T.J. Leaf to Arizona: Wildcats Land 5-Star PF Prospect

One of the top prospects in the Class of 2016 has announced his commitment, as 5-star power forward T.J. Leaf will be headed to Arizona.    

Leaf announced his decision Wednesday via his Twitter account:

Leaf is certainly an exciting prospect. Standing at 6’9″ and weighing 215 pounds, he’s the 14th-ranked prospect in the nation according to 247Sports’ composite system, the No. 3 power forward and the No. 2 player from the state of California.    

He was excellent for Foothills Christian in 2013, averaging 22.4 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.8 blocks and 4.5 assists in 35 games. That was good enough to see him named a 2014 MaxPreps Sophomore All-America honorable mention. 

Jerry Meyer of 247Sports made the following comparisons when evaluating Leaf:

That’s pretty good company for a 17-year-old. Alex Kline of The Recruit Scoop adds:

Leaf now gives Sean Miller and Arizona their first 5-star recruit for the Class of 2016. Miller and Arizona are certainly having a good month—according to 247Sports, they have also secured the top recruiting class for 2015.

In other words, Arizona looks as though it will be a force to be reckoned with for the next several years. The Wildcats from Kentucky may get all the hype when it comes to recruiting top classes, but the Wildcats of Arizona are looking pretty darn good at the moment.

 

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D’Marcus Simonds to Mississippi State: Bulldogs Land 4-Star SG Prospect

With Mississippi State’s football program ascending into national championship contention, it’s up to Rick Ray to make sure his basketball team isn’t too far behind. The Bulldogs head coach is off to a strong start if his recent recruiting coups pan out.

Less than a week after landing touted class of 2015 guard Quinndary Weatherspoon, Ray received the commitment of class of 2016 star D’Marcus Simonds. The consensus 4-star recruit became Mississippi State’s first 2016 commit on Tuesday, choosing the Bulldogs over Kansas State, Florida, UConn and others.

“I felt like Coach (Rick) Ray is turning (the program) in the right direction,” Simonds told Gene Swindoll of Scout.com. “(And) the entire family aspect of it is amazing. I also love the campus and the coaching staff.”

Simonds, a standout shooting guard at Buford (Georgia) High School, is currently the nation’s No. 52 recruit in 247Sports’ composite rankings. He’s the ninth-best shooting guard and the second-ranked player in the state behind 5-star point guard Kobi Simmons

Listed at 6’4″ and 196 pounds, Simonds is a skilled combo guard who should fit the roster nicely as a secondary ball-handler. He’s an above-average athlete who likes to use dribble drives to get into the middle of the defense, finishing over opponents or drawing contact. He averaged 23 points, 12 rebounds and six assists per game last season and says he likes Ray’s system. 

“The pick and roll game is great,” Simonds told Robbie Faulk of 247Sports. “When they run and play defense they get after it. It’s what I do at Buford. They want to use me at the one sometimes but usually I’ll be catching and shooting because I like the wing. I’m just a winner and that’s all I know. I can play basketball so that’s just how it is.”

Ray, in his third season at Mississippi State, has gotten off to a slow start. The Bulldogs were 24-41 in his first two seasons, including a 7-29 record in SEC play. While injuries and a depleted roster have played a part in those struggles, Ray’s job status heading into 2014-15 was at least somewhat up in the air. Mississippi State had not been under .500 since the 1999-2000 season before Ray took over, with Rick Stansbury leading the Bulldogs to six NCAA tournament appearances in his tenure.

Off to a 2-0 start and having landed a Top 50 class for 2015, Ray seems to have the program heading in the right direction. Landing a high-profile recruit like Simonds over some major powers is just the latest sign.

 

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Skal Labissiere to Kentucky: Wildcats Land 5-Star Center Prospect

Few centers in the Class of 2015 were more coveted  than Skal Labissiere. On Thursday night, the prep star made his decision on where he’ll play in college.

Labissiere announced that he’ll join Kentucky, per Scout.com’s Evan Daniels:

ESPN’s Reggie Rankin has Labissiere’s thoughts on his new school:

According to 247Sports’ composite rankings, Labissiere is the second-best center and seventh-best recruit in the country. While far from the finished product, he has the potential to be a defensive force in the post.

