NCB On The Trail: Kansas Jayhawks

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The Jordan Brand Classic features the best talent high school basketball has to offer. Here are some of the most intriguing potential matchups in this terrific annual event, which airs Friday night at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Tyus Jones (Duke) vs. Tyler Ulis (Kentucky)

This matchup will be the battle for who can get the most assists. Both are terrific pass-first point guards who can play fast or slow. They can make open shots in order to keep the defense honest, and their decision-making on the offensive end of the floor is excellent, as well. Ulis can apply more heat on the ball defensively, while Jones is stronger and the better finisher in heavy traffic. It will be interesting to see who makes the fewest mistakes with the ball and who will win the assist category as Jones and Ulis push each other on both ends of the floor.


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Roundtable: ESPN 100 commit predictions 

April, 15, 2014
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The ESPN 100 has just three remaining uncommitted prospects, and the competition remains furious for their services.

Myles Turner, No. 2 in the ESPN 100, leads the way, followed by No. 94 Elijah Stewart, who was released from his letter of intent to Loyola Marymount following the firing of coach Max Good, and No. 98 Josh Cunningham.

Devonte Graham wasn’t ESPN 100 eligible by virtue of his post-graduate status, but there is no denying he is a wanted man after receiving his release from Appalachian State. He will take official visits to Kansas and North Carolina State while also considering Virginia, Virginia Tech, Xavier and Providence.

So where are these remaining four prospects headed? No one knows for sure just yet, but here are a few educated guesses:


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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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#AskCoachB: Future for Kansas

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
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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.
Freshman center Joel Embiid has yet to officially announce his NBA draft decision, but it looks like fellow freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins will do so on Monday. The school released a statement that the 6-foot-8 freshman from Canada will make an announcement at 3 p.m. ET. When you have an announcement set up, it usually means you are going somewhere, not staying.

Looking ahead to 2015, Naadir Tharpe will be graduating next year, which makes point guard an absolute need in the 2015 class. Everyone will also be keeping tabs on returning wing Wayne Selden and incoming freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre next season.

The Jayhawks' needs in 2015 could be many depending on which players declare for the NBA draft next year. Here is an early peek at their wish list in 2015. On the perimeter there's Malik Newman, Jalen Brunson, Jalen Adams, Antonio Blakeney, Montaque Gill-Ceasar and P.J. Dozier. Dozier, who has been sidelined with a knee injury this year, will be back and has already shown the talent to be a high-major prospect.

The main targets for the frontcourt are ESPN 60 No. 1 Ivan Rabb, Diamond Stone, Stephen Zimmerman, Chase Jeter and Carlton Bragg.

This is an early, fluid list of recruits Kansas has targeted. There is a very good chance this list will change after the spring evaluation period.

Recruit and return: Kansas 

March, 23, 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 Kansas and its chances of dancing again in 2015.

Quick references:
2013-14 roster
2014 recruiting

Possible 2014-15 starting five:

G: Naadir Tharpe
G: Brannen Greene
F: Kelly Oubre
F: Perry Ellis
F: Cliff Alexander


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When looking at the final four schools involved for JaQuan Lyle -- Oregon, Memphis, Oklahoma State and Kansas -- the one that lost out the most was Oklahoma State, as I believe it needed him more than the other schools.

Kansas has Naadir Tharpe and Frank Mason coming back next season to share the point. Tharpe has made steady progress at Kansas and will be a senior next season.

Memphis has ESPN 100 prospect Dominic Magee coming in. He will be sharing the point guard spot with Rashawn Powell, who sat out this season.

When you look at Oklahoma State’s returning roster, it doesn't have an obvious choice at the point guard spot. The Cowboys will be relying on junior college prospect Jeff Newberry.

Oregon landed Lyle and has a need for a pass-first point guard, as it allows Dominic Artis, who prefers to score first, to slide over to shooting guard at times. Lyle’s choice was not a surprise, as he visited every school and every school has a need for him.
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Only three players are left on the board in the ESPN 100, and Myles Turner is the only one who's a game-changer. But it doesn't mean there is talent out there who won't help a major program.

