Tuesday, March 31, 2015

McDonald's week off & running

THE RIVALS150: 2015 | 2016
CHICAGO -- Technically, the 2015 McDonald's All-American festivities got started on Sunday. But, Sunday's practice was only open to selection committee members and NBA Scouts and no media reports were allowed. So, Monday always serves as the kickoff of the week's action and players like the nation's No. 1 senior, Ben Simmons made sure things got started off right. East team observations The worst thing you can do when watching Ben Simmons is to try and box him into conventional or traditional position classification. If you want him as a power forward you might find him too small, or as a wing you might find him a little lacking in explosive athleticism. That's why it is important to look at the LSU-bound Simmons as a basketball player.
Ben Simmons is a good bet to finish his career ranked No. 1 in the Rivals rankings.
Because as a basketball player, he is the best player the East team has to offer and after a strong senior season and solid showing through early practices looks like a good bet to retain his status as the No. 1 player in the class of 2015. An Australian import who has spent most of the last two years at Montverde (Fla.) Academy, the 6-foot-8 Simmons has a basketball IQ and skill level that is pretty much unmatched. He can handle the ball, makes jumpers, and has a very good post game. He is as explosive as he needs to be athletically, and is a strong defender. Plus, what really stands out about the lefty is his ability to make plays with his right hand. He checks off pretty much all of the boxes and has very few deficiencies. It all showed during the practice and there's no reason to think the nation won't see that again during Wednesday night's game. Because five-star four man Henry Ellenson is out with an injury and Simmons is working with the wing players, the East is a bit thin in the low post. However, the three guys who are manning the post for them, Diamond Stone, Cheick Diallo and Thomas Bryant had a pretty spirited and highly physical practice session. Stone showed the best combination of strength and skill while Bryant is a big-shouldered and strong kid who is starting to make faceup jumpers with regularity and who always goes 100%. Diallo is a little smaller than the other two and looked like he was possibly a bit rusty after some injury issues during his senior season but the unsigned big man came strong in the effort department. Also having himself an outstanding day was Kentucky-bound point guard Isaiah Briscoe. The powerfully built guard looks to be in much better shape than he was even just a month ago and his ability to play with power and wiggle off the dribble makes him an unconventional cover for other guards. Briscoe had several awkward angle finishes at the rim and has every floater and pull-up you could want out to 15 feet. As he's been throughout his career, Briscoe was more scorer than pure shooter in practice. Playing his best in transition was Antonio Blakeney. The slender 6-foot-4 shooting guard will join Simmons at LSU next season and he's really added burst to his athleticism. The ability to go finish above the rim or use his biggest weapon, the pull-up jumper, make him tough to find and defend in transition because you have to make a quick decision to play him as a jump shooter or finisher and if you choose wrong he figures it out quickly and attacks the guess you didn't make.West team observations While Ben Simmons was the East standout, the tandem of Malik Newman and Brandon Ingram were the two most notable performers in the West practice.
Malik Newman showed his many offensive gifts on Monday.