Labissiere’s choice comes as little surprise. Scout’s Evan Daniels reported on Monday that the Wildcats looked to be in pole position:

Back in April 2013, College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster wrote that Labissiere would be a great fit with UK head coach John Calipari after he helped Marcus Camby, Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel all parlay their collegiate careers into high first-round selections in the NBA draft.

Camby, Davis and Noel are all similar to Labissiere in that they excelled at the defensive end but weren’t necessarily game-changers on the offensive end when they made the jump to college. Like Davis, Labissiere has a nice touch from mid-range when facing up to the basket.

The only knock on him is that he’s still a bit undersized to become an unstoppable presence in the post. At 6’10″ and 200 pounds, he’ll get bullied early on by stronger centers. As long as Labissiere can add some muscle, though, it won’t be a major problem.

While the Wildcats are loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans every year, Calipari’s record speaks for itself. Few college coaches are as adept at preparing his players for the NBA. There’s little doubt that Labissiere has the potential to be the next great big man to come out of Lexington.

Of course, Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com raised the major red flag hovering over the young center:

Labissiere attempted to transfer and play basketball at Lausanne Collegiate School, only to be denied by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, per Michael Cohen of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis:

Labissiere then announced in late October that he’d play for Reach Your Dream Prep:

ESPN 92.9′s Josh Martin documented how Reach Your Dream Prep didn’t even exist before Labissiere’s appeal was denied. College basketball writer Andy Glockner attempted to access the school’s website, only to find that it was “coming soon”:

USA Today‘s Dan Wolken called the whole situation “insane”:

Martin wrote that the NCAA would obviously do its due diligence about Reach Your Dream Prep before signing off on the center’s eligibility.

And as if the NCAA’s investigation didn’t feature enough twists and turns, CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish reported on Wednesday that Labissiere’s guardian, Gerald Hamilton, may have had an ulterior motive for bringing the teenager over from Haiti:

Truth be told, (AAU coach Keith) Easterwood used to meet guys like this often, if only because his hometown of Memphis is littered with such people, the kind Easterwood routinely refers to as “hobos, heroes and street-corner clowns.” Hamilton was, in Easterwood’s mind, merely the latest. So they met but never got to know each other because, honestly, it’s not like Hamilton had any players anyway, point being he wasn’t, at the time, really worth getting to know.

Then, about two years ago, Easterwood got a random phone call.

“It was Gerald Hamilton,” Easterwood told CBSSports.com. “He wanted to talk, and one of the things he asked me was, ‘How can I make money off of a basketball player?’”

Hamilton is also the founder of Reach Your Dream, the charitable foundation behind Reach Your Dream Prep, and according to Parrish’s sources, “Hamilton either directly indicated or strongly suggested pursuing Labissiere would mostly be a waste of time if they couldn’t offer assistance in helping fund his foundation.”

The NCAA will be turning over every stone before ruling whether Labissiere will be able to play for Kentucky.

Labissiere is keeping his options open in the event he’s ruled ineligible.

“Overseas is an option,” he said in July, per Parrish. “I don’t know yet for sure. We’ll see. But that is a lot of money.”

He wouldn’t be the first prep star to play international basketball for a year before heading to the NBA. Brandon Jennings did so in Italy prior to the 2009 NBA draft, while Emmanuel Mudiay is plying his trade in China before almost certainly entering the 2015 draft.

For most high school stars, selecting a college is the end of a years-long process and hours upon hours of hard work in the gym. For Labissiere, the decision is only the beginning of what’s bound to be a whirlwind few months as the NCAA ponders its next move.

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Isaiah Briscoe to Kentucky: Wildcats Land 5-Star PG Prospect

Kentucky landed one of the crown jewels in the high school basketball Class of 2015.

On Thursday night, point guard Isaiah Briscoe announced that he will be a Wildcat. Eric Hampford of Sporting News reported the news:

Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal provides details on when Briscoe intends to sign:

This isn’t the first big signing for Kentucky today as 5-star center Skal Labissiere also committed to the Wildcats via ESPN’s Reggie Rankin:

The Roselle Catholic High School star is the best point guard in the country and ninth-best recruit overall, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.

Is anybody really surprised that Briscoe is headed to Lexington? John Calipari seemingly gets whatever he wants on the recruiting trail. He’s brought incredible success to the school, and a handful of his players have gone on to have promising careers at the next level.

