Chances are if and when you made your college decision, you didn’t do so with the hopes and wishes of thousands of overly zealous college basketball fans hanging in the balance.
But that is the nature of the beast in today’s recruiting-crazed world of big-time intercollegiate athletics. Every year brings NBA departures, transfers and graduations, so the next natural place for supporters to direct their devotion is the whims of their program’s next teenage superstar.
There are still decisions to be made regarding the class of 2013 (Andrew Wiggins anyone?), but the next crop of signing day heroes are already making noise. With that in mind, read on to get an early look at the most exciting players of the 2014 class.
Whichever school lands shooting guard Rashad Vaughn from the Minneapolis area will find itself with one of the most exciting “new-era” guard/forward combination players on the board for 2014.
No longer are elite shooting guards short in stature and only comfortable outside of the three-point line. Vaughn stands at 6’6” and weighs in at 200 pounds, so best of luck to the opposing two-man that has to line up across him.
He is a capable ball-handler that will have no issues getting out in transition at the college level. Vaughn can also use his lengthy wingspan and improving strength to muscle his way onto the blocks and help out in the rebounding department.
He is located squarely in Big Ten territory, but powerhouses such as Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Syracuse and North Carolina are in the early discussion. Hometown Minnesota and nearby Wisconsin are also in the running, but those are some big-name schools to overcome.
Keita Bates-Diop is one of the handful of elite 2014 prospects that has already made his college decision public. He will be an integral piece in what Thad Matta is hoping becomes a special 2014 group for Ohio State.
The Illinois native continues a recent Buckeye upswing in the Land of Lincoln (Evan Turner, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Sam Thompson also hailed from Illinois).
Bates-Diop may be slight in frame for someone who is listed at 6’7”, but his superior athleticism more than makes up for what he lacks in size. He runs the floor efficiently, can finish at the rim and is developing a mid-range game.
He is particularly lengthy, which allows him to manage down low on both offense and defense even without brute strength. The Buckeyes have had success recently with athletic forwards who aren’t necessarily bangers down low (think Deshaun Thomas, David Lighty and even Turner), so the blueprint is in place for Bates-Diop to join the highlight reel in Columbus.
The fact that Cliff Alexander is a premier target for Midwest powers becomes crystal clear when listing which schools have shown interest in the Chicago native—Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisville, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin were all on the early radar.
The 6’9” and 240-pound center is the perfect build for one of these bruising heartland teams. There is no doubt Tom Izzo or Rick Pitino would love to have Alexander cleaning up the glass with sheer force and strength a la a Derrick Nix or Gorgui Dieng.
For as great of a rebounder as Alexander is that is not the only trick in his bag. He is an excellent defender in the post and swats plenty of shots away. He doesn’t shy away from contact on either end and is capable of finishing scoring plays against similar sized opponents.
Look for Alexander to make an instant impact for whichever school he attends.
The stretch forward was all the rage in college basketball in 2012-13, and Kevon Looney fits that mold perfectly.
He is a 6’7” and 185 pound playmaker that is comfortable down low or outside the paint. Posting up against larger defenders may pose somewhat of an issue at the next level, but Looney has the ball-handling skills to drive around slower defenders and finish at the rim. A mid-range jump shot completes his offensive arsenal.
Looney will also help whichever program he chooses on the boards from the three or four spot. Per the stretch-forward blueprints, he is particularly lengthy despite his slight frame.
Michigan, Michigan State, Georgetown, Wisconsin and even Kansas have been rumored to be interested in Looney’s services.
If heady point guards that always make the correct play regardless of the situation and look to make their teammates better are your cup of tea, then Tyus Jones is a player to watch for in the class of 2014.
The Minnesota native probably won’t make your jaw drop with crossover dribbles or sky-walking dunks, but he is the type of lead guard that coaches covet for their respective rosters. It is no accident that programs such as Duke, which prides itself on fundamental excellence, and Ohio State, which has enjoyed the services of Aaron Craft for three years, have shown interest.
