Tobacco Road Recruiting: Ranking the 2013 Commits for UNC, Duke and NC State
It had become a two-sided affair between Duke and North Carolina in the last couple decades of the Tobacco Road rivalry.
Times are a-changin'.
Head coach Mark Gottfried has put NC State back in the national spotlight after taking them to the Sweet 16 in his first season with the Wolfpack. He has also put together his second top-10 recruiting class in as many years.
The Research Triangle got its third point back, and recruiting just got tougher for Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski. The ACC title may no longer be between the Tar Heels and the Blue Devils.
Though Duke snatched up Jabari Parker, UNC and NC State still have a top-five recruit considering their program for 2013. But we won't find out about Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins until spring.
So who is winning the 2013 recruiting war right now?
The indisputable edge has to go to Coach K, but there is no cupcake on this list. These are nine prime-time players that are sure to have a huge impact on the ACC—not to mention this great rivalry.
While the top player should be obvious, you may be in for a few surprises along the way.
All listed rankings come from the 2013 ESPN 100.
9. Matt Jones, SG, Duke
Rank: No. 36
Weight: 180 lbs.
Matt Jones may be the best shooter to hit Cameron Indoor since J.J. Redick. His stroke is a little unusual the way he pushes the ball, but he can knock down shots all over the court.
He's just a natural.
However, there isn't much beyond that aspect of his game. Jones isn't a great athlete or ball-handler. He can get in the lane at the high school level, but I don't imagine him doing much of that when he hits the college hardwood.
Don't take him being at the back of this pack as a shot at Matt Jones. He's going up against some pretty talented recruits on this list.
Besides, we all know what Coach K will turn him into. Redick wasn't the best basketball player either, but he could light up the scoreboard.
I just look at Jones as a marksman. A darn good one, though.
8. Kyle Washington, PF, NC State
Rank: No. 69
Weight: 215 lbs.
Kyle Washington falls into the same category as Matt Jones as far as athleticism is concerned. He just doesn't jump off the screen at you.
He's a very talented player nonetheless.
Washington can do just about anything you could possibly ask of a power forward. He has a high basketball IQ and understands where he should be on the court at all times.
This allows him to be a very effective rebounder and shot-blocker despite a lack of overwhelming size or athleticism.
On the offensive end, his moves are a little slow and methodical, but his excellent footwork allows him to create space. He isn't loaded with post moves, but the left hook is his money maker.
What's more impressive is that he can take it beyond the arc and drop some treys. That's always a positive when a power forward has that kind of range in high school.
I really like Kyle Washington. He doesn't have that "wow" factor to his game, but NC State will already have enough of that to make him shine.
7. Nate Britt, PG, North Carolina
Rank: No. 52
Weight: 165 lbs.
Nate Britt is the first player on this list with a little electricity in his bones.
Britt was ranked No. 15 when he first committed to North Carolina in 2011. A poor showing this summer forced a dramatic drop in his ranking.
It's hard not to like a kid with this much speed, though. He and Anthony Barber are easily two of the fastest players in the entire 2013 class—and Tobacco Road snatched up both of them.
Britt also has a great understanding of pace; he only cranks up the throttle when he needs to on drives and in transition.
Despite his size, he can score in a variety of ways—including one of the sweetest quick-release floaters I've seen in a while. What's more impressive is the southpaw can drop it with both hands. His stroke is just as smooth, and he can bury treys all day and night.
Britt isn't a very creative passer, but he actually understands the idea of putting a little "touch" on them. Every pass that comes off his hands is an easy catch. He doesn't gamble very much either.
The obvious downside to Nate Britt is his 165-pound frame. Getting penetration will be tougher for him at the next level. He has a high dribble and doesn't change direction much, so that part of his game will have to improve before he can reach his full potential.
6. BeeJay Anya, C, NC State
Rank: No. 32
Weight: 275 lbs.
Skill sets are usually my greatest point of interest in ranking players. In the case of BeeJay Anya, it's more about the "it" factor.
For a player coming in at 6'9", 275 pounds, he is extremely explosive. What's scarier is the fact that he will only get more explosive as he continues to trim his frame.
Anya is simply a monster on the block, throwing around his big body to clear space for rebounds. He's also a superb shot-blocker with his 7'9" wingspan and recovers very quickly for a kid of his mass.
He has a pretty nice stroke for a big, so he has the ability to drop a 15-footer from time to time.
His skill set may not be as broad and refined as the next center on this list, but I have no doubt Mark Gottfried picked up a star in BeeJay Anya.
He very well could be a bigger version of former Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson—except from the center position. That's what I see in Anya.
Opponents beware of the beast.
5. Kennedy Meeks, C, North Carolina
Rank: No. 20
Weight: 275 lbs.
Kennedy Meeks is probably one of the more versatile centers I've seen out of high school lately. His only downsides are his lack of explosion and and length.
That raises questions for me at the NBA level, but there is no doubt this kid will blow up the college ranks in Roy Williams' post-friendly system.
Meeks may be a little on the slow side, but he has outstanding footwork to make up for his greatest deficiencies. This allows him to get blocks and rebounds most players of his makeup can't.
His rebounding ability also has a little to do with his soft, strong hands.
Meeks is still refining his post moves, but he has an excellent touch on all of his shots. There is a massive ceiling for this kid in the post. He can also take it all the way out to the arc to bury threes.
What Coach Williams will really be happy about is his passing ability. Not only will he hit the cutter in the paint, he will also start fast breaks with a great lead pass. That's something very rare to see from a center.
