NCB On The Trail: Kentucky Wildcats

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The two best prospects were Jahlil Okafor for the USA Team and Karl Towns Jr. for the World Team.

Okafor displayed his dominating low-post game and was virtually unguardable. He produced double- figure points (14) and rebounds (10) in only 27 minutes of play. If he gets into optimal physical condition, he can decide his future.

Towns was the only player on the World Team who could score with either hand. Okafor made it difficult for him to score because of his franchise size. He was in foul trouble most of the game so he had to sit and lost some of his aggressiveness.

Towns' future at Kentucky and beyond is extremely bright.

When you look ahead to the college game next season, Okafor should be battle-tested and ready to produce at a high level at Duke.

Towns has all the upside you could ever want in a big man. When you combine his size, shooting skills and impressive basketball instincts -- along with his defensive upside -- he could be really good at Kentucky.

With plenty of hard work and sacrifice in the offseason, they could be two of the better players in college basketball next season.
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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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In order to return to the NCAA tournament, a team needs contributions from both returning players and incoming recruits. Here's a look at Kentucky and its chances of dancing again in 2015.

Quick references:
2013-14 roster
2014 recruiting

Possible 2014-15 starting five:
G: Andrew Harrison
G: Aaron Harrison
F: Alex Poythress
F: Trey Lyles
C: Willie Cauley-Stein/Dakari Johnson


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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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McDonald's Game players to watch 

April, 2, 2014
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The basketball world will be watching the 37th annual McDonald’s All-American Game on Wednesday night (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET) from the United Center in Chicago.

The 24 players selected to participate have already received the greatest honor in high school basketball, but with practices having started, they’re quickly realizing that this week is as much about things to come as it is a celebration of their careers to date.

The game isn’t just a chance for these players to excite their future fan bases, but also to perform, in many cases for the first time in their career, in front of NBA scouts and front office personnel expected from all 30 teams. It all but ensures a competitive few days of action as the players are always anxious to make a good impression.

That type of environment is also ideal for our ESPN RecruitingNation staff as we take one of our final looks at the top players in the country before ultimately putting the Class of 2014 player rankings to bed. With that in mind, we asked our team of evaluators which player they were most interested in observing this week:


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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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Karl Towns Jr. has franchise size and a high degree of skill.

As a 7-foot-1 player at close to 250 pounds, he is most comfortable, confident and best at facing the basket shooting jumpers or passing. Don't be surprised to see this big man hanging out at the high post, in ball screens and dribble handoffs, making jump shots and handing out some assists. Towns can and will go inside and call for the ball with a big man's demeanor.

When his body starts to shed away the baby fat and when he learns how to play in a stance from low to high, opponents will be in trouble.

I like him now, but expect him to improve from potential to player in time.

His upside is NBA-like because of his elite shooting touch from anywhere on the floor, along with his mammoth size.

His playing resume is impressive, as he was a member of the Dominican Republic Senior National Team, a two-time New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year and a three-time all-state selection.

Recently he was selected to play in the Jordan Brand Classic and the McDonald’s All-American Game. His most prestigious award came this week as he was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year.

Kentucky fans will enjoy and appreciate him as a person, student and basketball player.
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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Making jump shots is one of the most important skills in basketball. It might look easy, but it’s hard to become a consistent shooter with range.

Taking open shots is a big part of becoming a great shooter, as well as moving without the ball. High-level shooters are ready to shoot the ball as soon as it’s passed to them.

There are many outstanding jump shooters in the Class of 2014, but here are my top five.


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What a tough question to answer, as not only are Trey Lyles (Indianapolis/Arsenal Tech) and James Blackmon Jr. (Marion, Ind./Marion) the two best players in the state of Indiana, but two of the better players in the nation. Both have fathers who were great players in their time, and they are competitive players who have helped their high school teams win.