Starting with Newman, the No. 3 player in 2015 was outstanding on both ends. Early in practice the 6-foot-4 combo guard struggled with his shot a little while running the point, but once he got settled in the baskets started dropping with regularity. Newman was too explosive into scoring moves to stop and once he started connecting on pull-ups from NBA range he had teammates like Jalen Brunson and Allonzo Trier -- who both knocked down a fair share of their own shots -- scrambling to figure out the best to attack him defensively. Long term, Newman is too natural of a scorer to burden with running a team full time, but he made good decisions and was unselfish in the PG role and showed that he can play spells at that position against elite competition. A thin 6-foot-8 small forward from Kinston (N.C.) High, Ingram had a monster senior season. The No. 19 player in the class doesn't look like he's slowed down a bit and he was on fire with the deep jumper on Monday. Ingram also got to the rim, finished in transition and showed that he can fight for rebounds in tight spots if he needs to. Prior to McDonald's, Ingram had been building a case to move into the national top 10 in April's final rankings and he didn't do anything other than help himself in that regard during Monday's workout. Nobody in the gym created more of a buzz with the NBA guys because they were surprised at how much he got done despite his lean frame.On the interior, No. 8 Ivan Rabb -- who still hasn't set his mind on exactly when he'll announce a college decision -- and No. 24 Deyonta Davis both had productive days. Rabb showed off his ambidextrous finishing that makes him so tough despite a lack of strength. Rabb likes to use his left hand from eight feet and in on jump hooks and finishes at the rim while he favors his right hand for passes, mid range jumpers and his free throw shooting. Very bouncy off the floor and quick footed in traffic, Rabb plays a little taller than he looks and was active on the glass. In terms of overall skill and polish, the Michigan State-bound Davis is probably the farthest from being a finished product of the West big men. But he's the best athlete of the group and is the quickest off the floor and with lateral movement. He needs little time to gather himself and explode to the rim whether in traffic or open space and he's a pretty instinctive rebounder and shot blocker. It's clear that his footwork needs a lot of attention for an elite prospect, but he will work and what is most promising is the soft touch and range that he wields on a jumper that could make him a legitimate pick and pop threat as soon as he arrives on campus.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Gonzaga lands four-star big

THE RIVALS150: 2015 | 2016
For a while now, the general consensus had been that four-star junior big man Zach Collins could be leaning in the direction of Gonzaga. Monday, Collins ended any and all speculation when he made things official.
Zach Collins is headed to Gonzaga.
A 6-foot-11 power forward at Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, Collins made his verbal commitment to Mark Few and the Zags. The news was relayed to Rivals.com by Collins' father Mike, who confirmed via text message that his son had decided to go ahead and end his recruitment. Currently ranked No. 56 in the class of 2016, Collins is a big score with major upside. Collins is very fluid, can shoot with range, is much stronger than you might think and has a polished game on the offensive end. Though he's not a traditional rim protector, he has the length and athleticism to bother opponents around the rim and he's a very good positional rebounder. What might be most intriguing about Collins is that nobody really knows just how good he can be at this point. He's in a very unique situation at Bishop Gorman where he has played alongside a pair of five-star bigs from the class of 2015 in Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter. Gonzaga's first commitment from the class of 2016, Collins is one that Rivals.com feels could see his stock rise quickly now that he'll be playing a more featured role for the rest of his high school career.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Stars shine at HoopSeen Elite Preview
Georgia has earned a reputation over the past couple of decades for being one of the top states for high school basketball talent in the country. On Saturday afternoon, many of the top players in the Peach State made their way to Suwanee Sports Academy's Cobb facility to show off their ability in the HoopSeen Elite Preview. These campers proved once again that there is no shortage of talented basketball players in Georgia.
Robinson continues to roll
There aren't many players in the Peach State that have improved their stock more over the last year than Douglas County guard Brandon Robinson.
Brandon Robinson's recruiting stock is on the rise.
He's always been very talented, but at times was too passive on the court and didn't assert himself into games enough. That has changed over the last 12 months. He's now playing the game with much more confidence and is one of the top guards in the Southeast.He's reeled in a boatload of offers from the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Maryland and many others, and recently added interest from Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tar Heels following a strong showing in a matched up against five-star small forward Jaylen Brown in a state tournament game. Robinson reciprocated the interest by making his way to Chapel Hill last weekend to see the second round of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry."It was fun. It was a great experience," Robinson said. "Their coaches said they are going to keep recruiting me hard and they will be watching me this spring. Coach Williams told me I'm a great player." Robinson will spend the upcoming travel season playing for the Georgia Stars in the Nike EYBL.
