Kentucky Basketball Recruiting: Coach Cal Adds Familiar Prototypes to 2015 Class

Kentucky coach John Calipari has a pretty good idea of what he’s looking for when he goes out on the recruiting trail each year, prowling for his next batch of superstars. In case he needs a reminder, he can just revisit old programs from the Wildcats to his previous college gigs at Massachusetts and Memphis.

Calipari landed commitments from two more big-time prospects on Thursday, getting pledges from point guard Isaiah Briscoe and center Skal Labissiere. Both players are ranked among the top 10 recruits in the Class of 2015, according to 247Sports, and bump the Wildcats class up to second nationally behind Arizona.

The Wildcats previously held a commitment from Charles Matthews, a 4-star shooting guard from Chicago who chose them in February.

Thursday’s additions follow a pair of formulas that Calipari has used for quite some time: instant contributors who already have NBA potential and guys who fit into a mold that has already produced results.

In other words, the pro talent that Calipari has previously developed in college serve as prototypes for what he looks for in future stars, and both Briscoe and Labissiere have striking similarities to past Coach Cal products.

Briscoe, at 6’3.5″, has an extraordinary body for a point guard, much like ex-Kentucky floor general John Wall (6’4″) and former Memphis guard Derrick Rose (6’3″). Labissiere, at 6’10″ and 200 pounds, is very similar in stature to former Kentucky big men Anthony Davis (6’10″) and Nerlens Noel (6’11″), as well as Calipari’s first superstar in college, ex-UMass great Marcus Camby (6’11″).

The New Jersey-based Briscoe cited Calipari’s knack for producing pro talent at the point, saying on ESPNU’s Recruiting Nation he “has a machine going on with getting point guards to the NBA, like Eric Bledsoe and Derrick Rose. I could see myself in that mold and being the next great point guard to come out of Kentucky.”

Briscoe, a converted shooting guard, still loves to score, which is no different than Wall, Bledsoe or Rose. Each of them were double-digit scorers in their lone college seasons, with Bledsoe and Wall doing so on the same Kentucky team in 2009-10.

“I know that Isaiah Briscoe wants to play with the ball in his hands,” Evan Daniels of Scout.com told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

This knack for putting a team on his back could be seen in 2012-13 in leading Roselle Catholic to a state championship in New Jersey, as well as helping his travel team to the Peach Jam title this past summer. He was as comfortable scoring on drives to the basket as he was pulling up from outside, another similarity to his predecessors.

Labissiere, originally from Haiti but currently living in Memphis, has “all the tools you look for in a young big man,” according to Daniels. “He clearly has the height, but also the mobility, athleticism, scoring touch and ability to play facing the rim or with his back to it. On top of that, defensively he has potential. He has good timing and with his length is able to get to shots.”

That last part is most important for Labissiere, at least initially. He’s lighter than Camby, Davis or Noel, but has comparable shot-blocking ability, something that made all of those undersized centers such dominant forces on the defensive end. The strength might not be there, but the athleticism is and will enable him to contend with bigger ball-handlers.

While he works on building strength, Labissiere will be able to fall back on a shooting range that pro scouts must love. His ability to stretch the defense in that way differs from his predecessors but may set a precedent for another model that Calipari can reference in assessing future big men.

Calipari spent four years coaching in the NBA, three as head coach of the New Jersey Nets and another as an assistant with Philadelphia. Though his tenure wasn’t very successful, it was long enough to give him an understanding of what pro teams are looking for in college prospects, and since returning to Division I at Memphis in 2000, he’s made it a point to construct an amateur roster that closely resembles an NBA lineup.

Those worlds intermingle on a regular basis, and Calipari brought them together for a scouting combine in October. NBA scouts were on hand to watch his current players during what also served as a great recruiting pitch for future prospects, according to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski.

“The event is a chance for Calipari to impress a throng of top high school recruits on campus visits and once again frame his program as college basketball’s best NBA feeder system,” Wojnarowski wrote in September.

Assuming Briscoe and Labissiere actually end up in Lexington—Briscoe has said he won’t sign his national letter of intent until the spring, while Labissiere has indicated skipping college and playing overseas is an option and CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish reported Wednesday that the NCAA plans to closely investigate Labissiere’s recruitment—they figure to find themselves in a situation similar to Kentucky’s current crop of freshmen.

Guards Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis and frontcourt players Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles all have more experienced players ahead of them, yet with Calipari’s plan to implement a platoon system, they’ll all get decent playing time. Seven Wildcats on the 2014-15 roster are projected to be drafted, according to NBADraft.net, but Kentucky ended up having players who seemed destined to leave school stick around after last season.