Thanks to that maturity level, Jones will likely not be intimidated by college basketball’s toughest venues, even as a freshman. He is a solid defender and will develop into a leader at some point in his collegiate career.
Whether he becomes a Blue Devil, Buckeye, Kentucky Wildcat, North Carolina Tar Heel, Kansas Jayhawk or surprises remains to be seen, but Jones is a special talent.
If Tyus Jones is the fundamentally sound point guard that will serve as more of an emotional leader, Emmanuel Mudiay is the type of floor general that will wow spectators with his scoring ability and highlight packages.
Mudiay stands at 6’4”, so playing either guard spot will not be an issue. His best asset is his scoring prowess, which comes from his ability to slash the lane, hit the mid-range jump shot and easily drive past defenders.
St. John’s, which is trying to make a strong push in the recruiting game as conference realignment still plays its way out, has made a push for Mudiay, but the Red Storm are far from the only school interested. Arizona, Kentucky, Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina State and Texas are all in play at this point.
Mudiay and Jones are battling it out for the hypothetical top-point guard recruit ranking depending on your service of choice, but Mudiay’s versatility and offensive attack may be what ultimately pushes him over the top.
There was a time when Indianapolis native Trey Lyles was destined to join Tom Crean’s ship in Bloomington, but the talented power forward reopened his recruitment with a decommitment. The Hoosiers may ultimately reenter the picture, but one would have to think the longer it plays out the less likely that is to happen.
Powerhouses such as Louisville, Kentucky, Duke, UCLA, Michigan State and Ohio State have shown varying degrees of interest, while Butler is also in play as another in-state option.
Whichever school lands Lyles will grab the type of post player that teams can run an offense through. He can back defenders down or face up to the basket and has a variety of post moves that he can unleash.
Lyles is also a capable ball-handler, can rebound and has shooting range that extends beyond the blocks. Indiana is a basketball hotbed, and no Hoosier native in the class of 2014 is a bigger prize than Lyles.
Chris McCullough took much of the drama of his recruitment away fairly early by pledging to join Syracuse, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t one of the most exciting players in the class of 2014.
The 6’10” forward has the coveted combination of size and athleticism that can drive an offense and defense. He has no issues getting out in transition, finishing on lob passes, scoring at the rim and challenging shots in the lane. His quickness, long strides and lengthy reach all help on defense.
McCullough is certainly athletic, but his strength is formidable as well, which isn’t always the case with quick forwards. He is an excellent rebounder and can stretch defenders out with mid-range touch.
Orange fans wouldn’t be mistaken if they had visions of Hakim Warrick dancing through their heads when thinking of McCullough in the class of 2014.
While Big Blue Nation focuses on the embarrassment of riches heading its way in the 2013 class, John Calipari has already locked down his next 7’1” center to build the program around.
Karl Towns towers over the majority of the 2014 prospects and will use that size to swat anything that enters the lane in Lexington. Much like Anthony Davis, it is not just his sheer height that helps in the blocking department—it is his lengthy reach.
Towns isn’t the strongest center, but that is something that will likely improve as he continues to develop at the college level. The thing that makes Towns unique among those that stand taller than 7’ is his shooting prowess.
He can shoot the three and mid-range shot, which will certainly pose a problem for the big men in the SEC trying to guard him.
Chicago native Jahlil Okafor is the ultimate prize in the class of 2014.
The 6’9” and 270-pound center will likely make one of the coaches at the following programs quite happy—Kentucky, Duke, Ohio State, Michigan State, North Carolina, Illinois, Georgetown, Syracuse, Florida or Connecticut.
Whichever school from this typical cast of characters lands Okafor will get a beast down low. He is mobile and big, which will allow him to score in a variety of ways and hold his own on the defensive side of the ball.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Okafor is that early rumors stated that he is a package deal with point guard Tyus Jones of Minnesota. It brings to mind past center and point guard recruiting combinations such as Mike Conley Jr. and Greg Oden.
Grabbing both Jones and Okafor would instantly make any of these interested programs legitimate national championship contenders (if they weren’t already).