Banks ready to break out
James Banks spent his sophomore year at St. Francis playing on one of the best teams in Georgia, but he wasn't getting significant minutes playing behind Xavier signee Kaiser Gates and Coastal Carolina signee Josh Coleman. For that reason, Banks decided that transferring to another school would be beneficial to his future, and found a home at Mt. Vernon Christian. The move paid off. Banks nearly averaged a triple-double this season with 23 points, 14 rebounds and roughly nine blocks per game as a junior. "It was my confidence and I've been working a lot on my footwork around the basket," Banks said when asked which areas of his game improved most. His recruitment has taken off, too. Banks says Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State and Nebraska have extended scholarship offers, while Tennessee, Vanderbilt, UCLA, South Carolina, USC, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Auburn, Virginia Tech, Tulsa and Oklahoma have been in contact. Matched up against some other quality big men on Saturday,  the 6-foot-10, 230-pound center showed why he'll continue to be a coveted prospect in the coming months. He possesses great size, runs the floor and moves well, and is a rare big that can play with his back to the basket comfortably at a young age. He's not the most explosive athlete, but uses his body and angles well to finish around the rim. He'll most likely be suiting up on a loaded Atlanta Celtics squad during travel season alongside Kobi Simmons, Josh Langford, Braxton Blackwell and E.J. Montgomery, among others.
One to watch
East Jackson (Ga.) coach David Boyd knows a good player when he sees one. He's as high on his freshman point guard Drue Drinnon as he has been on a player in a while, and for good reason. Drinnon, who stands about 6-foot-1, is the consummate point guard. He's fast in the open court, makes good decisions with the ball, and can create his own offense. He was absolutely unconscious from three-point range in the morning session of games on Saturday and was hitting some from closer to NBA range.
Gilbert recently added an offer from UConn.
Georgia already pulled the trigger on a scholarship offer to the freshman floor general. He's been on campus in Athens several times over the past year, and most recently made the short trip over when the Bulldogs took on Kentucky last week. Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and UCLA have also shown interest early on.

Other notes
Alterique Gilbert is one of the better lead guards in the Southeast and he proved it on Saturday. He's impossible for defenders to stay in front of and can score with the best of them. The 5-foot-10 junior floor general had arguably the dunk of the day when he came down the lane to throw down a tomahawk with authority. He just recently added an offer from UConn to his lengthy offer list. Robert Baker, a 2016 forward, has a unique game for somebody his height. At 6-foot-9, he's got a very smooth stroke, can put the ball on the floor comfortably, and makes some of the nicest passes you will see from a tall forward. He's the prototypical stretch four. A strong student, the highest rated academic institutions will be the serious players in Baker's recruitment. Clemson and Rice are his most recent offers. Center Ikey Obiagu, a 2017 prospect, is far from a finished product, but the Nigeria native certainly makes his presence felt in the paint on both ends. At about 7-foot-1, he's a terrific shot-blocker due to his great length and timing. He's the definition of a rim protector. Offensively, he's limited mostly to mostly putbacks and scoring right around the rim, but he did show signs of progress throughout the day. Forward Lance Thomas, another 2017 prospect, didn't see much playing time this season for Norcross, but you would have never known it if Saturday was your first time seeing him play. The long, athletic 6-foot-8 prospect looked very smooth knocking down jumpers and was very active in the paint. Maybe the light-bulb is beginning to go on. Rayshaun Hammonds, a teammate of Thomas at Norcross, is a talented 6-foot-8 combo forward in the 2017 class. Unlike Thomas, Hammonds had a big time sophomore season and continued to build off that at The Preview. He's a monster on the boards on both ends and is crafty finisher in transition. Daniel Lewis finished the high school season by putting up big numbers in the scoring column. He continued to do just that on Saturday. His shot selection was much better in the past and most of his shots fell and rarely touched the rim. The 6-foot-4 off guard will be one of the more highly recruited guards in Georgia's class of 2017.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Starting Five: Big weekend at Cal

THE RIVALS150: 2015 | 2016
California had an important visit weekend, Kansas State landed a point guard recruit, state tournaments are in full swing and Kassoum Yakwe is on the rise. We look at that and more in this week's Starting Five.
Big weekend for Cal

Five-star Ivan Rabb may be down to Cal and Arizona.
Maybe it is unfair to say Cuonzo Martin and his staff at California just wrapped up the most important recruiting weekend since they took the job last spring. But, it is quite likely true.
The Bears hosted five-star big men Ivan Rabb and Caleb Swanigan along with Rivals150 wing Davon Dillard. On the floor, they took care of business, defeating Oregon State on Senior Day. By Sunday afternoon, they'd already landed a commitment, too, as Dillard committed during his official visit.
