NCB On The Trail: Arizona Wildcats

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I don't believe Jabari Parker's decision on whether to turn pro has any bearing at all on the college decision of ESPN 100 No. 2 overall prospect Myles Turner.

Turner wanted to finish taking his visits and then try to figure out what his best option would be. He is done with visits; now it’s time for him to weigh all the pros and the cons. He is looking for a situation where he has a strong relationship with the head coach and the overall chemistry of the team. Furthermore, he wants a coach who has proven track record developing his players over the course of a year or over time, and preparing them for the next level will be important.

Whether Parker stays at Duke or declares for the NBA draft won't affect Turner's decision. His list of schools is still the same: Arizona, Duke, Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Texas, SMU and Texas A&M. Look for him to make his decision sometime after the Jordan Brand Classic game, which is at 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN2.
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Scouting the country each year I’ll not only see players’ skills, athletic ability and basketball IQ, but I’ll also witness their character along the way. This year’s class might not have any NBA superstars at the moment, but it will have difference-makers for the college game, both in the short term as well as those who will make a difference in time because of their character traits combined with their talent.

As we wrap up the Class of 2014, here are my five final thoughts:

1. The land of the giants

[+] EnlargeJahlil Okafor
AP Photo/The Sun News/Charles SlateDuke center signee Jahlil Okafor finishes the season as the nation's top prospect.
When you look at the top of a class it's so rare to have three post players sitting in the top three spots. Jahlil Okafor, who held the top spot for much of the season, finishes the season as the nation’s top prospect. The center from Chicago is a dominating presence in the paint. A Duke signee, Okafor led his high school team to a 4A state championship and was named the McDonalds Morgan Wooten player of the year.

He is special because he scores down low in the paint with his back to the basket. His combination of size, touch and fluid footwork is too much for one defender and when he doesn’t score, he attracts a double-team, which gives his team an advantage. He operates with patience and poise and when he reads the double-team he will accurately pass out to the open man. Defensively he guards the post and is improving at ball-screen defense as he is a barrier to the rim for his team.

Myles Turner, the nation’s No. 2 prospect, challenged hard for the No. 1 position and shows a big upside. Turner, who is uncommitted, is an elite shot-blocker and scores baskets with a soft touch and range. Cliff Alexander is going to be an absolute difference-maker for Kansas with his ability to rebound, finish and block shots, and he does it in an aggressive manner. Trey Lyles is one of the most skilled post players in this group and his future teammate at Kentucky Karl Towns Jr. has franchise skill-to-size ratio. Thomas Welsh is a fundamentally sound big who will anchor the middle at UCLA.


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NEW YORK -- The Dick's Sporting Goods High School National Tournament crowned a champion on Saturday at Madison Square Garden with a familiar name as Montverde Academy (Fla.) won its second straight title, this time 71-62 over Oak Hill Academy (Va.). Over the six-year history of this prestigious event, this was the deepest field of teams and the highest level of talent from top to bottom. Montverde came in ranked as the No. 1 high school team in the country and should walk away in that top spot when the polls are finalized.

As the final high school team event of the 2013-14 season, let's take a look at five things we learned from this year's tournament:


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CHICAGO -- Wednesday marked the 37th Annual McDonald's All-American game featuring the top high school boys basketball players in the country. The game took place at the United Center, home of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.

Best low-post player: Jahlil Okafor


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CHICAGO -- The prestigious McDonald's All American Game annually brings together the best talent in high school basketball, all on one stage. Here are a few game matchups to watch for this year's star-studded event, which can be seen live on ESPN Wednesday night at 9:30 ET.


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Recruit and return: Arizona 

March, 29, 2014
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In order to return to the NCAA tournament, a team needs contributions from both returning players and incoming recruits. Here's a look at Arizona and its chances of dancing again in 2015.

Quick references:
2013-14 roster
2014 recruiting

Possible starting five:
G: T.J. McConnell
G: Nick Johnson
F: Stanley Johnson
F: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
F: Brandon Ashley


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Roundtable: Future NCAA tourney stars 

March, 18, 2014
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March Madness is in full swing with conference tournaments and selection Sunday giving way to the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament.

With each possession of each game now carrying far greater magnitude, championships are being decided by the players and teams that are able to control their emotions and execute under intensity and pressure.

Coaches go to great lengths to simulate these types of scenarios during the course of the year. Programs such as Kentucky and Connecticut actually monitor their players’ heart rates during games and practices, measuring and ultimately trying to reduce the variance as much as possible, while other coaches dedicate a huge amount of practice time to late-game situations in hopes of relieving the pressure of a potential tense moment, replacing it with a sense of preparedness.

Ultimately though, so much of being able to thrive in high-intensity situations comes down to a player’s DNA, and that is something that can be evaluated during the recruiting process, especially at this time of year, when high schools are going through their own postseason tournament runs.

With that in mind, we again went to our team of experts at Recruiting Nation and asked them which current high school prospects are built for future March Madness success, specifically in the game’s most critical minutes.


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I love comparing two elite players. I recently watched T.J. Warren in the ACC tournament and have followed him from his high school days at Brewster Academy.

The same can be said about Stanley Johnson, who I analyzed and watched over the past three years.

When I look at each player's game, they are both small forwards who have good size and a strong body.

