B1G Basketball Recruiting Targets Who'll Have Biggest Impact on 2014-15 Season

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistJuly 19, 2013

B1G Basketball Recruiting Targets Who'll Have Biggest Impact on 2014-15 Season

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    After the Big Ten's tremendous 2012-13 season and resultant talent exodus, the league's coaches need to reload.

    Indiana lost a pair of lottery picks, Michigan lost two all-conference guards, Ohio State lost the league's leading scorer and Minnesota lost a pair of rugged forwards (and its coach besides).

    Coaching stars like Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan, Thad Matta and Tom Crean aren't harvesting Kentucky-esque classes with seven McDonald's All-Americans, but they certainly get the attention of any recruit they stop to see. These intraconference battles are as ferocious as anything that will be seen on the court.

    The following 12 players, presented in order of their 247 Composite ranking, are being courted by at least two Big Ten schools. Each is rated highly enough by coaches and analysts that their potential should be worth all the fighting.

    And in case you're wondering where prospects like Dante Exum and Ahmed Hill are, the list is confined to players considering more than one Big Ten school. After all, the battles between the Big Ten titans are half the fun.

Jahlil Okafor

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    Considering: Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State

    Chicago big man Jahlil Okafor is one half of a very rare tag team. He and point guard Tyus Jones repeatedly express a desire to play together, which isn't something that's happened often between unrelated players from different states.

    Both players have Michigan State and Ohio State on their shortlists, so wherever the two are playing together this July, observers don't have to look far to find Tom Izzo and Thad Matta.

    Okafor's combination of a gigantic frame (6'10", 270) and basketball skill is in a class unseen in a prep prospect since Greg Oden was dominating for Indianapolis' Lawrence North. Whichever school he enters, he will immediately become a focal point.

    As of right now, Ohio State's difficulty will lie in finding a spot for both Okafor and Jones. The Buckeyes have only one scholarship available for 2014, but there is an elite class already committed. Ohio State will do whatever it has to do to land Okafor in particular, since much of Buckeye Nation seems prepared to give up on centers Amir Williams and Trey McDonald.

    Michigan State has three scholarships available, and both Jones and Okafor would take over their positions immediately. MSU is also high on the list of Okafor's AAU teammate, power forward Cliff Alexander. Pairing those two in the same frontcourt would leave Spartan fans forgetting the Derrick Nix-Adreian Payne duo ever existed.

    Illinois is the wild card, since it's on Okafor's list, but not Jones'. Like MSU, the Illini are firmly in the mix for Alexander as well. Still, Illinois should be considered a long shot for Okafor, since most Illini reports now swirl around Alexander, while Okafor and Jones travel in their own orbit.

Tyus Jones

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    Considering: Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State

    Like his close friend Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones has his top in-state school, in this case Minnesota, swirling around a list of destinations the two can join together.

    Pictured here at a Minnesota game, the Apple Valley, Minn. product spent the early part of July playing in Minneapolis' Howard Pulley Summer League against Gophers past and present. He joined fellow in-state Gopher target Reid Travis in battling current Minnesota players like Andre Hollins along with recently departed Trevor Mbakwe.

    At this point, however, it would be a major upset if Minnesota, with newly minted head coach Richard Pitino, could keep Jones in the state, especially since Okafor has never had Minnesota on his list. Both players have one official visit scheduled so far, a joint visit to Baylor at the end of August.

    As mentioned on the Okafor slide, Ohio State has only one 2014 scholarship left, and Jones could face a spirited competition for the point guard spot from Shannon Scott, who will be a senior when Jones arrives. For now, no such worries exist at Michigan State.

    On teaming with Okafor at the next level, Jones told the Lansing State Journal, "So many guys have said things like this before, but we're serious."

    Serious will be a fine word to describe the championship chances of whichever school lands the gifted duo.

Cliff Alexander

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    Considering: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State

    The third of the intertwined consensus top three prospects in the country, power forward Cliff Alexander (Chicago, Ill./Curie HS) is all business when it comes to his recruiting process. An update from Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News depicted a workmanlike young man uninterested in taking official visits to schools he's already seen unofficially.

