NCAA Basketball Recruiting: The 5 Best Players at Every Position in 2014 Class
The recruiting dominoes are starting to fall in NCAA basketball’s class of 2014, but most of the top talents are still uncommitted. With the hoops season approaching fast, it’s time to take a look at the cream of the crop among the nation’s high school seniors.
Perhaps the most competitive position in this class is shooting guard, where several elite prospects are separated by miniscule margins. Multi-talented Seton Hall commit Isaiah Whitehead makes a strong case for being the nation’s best, but is he No. 1?
Read on for more on Whitehead and the rest of the most impressive players at all five positions among the country’s 2014 recruiting hopefuls.
Point Guard 5: Tyler Ulis
Hardly a typical John Calipari recruit at just 5’9”, Tyler Ulis has plenty to bring to the table to make up for his small stature.
The Kentucky commit has the overwhelming quickness of many undersized guards, and he’s a first-class ball-handler to go with it.
Ulis is primarily a distributor, and he reads a defense as well as he dribbles through it. He’s not a dominant scorer, though, and his defense (persistent though he is) suffers some from the height and muscle he inevitably gives up to his opponents.
Point Guard 4: JaQuan Lyle
On the other end of the point guard spectrum from Tyler Ulis is 6’4” JaQuan Lyle.
The rangy floor general isn’t going to amaze anyone with his speed or quickness in the open floor, but his length lets him see (and pass) over most defenders to hit the open man.
Lyle is also a legitimate scoring threat, particularly when pulling up off the dribble. He recently decommitted from Louisville, meaning that another program (possibly Kansas or Memphis) will have the good fortune to snap him up.
Point Guard 3: Joel Berry
Joel Berry may not have the blinding speed of a typical Roy Williams PG, but the North Carolina commit knows how to win. He’s an excellent passer and capable ball-handler, but it’s his leadership ability that really sets him apart.
When Berry calls his own number, it’s usually to drive to the paint, where he can use his exceptional strength to make up for his unremarkable 6’1” height.
The same toughness serves him well on defense, where he knows how to body up on opposing guards to keep them off-balance.
Point Guard 2: Emmanuel Mudiay
The race for top point guard in this recruiting class comes down largely to what style a given coach (or fan) prefers. For a scorer who can also run the offense, they don’t come any better than Emmanuel Mudiay.
The 6’4” Texan attacks the rim with speed and leaping ability, knocks down mid-range jumpers and makes some exceptionally difficult passes.
He’s the second major recruiting coup in as many years for SMU’s Larry Brown, and his star power will really help legitimize that program.
Point Guard 1: Tyus Jones
Where Emmanuel Mudiay specializes in taking over games as an individual, Tyus Jones is the ultimate team player.
The Minnesota native can score in bunches if he needs to, but he’s at his best when he’s raising the level of his entire lineup with his passing and decision-making skills.
When Jones gets between the lines, there isn’t a smarter player in this recruiting class. At 6’1”, he’s an attacking defender, too, even if that does get him burned occasionally.
Shooting Guard 5: Devin Booker
There are plenty of high school point guards who would be happy to be able to read a defense as well as Devin Booker.
The 6’5” son of former Missouri star Melvin knows the game inside and out, making it especially tough for defenders to stay with him off the ball.
Booker does most of his scoring with his jump shot, especially in catch-and-shoot situations. He’s not an especially impressive driver or finisher, though, even if his size does give him an edge when he does get into the paint.
Shooting Guard 4: Daniel Hamilton
For putting points on the board in a hurry, Daniel Hamilton can match any player in the class of 2014. The 6’7” UConn commit has the shooting touch to light it up from three-point range and the strength to power home a dunk in traffic.
Hamilton is a deft passer, but knowing when to pass isn’t his specialty. He could climb even higher on this list if he improves his shot selection as a senior.
Shooting Guard 3: D’Angelo Russell
D’Angelo Russell doesn’t always put up the raw point totals you expect from an elite shooting guard, but his all-around game is second to none.
He’s really more of a combo guard who’s got so much size and shooting ability that coaches are apt to play him off the ball.