Briscoe’s father, George, sang the praises of Calipari and the Wildcats in the days leading up to his son’s decisions.

“You can’t say enough about Kentucky,” the elder Briscoe said, per Steve Jones of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. “It is what is. It’s the model. What else do you want me to say? Facility-wise, coaching-wise, preparation, it’s the model, and it speaks for itself. They have, what, 19 draft choices since (John) Calipari (was hired)?”

With that said, playing time could be an issue for Briscoe early on. Even if Andrew Harrison leaves for the NBA after his sophomore season, incoming freshman Tyler Ulis will likely still be around. Ulis is the No. 3 point guard in the Class of 2014, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.

Despite that potentially minor roadblock, Briscoe will have his chance to shine with Kentucky at some point down the road.

Briscoe is cut from the Damian Lillard/Kyrie Irving mold of point guard. While he’s a strong ball-handler with the vision to pick out a variety of passes, his greatest asset is his ability to score. He can single-handedly change a game when he’s on.

Like Lillard, Briscoe’s shooting percentage may not be flattering; his shot selection can be frustrating at times. However, Briscoe possesses above-average range and can penetrate inside to get easy baskets. On the whole, the good will far outweigh the bad.

Given his skill set, Briscoe could play a little bit at shooting guard, but at 6’3″ and 200 pounds, he could be physically overwhelmed by bigger 2-guards once he hits college. His size will likely mean the majority of his playing time comes at the point.

Although Briscoe’s arrival is still a year away, Kentucky fans have reason to be excited for the 2015-16 season.

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Derrick Jones to UNLV: Rebels Land 4-Star SF Prospect

Small forward Derrick Jones, a 4-star recruit out of Archbishop Carroll High School in Philadelphia, announced his commitment to play college basketball at UNLV on Thursday.

Ben Roberts of the Lexington Herald-Leader reported the news of Jones’ decision:

Jones, who is ranked 41st overall and seventh at his position in 247Sports’ composite rankings, is 6’6″ and just 180 pounds, so he still has considerable room to fill out his frame.

That is an appropriate way to describe his ceiling as a basketball player too because Jones is just beginning to unearth his potential.

Jon Rothstein of CBSSports.com accentuated just how much natural ability Jones has:

With transcendent athleticism, Jones has been able to get by with such a raw skill set at the high school level. That’s why UNLV’s coaching staff has to be thrilled to be the group that gets to mold Jones and push him to become one of the NCAA’s best all-around players.

According to Jones’ father, Derrick Jones Sr., the prodigious wing is putting in the work to become great, per CityOfBasketballLove.com’s Ari Rosenfeld (h/t CollegeBasketballTalk.com’s Terrence Payne):

Honestly, Derrick’s always had the talent to do it all. Derrick’s an unselfish basketball player. Going into the summer he’s adapted and said “I have to take more, I have to do more.” Just working on his jump shot more, working on his handle more. I’m watching the kid everyday come home and go out back and work, go to the park and work. He’s really dedicated and really wants to be at that level. I really know in my heart that he belongs.

Jones flashes ability to choose the three-pointer, but the better he becomes at being a jump shooter and a ball-handler, the more lethal he will be off the bounce and finishing at the rim.

Adding strength should be a priority for Jones as well. If he can fill out and still maintain his amazing explosiveness, there’s no telling how good he could be.

With his skill set as it stands, Jones is already a phenomenal rebounder, can bother other swingmen with his length on the perimeter and make up ground fast, with the faculties to become a tremendous shot-blocker.

Although he likely won’t contribute too much as a true freshman and may take a bit longer to develop than other top-tier prospects, few from the 2015 class boast the upside Jones has.

UNLV must let Jones’ minutes increase in an organic way rather than thrusting him into action, where he can just rely on his instincts as opposed to taking the time to polish his game. Should that happen, Jones is bound to be among the elite players in the country.

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Tevin Mack to VCU: Rams Land 4-Star SF Prospect

VCU landed one of the best small forwards in the high school basketball Class of 2015.

