The high school hoops season hasn’t even tipped off yet, but NCAA basketball’s prize recruits are already jockeying for position. Some 2014 freshmen-to-be are being treated as potential recruiting-class linchpins at multiple schools, while others are getting put on the back burner.
One player heading for the latter category fast is Jonah Bolden. The Australian import has immense potential at the power forward spot, but many schools on his list are aiming for immediate difference-makers who are taking priority over a developmental project.
Read on for more on Bolden's second-tier status, as well as the recent recruiting fortunes of 19 more of the hottest uncommitted prospects in the class of 2014.
Once basketball season starts, Michael Humphrey is a good bet to gain in notoriety as he gets accustomed to using the extra four inches in height he’s gained in the past year.
Even before his senior year on the court tips off, though, the 6’10” PF is showing off some of the intangibles that have helped him earn offers from Arizona and Stanford.
Humphrey is spending the fall as the quarterback of his Sunnyslope High football team, which he’s led to a 6-0 mark so far.
He won’t be running play-action fakes on the hardwood, but the leadership and poise he’s demonstrating now will certainly translate to Pac-12 hoops.
Stock: Spiraling upwards
With the supply of 4-star recruits dwindling, many schools are down to their last chance to land a signature prospect for their 2014 classes. Fortunately for Zylan Cheatham, that formula describes two of the three programs still in play as he makes his decision.
At either Washington or New Mexico, the athletic PF would be the prize of the recruiting class, hands down.
The resulting hard sell from those programs will certainly raise Cheatham’s profile, even if he ultimately opts to join more-celebrated Malik Pope at San Diego State.
If Thomas Welsh’s only option was going to UCLA, he’d be in a much less favorable position right now. The seven-foot Angeleno isn’t nearly as high a priority for his hometown program as the faster, stronger Kevon Looney is.
However, Welsh’s other two programs make up for that deficiency, as he’s the No. 1 option for a big man at either Colorado or California.
With a 4-star point guard in place at both those schools, Welsh has a chance to turn one or the other into a season-changing class in the Pac-12.
As a combo forward with 6’8” length and a nice shooting touch, Jonah Bolden appeals to a wide variety of teams. However, that’s very different from being a priority at any one school.
Even with 10 programs still on his list, Bolden is a secondary consideration at virtually all of them.
Many have already landed more impressive prospects (Arizona’s Craig Victor) or hope to do so (Louisville with Trey Lyles), and even the ones in need of frontcourt help have already secured at least one 4-star prospect in their 2014 classes.
Trevon Bluiett’s latest round of official visits just serves to confirm what became apparent when the 6’5” swingman decommitted from UCLA: he’s more in demand than ever.
Initially a target of local schools such as Purdue and Butler, the Indianapolis native has attracted an even loftier class of program lately.
In the last two weeks, Bluiett has made official visits to Memphis and Michigan State. He’s not writing off the schools that have been pursuing him the longest, but even at one of those bigger names, his athleticism would make him a significant addition.
As skilled a shooter as Devin Robinson is, he’s also choosing among a set of programs that (for the most part) have other options already in the fold. Of Robinson’s four finalists, only Notre Dame has yet to add a 4-star wing among its 2014 commits.
Even at Indiana, where Robinson has long been a high-priority target, he’s sharing the spotlight with fellow sniper James Blackmon Jr. (a former IU commit whom Tom Crean would love to re-persuade).
He’s too big and talented to be an afterthought, but regardless of where he lands, he’ll be just one among several impressive recruits rather than a centerpiece of the class.
If Reid Travis thinks he’s gotten a sales pitch on his previous three official visits, this weekend is likely to top them all.
When he makes his official trip to Minnesota, the hometown product will be the toast of the town. He's the only one of the state’s Big Three prospects (along with Rashad Vaughn and Tyus Jones) who appears to be giving the Gophers a serious look.
The rest of Travis’ outlook isn’t quite as rosy, with many analysts suspecting that Duke is only pursuing him in the hopes of improving its chances with Jones.
Still, of his four finalists, two give him the chance to make or break a recruiting class for a coach in serious need of a statement (Richard Pitino at Minnesota or Johnny Dawkins at Stanford).
Stock: Inching up
Earlier this fall, James Blackmon Jr. reversed his long-standing commitment to Indiana and re-opened his recruiting. In the time since, he’s gotten the attention of such blue-bloods as Kansas and Kentucky, and he’s not done yet.
Blackmon announced on Twitter that he’s taking an official visit to the same Hoosiers program form which he’d previously backed away.
The fact that even the team he’d apparently spurned is still in the hunt for him says a lot about the shooting ability of the 6’2” combo guard (and Indiana native).
It’s worth emphasizing that combo guard JaQuan Lyle and center/forward Cliff Alexander are not officially a package deal for any given school. Additionally, Lyle himself has said that his friendship with Alexander will only be part of his decision-making process.
Still, any connection between his recruitment and that of one of the nation’s most dominating big men can only work to Lyle’s benefit.
The duo just visited Memphis together, and Kansas is also very much interested in landing the inside-outside combo.
Devin Booker just finished his official visits with a trip to a Missouri program that desperately needs a top-notch scorer like him. The Tigers are the most eager of Booker’s suitors, but they’re far from the only ones.
The rest of his finalists (Kentucky, Michigan State and Michigan) are all jousting for James Blackmon Jr. as well, but the taller Booker likely has the inside track in that competition.
