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College Basketball Recruiting: One Improvement Each Star Must Make

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IMay 2, 2013

College Basketball Recruiting: One Improvement Each Star Must Make

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    The recruiting class of 2013 is as talented and deep (or more) than any recent group of collegiate hoops prospects.

    The amount of incoming players who have a chance to vault from high school to college to the NBA is incredible.

    Still, each of this year's top 10 recruits has parts of their games that they can further develop. Rather than soaking up the hype of their earlier successes, these young stars should commit themselves to getting better and improving.

10. Dakari Johnson (Kentucky)

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    It's amazing to think that the No. 1 center in the country, Dakari Johnson, may not start initially for his college team. Such is the predicament of choosing to go to Kentucky, especially as a part of the Wildcats' 2013 recruiting class.

    There’s nothing wrong with Johnson or his game. It’s just that the Wildcats will be loaded, and rising sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein has already been in the program for a year and has an edge at the beginning.

    One area of development for the 7’0”, 255-pound center is physical explosiveness. Even though Johnson worked hard during high school to get his body into better shape (he lost 45-50 pounds), he still isn’t quick off his feet. His high school coach, the legendary Kevin Boyle, told the Vaught Views blog:

    Like most kids his age, he’s a work in progress…He’s not a great jumper or athlete. He is an outstanding player, but it is critical for him to utilize his body mass and size for rebounding and contact so he gets separation to shoot.

    Johnson is not a center who loves to roam to the perimeter. He is satisfied to stay down near the basket and do work from the block. His rebounding ability and shot-blocking prowess would be improved if he was more light-footed and agile.

9. Kasey Hill (Florida)

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    Kasey Hill is a lightning-fast point guard that can blow past just about anyone who tries to get between him and the basket. Defenders have to be careful not to play up on him. He breaks down opposing zone or man-to-man defenses with his ability to penetrate.

    At 6’0” and 170 pounds, Hill could benefit from a little bit of extra muscle and a little bit more bulk. At the collegiate level, he won’t for the most part suffer because of his slight build. But when he goes up against Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison, he will be outsized by five inches and forty pounds.

    More than just for a single matchup, Hill will benefit from additional strength and weight on his lean frame. More than just withstanding the pounding that he could take, he could dish out some punishment of his own with added size.

8. Noah Vonleh (Indiana)

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    Noah Vonleh is a big-time talent. Last fall, he reclassified from the 2014 recruiting class to this year’s group and never left the top 10. He was named to both the McDonald’s All-American team and the Jordan Brand Classic squads. As he moves on to the collegiate level and becomes an Indiana Hoosier, everyone projects that Vonleh is going to keep rising.

    The 6’9” point forward with a 7’4” wingspan has a multidimensional game. NBCSports.com’s Terrence Payne describes Vonleh as a “physically gifted young athlete. He already has a strong frame and solid athleticism to go along with height.” He also says that he “uses quickness and ball handling skills to get to the rim and when he gets in the lane is explosive and crafty enough to finish.”

    Vonleh has stated in multiple interviews that he wants to pattern his game after NBA superstar Kevin Durant. While he has demonstrated surprising perimeter skills already, this is exactly where Vonleh needs to continue to develop. Especially if he wants to fully make the transition to small forward, he will need to tighten up his ball-handling skills and further sharpen his shooting skills.

7. Aaron Harrison (Kentucky)

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    Aaron Harrison is the No. 1 shooting guard in ESPN's top 100. He enters his collegiate career carrying a ton of expectations based on the amount of coverage and publicity that he and his brother, Andrew, received in their high school years.

    Harrison will have a unique opportunity to show his skills on this year’s Kentucky team. While UK head coach John Calipari stockpiled players at certain positions, he doesn’t have an overabundance of shooting guards. Even with all of the talent and depth on the Wildcats roster, Aaron will have a primary role in making this celebrated group flourish or fail.

    He is an outstanding shooter both off the dribble and when he spots up. He is an assassin on the break who runs the floor and constantly stays in attack mode. As his game further progresses, Harrison will better know when to keep his foot on the gas and when to tap the breaks. He will allow openings on the break or in half-court sets to emerge more naturally.   

6. James Young (Kentucky)

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    James Young is the No. 6 rated player in the nation but only the third best in Kentucky’s 2013 recruiting class? That is absolutely insane.

    Young may be one of the most high-volume scorers of the incoming freshmen class. He has a fantastic shooting touch that includes a wide array of shots from distance and mid-range. He is also a lethal finisher on the break with the ability to throw down thunderous dunks.

    Because Young may slide over and play some shooting guard, tightening up his handle would be advisable. With Coach Calipari’s dribble-drive motion offense, Young will need to be ready to take the ball from the wing into the lane with poise and confidence. He already is a relentless slasher. Enhanced ball-handling skills will just make him that much more dangerous.    