On Thursday, forward Tevin Mack announced that he will be a Ram, according to ESPN’s Reggie Rankin:

The Dreher High School star is the 12th best small forward in the country, the second best player from South Carolina and is ranked 66th overall in the nation, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings

As one of the dark horses in the recruiting process, VCU made one of the biggest signings of the day when it landed Mack. Not only will Mack bring elite skill for the Rams to utilize on the court, but he also will bring name recognition and will pave the way for more elite recruits to chose VCU in the future.

Under head coach Shaka Smart, Mack will be expected to arrive at the school next year and make an instant impact. With playmakers throughout the roster and depth at every position, Mack will have to earn playing time, but will be given opportunities to shine.

This is an ideal landing spot for the prospect and a major signing for the school.

Regardless of where Mack ended up landing, he is still one of the best players in the 2015 class and would have made any team instantly better. The 6’6” small forward is still growing and has the potential to blossom into a dominant force at his position.

With the ability to drive the lane and fill the bucket, along with the willingness and accuracy to shot from anywhere on the court with consistency, Mack has the potential to develop into a top-tier scoring threat at the next level.

Mack will add another elite star to an already impressive roster, and basketball fans must keep an eye on him as he continues to develop into a game changer at the collegiate level. It will be fun to watch Mack thrive in his new environment.

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Skal Labissiere Decision: Odds for Contenders to Land Top 2015 Recruit

Skal Labissiere, No. 7 on 247Sports.com’s rankings for 2015 recruits, plans on announcing where he’ll take his 6’10″, 200-pound frame.

And to think that as recently as July, here was a kid who gave a passing glance to skipping college altogether for a chance to play professionally overseas—against men—to fine-tune his game. He could possibly earn $1.2 million. No amount of unlimited swipes on the campus meal plan amount to what $1.2 million could do for a young man from an earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

“Overseas is an option,” Labissiere told CBSSports.com. “I don’t know yet for sure. We’ll see. But that is a lot of money.”

What he does know now is that he’ll be choosing to stay in North America and play ball amongst his peers on the college level. What college? Well, we don’t know yet. We do know there are six finalists, so read on to see who are the favorites and the long shots in the bidding for Labissiere’s talents.

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Isaiah Briscoe Decision: Odds for Contenders to Land Top 2015 Recruit

While most players have a short list of five or six schools, Isaiah Briscoe, the No. 9-ranked player in 247Sports.com’s 2015 composite rankings, has just three. Briscoe was three-exclamation-point happy to announce his finalists:

Without knowing it—or maybe he does know and he’s really tipping his hand—Briscoe wrote down St. John’s first, Kentucky second and UConn third. That could be the order of preference. 

So because Briscoe, in his own words, decided to “shut interviews and media down,” we’re left to speculate which lucky school will stand out above the fray. 

And no matter who he chooses, he won’t sign his national letter of intent on Thursday, so the three schools shouldn’t start embroidering uniforms just yet.

Without wasting too much time, let’s take a quick look at the Big Three and the odds that they’ll land this 5-star guard.

 

Connecticut: 25-1

Kevin Ollie recruited Briscoe himself. Ollie wasn’t about to put his faith in an assistant to land this top-10 recruit. 

Briscoe is a 6’3″ point guard, and who better to learn the craft from than a coach who played professionally as a point guard. 

Briscoe wrote for USA Today:

Then with UConn you’ve got Coach (Kevin) Ollie who has played 13 seasons in the NBA as a point guard and I would love to learn from him because of that. 

Who wouldn’t want to learn from a guy who’s been there; we’ve got a great relationship too. Then the whole staff there played point guard at UConn and I love the campus.

Yes, there’s that. A good relationship is key, but these coaches could charm a scorpion into thinking it’s a lady bug. An entire staff of point guards? What’s next? Ice cream has no calories? 

Despite those finer points, and even though UConn can boast that fresh-off-a-national-championship swagger, Ollie and Co. are lukewarm at best to land Briscoe.

 

Kentucky: 4-1

Look at that, 4-1 on Briscoe to Kentucky? Bet, bet, bet! You’re not going to get better odds. When John Calipari gets his Wildcat incisors into a recruit he doesn’t let go. This is Discovery Channel viewing here.