Kennedy Meeks is working hard to trim his frame, and the improvements in his game this summer were pretty plain to see. I wasn't much on him heading into the summer evaluations, but he really caught my eye by July.
4. Isaiah Hicks, PF, North Carolina
Rank: No. 18
Weight: 210 lbs.
I probably wouldn't be as big on Isaiah Hicks if UNC freshman Brice Johnson wasn't doing so well this season. They are both similar in size and skill set. However, Hicks has an extra 20 pounds on Johnson already.
When he hits the weight room at Chapel Hill and gets in that 230-pound range, he will be a force in the post. He has a nice, broad frame and shouldn't have a problem packing on the meat.
Hicks has a beautiful stroke and is almost automatic from 15 feet or closer. I imagine he will easily be able to expand his range beyond the arc too. Look for him to become a stretch 4 if Roy will allow it.
He still has work to do in building a solid repertoire in the post, but that's nothing unusual at this point in a player's career. He's about a hook shot away from becoming a dominant player.
Isaiah Hicks is also a good passer. I wouldn't put him at the level of Meeks, but Coach Williams managed to pick up some pretty impressive passers from the post positions. That's huge for Carolina's inside-out game.
3. Anthony Barber, PG, NC State
Rank: No. 14
Weight: 165 lbs.
Anthony "Cat" Barber is another recruit I wasn't high on until this summer. He has really worked hard to improve his jump shot, and that has paid dividends in his boosted ranking.
Barber isn't quite the shooter Nate Britt is, but he will be able to step on the court and make an impact faster than I believe Britt will. As I mentioned before, these are two guys with elite speed, but Barber is extremely well-controlled even at full speed.
His dribbles are simply phenomenal. He has the ability stop on a dime, change direction and explode through the paint. Like an electric car, all of his torque is available from a dead stop—and having to dribble doesn't hold back anything.
It's pretty obvious why they call him "Cat."
Barber isn't extremely flashy with his passes, but he is more of a gambler than Britt. At the same time, he is smart about it and doesn't make many mistakes.
His only drawbacks are weight and shooting—both of which we will continue to see improvements on throughout his stay in Raleigh. And with the weapons he will have at his disposal at NC State, he will be an impact player the first time he steps on the court.
2. Semi Ojeleye, SF, Duke
Rank: No. 41
Weight: 220 lbs.
Yes, No. 41 is actually Semi Ojeleye's ranking on the 2013 ESPN 100. It's not a typo, and I am well-aware of the shellacking I'm about to receive for this.
Admittedly, Ojeleye isn't the greatest athlete on this list. However, both his body and game are very advanced for his age.
Looking at his 6'6", 220-pound frame, he just looks like a man on the court. He knows how to use every inch and ounce of it, too.
What impresses me the most about him is understanding of how to use his body when he gets up in the air. He contorts himself in the air to draw contact and still gets off a high-percentage shot. This guy is going to be completing a lot of and-ones over his playing career.
It's rare to find a high school player that does this with the perfection of Ojeleye.
His dribbles aren't anywhere near the level of Barber, but he has the body and first step to still get by defenders and impact the paint. He uses a change of pace to gain an extra advantage over his opponents too since he won't blow them away with pure athleticism.
Ojeleye is also a pretty good passer. I expect him to expand on that aspect of his game with his already high basketball IQ and the coaching of Krzyzewski.
Semi Ojeleye can shoot too. He won't hesitate to bury a three or knock down a pull-up jumper.
This is probably the perfect player to compliment Coach K's other recruit, Matt Jones.
When Semi Ojeleye committed to Duke, his mother was blown away by the coach's excitement. This is what she said to ESPN's recruiting guru, Dave Telep:
Coach K was excited. You'd have to be here to describe. To be honest, I never thought somebody like Coach K with his legacy, he's seen it all ... for him to be that excited we were honored. To see a legend get that excited ... wow.
That about says it all to me. I think there is a pretty good reason for Coach K's excitement—Ojeyele is one of the most under-ranked players of 2013.
Semi Ojeleye may not be a top-10 caliber player—even in my book—but this kid can ball.
1. Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
Rank: No. 2
Weight: 220 lbs.
What a steal this kid is for Mike Krzyzewski.
It's tough finding a weakness in Jabari Parker's game, as he pretty much does it all. If the team needs a block, steal, rebound or a score, Parker is more than happy to provide it. Even with all that skill, he isn't too greedy to dish out some dimes—and he's pretty darn good at that, too.
Those are the attributes that have drawn comparison to LeBron James. However, he isn't the physical specimen of James, and Parker is a better jump shooter. I think of him as more of a LeBron James and Tracy McGrady (in his prime) hybrid.
At 6'8", he has great size for a small forward. Though he's a little thin, that doesn't prevent him from taking it to the rim in traffic and posterizing the bigs.
The only thing he needs to work on in that aspect of his game is adding some bulk and tightening up his dribbles. It's a little too high and sloppy at times to get away with it at the collegiate level, but that's nothing that can't be tweaked.
After all, he has a whole year before he is taken under the wings of one of the greatest coaches of all time.
Parker is also a very good shooter. His lift and stroke is a thing of beauty, and he will only become more consistent with time.
The upside of Jabari Parker is off the charts. With the players Coach K has surrounding him, there is no reason for Duke not to contend for a title next season.
My only concern is what he will do with all the talent on the wing. Duke is quickly becoming overloaded in that area. Perhaps we will see Parker play the 4 next season, which he is more than capable of.
Coach K had his share of great teams over the years, but I'm having a hard time thinking of a Duke team that was this loaded with star power.