The 10 Names You Need to Know in the CBB Recruiting Class of 2018
The 2018-19 men's college basketball season may feel like it's a lifetime away, but there's no time like the present to familiarize yourself with players like Zion Williamson, Nassir Little and Romeo Langford who will come to define this year's recruiting class.
This is not meant to be a ranking of the 10 best freshmen in the country, although at least half of these guys would also appear on that list. Rather, these are the names you need to know for a variety of reasons, including talent, versatility, lineage, unique choice of school (or not school) and more.
In other words, these are the players destined to create interesting stories during what may be a brief time at the college level.
The following athletes are listed in alphabetical order, which just so happens to mean we'll begin with the most noteworthy player of them all.
R.J. Barrett, Duke
Let's get this show on the road with the early favorite to become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft.
For the third time in six years, the best recruit in the country will be a player who isn't originally from the United States. In 2013, it was Andrew Wiggins from Canada. Two years after that, Australian-born Ben Simmons was the star everyone wanted. And now it's time for another Canadian to shine, as R.J. Barrett ought to be the top phenom in a Duke class which is loaded with them.
Barrett is the ideal modern-day wing in basketball. He's tall enough (6'8") to play forward, but his ball-handling and shooting skills are more than advanced enough for him to function as a guard. He excels at both getting to and converting from the free-throw line. But the second a defender starts worrying more about his drive than his jumper, he can pull up from mid-range or the perimeter and drain it with ease. He's left-handed, too, which makes everything about his game just a little bit tougher/more unusual to defend.
Barrett's defense is almost as noteworthy as his offense. His combination of length, vision and instincts enables him to guard anyone other than a back-to-the-basket center. His versatility will be a big reason Duke can get back to its man-to-man defensive roots this year.
This total package should be the brightest star for the Blue Devils and a mainstay in the debate for national player of the year.
Darius Bazley, G League
It's an alphabetical coincidence that we must transition from the favorite to be named freshman of the year to one player who will go straight to a paycheck without ever appearing as a freshman.
Darius Bazley originally committed to Syracuse, but he has instead opted to possibly become a pioneer among 5-star recruits. Rather than spending one year learning a 2-3 zone defense that he would never be asked to play in the pros, Bazley has declared for the NBA's G League draft, which will be held in the fall.
Will this be the start of a new trend?
It's way too early to say, but it does seem like a more legitimate threat to the future of college basketball than the occasional player—Emmanuel Mudiay, Terrance Ferguson, etc.—going overseas for one year before declaring for the draft.
We'll have to wait and see how things pan out with Bazley, though. He already had 2019 lottery potential, but if he develops to the point where he's in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick, it could be a game-changer that other guys consider. On the other hand, if he struggles and becomes irrelevant, it might be the last time we see someone go this route with his career.
Bol Bol, Oregon
Centers with three-point range aren't as scarce as they used to be. Both teams in the 2018 national championship had starting centers (Omari Spellman and Moritz Wagner) who actually entered the game leading the team in three-point percentage. And four of the best freshmen in last year's class—Marvin Bagley III, Deandre Ayton, Mohamed Bamba and Jaren Jackson Jr.—were at least 6'11" and made at least a dozen three-pointers.
Still, Bol Bol is going to be quite special, in part because this year's class is lacking in elite big men.
Bol is the only player in the 247Sports top 20 listed at 6'11" or taller, and the 7'2" son of the late great Manute Bol is an excellent modern-day 5. He can drain a three-pointer and then trot down the floor and use his ridiculous wingspan to swat a shot into the fifth row.
Oregon is no stranger to this skill set in a player. Chris Boucher made 75 three-pointers and blocked 189 shots in his two seasons with the Ducks. But he averaged fewer than 25 minutes per game and was only 6'10". If Bol has the strength and conditioning to play more like 30 minutes per night, he could be the first player to average five blocks since Hassan Whiteside in 2009-10.
