Syracuse Basketball's Biggest 2014 Recruiting Priorities
The old cliché in college basketball recruiting is that the top programs don't rebuild, they simply reload. That's exactly what Jim Boeheim will try to do with Syracuse's 2014 recruiting class.
This year's team will be without three key contributors from the 2013 Final Four squad: Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland. C.J. Fair will also be leaving after he graduates at the end of this season.
A breakout year by any of Syracuse's younger guys, such as Jerami Grant, DaJuan Coleman or Tyler Ennis, could also mean some early departures.
Boeheim and his staff got off to a strong start recruiting last year when they received a verbal commitment from 5-star forward Chris McCullough.
As the Orange look to add more pieces to their 2014 roster, here is a look at five recruits who should be at the top of their list.
5. Rashad Vaughn
A Minnesota native, Rashad Vaughn made his already burgeoning career more high profile by announcing last week that he will attend Findlay Prep this season.
With a solid 6'6", 200-pound frame, Vaughn has the build to finish powerfully at the rim, which you can see numerous times in the video above. He can also keep defenses honest with range out to the three-point line.
Vaughn possesses the defensive awareness to poke balls free from unsuspecting dribblers, quickly leap up to block a shot or jump into passing lanes (the latter of which you can see at 3:40, where he intercepts a pass for a game-winning layup).
However, what you won't see much of in Vaughn's highlight reels is him blowing by his defender off the dribble. While it's something he should improve upon, even that is nitpicking.
With Vaughn considering so many other schools, including big programs like Kansas, Kentucky and Louisville, Syracuse may be better off going harder after someone with less competition. Still, if a guy as talented as him is considering the Orange, it wouldn't hurt to at least keep him on their radar.
4. Goodluck Okonoboh
At first it doesn't seem wise for a big man like Goodluck Okonoboh to come to a crowded frontcourt like Syracuse's. That the Orange play a 2-3 zone only compounds the matter, since the defense truly allows for just one post defender.
But Okonoboh and the Orange could turn out to be a dream pairing. Baye Keita graduates this year and Rakeem Christmas does so the following year. Meanwhile, Chris McCullough is a possible one-and-done player, and a strong season from DaJuan Coleman could see him leave early either this season or next.
That would leave Okonoboh and current incoming freshman Chinonso Obokoh as the only big men on the roster. Surely the Orange will add more depth inside as time goes on, but Okonoboh could easily rise to the top of the depth chart by his sophomore season.
Looking at things from Syracuse's perspective, the zone is built for a shot-blocker like Okonoboh. As you can see in the video above, Okonoboh's biggest strength is protecting the rim. He does a great job of leaving his feet after the shooter, decreasing the likelihood of committing a foul.
At 1:20 you can see perhaps the most athletic play of the reel. He comes from out of view along the right baseline to block a shot at the left side of the rim. That's similar to the type of off-ball defensive plays he'd have to make while rotating around the court in the zone.
Okonoboh's offensive repertoire is pretty limited at this point, but if he came to Syracuse, he'd have the time needed to develop his game.
3. Kaleb Joseph
According to The Post-Standard's Donna Ditota, when Kaleb Joseph was a high school freshman, he asked his coach, "Do you think I'm good enough to go to Syracuse one day?"
It's fitting Joseph considered Syracuse to be his dream school; he has the makings of a prototypical Orange guard. His quick hands and long arms would be great for disrupting opposing offenses at the top of the 2-3 zone.
Above you can see him pickpocketing a few opponents, including at the 1:29 mark, where a crossover dribble apparently leaves him flatfooted before he steals the ball for an uncontested layup.
Offensively, Joseph has the vision to consistently hit the open man and the flair to look good doing it. This is big for the Orange because Tyler Ennis is currently the only true point guard on the roster. Joseph also does a good job of knowing when to distribute the ball and when to take it himself.
At 6'3", 165 pounds, Joseph will need to bulk up in order to remain successful against the increasingly physical play he will see at the next level.
2. Ja'Quan Newton
The Orange desperately need a point guard, so it's important that they prioritize multiple floor generals on their recruiting list.
What's interesting to note about Ja'Quan Newton is that there actually seems to be some debate as to whether he is truly a point guard. Scout.com, for instance, lists him as a shooting guard.
The 43 points he scored in the final of the 2013 Donofrio Classic, shown above, certainly suggests that he's more of a scoring guard.
ESPN described his struggle to become a true point guard, saying, "Newton would prefer to make the transition to point guard. Has to adjust to making plays for others. Does that well off the dribble but isn't wired up to run the team; thinks attack first and foremost."
One thing both sites do agree on, though, is that they have Kaleb Joseph rated higher than Newton. Why, then, should Syracuse consider Newton a bigger priority? Because of his connection with the No. 1 candidate on this list. Read on to find out who that is.
1. Isaiah Whitehead
Before Chris McCullough committed to Syracuse, he and Isaiah Whitehead flirted with the idea of going to Syracuse together. While McCullough ended his recruiting process relatively early, Whitehead has been slower to decide.
Now it appears Whitehead has chosen Ja'Quan Newton as his new package deal partner.
Scout.com is especially high on Whitehead, rating him as the second-best shooting guard in the class after Rashad Vaughn. He's a fearless attacker who doesn't mind pulling up from distance with a hand in his face or taking it to the hoop amongst the trees. However, this is sometimes to Whitehead's own detriment, as his shot selection can be poor.
Also, while he won't be a team's primary distributor, he is both a willing and able passer.
While Vaughn is the more highly regarded of the two, the Orange should prioritize Whitehead higher on their list. According to CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello, they, along with Minnesota and Louisville, are the favorites to land him.
Borzello also mentioned that Whitehead is looking for a "family atmosphere." He should be able to find that with his friends at Syracuse.
Dual commitments from Whitehead and Newton would give the Orange a formidable backcourt to team up with McCullough in 2014, sending them on their way to more title-contending seasons in the near future.