    That leaves out Michigan State and Illinois, but what Alexander's already seen has left a large enough impression.

    Asked for his favorite aspect of Michigan State, Alexander said: “How they develop their players. Coach Izzo is a great guy. The campus is beautiful.”

    Illinois' Rivals site Orange and Blue News quoted Alexander about the Champaign campus (subscription required): "The dorms are fantastic. The athletic directors are just fantastic. Practice facility...never seen anything like it. It's a great place. I love it."

    No recent quotes have been offered on Indiana, and few reports still list the Hoosiers as one of his leaders. Michigan State and Illinois are both considered prominent candidates, but Izzo and Groce will be left to sweat while Alexander takes a series of visits to other high-profile programs.

    Alexander plans to visit Kansas for its season-opening Late Night in the Phog event. If that night doesn't sway him into a decision, 247 recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer says that Alexander also lists Louisville, Memphis, Arizona and either Kentucky or Florida as sites for his remaining trips.

Myles Turner

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    Considering: Indiana, Ohio State

    The only thing growing faster than 6'11" Texan Myles Turner's reputation may well be his feet.

    USA Today High School Sports reported that Turner's shoe size went up three sizes in two weeks when he was a freshman, from a 14 to a 17. He now wears a size 21, three sizes bigger than Yao Ming and only one size smaller than Shaquille O'Neal.

    Largely (yes, pun intended) unknown when this AAU season began, Turner leaped all the way from outside the top-100 lists into nearly every service's top 10.

    His athletic ability and length made for an interesting matchup against Cliff Alexander at the Under Armour/NY2LA Summer Jam in Wisconsin. Turner dominated the first half before a frustrated Alexander began utilizing his superior bulk in the second. Turner ended up outscoring Alexander 9-8 and outrebounding him 10-8.

    Indiana and Ohio State are both in need of big men, and both have other irons in the 2014 fire. There's a lot of competition, though, for Turner's signature.

    It was only in early July that Turner cut his list of potential schools...

    ...to 26.

    The likes of Kansas, Louisville, Kentucky and Arizona are only the tip of the iceberg. If Turner does join one of the Big Ten schools, though, he should make an instant splash.

Kevon Looney

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    Considering: Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin

    Milwaukee forward Kevon Looney has decisions to make.

    He has nine offers on his table, and as he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, he wants to have his final five in place by the end of July. Like several of the other top prospects, Looney hopes to decide where he'll play by the start of his senior season.

    Closing in on 6'10" and 210 pounds, Looney is a versatile operator who can play inside or out depending on matchups.

    The J-S report linked above focused on a battle between Looney and Kentucky commit Karl Towns, a 7'1" true center. Looney was forced outside to take his jumper more often than he would prefer, but played strong, smart defense against Towns inside. Looney recorded 17 points and eight rebounds to Towns' nine and three, but Towns' Sports U team took the win.

    Recent quotes show Looney to be excited about the possibility of suiting up at Michigan. He takes a cue from the freshman success of Glenn Robinson III, telling UMHoops.com, "When you see someone that’s built like you, has a style of play like you, and you see he’s going to get better, you sort of put yourself in that position.”

    Both Michigan and Michigan State are said to be among Looney's leaders, according to this piece on Duke's 247 site (subscription required). He names seven schools including Florida, Tennessee and Georgetown, among others. Both the Wolverines and Spartans are likely to have plenty of minutes available in their frontcourts, with Robinson, Mitch McGary and Adreian Payne looming as potential 2014 lottery picks.

Rashad Vaughn

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    Considering: Illinois, Minnesota

    Rashad Vaughn is the second of the three Minnesota superstars that will figure in this slideshow, and he's dutifully considering his in-state Gophers. However, he's headed to neutral ground for his senior year, spending 2013-14 at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas.

    Away from the flood of Gopher fans wanting him to stay home, it's likely that Vaughn's eyes will stray. NBE Basketball Report discussed the process with Vaughn and confirmed that he's likely to wait until after this season to make his choice.