JaQuan Lyle, who is ranked No. 41, is a setup point guard with a strong body and is capable of playing as a freshman. His greatest assets are his passing ability and basketball IQ. He understands the game. Lyle plans on making his college decision soon and is down to Oregon, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Memphis.

No. 99 prospect Josh Cunningham is a hybrid forward who excels on the break and in defending in the half court. He has enough of offense to keep opponents honest and is looking at many schools, including Indiana and South Carolina.

There are always guys outside the top 100 who can help programs at different levels next season. If they are still unsigned in the late period, it could mean a lot of things. Some may be waiting on their grades, while others are still blossoming, and a few may be hoping for better offers.
The recruitment of Myles Turner is heating up.

[+] EnlargeMyles Turner
Kelly Kline/Under ArmourMyles Turner is the biggest name left on the 2014 recruiting board.
As the second-ranked prospect and best available player left in the ESPN 100, Turner has his choice of the most prestigious programs in the country, and he’s seen several of them in person in recent weeks.

Turner took an official visit to Duke last weekend to take in its victory over North Carolina and was at Kansas a few days earlier. Having previously taken official visits to Ohio State and Oklahoma State, he’ll save his fifth and final visit for Texas, but also might still take an unofficial trip to Kentucky before making his decision.

Turner is scheduled to participate in the McDonald’s All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit this spring, where he’ll play alongside several potential future teammates. With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of where he might fit in best, taking into consideration both each program’s likely personnel as well as their typical style of play:


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Myles Turner has taken official visits so far to Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Duke. He has been saying for a while his last visit will be to Texas.

I believe Kansas, with all of its prior success with big men under Bill Self, is being seriously considered. It's hard to imagine that Joel Embiid will stay in college with his progress and potential.

In terms of playing together, it would be easy as Turner can play in the high post, which is more of his natural position.

Embiid would stay more in the paint with his back to the basket. I will tell you this from witnessing Embiid in the past: He can shoot the ball better than the public knows, and that means if he goes to the high post, Turner can slide inside at anytime.

If Embiid stays at Kansas, the house will be a little more crowded with Cliff Alexander, Perry Ellis, Hunter Mickelson and Landen Lucas. It's a problem Self would certainly embrace.
video Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation national recruiting director Paul Biancardi a question about basketball recruiting? Tweet it to @PaulBiancardi using the hashtag #AskCoachB.

It's hard to separate these guys. Both are difference-makers in high school who will make a big impact in college.

Today, I would take Duke commit Jahlil Okafor (Chicago/Whitney Young), because he can score inside not only with size, but with moves and a soft touch. He also has learned how to pass out of the post, which is another skill that takes most big men years to learn.

It's rare to find his game with today's post players. Okafor's body has changed, as he runs the floor better and is much more mobile, which helps when defending.

Kansas-bound Cliff Alexander (Chicago/Curie) is a physical specimen who is a great rebounder and finisher. He has won us over with his relentless approach.

I made a hard decision, but believe me, you win with either one of these prospects.

#AskCoachB: Alexander/Embiid combo?

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
12:30
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video Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation national recruiting director Paul Biancardi a question about basketball recruiting? Tweet it to @PaulBiancardi using the hashtag #AskCoachB.

Curie High School and Cliff Alexander, who is No. 3 in the ESPN 100, recently won the Chicago Public League championship and will compete for a state championship in March.

Alexander is powerful and explosive in the paint both at scoring and rebounding. He is best utilized running the floor and then playing on the blocks. At times he can function at the foul line with a straight-line drive or a short jumper.

Joel Embiid is a paint player this year, but I can tell you, from watching him in high school, he could face up with an offseason of work. His jumper is accurate from the high post and even to the arc. If he were to come back, he could play up top in the high-low offense and be a good pick-and-pop big man.

Embiid and Alexander certainly could coexist and be hard to guard because they are extremely athletic with great size, length, power and mobility. Defensively, Kansas would protect the paint and control the defensive backboard as well as anyone in the nation.

Both would need to polish up and develop their face-up games while still staying dominant inside.

It would be a great problem for Kansas coach Bill Self, who has had tremendous success in developing his post players and winning Big 12 championships.

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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