but that will be changing soon enough.

Esa Ahmad is on the rise.
A 6-foot-7 product of Cleveland (Ohio) Shaker Heights, Ahmad doesn't wow with crazy athletic ability, but his feel for the game, rebounding and overall skill level do catch your eye. More and more, college coaches want guys who are willing to sell out for their teammates on both ends of the floor and from what I've seen of Ahmad, he fits that description. He can also make an open jumper and I expect him to draw quite a coaching crowd when he plays in the Sacramento leg of Nike's EYBL with All Ohio Red in late April.
Others who have already offered include Maryland, Cincinnati, Rutgers, West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State and Miami. Before things are all said and done, I expect that Ahmad will net more high major scholarship offers and he is on his way into the 2015 rankings.
Who is Ted Kapita?
Over the past few weeks, the name Ted Kapita has been coming up a lot. A 6-foot-8 junior from the Melbourne (Fla.) Florida Air Academy, Kapita's name has been very hot with college coaches.
A native of the Congo, Kapita is currently an unranked three-star in the class of 2015. That, however, will change when the 2015 Rivals150 gets updated here in a few weeks and you can expect to see Kapita as a four-star prospect. He is an aggressive rebounder, plays above the rim, can really run and is starting to develop his touch out to eight feet. He's not quite to the level that Thomas Robinson was when he finished his high school career, but he's one of those hard rocking, physical forwards that chases down rebounds all over the floor like Robinson was.
Kapita visited Florida over the weekend and the Gators have to be considered the favorites at this point. Texas is also pretty strong and others like Georgetown, Kansas, USF, Syracuse and Michigan State have offered according to his high school coach Aubin Goporo. Because he isn't expected to play summer ball, he will remain a bit of a mystery man. But, Kapita is somebody that recruiting fans should begin to familiarize themselves with.
Let's talk Nebrasketball
As one might imagine, I spend a lot of time watching college basketball. One team and story that has really caught my attention is what is going on up at Nebraska.
What Tim Miles and his staff have done with that team, their approach and how the players have bought into playing together and selflessly has been quite enjoyable to watch. The ability of Miles and his staff to get the most out of their players and Miles personality have changed the perception about Nebraska hoops and really excited the Cornhusker fanbase.
They appear to be a NCAA tournament team after winning eight of their last nine games and the buzz about Nebraska hoops is building. How will that translate on the recruiting trail? Only time will tell, but for now I'm enjoying watching that team play -- particularly guys like Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields -- and I'm sure Husker fans are doing the same thing.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

State Champs! Miller Grove wins 6 in a row

By Stan Awtrey AJC Prep Sports
 

Miller Grove, boys, georgia state basketball championship
 

MACON – No. 1-ranked Miller Grove became the first high school boys basketball team in Georgia to win six consecutive state championship Friday when the Wolverines beat No. 7 Warner Robins 70-43 in the Class AAAAA final at the Macon Coliseum.
“It feels awesome,” said senior James Walker, who never lost a state playoff game during his career. “We’ve been through so much adversity this year. People doubted us. They don’t understand how hard we work. We just wanted it more.”
Miller Grove (28-5) won for the 13th straight time and snapped the 20-game winning streak of Warner Robins, which had not lost since December. The difference was a remarkable third quarter in which Miller Grove outscored the Demons 26-7, which quieted the partisan crowd, and broke open what had been a competitive game.
Photos: Georgia high school basketball state championships
“We told them at halftime they had to pick it up,” Miller Grove coach Sharman White said.
Message received. Senior Keith Pinckney said, “He asked us at halftime: Do you want it? We had to turn it up and we did it.”
Miller Grove was led by Pinckney, a Tulane commitment, with 21 points and seven rebounds, and Walker with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Warner Robins (28-3) got 15 points from Marquez Callaway and 13 points and five rebounds from Nathan Curry.
Miller Grove used a 7-0 run, including a three-point play from Raylon Richardson, to break free from a 4-4 tie. But Warner Robins was able to regain its composure and score seven of the next nine points, five of them coming from Marquez Callaway, to draw within a basket. Miller Grove’s James Walker hit a soft jumper near the end of the quarter, which the Wolverines led 15-11.
Miller Grove stretched its lead to 17-11 before Warner Robins responded with five straight points to close the margin to one point. The Wolverines then got back-to-back baskets from Deven Dorsett, the first one to finish a possession that included six shots, and the second that resulted in a three-point play and put the margin back at six points.
Miller Grove had the lead at nine points when Gamaun Boykins drained a 3-pointer, but Warner Robins answered the next trip down court when Callaway was fouled on a 3-pointer and converted the four-point play to make it 27-22, which stood as the halftime lead.
Only three players scored for Warner Robins in the first, with Callaway getting 11 and Nathan Curtis scoring eight. Miller Grove’s balanced attack was led by Walker with seven.
Miller Grove put the game away at the beginning of the third quarter. The Wolverines went on a 14-1 run, which included a three-point play from both Alterique Gilbert and Pinckney and a 3-point basket by Pinckney. The run pushed the lead to 41-24 and the Wolverines were not threatened again.
“We weren’t consistent in the first half,” White said. “We take a lot of pride in doing the little things right and we weren’t doing that in the first half.”
In what has been a historical season for DeKalb County’s premiere boys program, the Wolverines saw Gilbert and Pinckney both surpass 500 points, joining former standouts Mfon Udofia, Tony Parker and Kyrie Hamer.
Miller Grove dedicated its season to the memory of former player Terrell Coleman, a 15-year-old who died while playing in an AAU basketball game last fall.
“All he ever said was he wanted a ring,” Pinckney said. “We got him one tonight.”
Warner Robins (43): Jefferson Murray 5, Nathan Curtis 13, Samuel Harris 6, Marquez Callaway 15, Stephon Raybon 2, Terry Harris, Courtney Johnson, Quintavious Houser 2, Donald Watkins, Armani Bibbs, Zamire Winters.
Miller Grove (70): Keith Pinckney 21, Kendall Williams, Alterique Gilbert 8, Raylon Richardson 7,, James Walker 18, Gemaun Boykins 3, Deven Dorsett 11, Kenvarious Brown, Josh Jackmon, Deashon Street 2, Jonathan Mitchell, Omar Venable.