Whatever roles Briscoe and Labissiere have at Kentucky, it’s no stretch to assume they’ll be ones that fall in line with how Calipari used his past NBA stars.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Rebels rebuild with strong recruiting class (Yahoo Sports)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — UNLV’s fourth season under coach Dave Rice will be a fresh start of sorts, with no returning starters and a roster full of new players.

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Ranking the 15 Best Free Agents of the 2015 Class

Forget about regular-season NBA action for a second. Think about the 2015 free-agency class instead.

Yes, I know. The season just started. You’re only just coming to terms with all that’s happened since the end of last year. LeBron James is back in Cleveland. Kobe Bryant is teammates with Carlos Boozer. Chris Douglas-Roberts’ shorts aren’t as short as you thought they would be. 

It’s madness.

But that doesn’t make this any less necessary.

Halloween has come and gone, and so too has the deadline for fourth-year players to sign contract extensions. Some studs successfully brokered one—Ricky Rubio now has 56 million reasons to continue working that boyish smile of his, per ESPN.com’s Marc Stein. Other extension-eligible talents weren’t so lucky, and the free-agency landscape has changed as a result, even if only slightly.

Restricted free agents rarely find new digs. Incumbent teams have the ability to match any offer they receive, making it hard to leave. Sometimes, though, it happens, and there are now more than a few cases to monitor.

Which of these restricted free agents stand among next summer’s best available mercenaries? Who else makes the cut?

Age, position and past statistical prowess are our guide. Immediate performance outlook counts, too. Then there’s the subjective aspect of all this, which, basically, consists of asking yourself: How good is Player X compared to the rest of his free-agent class?

Put that way, Kostas Papanikolaou obviously lords over all. Everything else about this exercise isn’t as certain. Join me, then, in finding clarity.

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Duke led by star-studded freshman class (Yahoo Sports)

In this Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014, photo, Duke's Jahlil Okafor reacts during an NCAA college basketball scrimmage at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. With a lineup stacked with four blue-chip freshmen talented enough to jump to the NBA after one year, these Blue Devils look an awful lot like some recent Kentucky teams. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

A year after a freshman carried Duke, the Blue Devils are doubling down – and then some – on first-year players. How well those four immediate-impact recruits adjust to the college game will determine whether Duke claims its fifth national title or whether the Blue Devils are a candidate to be knocked out of the NCAA tournament early – as they were by Mercer in Parker’s only season in Durham. Three of those freshmen – Okafor, Jones and Winslow – are penciled into vital roles, and Allen also should contribute.


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Duke led by star-studded freshman class

Freshman class led by Okafor, Jones to be key to Duke’s pursuit of 5th national title

      
 

 

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Bruce Pearl crashed an Auburn marketing class

“Our team is working really hard to try to make some progress on the court,” he said.

      
 

 

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Syracuse Basketball Recruiting: Make-or-Break Players for 2015 Class

The 2014-15 Syracuse basketball season hasn’t even started yet, but there is already buzz about the potential of the 2015-16 Orange team.

Over the summer, head coach Jim Boeheim said his 2015 recruiting class is his best ever. Boeheim already has four commits in the ESPN 100, and Boeheim said, “We’re getting another, but I can’t talk about that.” The four players Boeheim already has locked up are Malachi Richardson, Moustapha Diagne, Tyler Lydon and Franklin Howard. 

Each player is rated as a 4-star prospect by both ESPN and 247Sports. In addition, each player is in the Top 75 of the ESPN 100, with Richardson the highest-ranked player at No. 19. So yeah, it’s a pretty strong class already.

But Boeheim says he will be landing another player, which would make this class even better. As it stands right now, the class is already impressive, but one player could really put it over the top.

Thomas Bryant is a 5-star player, according to both ESPN and 247Sports, and he seems to be the most likely candidate to land in Syracuse next fall. Bryant is a hometown kid; he hails from nearby Rochester and was a high school teammate of current Syracuse center Chinonso Obokoh.

Landing Bryant would be the cherry on top of an already appetizing recruiting sundae. By 2015, the Orange will be in desperate need of big men. Rakeem Christmas is in his last year, DaJuan Coleman is still a question mark and Obokoh is unproven.

Bryant is just the player Boeheim needs to bolster his front line. The 6’10″ center is skilled around the basket, and he even shows a decent-looking jump shot. Suiting him up next to Richardson, Trevor Cooney and the rest of Syracuse’s returning players could provide a big boost to the offense.

Speaking of Richardson, he looks like he can be an immediate contributor for the Orange. With or without Bryant, Richardson is the other player who can make the 2015 class.