The biggest difference is that Warren scores with great effectiveness from many different spots on the floor. The 6-foot-8 star of the Wolfpack also has tremendous scoring instincts and doesn't force the action because he's more mature and has improved his game.

The Arizona-bound Johnson plays hard and is versatile on the floor. The 6-6 prospect might be a better rebounder and an athlete than Warren, but he is not the offensive player that Warren is right now. That is OK because many players are not at Warren's level.

As a sophomore, Warren was the ACC's Player of the Year and led the conference in scoring at 24.8 points per game.

CIF Southern Section review 

March, 10, 2014
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The last couple of weeks were spent venturing all over Southern California for the CIF Southern Section Championships, casting my eyes upon some of the better prospects around the region. At the end of the day it became quite clear, yet again, Arizona signee Stanley Johnson (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) is too much to handle at this level.


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Playing the comparison game 

February, 20, 2014
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It's a constant topic of conversation: Which player does this prospect remind us of?

Well, given that the current college basketball season has been dominated by freshmen, we took a look at Jeff Goodman’s latest ranking of college freshmen and played the comparison game.

Duke’s Jabari Parker reminds us of Duke signee Jahlil Okafor.
Although they obviously don’t play the same position or have the same style, the similarities are there, and not just the superficial ones such as their hometown of Chicago or college destination. Although Parker does his work primarily from the perimeter and Okafor on the block, Okafor has that same level of maturity that will allow him to adjust to offensive structure just as quickly as Parker has. Furthermore, Okafor likely will take over for Parker and become the immediate focal point of the way Duke plays in the half court. The Blue Devils have tailored what they do offensively to Parker this season, and they’re likely to do the same for Okafor next season.


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Nike Extravaganza recap 

February, 3, 2014
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The 19th annual Nike Extravaganza was quite possibly the best collection of talent in its tenure. When you have Duke-bound Jahlil Okafor (Chicago/Whitney Young) going head-to-head with Arizona-bound Stanley Johnson (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei), that is about as good as it gets. Add in USC-bound Jordan McLaughlin (Etiwanda, Calif./Etiwanda) putting the St. John Bosco defense on skates and recent ESPN 100 entree Elijah Stewart (Los Angeles/Westchester) scorching the nets, it further solidifies the claim that the event was loaded.

A load in the paint

Jahlil Okafor (Chicago/Whitney Young)
2014, C, 6-foot-10, 270 pounds
Status: Signed with Duke
Okafor didn't get many touches because of Mater Dei's collapsing zone. Once teammate and Saint Louis signee Miles Stewart started draining 3s, it opened up some breathing room for him to operate. He gathered most of his stats on offensive rebounds and utilizing those magnetic hands he possesses. At this level, he can dominate with his length, strength, and post skills. However, Okafor has limited lift and he struggled at times corralling rebounds despite having a significant size advantage.


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The McDonald's All American Game is annually the nation's most prestigious high school basketball all-star event. The rosters have been announced for the Class of 2014, and this year's game will once again be played at the United Center in Chicago and will air live on ESPN on April 2.

Here's a deeper look at five exciting matchups we'll see in the 2014 contest.

1. The battle of the giants
Jahlil Okafor (West) vs. Myles Turner (East)


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#AskCoachB: Johnson or Oubre?

January, 21, 2014
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Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation national recruiting director Paul Biancardi a question about basketball recruiting? Tweet it to @PaulBiancardi using the hashtag #AskCoachB.

From akajb6 on Twitter: Who would you rather have as a small forward, Stanley Johnson or Kelly Oubre?

A hard question to answer that I won't avoid.

First of all, they are two of the elite players and small forwards in the Class of 2014.

If I was coaching a team, I would take Johnson, an Arizona signee, based on his versatility, a facet of the game that I put a lot of stock into. Johnson is competitive and close to being a complete player, as he can score from deep, in the mid-range and also has a paint game. I like his versatility to handle the ball well enough in the backcourt and to push it on the fast break. He is a power driver who can finish through contact and take on defenders at the rim.

Johnson continues to score in a variety of ways and will be a mismatch as smaller defenders will struggle with his power and strength and bigger players will have a tough time with his speed, skill and mobility.

Oubre, a Kansas signee, has an explosive vertical and is one of the best finishers in the class.

I believe both will be very good on the defensive end. Johnson could defend small forwards and power forwards with his chiseled frame. Oubre will be great on perimeter defense guarding the ball, contesting jumpers and covering ground. When it comes to rebounding, both can and will work on the glass.

They are both stud freshmen who will impact their respective teams next year.
Here's a look at new Arizona commit Tyler Dorsey (Los Angeles, Calif./Saint John Bosco), a five-star prospect for the Class of 2015.


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HOUSTON -- I caught up with ESPN 100 No. 2 overall Myles Turner (Euless, Texas/Trinity) on Saturday in Houston before his game against ESPN 100 No. 14 Justise Winslow (Houston/St. John’s) at the Fonde Hall of Fame games to get a recruiting update and see how the season was going.

Turner, the top uncommitted/unsigned player in the land, is considering Oklahoma State, Texas, Ohio State, Duke, Kentucky, Arizona and Kansas. The center has officially visited only Ohio State and had to cancel an official visit to Oklahoma State several weeks ago because of weather.


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