If I had to choose, I would take Lyles, with the reason being that his combination of size (6-foot-10, 255 pounds) and mobility with skill is rare. Along with that is his basketball IQ and desire to work at his craft, which are also rare in today's young prospects. His ability to score and pass against a set defense with outstanding hands and footwork is what separates him from his peers. He will thrive at Kentucky.

Blackmon is a great guard now and will only continue to improve in the future as he plays alongside other high-level players. Right now he is the focal point from an opponent's defense, but at Indiana that will change. He makes shots from anywhere on the floor with range and accuracy. He will have an outstanding career at Indiana.
ESPN 60 (Class of 2015) small forward Charles Matthews (Chicago/Saint Rita) ended his recruiting Wednesday morning by committing to the Kentucky Wildcats over Illinois, Marquette, Kansas and Michigan State.


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Roundtable: Must-get prospects for 2015 

February, 25, 2014
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With the vast majority of the top prospects in the ESPN 100 now off the board, the focus of the recruiting world is now rapidly shifting to the 2015 class where programs from all levels of college basketball are looking to position themselves for a successful recruiting cycle.

Some are already ahead of the curve. LSU landed a huge early score in Ben Simmons (Melbourne, Australia/Montverde Academy), Arizona has its next big-time guard in Tyler Dorsey (Los Angeles/St. John Bosco) and Syracuse has a pair of ESPN 60 products in Malachi Richardson (Hamilton, N.J./Trenton Catholic) and Tyler Lydon (Pine Plains, N.Y./New Hampton).

Memphis, Michigan State, Marquette, and Illinois have early commitments from ESPN 60 products as well, while the Fighting Illini are joined by Connecticut, Washington, Villanova, New Mexico, Rutgers, and Mississippi State in already having two verbal commitments.

With the 2015 dominoes beginning to align, we asked our team of Recruiting Nation experts to pinpoint which programs have already established their top priority, or “must-have recruit,” in the coming year.


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#AskCoachB: Projecting Kentucky

February, 18, 2014
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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.
Kentucky has the nation's No. 2 recruiting class. And this class, put together by John Calipari, is different than his past ones.

This bunch is highly ranked, with size and talent, but the difference is that this class has more skill on an individual and collective basis than in years past.

All four signees were recently named McDonald's All-Americans.

At 5-foot-9, Tyler Ulis (Matteson, Ill./Marian Catholic) might be the smallest point guard Calipari has ever coached, and he will be the best pure point guard he has ever landed. All his other great leaders were scoring guards with size, athletic ability and the mindset to score first and pass second. Ulis is just the opposite.

Devin Booker (Moss Point, Miss./Moss Point) is an outstanding long-range open shooter.

Trey Lyles (Indianapolis/Arsenal Technical) and Karl Towns (Metuchen, N.J./St. Joseph) can score inside and outside the paint, which allows them to play a high-low game. Both big men can pass against a set defense, which speaks volumes of their instincts for the game.

Of course, there will be a huge learning curve, as there is with every freshman group.

Who will decide to stay another season at Kentucky? It's never easy to figure out this early. But I would say the obvious ones are Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress.

Who's leaving? Chad Ford has Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein and James Young all in the first round on his Big Board Insider. The Harrison twins are playing much better, but it remains to be seen where they project in the draft.
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The most successful recruiters are the ones with both a philosophy and a strategy.

They analyze their rosters, the competition and style of play in order to systematically build the most comprehensive team possible.

But as the old saying goes, even the best laid schemes often go awry, so flexibility and adaptability become equally imperative to long-term recruiting success.

That can be especially true during the college season, when a number of factors can change the course of a team’s plans.

Sometimes a team evolves in ways in which their coaches didn’t project, one player develops more than expected while another’s learning curve is less. And so that program needs to bring in a different position player than they once thought.

Most often, recruiting needs evolve according to turnover within the roster. Transfers are the most obvious example, but for many of the nation’s most prestigious programs, it’s the ramifications of the NBA draft that become especially hard to project.

With that in mind, here is a look at five programs whose recruiting needs now look much different than they did at the beginning of the season:


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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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