First of all, Richardson’s flat-top game is on point. But Richardson’s coiffure isn’t the only impressive aspect of the 6’6″ swingman.

One thing that immediately jumps out: Richardson can fill it up. He can score from the three-point line and get to the rim, and his size can be a problem if he is checked by an opposing guard. He can give Cooney a much-needed running mate on the perimeter, and he shapes up to be a more versatile shooter than Cooney is.

Most of Cooney‘s game is predicated on spotting up, catching and shooting. Perhaps that had something to do with the other featured offensive players around him, but Cooney has yet to create his own shot consistently. Richardson can spot up, but he can also get his shot off the dribble or coming off a screen.

The 2015-16 Orange roster is going to be loaded. If all of this year’s players who are eligible to return do so, Boeheim can go 10 deep with several upperclassmen and only two sophomores (Kaleb Joseph and Chris McCullough, should they both return). 

So there may not be a truckload of minutes for Richardson or Bryant (if he chooses Syracuse). But if Syracuse struggles offensively again this year, the door will be open for Richardson to come in and light it up early.

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Virginia Basketball Recruiting: Make-or-Break Players for 2015 Class

The 2016 season is shaping to be a banner year for the Virginia Cavaliers on the recruiting trail. Just this week, the Hoos landed a big commitment when Kyle Guy, a 6’2″ sharpshooting point guard from Indiana, per ESPN, pledged to Virginia. 

Guy, a 4-star recruit, per 247Sports (subscription required), joins fellow 4-star Ty Jerome in the class of 2016.

But what about 2015?

This year’s squad has just one scholarship senior, Darion Atkins, and he will likely come off the bench. So there aren’t many openings for newcomers in 2015.

The Cavaliers currently have one commitment: Jarred Reuter, a 6’8″, 235-pound power forward from New Hampshire. 

Virginia will be loaded with perimeter players the next season. Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, Justin Anderson, B.J. Stith, Devon Hall and Marial Shayok all have at least two years of eligibility remaining. So adding perimeter players in this recruiting class is not a high priority.

Center Mike Tobey is a junior, and his backup, freshman Jack Salt, is a freshman. The Hoos would prefer to add another big man to the 2015 class. 

Here are three players who could make or break Virginia’s 2015 recruiting class.

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Ohio State Basketball Recruiting: Make or Break Players for 2015 Class

Let’s be perfectly honest—Thad Matta and his Ohio State basketball program would be absolutely fine if it didn’t land another recruit from now until national signing day.

That may not be what fans who are always looking for the next star or a No.1 class want to hear, but the Buckeyes currently have the No. 7 class in the country, according to 247Sports, for 2015 and just landed the No. 8 class in 2014, according to 247Sports. Between the 2014 and 2015 groups alone, the Buckeyes have eight different players.

That is a lot of young incoming talent, and that’s not even mentioning Marc Loving and Trevor Thompson, who will both have multiple years of eligibility remaining after the 2014-15 basketball season is over.

Yes, the Buckeyes have some seniors this year, including Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson and Amir Williams, but between Loving, Thompson, D’Angelo Russell, Jae’Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop, Kam Williams, David Bell and the four 2015 commits, the immediate future looks rather bright.

With that in mind, it is hard to justify the idea that a remaining prospect or two could “make or break” the 2015 class.

However, you could make the argument that losing out on Carlton Bragg, Esa Ahmad and Luke Kennard was a significant blow. Kennard is a 5-star shooting guard, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, who committed to Duke, Ahmad is a 4-star power forward who committed to West Virginia and Bragg is a 5-star power forward and potential superstar who will go elsewhere as well.

That is some significant in-state talent leaving Ohio’s borders, which is difficult for Buckeyes fans to see after Ohio natives Trey Burke and Adreian Payne made life particularly difficult for them in the Big Ten the past few years.

Ibby Ahmad, Esa’s father, discussed the decision, via Bill Landis of Cleveland.com, “[Ohio State] wasn’t there as long as Maryland and West Virginia, but when they did come on they showed a lot of love. Ohio State came in, gave it their shot.”

Matta may have lost out on that significant in-state talent, but he has responded with a potentially dominant class that includes two Texans, a Georgian and one Ohioan. It is more important that he keeps those verbal pledges intact than actually signing anyone else at this point, especially since Mickey Mitchell already de-committed once before joining the group again.

Shooting guard Austin Grandstaff, center Daniel Giddens, point guard A.J. Harris and small forward Mitchell are all 4-star prospects, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, and give Matta an elite option at basically every position on the floor. Sure, there’s no power forward, but there are a number of versatile young guys already on the roster who could take care of that if needed.