The first commitment to Cal's 2015 class is no doubt an important one. Dillard is physical, tough and can be a very athletic finisher driving to the rim. However, what happens with Rabb and Swanigan is a big deal.
A local player from nearby Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd, the 6-foot-10 Rabb has been by campus since Martin arrived. Given that most other programs had been recruiting Rabb since his freshman season, there has definitely been ground to make up with the No. 8 player. He's seen Kentucky and he's seen Arizona and has said he still plans to visit UCLA and Kansas, but Rabb was at Cal over the weekend the Bears have thrown everything they have at him in hopes of keeping him home.
While Rabb has done a good job of not tipping his hand, the general feeling in the recruiting world is that his recruitment has likely turned into a battle between California and Arizona. Rabb has no timetable set for his decision, but it wouldn't be a huge surprise to start seeing some movement towards a decision sooner than later.
At this point, Swanigan appears that he might be a bit more of a longshot for Cal and at the least he will likely take longer to decide than Rabb. But, Martin and his staff have worked his recruitment hard and have some long standing relationships with members of Swanigan's inner circle. Swanigan has also been to Arizona, Duke, Purdue, Kentucky and Michigan State during the season.
K-State lands point guard
In the last week, Kansas State scored huge home wins over Kansas and Iowa State. A huge factor in those wins was the play of sophomore point guard Nigel Johnson who was relatively unheralded three-star prospect when the Wildcats signed him out of Upper Marlboro (Md.) Riverdale Baptist.
The Wildcats are hoping to catch that kind of lightning in a bottle again with the addition of three-star point guard Kamau Stokes, who committed after an official visit to Manhattan over the weekend.
Like Johnson, Stokes -- who is from Baltimore and playing a prep year at Fork Union (Va.) Military -- is a relatively unheralded prospect and he's from the same area of the country. At around 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, Stokes is perhaps a bit undersized as a Big 12 point guard recruit, but he does shoot the ball pretty well from deep and he is certainly quick. Most notably, Stokes plays the game with a lot of heart.
Stokes is now the fifth member of K-State's 2015 class. He joins Rivals150 power forward Dean Wade, three-star Florida combo guard Barry Brown, three-star Texas big man Dante Williams and three-star Baltimore power forward Eric Cobb in the Wildcats recruiting class.
Yakwe takes off as junior

Kassoum Yakwe has seemingly found his game as a junior.
As a freshman, Centereach (N.Y.) Our Savior forward Kassoum Yakwe flashed loads of potential. He was long, lean, quick, bouncy around the rim and could make a mid-range jump shot.
The second year and summer of high school, Yakwe battled injuries and a bit of an on-the-floor identity crisis. Now as a junior, the 6-foot-8 power forward has taken his game to a new level and his stock is soaring.
Currently ranked No. 115 in the class of 2016 Rivals150, Yakwe has far outplayed his ranking and is shining on the floor. There is no uncertainty to his game and he is playing to his strengths. This winter, Yakwe has emerged as a high energy man on the glass, defensive pest and a guy who can use his athleticism and motor to make things happen on the offensive end.
He has become one of the hottest prospects in the country with programs like Connecticut, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Oregon, Pittsburgh, St. John's, Villanova and others offering scholarships.
Yakwe is currently on his first official visit, to Iowa State, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see more visits set in the near future.
Anunoby raw with promise
Friday night, Rivals.com was at Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst High to watch three-star forward O.G. Anunoby, who was in town with Jefferson City (Mo.) High for a game. A 6-foot-7 wing who signed with Indiana, Anunoby didn't have his best game, scoring 11 points as Jeff City fell to Rockhurst, but there's lots to consider with him.
Though he has enough size to play some on the interior, Anunoby has proven as a senior that he is a legitimate wing player. He handles the ball fairly well, his shot looks like it can be worked with and with his length and athleticism, he rates well in terms of physical characteristics. What he has in athletic gifts and potentials at this point, Anunoby seems to lack a little in terms of polish and consistency.
On Friday night, Anunoby looked a little sluggish and never really sought out ways to flaunt the size and athleticism advantage he had. He settled at times for jumpers and probably wasn't quite as strong on the glass as he could have been. Then again, he showed flashes of serious potential as well.