    Even recovering from a sprained ankle suffered at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy, Vaughn was still one of the dominant prospects at LeBron James' camp later in July, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.

    Gopher and Illini fans may not be getting their hopes up just yet, though. The P-P's Charley Walters posted that North Carolina and UCLA may be the current leaders for Vaughn.

    Vaughn would join a crowded backcourt in Champaign and could fight for minutes against this year's heralded freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill. Minnesota, however, would roll out the red (maroon?) carpet with a starting spot ready for Vaughn.

Devin Booker

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    Considering: Michigan, Michigan State

    Another talented shooting guard who suffered an ankle injury during the summer, Devin Booker (Moss Point, Miss./Moss Point HS) has followed Rashad Vaughn's lead in fighting through the injury to keep busy throughout the camp circuit.

    The injury was suffered during the NBPA Top 100 Camp, but before the sprain occurred, Booker found time to throw down in a little one-on-one meeting with NBA guard Andre Iguodala. And yes, in case you're wondering, it's on YouTube.

    Booker is set to trim his list after the July competitions wrap up, but recruiting forum Nations Elite has tweeted that five schools are already standing out to the 6'5" shooter. Fear not, Big Ten fans, Michigan and Michigan State are among the five.

    Michigan State is more likely to be in the market for a skilled 2-guard next season, with Gary Harris drawing lottery buzz. Michigan's Zak Irvin is more likely to still be in college next year, presenting Booker with formidable opposition for a starting spot.

    Of course, Wolverine coach John Beilein is one of the more creative minds in the game when it comes to fielding position-free lineups and still maximizing his players' skills.

Goodluck Okonoboh

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    Considering: Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio State

    At 6'9" and approximately 220 pounds, Boston product Goodluck Okonoboh will spend a great deal of time locked in his chosen school's weight room. His process for deciding that school will not come any time soon.

    "Everyone is my favorite," he said to the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel at the Adidas Invitational in Indianapolis. “I could decide in the fall, or maybe the spring. I'll talk with my family toward the end of the summer and see what I want to do.”

    Minnesota was recruiting Okonoboh heavily even before he reclassified from the class of 2013 to 2014. The pursuit has not flagged in the coaching change from Tubby Smith to Richard Pitino. Indiana arrived earlier this spring and Ohio State made an offer just this month.

    All of the three could benefit immediately from Okonoboh's uncanny ability to protect the rim. At the aforementioned Adidas tournament, he recorded a triple-double of 16 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks.

    IU already has Okonoboh's ear thanks to landing his AAU teammate Noah Vonleh, and the young center also counts OSU commit D'Angelo Russell as a good friend.

    As for the Gophers, Okonoboh may be yet another high-level recruit to tell Pitino "thanks, but no thanks."

    Powers like Duke, Syracuse and Louisville are also hoping their programs can get some Goodluck next season.

Trevon Bluiett

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    Considering: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Purdue

    The Michigan coaching staff needs to send Butler athletic director Barry Collier a thank-you card for passing over Wolverine assistant/former Bulldog LaVall Jordan as its new head coach.

    Both Butler and Michigan are considered primary contenders in the recruitment of Indianapolis swingman Trevon Bluiett. Jordan has been the lead recruiter selling Bluiett on the merits of Ann Arbor.

    Nearly half the Big Ten is in on Bluiett, and he has named Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Purdue among the schools making the most contact. Anyone who's impatient for him to make a decision, however, should relax a bit, since he has no intention of being rushed.

    In total, 24 schools have made offers, and Bluiett has yet to make his first cuts. The Indianapolis Star reports that Bluiett may make cuts at the start of August, perhaps trimming the 24 to 10 or 15. He does, however, plan to make a final decision before the start of his season in November.

    A gifted scorer capable of producing from anywhere on the court, Bluiett averaged nearly 28 points per game as a junior.