Dallas powers advance to UIL title games

AUSTIN, Texas -- Thursday in Austin at the Frank Erwin Center, the Texas UIL kicked off its annual Final Four. The crowds were great, the energy was intense and a pair of Dallas area juniors stood out as Admon Gilder and Jawun Evans powered their Madison and Kimball squads into the 3A and 4A state title games.


Admon Gilder was huge at the UIL Final Four.
Gilder goes off to lead Madison

As a sophomore, 6-foot-3 shooting guard Admon Gilder put himself on the map when he led Dallas Madison to a 3A state championship. As a junior, he's at it again only this time he is upping the ante.

Currently ranked No. 123 in the 2015 Rivals150, Gilder looked very comfortable playing on the big stage as he racked up 29 points, 11 rebounds and nine steals to lead his team to a 77-62 win over San Antonio Houston.

After going for big numbers two years in a row in Austin, postgame media asked Gilder whether there was something about the home gym of one of the team's recruiting him the hardest, Texas, that made him extra comfortable.

"I feel real comfortable in any gym I play in," said Gilder. "It just happens to be that in this gym I play pretty well."

A good shooter who is outstanding working away from the ball, Gilder is both skilled and intelligent on the offensive end. He has a strong body that he uses to get to the glass and free throw line and does a great job of mixing jumpers and drives to keep defenders on their heels. After the game he mentioned SMU, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma among those who have been most involved in his recruitment.

While Gilder was outstanding, he wasn't without help. Three-star senior combo forward Johnathan Turner was terrific as well. The unsigned prospect chipped in with 23 points and 10 rebounds of his own. At about 6-foot-7, Turner can really run the floor, he has a good jumper to 17 feet and he's quick off of his feet around the rim. He could help somebody out at the upper end of the mid major level and is starting to get attention from many Division One and Junior College programs.

Evans leads Kimball to another state title game

In the first 4A semifinal game, Dallas Kimball was looking to make their fourth straight trip to the state title game. When Beaumont Central's four-star junior small forward E'Torrion Wilridge went down with a knee injury just seven minutes into the game after scoring a quick eight points it looked as if Kimball would cruise to the title game.

That wouldn't be the case though, as Central played inspired ball and rode the back of sophomore wing Nijal Pearson's 23 points and nine rebounds to make it a close ball game. In the end, though, there was too much of four-star junior point guard Jawun Evans and key defensive plays from unsigned senior D'Angelo Allen for Central to overcome as Kimball held on for a 58-56 win and advanced to the title game.

Early on, it was all Evans. Currently ranked No. 59 in the class of 2015, he was already in line for a move up the list but cemented it with his Thursday performance. Evans scored 20 of his team high 23 points in the first half and he looked similar in style to a young Chris Paul while doing it.


Jawun Evans is a dynamic point guard.
At about six-feet tall, Evans is an intense competitor, surprisingly strong and is always keeping defenders on their heels with his changes of speed, skillful navigation of ball screens and ability to transition between scorer and facilitator. Illinois, Texas, Baylor, Clemson, South Carolina -- Evans is a South Carolina native who just moved to Dallas for his junior season -- are all involved on the recruiting front.

While it was Evans offense that kept Kimball going early, Allen's defense down the stretch was sensational. During the game's waning moments the 6-foot-6 small forward forced a five-second call and blocked a pair of shots. The last block came on Central's final possession with the clock running out and prevented overtime.

A three-star prospect, Allen said in postgame that his team had never lost earlier than the finals -- They won in 2011, 2012 and were runner-ups in 2013 -- and he wanted to keep it that way.

"We had just turned the ball over and we were all hyped up to go out on the defensive end," said Allen. "As I saw him go past one of my teammates I reacted quickly because I didn't want to lose."

More notes from Thursday at UIL State Tourney

The loss for San Antonio Houston to Dallas Madison in the 3A semifinals was a tough one. Houston struggled with turnovers and could never quite get over the six or seven point hump when trying to come back. However, senior guard Jordon Harris put on a terrific show in the process.