Romeo Langford, TBD
At a national level, dependence on three-point shooting has grown at a staggering rate. Over the past 11 seasons, there have been 127 players who made at least 100 three-pointers while converting on at least 40 percent of attempts, 33 of whom did so in the last two years.
However, only two of those 127 players—Jamal Murray in 2015-16 and Andrew Rowsey in 2013-14—were freshmen, as there simply haven't been many players who come into college prepared to efficiently make it rain from three-point range.
Romeo Langford should be an exception to that rule.
A shooting guard with range that will rival what Trae Young displayed this past season, Langford should be as entertaining to watch as Malik Monk was two years ago. There's also some JJ Redick to his game, as he's constantly running around without the ball, searching for just an inch of space to drain a triple off a curl.
Langford is more than just a catch-and-shoot specialist, though. He can create for himself with shifty handling, or he can drain a fadeaway that is just about impossible to defend. Once he starts cooking, get him the ball by any means necessary and enjoy the show.
Perhaps the biggest reason Langford is on this list is the "TBD" above. This potential one-and-done star is still trying to decide whether Indiana, Kansas or Vanderbilt will be the best place to hone his craft next season. Until he makes that decision, he will remain the biggest wild card of the early portion of the offseason.
Nassir Little, North Carolina
One of the biggest reasons North Carolina has remained so consistently good is that it has only had one freshman (Tony Bradley) leave for the NBA in the last 12 seasons, meaning there is always veteran talent on the roster. Head coach Roy Williams has certainly been trying to recruit the one-and-done guys, but it just hasn't worked out for one reason or another.
Nassir Little is on the short list of incoming freshmen who are a mortal lock to declare for the 2019 NBA draft. Similar to R.J. Barrett, Little is a lengthy small forward who dominates on both ends of the floor. He isn't quite as lethal from three-point range as Barrett is, but that's about the only reason he isn't projected to get drafted ahead of the future Blue Devil.
Little is 6'6", which is typically the height of a bigger shooting guard or wing-forward; however, he plays like a power forward on offense. He is more than capable of driving from the perimeter, but he also has the footwork and post moves to get a bucket after receiving an entry pass.
That footwork also comes in handy on defense, where he is an exceptional perimeter defender. A 7'2" wingspan makes him tough to contend with, and it also plays a big part in his above-average rebounding skills.
He should be a perfect fit on North Carolina's 2018-19 roster alongside Luke Maye and the collection of Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks and Brandon Huffman. Little's post presence on offense will enable Maye to spend more time on the perimeter, and then Little can go back on defense and guard the opposing team's best three-point shooting threat.
Jaelin Llewellyn, Princeton
In terms of raw talent, Jaelin Llewellyn is a far cry from the other players on this list. With the exception of Shareef O'Neal, everyone else is a 5-star prospect, and it's not like O'Neal is an afterthought at No. 33 overall. But Llewellyn is rated No. 90 as a middle-of-the-pack 4-star guy.
Had he chosen a school like Penn State, Providence or Purdue, he would just be another face in the crowd—a talented kid who could be a key weapon by his third or fourth season but no one worth mentioning as a possible one-and-done talent.
But he chose Princeton, which makes his decision just as unique as Darius Bazley's jump straight to the G League.
247Sports recruiting data goes back to 2003. In the 15 years prior to this one, Princeton had never signed a top 200 recruit, let alone a player in the top 100. Since inking No. 208 Max Schafer in 2003, the Tigers had only even signed one top 250 guy—No. 232 Ian Hummer in 2009. Getting the No. 90 recruit in this year's class was one heck of a job by head coach Mitch Henderson and his staff.
There's a strong chance Llewellyn immediately starts at point guard for the Tigers, too. With both Amir Bell and Aaron Young graduating, the job is there for the taking.
Harvard and Penn are clearly the teams to beat in the Ivy League, but Princeton should be a factor with one of the most talented players in the conference.