Moreover, only the Wolverines have a wing anywhere near Booker’s caliber (Kameron Chatman) already on board.
Dante Exum is in a category by himself, as the Australian import is the only 2014 recruit who also has the NBA as an immediate option.
The 6’6” point guard is certainly ready for a pro career from an on-court perspective, but given his dad’s experience as a former North Carolina guard, it’s no surprise that he’s considering a college career too.
Inevitably, any school that’s hoping to land Exum is also keeping backup plans in place.
In some cases—North Carolina with Joel Berry, Kentucky with its hopes of Tyus Jones—those alternatives are as impressive as Exum himself, but other programs such as Georgetown would be happy to give him top billing in their recruiting classes.
One of the few small forwards who can compete with Justise Winslow in the 2014 class is Winslow’s AAU teammate Kelly Oubre, who has already committed to one of Winslow’s finalists, the Kansas Jayhawks.
Even that blow, though, can only do so much to dampen the prospects of one of the nation’s most versatile recruits.
Winslow is the best wing option available to any of his finalists except mighty Kentucky, and even there his passing and defense would make him a major addition to the Wildcats’ haul.
Of course, if he winds up at UCLA, Florida or even semi-hometown favorite Texas A&M, he won’t just be the best small forward—he’ll be the top freshman of any kind.
Stock: Bouncing back
Even at UNLV and Arizona, where 2014’s recruiting crops are already looking impressive, Rashad Vaughn would be the most impressive signing of the bunch.
He’s not a universal priority—both North Carolina and Kansas have big-time wings already in the fold—but for most of his seven finalists, he’s The Man at this stage.
Nowhere is that more true than for home-state Minnesota, where Richard Pitino badly needs to show that he can compete for local stars.
Alternatively, the scoring-machine guard could head south to Baylor for a more established program that’s very nearly as eager to build a class around him (assuming it strikes out on Jahlil Okafor).
Trey Lyles is the only power forward in the class with more to offer than Kevon Looney, and they don’t share any schools among their remaining finalists. In other words, Looney is the top dog at his position at every one of his six programs.
That assessment does come with a caveat at Duke and Michigan State, where elite centers Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander are the biggest targets.
Those schools are balanced, though, by Tennessee and Wisconsin, teams that aren’t even in the running for another player close to Looney’s caliber.
Stock: Lifting off
As Trey Lyles has given no indication of when he intends to make his college decision, things had been pretty much in a holding pattern with regard to the nation’s top PF prospect.
That’s what happens when a player narrows his list to just two schools that both have the potential to land monster recruiting classes, with or without him.
However, the stalemate changed—just slightly—with the news that Louisville is no longer pursuing center Myles Turner, making Lyles the Cards' absolute priority.
Kentucky is still very much in the running, but with Jahlil Okafor still on the 'Cats' radar, Lyles doesn't have quite the same exalted status in Lexington.
The latest plan for Stanley Johnson’s basketball future may sound like a joke, but apparently his high school coach isn’t laughing.
Johnson is slated to take on the starting point guard duties for his Mater Dei team as a senior, despite being a 6’6” small forward known primarily for his physical defense.
Until and unless it blows up in his face, this experiment can only help the Californian's prospects.
He’s already tops at his position and one of the primary targets of Kentucky and other ultra-elite programs. Now he’ll get the chance to show he can do more than grab an offensive rebound and jam it home in traffic.
Stock: Pointing higher
The biggest story of this recruiting season has been the package deal that will have Tyus Jones (arguably the top point guard in the nation) and No. 1 center Jahlil Okafor both heading to the same school.
If Jones’ own eye-popping skill set wasn’t enough to keep him at the top of recruiting charts, his connection with Okafor would be.
Either way, the duo is the most sought-after prize of 2014, and they’ll continue being the center of attention at another official visit.
Both are headed to Duke this weekend, a fact that’s sure to fuel even more speculation that the Blue Devils are already a lock to land the pair (in spite of Okafor’s outright denial).
Just because Cliff Alexander isn’t likely to pick the University of Illinois doesn’t mean he won’t listen to the Illini’s pitch. If that means having to be feted as the potential savior of Illinois’ program, well, he can probably live with that.
Fun, though his Illinois trip may be, the Chicago native has far more impressive programs salivating over his 6’8”, 240-lb bulk and sensational leaping ability.
That list includes Kansas and Michigan State, either of which would be thrilled to secure a commitment from the big man.
Where many recruits are finishing their official visits, Myles Turner is just starting his.
The late-blooming center has had good reason to keep his options open, and his trip to Ohio State last weekend is sure to be only his first of several chances to be treated like basketball royalty.
Turner’s 7’0” length and preternatural agility have catapulted him to the top of almost every team’s recruiting board.
Duke and Kentucky are still hoping for the Jahlil Okafor/Tyus Jones double dip, but for the Buckeyes or his three other finalists, the 2014-15 season will turn on where this pivot ends up.
There’s nowhere to go but down for Jahlil Okafor, who’s been the top recruit in the class of 2014 seemingly forever.
The mammoth center would be a foundation for a contender by himself, but the fact that he’s paired with buddy Tyus Jones (a superstar PG himself) makes him even more valuable to the programs still hoping to land him.
Okafor and Jones are both off to Durham this weekend, where they’ll enjoy the rarefied air of being Coach K’s top targets. Kansas and Baylor are also in the hunt, with the Bears having an outside chance of the biggest recruiting coup in school history.