In addition to his passing and dribbling talents, the 6’4” Russell is one of the top rebounding guards in the class, not to mention a solid defender.
However, at 180 pounds, he’s none too strong, a situation he’ll need to remedy soon now that he’s committed to Ohio State.
Shooting Guard 2: Isaiah Whitehead
By shooting guard standards, Isaiah Whitehead is a terrific ball-handler, allowing him to attack off the dribble at will. Putting the ball in his hands doesn’t hurt the rest of the offense, either, as he’s a skilled passer if the defense collapses on him.
The Seton Hall commit is developing his long-range shot, too, even if it’s not quite at the level of his finishing ability just yet.
Like so many New York City products, the Brooklyn native is also a physical driver and defender (at 6’4”, 195 lbs) who thrives on contact.
Shooting Guard 1: Rashad Vaughn
At 6’6”, 200 pounds, Rashad Vaughn has the most NBA-ready body of any shooting guard in this class. The Minnesota native has the scoring ability to go with his frame, especially when he can get into the paint.
Vaughn’s ability to pull up for jumpers keeps defenders honest, giving him more openings to penetrate and use his muscle inside. He’s a good (though not great) three-point threat, and his length also helps him get his share of second-chance points.
Small Forward 5: Theo Pinson
In many other years, Theo Pinson would be the best perimeter defender in his recruiting class, but 2014 is exceptionally competitive on that score.
Even so, the 6’6” North Carolina commit is going to be a nightmare for ACC scorers, and he’ll put his share of points on the board himself.
Pinson has outstanding athletic ability, though his shooting touch has some catching up to do. Still, he’s a high-level slasher thanks to his finishing ability, and he also knows how to kick out to a teammate off the drive.
Small Forward 4: Kelly Oubre
It’s not that Kelly Oubre can’t do anything aside from scoring. It’s just that he scores so well, he really doesn’t need to do anything else to earn his spot on this list.
The 6’6” gunner can drain the trey extremely well, but he’s also a fine finisher around the rim. His athletic gifts also make him a factor as a rebounder and defender, though his point totals tend to overshadow those areas of his game.
Small Forward 3: Justise Winslow
Point forwards are usually complementary players, but Justise Winslow is a frontcourt playmaker with genuine star power. At 6’6”, he has the vision to find open teammates and the agility to create for them off the dribble.
Winslow’s single best asset might be his defensive ability, and he’s just as valuable smothering an opposing guard as he is matching up with frontcourt scorers. His scoring is the least developed portion of his game, but it’s far from a liability.
Small Forward 2: Justin Jackson
Offensively, Justin Jackson resembles a young Rip Hamilton. He can knock down the three-point shot, but he’s most dangerous as a mid-range scorer, using his long arms to get shots up over help defenders.
Unfortunately, Jackson also resembles Hamilton by being exceedingly skinny (180 lbs on his 6’7” frame). The North Carolina commit has the length to rebound well, but he’ll need more muscle to do so at the college level.
Small Forward 1: Stanley Johnson
The more scouts around the country see of Stanley Johnson, the higher he climbs in the recruiting rankings. The California native is a bruiser on the perimeter, and his physicality makes him a premier defender and rebounder from the wing.
Increasingly, Johnson is turning heads with his offensive contributions as well. He’s a smart passer and a competent jump shooter, but where he really shines is powering through traffic for an and-one finish.
Power Forward 5: Craig Victor
Arizona’s endless stream of low-post talent keeps on flowing with 2014 commit Craig Victor. The 6’7” PF isn’t tall or explosive, but he brings 225 pounds of solid muscle and knows how to get the most out of them.
Victor’s biggest contributions, unsurprisingly, will come on the glass, but he’s a fine scorer as well. He’s more polished with his back to the basket than most high school big men, and he gets plenty of points in the face-up game as well.
Power Forward 4: Reid Travis
Another power forward from the “brick wall” school, Reid Travis is the cousin of Penn State’s similarly physical Ross Travis. The younger Travis already stands 6’8”, 240 pounds, and he’s every bit the rebounder that those numbers imply.