    Aside from his good relationship with Michigan, Bluiett also has a connection to Indiana, where his former Park Tudor High School teammate Yogi Ferrell is entering his sophomore year as the Hoosiers' point guard. Purdue was the first school to make contact and the second with an official offer, according to this report from the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal and Courier.

    Look for UCLA to potentially throw a wrench into the works, as new Bruin coach Steve Alford has hired Bluiett's high school coach, Ed Schilling, as an assistant.


Reid Travis

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    Considering: Michigan State, Minnesota

    Playing on the same AAU team as Tyus Jones has greatly increased the exposure for Minneapolis power forward Reid Travis. Travis put in serious work at the NBPA Top 100 camp, making the camp all-star team with averages of 13 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.

    Prior to that, he was an 18-and-9 man during the EYBL season. Travis also made a good showing in a summer league matchup with former Minnesota enforcer Trevor Mbakwe.

    Travis is the third member of the state of Minnesota's superstar trio, along with Jones and Rashad Vaughn. All three are still top priorities for Richard Pitino, while Travis and Jones are both on Tom Izzo's must-see list.

    At Minnesota, Travis would undoubtedly be a favorite to start from day one. At Michigan State, he could face a bit more competition from veterans like Alex Gauna and Matt Costello.

    Then, there's football to consider. Iowa, Rutgers and Boston College have joined the Gophers in offering gridiron scholarships to the 6'7", 235-pound quarterback.

    Still, basketball appears to be the priority. Travis has already taken an official visit to Gonzaga, and he told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press that he plans to take officials to both MSU and Minnesota in the fall.

    Travis intends to have a decision made by the end of September, so fans in East Lansing and Minneapolis may not have to endure a long, suspenseful wait.

Tyler Ulis

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    Considering: Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue

    Iowa was one of the first schools to make an offer to Chicago Heights, Ill. point guard Tyler Ulis.

    Northwestern has already landed top-100 forward Vic Law, who promises to recruit his AAU teammate hard.

    Michigan State has a family connection, being the alma mater of Ulis's cousin Travis Walton, who played for the Spartans from 2005-09.

    Purdue? Perhaps just the proverbial "good fit."

    These four schools form more than half of Ulis's final seven, and all are pressing hard to land him, even if he is a mere 5'9" and 150 pounds. Michigan State is widely considered the favorite, and SNY.tv's Adam Zagoria reported that both MSU and Iowa could be in line to receive official visits after Ulis finishes his July tournament schedule.

    Ulis lit up the nation's top-ranked point guard, Tyus Jones, for 22 points and 17 assists in a narrow loss at the Peach Jam in South Carolina, a performance that can only raise the stakes on his recruitment.

    Of the four Big Ten finalists, Purdue and Iowa both already have former 4-star point guards in Ronnie Johnson and Mike Gesell, respectively. Michigan State will be seeking a replacement for Keith Appling, and Northwestern is likely to view Ulis as a substantial upgrade over Dave Sobolewski.

    The process could be complicated by Michigan State still being in the mix for Jones. If Ulis harbors concerns that he's Tom Izzo's second choice, it can work to the other finalists' benefit.

Paul White

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    Considering: Minnesota, Northwestern

    Chicago forward Paul White, a Whitney Young High School teammate of Jahlil Okafor, can sometimes be overshadowed on the court, but he's drawn plenty of attention from major programs in his own right.

    Eight of the 14 Big Ten institutions have extended scholarship offers to the 6'9" White, but only two figured in the top-10 list White shared with the Chicago Sun-Times' Hoops Report last month.

    White intends to have his decision made by the time his senior season starts in November, and now he'll have a little extra time to think about it. His July AAU exploits were ended by a nasty broken arm suffered at the Peach Jam, as reported by CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello.

    Both Minnesota and Northwestern have struggled to replace solid frontcourt players in the last two years. Either school could use White's athleticism and offensive skills.

    Minnesota has five openings in the 2014 class and a multitude of potential guard commitments, including a possible package deal for top-50 guards Isaiah Whitehead and Ja'Quan Newton. White could become the first entrant in a tremendous recruiting class for Richard Pitino.


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