As we see the next emerging stars, we want to pay specific attention here to those recruits who have the most impressive skills. The following are among the best players in this year’s senior class, and yet they still have a huge upside to develop in the months and years to come.
Here is a ranking of the 10 best raw talents in the 2014 college basketball recruiting class.
Basic prospect information comes from ESPN's Recruiting Nation site (subscription required for some info).
Johnson is a monster in the open court, able to get to the rim at will. Contact in the lane does not bother him. He also has a nice touch out beyond the arc.
ESPN.com’s scouting report on Johnson says that “he possess some Ron Artest (Los Angeles Lakers' Metta World Peace) in him.” One of Johnson’s not-so-hidden talents is his ability to be a lockdown defender. He uses his physicality, quickness and length to cause nightmares for his opponents.
Theo Pinson is a versatile wing who uses his explosiveness to dominate games from the perimeter. He is a skilled slasher with a lightning-fast first step. In the last year, Pinson has added a nice jumper out to the arc to his already chock-full arsenal of weapons.
ESPN’s senior national recruiting analyst, Dave Telep, said this after Pinson announced his decision to go to North Carolina next year:
In Pinson, North Carolina landed a versatile small forward capable of guarding any perimeter position, creating for himself and others off the dribble to the lineup.
CBSSports.com’s Jeff Borzello is high on Pinson. He recently stated:
At the next level, Pinson has the ability to be a matchup problem. He has good size for the perimeter, and his passing ability and vision are outstanding. Pinson can make difficult passes with either hand, and can see over the defense. He has great length and is very athletic. Pinson can also get to the rim on most defenders. In order to truly be a dominant player, he needs to become more consistent with his jumper and also improve his ball-handling ability.
Leron Black is another physically imposing, multi-talented player who is ready today to be a star at the next level. Black plays mostly PF in high school. Watch for him to transition to the perimeter during his collegiate days.
Black loves to get out and run the floor on the break. He consistently finishes in traffic and has no trouble knocking down mid-range jumpers out to the arc.
Originally committed to Baylor, Black re-opened his recruitment while still including the Bears on his short list of schools.
Rashad Vaughn is a highly skilled, versatile SG who, at times, is nearly unstoppable. If defenders get up on him, Vaughn can launch past them and get to the rim. If opponents play off of him, he will knock down jumpers from all over the court.
CBSSports.com’s Jeff Borzello has called Vaughn “the best pure scorer in the class of 2014.”
Vaughn uses his outstanding size to cause backcourt mismatches. Not only can he shoot uncontested shots from the perimeter, his length allows for additional passing lanes to emerge. Because he has no trouble connecting from downtown, Vaughn has put himself in a very elite class of up-and-coming SGs.
The Windy City class of 2014 talent pool is deep, and Cliff Alexander is one of this year’s rising stars. He is an absolute beast on the boards, collecting tons of errant shots on either end of the court. He is an energetic shot-blocker who gets his hands on lots of attempts.
Alexander is one of the fiercest competitors on the low block. He dunks off of post-up moves, off of alley-oops, off of pick-and-rolls or rebounds. He has good footwork that helps him set up his man and his shots down low.
Steve Jones of Louisville’s Courier Journal reported that Alexander has interest in teaming up with some of the other elite-level recruits in the 2014 recruiting class. Is this what we can expect on an annual basis? Package deals being set up by the best-of-the-best players? Watching it unfold will be intriguing.
Chris McCullough is one of the most physically gifted athletes in the 2014 recruiting class. Not many players have his combination of length, liveliness and athleticism. He fits the Syracuse “big man” prototype precisely. ESPN.com’s scouting report on McCullough says that:
"He runs the court with long fluid strides, gets off his feet quickly, and gets his head on the rim. He is equally mobile laterally and is consequently a potentially versatile defender down the road."
While he has a lot of room for improvement in term of his offensive skill set, McCullough will be a shot-blocking, glass-cleaning high-flier from the time that he steps on campus.
Not too many seven-footers can do what Karl Towns Jr. can do. Traditionally, a player of his size would be sent down to the block and told to put his back to the basket and do his work from the low post. He has a unique skill set that creates just as many looks on the perimeter as in the paint.
Towns Jr. has unbelievable range that extends beyond the arc. While he may not pull the trigger on many threes, he is more than capable of taking his man outside and changing the whole shape and function of the opposing team’s defense.
Even before Towns Jr. committed to go to Kentucky a year from now, he had already played for Wildcats coach John Calipari. The two joined forces on the Dominican Republic national team. Do you think it is possible that Calipari maneuvered his way into coaching the Dominican Republic team so that he could reel in Towns Jr? I do.
Emmanuel Mudiay is an exceptional combo guard who is transitioning to being a bona fide point guard. He is a versatile scorer who can put the ball in the hole in multiple ways. Mudiay uses his size and strength to get to the rim, but he is more than capable of pulling up and knocking down mid-range jumpers off the dribble.
When he is in PG mode, Mudiay is an unselfish facilitator who can drive and dish. He creates opportunities for himself and others off the pick-and-roll. As he becomes more poised at the point, he will be a matchup nightmare.
By the time that he graduates from high school, Mudiay’s game could look a lot like another Dallas area product, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart.
If you were looking for one player from the recruiting Class of 2014 to lead your team, Tyus Jones would undoubtedly be the best choice. He is a true floor general who looks to set up his teammates to score. Maybe that’s why all the top players want to play with him at the next level.
Jones has outstanding court vision and makes great decisions. He plays with his head on a swivel and masterfully directs traffic. ESPN.com’s scouting report (subscription required) says “from the neck up there's no one better in the class of 2014 with the ability to think, play and perform.”
What makes him special is that, for all of his playmaking excellence, Jones is also a tremendous scorer. If defenders back off of Jones in order to keep him from penetrating, he will make them pay. He is a good shooter off the dribble or when he is spotting up.
Jahlil Okafor is a big man with a big game. He has the size and skills to dominate just about any game in which he plays. Okafor is not just a big body who bulls his way to the basket. He is a proficient post player who uses exceptional footwork and body positioning to get things done in the paint.
On defense, Okafor uses his strength and surprising mobility to be a lane clogger and a rim protector. He is a robust rebounder who works hard to get good position.
Wherever Okafor chooses to go to school will automatically be a national title contender. He is a legitimate center whom a championship team can be built around and who will spur all kinds of good things.