Physically, Anunoby is very similar to a young Bill (now Henry) Walker. He has a sturdy base with long arms and can explode in traffic. He is not yet the overall player Walker was at the same stage, and he's not tracking like a big impact freshman like Walker was. However, there is clearly potential with Anunoby and he has the tools to develop into a very good player before his time at Indiana is done.
State tourney tid-bits

Sacha Killeya-Jones is trending updwards.
It is state playoff time in most states and each year, more and more tournament games are available to watch on television or online. Last week, Rivals.com was able to watch games from places like Florida, Alabama, Virginia, California, Utah and more because of it. Here are some observations from games we were able to watch.
From the class of 2018, power forward Jordan Brown from Roseville (Calif.) Woodcreek has to be way up on the list of most talented freshmen in the country. A skinny and athletic 6-foot-8 insider, Brown has good hands, soft touch and can really run the floor. Rivals.com got a first look at him at USA Basketball's fall workout in October and the promise he showed there was confirmed over the weekend. The class of 2018 won't be ranked for a while, but Brown has all of the tools to be an elite prospect in that class.
Hayward (Calif.) Moreau Catholic's Oscar Frayer and Damari Milstead both looked good. A four-star junior small forward who is already committed to Cal, Frayer looks like he has really learned to use his explosive athleticism to his advantage. Because Moreau lacks size, he has to do a lot of interior dirty work and his play both on the glass and as a transition finisher was outstanding. His jump shot still needs polish, but he backed up his status as the No. 70 ranked player in the 2016 Rivals150. Only a sophomore, Milstead was in the discussion for 2017 top 75 released last week and he looked like a player who will merit more discussion for the rankings as the class of 2017 moves ahead. A wiry floor general, the three-star prospect showed good instincts passing the ball, kept defenders off balance as a threat from deep and utilized a pretty well-developed mid-range game.
Virginia commit Sacha Killeya-Jones (No. 113 in 2016) looks like he is trending upwards. Still skinny, he showed good touch, an improved motor and good upside in Lynchburg (Va.) Virginia Episcopal's state championship game loss to St. George's (Va.) Blue Ridge. Despite facing a big deficit, Killeya-Jones played hard on both ends throughout the game.
In Alabama, 2016 star Joshua Langford helped lead Madison (Ala.) Academy to a state title. The most important thing Rivals.com wanted to see with Langford was how he looked physically and he appears to be in top shape and back to 100 percent after a summer of 2014 that was wrecked by injuries. Also in Alabama, Alabama commitment Dazon Ingram was very intriguing to watch. A 6-foot-4 guard, Ingram looks a little wild right now and his jump shot needs work. But, he is a big ball-handler, has some good instincts and looks like a player who could have pretty big upside down the road.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ayton still head of 2017 class
  As the doors start to close on the high school season and open for the grassroots travel season, Rivals.com has updated and expanded the rankings for the class of 2017 from a top 25 to a top 75. Not so surprisingly, seven-footer DeAndre Ayton keeps a hold of the top spot.
Ayton still on top
Given that members of the class of 2017 are just wrapping up their sophomore year of high school and have for the most part had somewhat limited exposure, the rankings are sure to change quite a bit as the list expands from it's current top 75 to a final 150 between now and April of 2017. Players will come and go from the rankings as the pool of players from which Rivals.com will select individuals to rank will grow exponentially over the next two years.
DeAndre Ayton is a strong defender and passer.
