In a down class, long and lean is the theme on the recruiting trail
The rising senior crop of 2009 seems to be a leaner, friskier bunch
Tennessee-bound Josh Selby is the best of a bright bunch of point-guard recruits
There is a lack of big guys, but watch out for junior Johnny O'Bryant
I spent three days on the July recruiting circuit last week, during which time I got a chance to watch about 90 percent of the nation's best high-school players in action. Two of those days were spent at Nike's King City Classic in Cleveland, and on the third day I attended the Reebok All-American Camp in Philadelphia. Based on what I saw, here is how I would sum up what the vast majority of college coaches will be looking for as the summer evaluation period continues over the next three weeks:
A wing and a player.
Lots of us who cover this sport have been writing about the disappearing big man for several years. You can see that playing out these days in the NBA. Quick -- who are the elite true centers in professional basketball right now? Once you get by Shaq, Yao Ming, Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard, the pickings get pretty slim. The college game feeds into the NBA game, so it was only a matter of time before the trend we've been seeing in college worked its way to the pros.
Still, the freshman class that will enter college next fall includes several formidable post players, most notably Derrick Favors (who is going to Georgia Tech), DeMarcus Cousins (Kentucky), John Henson (North Carolina), Keith Gallon (Oklahoma) and Daniel Orton (Kentucky). There is a steep dropoff, however, in the current senior and junior high-school classes. In Rivals.com's ranking of the class of 2010, only six of the top 50 players are listed as centers. The best of those, Ohio State signee Jared Sullinger, whom Rivals.com ranks third, is really a 6-foot-8 power forward. So is 6-8 Memphis-native Tarik Black. That leaves four players who fit the body and playing style of what we have always thought of when the position of "center" is mentioned.
Moreover, while I usually come away from the recruiting circuit amazed at how chiseled and strong today's high school players are (even the shorter ones), this crop seems to be a leaner, friskier bunch. As I jotted my impressions of various players into my notebook, the one word I kept coming back to was "wiry." There are a lot of wiry guys in high-school basketball right now. The word "long" may be the most overused term when it comes to describing characteristics in young players. So I'm here to tell you that "wiry" is the new long.
There were a few highly touted prospects whom I did not get to see last week. One of those is Brandon Knight, the 6-3 point guard from Florida whom some experts (including the ones at Rivals) rate as the No. 1 prospect in the senior class. I have seen Knight several times as an underclassman, and I can tell you he is worthy of that respect. He is an aggressive, true point guard who has a very high character off the court.
I was told Knight decided to skip the camps last week simply because he wanted to, for which he has earned my undying respect. It boggles my mind why so many players whose reputations are already solidified kill themselves crisscrossing the country to play so many sloppy basketball games.
The three other prospects I didn't get to see last week are two of the top-rated centers, Fabricio de Melo of Florida and Washington-native Josh Smith, as well as Memphis point guard Joe Jackson, who was at the Reebok event. Those absences aside, here are the players who made the biggest impressions on me last week:
The Point Guards
Josh Selby, 6-1, 180 pounds, Baltimore, Md.: The senior class is choc full of great point guards, but based on what I saw of Selby in Cleveland, I'd say he's the best of the bunch. Physically, he is just a lot stronger and faster than the other players in this class, and he really knows how to use his strength to get to where he wants to go. He is a natural scorer but last week he seemed intent on proving he can run a team as a pure point guard. Selby has already given a verbal commitment to Tennessee, where he should thrive in Bruce Pearl's running, pressing system.
Kyrie Irving, 6-2, 175, Elizabeth, N.J.: Irving is the point guard at St. Patrick's High, which includes 6-8 junior Michael Gilchrist, whom I wrote about last week. You think that's a tough inside-outside combo? Irving isn't as strong as Selby, but he is such a deft ball-handler with a mean crossover that he repeatedly gets by his defender in the half court. Irving is more of a true point guard than a scorer, and his outgoing personality enables him to be a strong leader. His recruitment seems to be wide open, but his coach at St. Patrick's, Kevin Boyle, told me that Indiana, spearheaded by its assistant Roshown McLeod, a New Jersey native who played for Bob Hurley at St. Anthony, has been working especially hard to get him.
Marquis Teague, 6-2, 170, Indianapolis: Teague gets a lot of attention because he is the younger brother of Jeff, the Wake Forest star who was just drafted in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks. But even without that pedigree, the rising junior would gain plenty of notice. He is considerably further along at this stage than his brother, who wasn't considered a high-major recruit until the start of his senior year. Marquis is much more of a pure point guard than Jeff. He is blazingly quick, especially in the open floor, and though his game has a little too much French pastry, as Al McGuire used to say, he is great at getting the ball to the open man. He also has a tendency to run his mouth, but I'd rather have a guy be a little too chippy than lacking in confidence.
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