E.J. Montgomery, Kentucky
E.J. Montgomery is a tantalizing NBA prospect. He is a 6'10" left-handed stretch 4 who both shoots and rebounds at a high level. He might get pushed around a bit until he packs on some weight and muscle, but he has the potential to be a Chris Bosh type of contributor immediately.
Montgomery originally committed to Auburn, but he was the first of several highly touted recruits to decommit from one of the programs explicitly named in the FBI sting operation in September. He would remain a free agent, if you will, for more than six months before committing to Kentucky on April 9.
Most in the recruiting industry seemed to believe he would end up with Duke. However, rather than signing up to battle Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier for playing time, he decided to sign with the Wildcats, where the logjam in the frontcourt isn't quite as bad.
How will those decisions pan out for the young man?
If nothing else happens at Auburn in regard to the FBI, Montgomery would have been the perfect addition for a Tigers team that is still going to challenge Kentucky for the SEC crown. And for an elite stretch 4 likely looking to make a one-year pit stop before the NBA, Duke would have been a great landing spot, given the number of top-10 picks it has produced at that position over the last five years. But he also might be the exact versatile weapon that Kentucky needs for its 2019 national championship quest.
Shareef O'Neal, UCLA
Shareef O'Neal has big shoes to fill. Size 22 shoes, to be exact. That's what his father, Shaquille, wore during his 23 years of dominance between LSU and the NBA.
Shareef isn't nearly that big, but he's an imposing presence at 6'9". Unlike his dad, though, he has an impressive mid-range game and a better-than-average perimeter stroke for a player of his size. Shaquille made just one three-pointer in his entire collegiate and professional career, but the younger O'Neal may well average better than one triple per game.
In addition to the name recognition, one interesting footnote on O'Neal's yet-to-begin college career is that he originally committed to Arizona. Instead of suiting up for head coach Sean Miller and the Wildcats, however, O'Neal chose to avoid the FBI drama, decommitting from Arizona in late-February before signing with rival UCLA just a few days later.
The only similar situation we've seen in recent years was Brandon Ingram committing to Duke about a month after saying he probably would have already committed to North Carolina if not for the paper classes scandal the school was going through. But since he never actually committed to the Tar Heels, there wasn't that much bad blood when he went with the Blue Devils instead.
When the Bruins and Wildcats square off next season, though, get ready for fireworks.
Cam Reddish, Duke
The second of three soon-to-be Duke Blue Devils on the list, Cameron "Cam" Reddish is another do-it-all star who should be in the conversation for freshman of the year, national player of the year and the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft.
For the past several years, scouts have raved about Reddish's natural talent. Words like "versatile," "smooth" and "potential" seem to show up in every single thing written about him and what he'll bring to college and the NBA.
The only reason he's not the No. 1 player on the various recruiting sites is his consistency, or lack thereof.
As far as questions about drive or motor are concerned, Reddish is the Mo Bamba of this year's class. He's so gifted that it seems like he should score 20 points in his sleep and 30 or more when he's actually trying. However, because he rarely came across a player anywhere close to his equal in high school, it seemed like he spent much of the past several years in cruise control.
If this dude develops a killer instinct and a more reliable three-point stroke, though, watch out. Reddish is the 2018 recruit most likely to become a staple at the NBA All-Star Game.
Zion Williamson, Duke
If you're not already familiar with Zion Williamson, you clearly don't have any sort of addiction to YouTube mixtapes.
This man is a dunking machine who cocks it so far back on his thunderous slams that it's only a matter of time before he shatters a backboard during a game. To the surprise of precisely nobody, Williamson won the McDonald's All-American slam dunk contest last month.
If there's a prop bet out there on which player appears in the most SportsCenter Top 10 highlight reels during the 2018-19 season, he's the obvious top choice.
"Built like a bull on steroids," reads the beginning of the long "strengths" section of his scouting report on NBA Draft Room.
He isn't much of a shooter and his defense is a work in progress, but Williamson still might be the most entertaining player in the country next year.
Recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.