These four recruits are the ideal complement to each other because Harris is always looking to set up teammates to score, Grandstaff can light it up from behind the three-point line, Mitchell can both shoot and slash to the rim and Giddens is capable of anchoring a defense down low with his strength, rebounding ability and shot-blocking athleticism.

Pairing this class with the loaded 2014 group down the road should have Buckeyes fans thrilled about the future.

Even though Matta’s class can’t really be “broken” if he strikes out on any remaining outside prospects, there are a few remaining players who would solidify this class as one of the nation’s best.

However, it is important to note that it is looking all the more likely that Matta and his coaching staff may be done adding 2015 commits. At one point or another, they were in on the recruitment of Ivan Rabb, Jaylen Brown, Cheick Diallo, Thomas Bryant and Isaiah Briscoe.

Considering all five of those players are 5-star recruits, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, landing even one of them would be a significant boost to the 2015 class. Still, they are all listed as “cooled” on Ohio State on 247Sports and will in all likelihood be taking their collective talents elsewhere.

Of course, if any of them came knocking on Matta’s door saying he wanted in, the coach would be happy to take him. But Ohio State is likely turning its attention toward laying the foundation for the future with the 2016 class already.

The Buckeyes are targeting small forward Braxton Blackwell, point guard Kobi Simmons and center Derek Funderburk, which would give them some depth across different positions yet again.

It is also worth keeping an eye on prospects like Tyus Battle, V.J. King, Mario Kegler and Omari Spellman, who are all listed as potential Ohio State targets for 2016 on 247Sports. Buckeyes fans should be quite encouraged that every single one of the 2016 prospects mentioned here is either a 4- or 5-star recruit, so it is clear Matta is looking for a dominant class for a third straight year.

Ultimately, it is difficult to say a given player or two will make or break the Buckeyes’ 2015 class because it appears to be as close to set in stone as it can be at this time of year. Ohio State landed an impressive 2014 group and has another formidable one coming down the pipeline next season. 

Now it’s time for the Buckeyes to turn their attention toward even more 4- and 5-star prospects in 2016.

 

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Villanova Basketball: Jalen Brunson Is Make-or-Break Player in Class of 2015

With the new basketball season on the horizon, the Villanova Wildcats are in a good position in regards to recruiting for the class of 2015. 

Tim Delaney, Donte DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson will all become Wildcats starting with the 2015-16 season. 

Many top players are still available, but the Wildcats have not been seriously linked with any of them in quite some time.

Since the Brunson commitment, the Wildcats have not been very active on the class of 2015 front, and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon. 

The one name that was associated with Villanova during the summer was Isaiah Briscoe, but it looks like he has his sights set on joining another program. 

Briscoe will cut his list of prospective schools down to three, per USA Today’s Jason Jordan, and Villanova is expected to be nowhere near the list, with St. John’s being one of the front-runners. 

He was the main guard the Wildcats were having a look at before the Brunson commitment, but he was not considered a main target after Villanova earned the signature of the guard from Illinois. 

After Briscoe, the other potential members of the class of 2015 are players who are not consistently looking at Villanova. 

According to 247Sports, only two other players are listed as interested in offers from the Wildcats, which makes things look bleak for the rest of the recruiting window. 

Despite the lack of interest from other potential players, Villanova is in great hands with Brunson joining the program.

In many ways, Brunson is the make-or-break stud in the class of 2015 for the Wildcats, as he is a player who can make an impact from the first day he steps on campus. 

Brunson has the potential to elevate the program to a higher level during his time there, whether it be for three or four years. 

With all due respect to Ryan Arcidiacono, the Wildcats haven’t had a player like that since Scottie Reynolds, who was the heart and soul of the team from 2006 to 2010. 

Before Reynolds, Villanova had athletes like Randy Foye and Allen Ray lead the way from the guard position. 

As we saw last season with Villanova, the team played fine during the regular season, but once it faced tougher opposition in the postseason, it crumbled under pressure and was eliminated in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Brunson will take the guard position to the next level at Villanova, which means he should make every player around him better as well.

If a Brunson-led Villanova team can go far in March each year, he will mean more to the program, as more high-quality recruits will be attracted to the program even though the Wildcats play in the lowly Big East. 

There will always be players who overlook Villanova for higher-profile teams in bigger conferences, but if Brunson proves that he can take the Wildcats far in the postseason, it will allow a few of those players to take a serious look at the program. 

With on- and off-court success in front of them when Brunson arrives, the Wildcats have no need to find another make-or-break recruit for the class of 2015 because they have already found him. 

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