5. Andrew Harrison (Kentucky)

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    Andrew Harrison is the No. 1 point guard prospect from the recruiting class of 2013. At 6’5” and 210 pounds, he is an unusually large floor leader at any level. But his physical size is not the only thing that sets Harrison apart from most other point guards.

    Harrison has a rare combination of high basketball IQ, exceptional decision-making skills and unreal basketball abilities. He gets to the rim off of penetration well. He can knock down jump shots on the perimeter. He will begin his collegiate career at Kentucky with a significant head start to success.

    With all of this in place, Harrison still has room for improvement. Larry Vaught of vaughtsviews.com quotes ESPN’s recruiting expert Paul Biancardi, who says that Harrison is “between an average and above average distributor.”

    Obviously with his size, Harrison should be able to see the court well and have some prime passing angles to leverage. Part of UK’s ultimate success next season depends on his ability to keep everyone involved and happy. This will challenge Harrison to strike the balance of contributing and distributing.

4. Aaron Gordon (Arizona)

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    Aaron Gordon is not only the No. 4 rated player in ESPN’s 2013 top 100, he has already been drawing comparisons with one of the most talented and explosive players in the NBA, Blake Griffin.

    Gordon has the ability to beat his man off the dribble and then ferociously dunk anything remotely close to the basket. The 6’8” power forward was named the MVP of this year’s McDonald’s All-American Game when he scored 24 points (including nine slams) and grabbed eight rebounds. His unbelievable leaping ability also translates into him being a scary shot-blocker.

    Gordon has let it be known that he expects to play small forward at Arizona. ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep says, "I think Aaron's a power forward. Everybody should have a goal of what they want to get to, but there also is a point of realization that he does his best work with a live body inside the lane and out in transition. He impacts games as a power forward."

    Gordon will need to improve his outside shooting if he is going to play small forward in Tucson or beyond. Being able to consistently knock down mid-range and three-point shots will make his wish come true.

3. Julius Randle (Kentucky)

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    Julius Randle is an amazingly talented power forward that gave the college basketball world a preview recently of how good he is in both the McDonald’s All-American and the Jordan Brand Classic games. In the McDonald’s Game, Randle put up 11 points and pulled down seven rebounds. In the JBC game, the 6’9”, 225-pound future Kentucky Wildcat went off for 19 points and seven boards.

    Randle’s ESPN scouting report accurately describes his mind-blowing versatility: “He's a tough one to compare so we'll roll out Marvin Williams meets Caron Butler with a Kevin Garnett-ish motor.” He is an exceptional finisher around the basket and a beast on the boards. Randle uses his athleticism to shut down opponents on the defensive end of the court.

    With saying all that, Randle still needs to put in the time in the gym to extend his range. Even as a power forward, he will add to his arsenal if he can occasionally step out and knock down a trey. He is definitely confident facing the basket and going to work. But if he becomes a legitimate threat out to the arc, he will create more problems for opponents to have to defend.

    Big Blue Nation: Randle is the real deal!

2. Jabari Parker (Duke)

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    It’s amazing to think that Jabari Parker is not the No. 1 player in the 2013 recruiting class. Sports Illustrated’s Jeff Benedict rightfully compared Parker to LeBron James when he was in high school. Beyond being ridiculously talented, the 6’8” 240-pound small forward knows how to win. He led Simeon Academy to four straight Illinois state championships.

    Parker matches elite-level basketball skills with an extraordinarily high basketball IQ. He rarely plays out of control. His pacing and tempo are that of a much more seasoned player. He already demonstrates NBA three-point range and is confident in taking shots from downtown without just settling for the easy spot-up three.

    Even though Parker’s foot injury (broken bone) from last summer has healed completely, his overall strength and conditioning are his biggest areas of development. Physically, he would do well to drop 10-15 pounds before putting it back on with a rigorous weight program. Doing so would help Parker become more explosive and more dominant than he already is.

1. Andrew Wiggins (Undecided)

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    Andrew Wiggins is one of the few players who have ever been the top prospect in two different recruiting classes. He was the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2014 before reclassifying into his original 2013 class, where he was numero uno from day one.

    At 6’7” and 205 pounds, he can play SG, SF or PF with amazing adeptness. Wiggins possesses both excellent perimeter skills as well as outstanding post moves. He scored 19 points in both the McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic.

    One unexpected area that he could improve is to rely less on his boundless athleticism.

    Genetics are Wiggins’ friends. His dad Mitchell was a highly skilled guard for Florida State, in the NBA and overseas. His mom, Marita Payne-Wiggins, was a two-time Olympic silver medalist for Canada. At this stage of his progression as a basketball star, Wiggins can dominate opponents with his freakish physical gifts.

    And that is exactly what he will do wherever he decides to play his college hoops. The best decision for him is to continue to focus on skills development. Skilled players have longer and more productive careers in the NBA than ones that are merely athletic. The best players at the next level are a combination of amazing skill and athleticism.

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