With all of that being said, if somebody is going to knock seven-footer DeAndre Ayton out of the top spot, they are going to have to be one heck of a prospect or Ayton is going to stop developing. As it is, the native of the Bahamas who plays his high school ball at San Diego (Calif.) Balboa City is the clear choice for the No. 1 spot in 2017. Ayton isn't just big. He's a graceful athlete who runs the floor, cleans the glass, protects the rim and has terrific hands. No, he's not Tim Duncan-like with his skill just yet. But, Ayton does have relatively good footwork, can make a 12-foot jumper, hits the short jump hook and is already a very good passer out of double teams. Behind Ayton, there wasn't a lot of change in the top 10 as the rankings expand to 75 from the initial top 25 released back in the fall. One big mover is Michael Porter, who moves up from No. 4 to No. 2. The 6-foot-8 small forward from Columbia (Mo.) Father Tolton is armed with one of the most gorgeous jumpers in the country regardless of class and he has deep range with it. Combine his overall skill level with that jump shooting and the ability to play above the rim in transition and you have a big-time prospect. Checking in at No. 3 is Las Vegas (Nev.) Centennial's Troy Brown. A versatile guard with 6-foot-6 size, Brown is most comfortable in the open floor where he can get to the rim and score or set teammates up easy buckets in transition.
Jarred Vanderbilt is a skilled playmaker.
The state of Texas is home to No. 4 Jarred Vanderbilt. A 6-foot-7 small forward from Houston (Texas) Victory Christian, Vanderbilt is a slashing ball-handler and playmaker who has a lot of on the floor similarities to a young Lamar Odom. Another seven-footer comes in at the No. 5 spot in Zach Brown. A walking triple double at Miami (Fla.) Miami Beach, Brown is a physically tough and a mean low-post competitor with very good hands and soft touch out to around eight feet. The highest ranked player on the list to have committed to a college is No. 6 Jalek Felton. The nephew of NBA point guard Raymond Felton, the 6-foot-3 floor general from Mullins (S.C.) High will follow in his uncle's footsteps by playing his college ball at North Carolina. Checking in at No. 7 is 6-foot-7 small forward Brian Bowen from Saginaw (Mich.) Arthur Hill. Making the biggest jump into the top 10 is Atlanta (Ga.) Fulton Leadership Academy's 6-foot-9 post player Wendell Carter, who moves up to No. 8 from No. 14. Rounding out the top 10 are Billy Preston of Dallas (Texas) Prime Prep and Trevon Duval of Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict's. A native Californian, Preston is a smooth and skilled 6-foot-8 combo forward while DuVal is an offensive minded and tough 6-foot-3 point guard.
Numbers, notes, trends
Because this edition of the 2017 rankings is an expansion from an initial top 25 to a top 75, there aren't a lot of big moves within the rankings. However, there are some moves of note that merit special attention. Six-foot-10 post player Mohammed Bamba of the Westtown (Pa.) School makes the highest debut in the rankings at No. 15. Long, athletic and loaded with potential, he is more prospect than player at this point, but he has showed enough to merit five-star status. Making the second highest debut and just missing out on early five-star status is Chula Vista (Calif.) Mater Dei point guard Jaylen Hands, who enters the rankings at No. 19. Also debuting in the top 25 are Indiana small forward Kris Wilkes (No. 21), Washington shooting guard Jaylen Nowell (No. 24) and New Jersey big man Nicholas Richards (No. 25). Going by where the players actually attend school, a total of 28 states and Canada are represented in the top 75. California leads the way with eight players in the top 75. Texas has six players on the list while Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts and Nevada each placed four players in the top 75. So far, only three members of the top 75 have made their college decisions. The previously mentioned Jalek Felton (No. 6) has already committed to North Carolina. No. 40 Markus Howard, a point guard from Arizona, has committed to Arizona State and Louisiana combo guard Cedric Russell who checks in at No. 65 has already committed to LSU. Finally, there are six sets of high school teammates that join each other in the top 75. No. 1 DeAndre Ayton of San Diego (Calif.) Balboa City is joined by his point guard, No. 72 Renathan Ona Embo. No. 12 Austin Wiley of Hoover (Ala.) Spain Park is joined by No. 32 Jamal Johnson. No. 10 Trevon Duval of Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict's is joined by Nate Pierre-Louis who holds down the No. 75 spot. Chatsworth (Calif.) Sierra Canyon has power forwards Cody Riley and Ira Lee who land at No. 14 and No. 22. Up in New England, Ashburnham (Mass.) Cushing Academy features No. 43 Makai Ashton-Langford and No. 70 Kimani Lawrence. Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep places both P.J. Washington (No. 29) and Oshae Brissett (No. 47) on the list.