A 5-foot-10 scorer with quickness and no fear, Harris matched Admon Gilder's 29 points and also hauled in six rebounds. He is very confident in his ability to get into the lane, can push tempo and will also stick a jumper when given space. Currently unsigned, Harris told Rivals.com that he's had some attention from Alcorn State and local junior colleges. There's little doubt that more Division One programs should be taking a look.

The stage is all set for a rematch in the class 3A title game. Houston Yates made sure that they'll get their chance to avenge last year's loss to Dallas Madison by holding on for dear life late and dispatching a previously undefeated Kennedale team 86-79.

Yates plays a high energy, pressing and free wheeling type of style that ensures a fast pace and gives plenty of players opportunities to put up big numbers. Leading the way for the Lions was Houston signee JC Washington. The 6-foot-7 power forward was hard to handle in the paint where he racked up 19 points -- many of them via dunks -- and 17 rebounds while constantly triggering the Yates offense with outlet passes.

Unsigned senior Damion Lewis scored 22 points and is an intriguing prospect as a late signee on the mid major level. He is quick, willing to let it fly and a good athlete. However, he did not shoot very well on the day making just 5-22 shots (11-12 FT) to get his points. He also added eight rebounds and four assists. Finally, sophomore Jacob Young is one to watch moving forward. The younger brother of current Oregon star Joseph Young, the 6-foot-1 2016 prospect is a very good deep shooter who is offensively minded. He came off the bench to pump in 17 points.

Though their loss was heartbreaking, a pair of Kennedale seniors stood out. Stephen F. Austin bound point guard Ty Charles and senior power forward Aundre Jackson were both outstanding as Charles went for 21 points, 17 rebounds, four assists and six steals while Jackson rang up 21 points and 10 rebounds in just 19 minutes due to foul troubles.

A three-star prospect, Charles is an absolute steal for Brad Underwood and his staff. He is in control of the game, does a little bit of everything and has great size. Were he available, high majors would be courting him for the spring. But, he's headed to SFA where he looks like a future All-Conference player.

Jackson is a 6-foot-5 widebody who can handle the ball and has great hands. He is quick in the lane, tracks loose balls down and plays aggressively on both ends.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

California big man down to 5

California big man likes five

 

THE RIVALS150: Class of 2014 - Class of 2015
Early in his high school career, Chimezie Metu didn't have the biggest of reputations. But, those close to him and those who watched him early could see the potential. Now wrapping up a strong junior season, it is all coming together for the four-star big man.

Five programs stand out for Chimezie Metu.
Currently ranked No. 54 in the class of 2015, the 6-foot-9, 205 pound Metu has had a strong season at Lawndale (Calif.) High. It is one that coach Johnnie Parker saw coming early on.
"I knew that the junior year was going to be his year," said Parker, who runs Hoop Phi and coaches Metu at Lawndale. "As his mentor and coach, I've been waiting for this year to really show what type of player he can be. His maturity and motor has been the most impressive. The way he is handling himself and different moves he's making, he has become the type of high level player he wanted to be."
Part of Metu's confidence has come from getting outside of his comfort zone. While his home team is Parker's Hoop Phi group, Metu also played last summer with the Oakland Soldiers. As he adjusted to life in Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League and playing with other high end players it wasn't always pretty. But, Metu learned and he'll play with the Soldiers in the EYBL again this summer.
"Playing alongside Stanley Johnson and Ivan Rabb has done him justice," said Parker. "I knew he wasn't going to do great but I wanted him to see that fire so that he could come back to Lawndale and learn.
"He wasn't rebounding, he wasn't playing hard and he had to sit down. Sitting down helped. He had to learn that he can't just go to any program and that they are going to play him because he's tall. He has to work."
Long and lean, Metu has a pretty well rounded offensive game. He can run the floor, makes plays above the rim and can step out on the floor and hit some shots. The focus, though, has been on learning the game from inside out.
"His biggest strength is probably his inside play," said Parker. "He wanted to be on the wing but we were like get your big (rear) inside first. He started from there and now he has become multidimensional and he's very hard to guard."
Metu has started to do the necessary work to add more strength to his wiry frame. However, his body type will allow him to add strength easily once he gets to the next level.
"Once he gets to college and gets that meal plan he will bulk up," said Parker. "I know what college is going to do for him and I think he's ready. He still has one more year of high school, but he's ready for that college game."
Metu is also nearing a time where he will be ready to make a decision. Parker said that he has really begun to focus on five schools in California, USC, Arizona State, Harvard and Creighton. Others are calling and there is always time to add schools back onto the list, but those programs have been the most consistent in their recruitment and have made the strongest impressions.
Of those schools, Metu has been to Cal and USC unofficially and the plan is to set up officials to ASU, Harvard and Creighton once he knocks out his standardized test in early March.
After a few more visits, Parker says that Metu will likely be ready to make a decision so he can spend the summer focusing on his development and continuing his rise as a player.
"I think he wants to go ahead and make that decision early," said Parker. "Maturity wise I think once he gets that out of the way I think he can focus on playing. I think it will help him. Not every player needs to do it early, but for him I think it will be good to do it early."