Heck, even Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv sees a world divided between UK and St. John’s:

So what is it? George Briscoe, Isaiah’s father, told The Courier-Journal‘s Steve Jones, ”You can’t say enough about Kentucky. It is what is. It’s the model. What else do you want me to say? Facility-wise, coaching-wise, preparation, it’s the model, and it speaks for itself. They have, what, 19 draft choices since (John) Calipari (was hired)?”

That’s a strong endorsement for Calipari and UK, but as Jones wrote, “Although Isaiah Briscoe has never publicly stated a favorite, the Cats were seen as the likely leaders for much of the last two months. The past few weeks, however, there’s been buzz in the recruiting media that St. John’s could be the team to beat.”

Geography is often an overlook factor. Click those heels; there’s no place like home.

 

St. John’s: 2-1

St. John’s and Steve Lavin have been in the running for Briscoe for years now. Briscoe hails from Newark, New Jersey, a little over an hour away from St. John’s. That’s a bonus Lavin loves to lavish on a recruit, especially one as talented as Briscoe.

Lavin, now entering his fifth season for the Red Storm, has put all his eggs in Briscoe‘s basket.

Zach Braziller the New York Post writes, “The two are interlocked, because of how much time and effort St. John’s has put into the star New Jersey lead guard—they’ve recruited him since his freshman year—and what his commitment would mean to the program’s future.”

Braziller also noted that St. John’s has seven open scholarships and not a single commitment. What does that spell? It means Lavin better sign Briscoe or he could end up back at ESPN. What does Briscoe see in this situation? He will undoubtedly be the focal point of Lavin‘s system, but will he have any help? Maybe that doesn’t matter to Briscoe. He wrote for USA Today:

With St. John’s, first off, just staying home and having my family and friends and fans around and being able to watch me play all the time is great. Then, playing in The Garden, it doesn’t get any better than that; plus it’s New York City and that’s the biggest market in the world! I’m cool with the coaches and I think it would be a great fit.

Maybe it’s more of a push between Kentucky and St. John’s. Maybe that would be the case were the two schools closer geographically. There’s something to be said for playing ball at Madison Square Garden instead of in land-locked horse country. 

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Perry Dozier Jr. to South Carolina: Gamecocks Land 4-Star SG Prospect

The South Carolina men’s basketball program scored a major recruiting win Wednesday as it secured a commitment from Perry Dozier Jr.    

ESPN.com’s Jeff Borzello first reported the announcement:

Dozier is a 6’6″ shooting guard from Columbia, South Carolina, whom 247Sports lists as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2015, according to its composite system. He’s also listed as the sixth-best shooting guard recruit and the top player in this state.

The Spring Valley High School standout was pursued by several top schools, with 247Sports listing South Carolina, Louisville and Georgetown as the top three candidates prior to his decision.

According to Phil Kornblut of GoUpstate.com, Dozier’s father said his son was undecided as recently as last week.  

“It’s still hard to say,” he said. “These guys have all done a wonder job. PJ is going to have a real tough decision. I say that but it’s still anybody’s game right now. Hopefully we’ll know within the next few days.”

Dozier ultimately decided that head coach Frank Martin’s team offered the best situation for him.

This is despite the fact that the Gamecocks haven’t had a winning record since the 2008-09 season, and haven’t qualified for the NCAA tournament since 2003-04. If Dozier is as good as advertised, though, that drought could come to an end in the near future.

 

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Kobe Bryant: Lost in the Land of Angels

An optimist, a pessimist and a realist walk into a bar… to watch a Lakers game.
It does not matter how you slice it, the Los Angeles Lakers’ 0-4 start is bad – Ryan Reynolds as the Green Lantern kind of a bad.
And domino after domino, the problems keep coming.
 
Steve Nash kissed his season, and probably career, goodbye and should be looking into trading in his sneaks for some orthopedic shoes.
Julius Randle, well, he tasted the NBA for a millisecond before breaking his leg. Seriously, I have had pieces of Double Bubble with flavor lasting longer than Randle’s rookie season did.
It is a shame. Honestly, it is.
You either love or hate the Lakers, but even if you hate them, it is never fun to see a team drown like they are.
At the same time, it is exhilarating, yet worrisome, that Kobe Bryant is single-handedly carrying a franchise when the window of opportunity is not just closed but locked, boarded up, and prepared for hurricane-force winds.
Yet, like a devoted husband, Bry…

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