The Minnesota native has a nice touch on his jump shot, though offense is definitely a secondary part of his game. Still, he’s a coachable player who’s shown the potential to develop into a dangerous complementary scorer.
Power Forward 3: Chris McCullough
Syracuse commit Chris McCullough is central casting’s answer for a Jim Boeheim forward: tall and skinny, with long arms to make opponents miserable on the back line of a 2-3 zone.
The 6’10”, 220-pound New Yorker is an imposing shot-blocker who also uses his length to good effect as a rebounder.
McCullough doesn’t have the muscle to handle the Division I low-post grind at this stage, but he’s devastating in transition. He runs the floor like a guard and can dunk over almost any defender once he gets up a head of steam.
Power Forward 2: Kevon Looney
Kevon Looney would do well to keep an eye on Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early this season.
The Shockers’ senior combo forward boasts many of the same skills as the Wisconsin high schooler, especially as an inside-outside scorer and aggressive rebounder.
Looney has the mobility and playmaking instincts to succeed on the perimeter, as well as the length to be a serious threat in the paint.
However, he’ll need to add some bulk to the 210 pounds he currently carries on his 6’8” frame if he wants to bang with college power forwards.
Power Forward 1: Trey Lyles
Standing 6’10” and 255 pounds, Trey Lyles literally and figuratively towers over the other power forwards in this class. He doesn’t have jaw-dropping athleticism, but his size and skill are more than enough to make up for it.
Lyles is the most polished low-post offensive weapon in the class, and his mid-range game is nearly as sharp. He’s a productive rebounder, too, as well as a reliable defender with strong shot-blocking instincts.
Center 5: Goodluck Okonoboh
Goodluck Okonoboh is a better shot-blocker right now than a healthy proportion of major-college centers.
The 6’9” Massachusetts product doesn’t do anything else at an elite level yet, but he’s so valuable on defense that coaches can afford to wait on the rest of his game.
Okonoboh has terrific mobility for his size, and the same skill set that helps him reject shots also lets him soar for impressive dunks when he gets a good look at the rim.
He’s more effective as a rebounder than he is as a scorer, though his lack of bulk (215 lbs) does him no favors in either department.
Center 4: Karl Towns Jr.
In a lot of ways, Karl Towns Jr.’s body is the only thing that identifies him as a center. Despite standing 7’1”, 235 pounds, Towns plays more like a small forward than a big man.
The Kentucky commit is, remarkably, one of the best three-point shooters in the recruiting class at any position but lacks many traditional skills of a center.
He’s little threat to post up, and while he’s improving as a rebounder and shot-blocker, he’s got a long way to go.
Center 3: Cliff Alexander
Cliff Alexander isn’t the tallest center at 6’9”, but like Marquette’s Davante Gardner, he makes up for it in mass (260 lbs). The Chicagoan has the power to go with his bulk, as any rim he’s dunked on can attest.
Alexander is also a prolific shot-blocker, a testament to a leaping ability far beyond what his body type would suggest. He doesn’t have a great shooting touch at this stage, but he does plenty of scoring anyway on dunks and putbacks.
Center 2: Myles Turner
One of the biggest stories of this recruiting cycle has been Myles Turner’s rise from anonymity to the national top five. The 7’0”, 240-pound Texan is starting to learn how to use all that size to dominate on the court.
Turner is a terrific shot-blocker already and an improving rebounder, but he’s most dangerous as a scorer. He’s a skilled shooter (even from mid-range) who knows how to use the glass, and his face-up game helps cover for an iffy back-to-the-basket skill set.
Center 1: Jahlil Okafor
Still the gold standard for the class of 2014 overall, Jahlil Okafor is built much like another Illinois high school phenom of yore, ex-NBAer Eddy Curry.
Where Curry was soft despite his size, though, the 6’11”, 265-pound Okafor is a beast in the low post on both ends of the floor.
Along with his predictable dominance as a rebounder, Okafor knows how to use his muscle on defense (even if he doesn’t have the quickness to be a top-flight shot-blocker).
Offensively, his shooting range is improving, but he does most of his damage in close. He’s impossible to move off the low block, where he can use his soft hands and surprisingly quick feet to full advantage.