NCB On The Trail: LSU Tigers

Antonio Blakeney's commitment to LSU on Friday gave the Tigers the No. 6 recruiting class in the country and brought an end to a headline-filled four months for the five-star shooting guard.

When Blakeney committed to Louisville in early September, it seemed like the end to a normal recruitment. The Cardinals had been at the forefront of his recruitment for a few months, with Kentucky and LSU making strong pushes in the summer but falling short.

Blakeney was the icing on the cake for what was likely Rick Pitino's best recruiting class during his time at Louisville.

Less than two weeks later, everything changed.

LSU signs No. 1 Ben Simmons

November, 12, 2014
The LSU Tigers announced the signing of's top-rated prospect Ben Simmons to a national letter of intent on Wednesday.

"We are thrilled to have Ben Simmons and his wonderful family officially join the LSU basketball family," Tigers head coach Johnny Jones said on the school's website. "His talent level, hard work and passion for the game will allow him to make an immediate impact on the program."

Simmons averaged 18.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a junior at Montverde (Fla.) Academy last season. The Australian native is the only 2015 recruit for Jones and the Tigers thus far.

Top 5 committed prospects of 2015 

July, 7, 2014
With the recent commitment of Daniel Giddens to Ohio State, 33 of the top 100 players in the Class of 2015 already have verbally committed, even though the July evaluation period is just beginning. These prospects sometimes get less media attention because they have already made their decisions, but they are still being constantly evaluated by our staff.

Let’s take a look at five committed prospects from the 2015 class who are performing well and could see jumps in their rankings:

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Five 2015 classes off to fast starts 

June, 3, 2014
As we turn our attention to the Class of 2015 and the newly released ESPN 100, here’s a look at five college basketball programs that have a head start on the 2015 recruiting trail:

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Minneapolis Nike EYBL recap 

May, 25, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS -- The fourth session of the Nike EYBL gave teams one more opportunity to add league wins and earn the right to participate in the Peach Jam that will crown a champion in July.

Check out some of the many terrific prospect performances we witnessed this weekend at the EYBL:

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What we learned from the HSNT 

April, 7, 2014

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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Freshmen might be the talk of college basketball this season, but if you are paying attention you are starting to notice that experience counts.

The new No. 1 team in the country, Florida, starts a quartet of seniors in Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young and Will Yeguete.

The leading candidate for this year’s Wooden Award as college basketball’s best player is also a senior, as Creighton’s Doug McDermott is averaging 26 points and almoist 7 rebounds while shooting high percentages from the 3-point line, free-throw line and the field.

So while Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Joel Embiid and Tyler Ennis could all bolt for the NBA -- only to be replaced by the likes of Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner, Cliff Alexander, Tyus Jones and Emmanuel Mudiay -- it might actually be others from the 2014 class, who might not necessarily have the same level of instant success, but nonetheless go on to make their mark on college basketball by staying longer and getting better at each step along the way.

Here’s a look at some of the most likely candidates:

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#AskCoachB: Top recruit in 2015

January, 7, 2014
Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation national recruiting director Paul Biancardi a question about basketball recruiting? Tweet it to @PaulBiancardi using the hashtag #AskCoachB.

I have recently seen some of the top players in the Class of 2015. At the very top of the class is No. 1 prospect Malik Newman (Jackson, Miss./Callaway), who is special as a scoring guard as he continues to grow as a player. No. 2 prospect Stephen Zimmerman (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) is extremely skilled and gifted and No. 3 prospect Ivan Rabb (Oakland, Calif./Bishop O'Dowd) has great size, mobility and athletic ability at the rim. All three have lived up to their billing and will continue to fight for the top spot in the class.

But the one guy I believe could have the brightest future is No. 4 prospect Ben Simmons (Melbourne, Australia/Montverde Academy). He has power forward size, bounce, speed, ball skills and an innate passing ability. He is learning to play hard on every possession, and having Kevin Boyle as his coach expedites that process.

Loaded with versatility, Simmons can be a dominant factor scoring from inside the paint, at the high post and beyond the arc. Because he is fluid handling the ball and has outstanding vision to see the open man, he could be used to lead or finish a break and be part of press offense to break pressure. As a rebounder, he could be a monster if he applies himself.

If Simmons becomes more focused and consistent, all the natural talent is there for greatness.

Cancer Research Classic recap 

January, 6, 2014
WHEELING, West Va. -- The Cancer Research Classic is known as the nation’s premier Catholic high school event and includes very successful programs and highly-ranked prospects.

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Mudiay
Kelly Kline/Under ArmourPG Emmanuel Mudiay had two impressive showings at the Cancer Research Classic.
Players from all over the country came in with big reputations, and they did not disappoint. The nation's No. 1 player Jahlil Okafor, No. 5 Emmanuel Mudiay and No. 12 D'Angelo Russell all shined bright. Under the direction of Doc Merrick, this event continues to grow and is recognized as a main attraction after the new year.

Best Point Guard
Emmanuel Mudiay (Dallas, Texas/Prime Prep)
2014, PG, 6'4", 195
Signed with SMU

Mudiay is known for his ability to take over games when he is plugged in. He was on in both of his performances at the CRC. He had 25 in a loss to Wheeler and 16 -- with a nice floor game -- in a loss to Whitney Young. It was a tough weekend, but Mudiay showed why he is rated as one of the top-5 talents in the 2014 class.

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#AskCoachB: Best potential in 2015

November, 22, 2013
Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation national recruiting director Paul Biancardi a question about basketball recruiting? Tweet it to @PaulBiancardi using the hashtag #AskCoachB.

I will give you two names, because to give you just one is too hard and no fun. First, the No. 1 player in the class, Malik Newman. A shooting and scoring guard by nature with a strong body, he has an aggressive, attacking style and the right swagger to get buckets. He shoots it from deep behind the arc and finishes well at the rim because of his college-ready frame. Where he is now and where he will be is far apart, which give him plenty of upside. Potential means nothing unless one maximizes the ability. I believe Newman has plenty of room to grow.

The other prospect is Ben Simmons, who is verbally committed to LSU. The young man from Australia has a rare combination of size, skill and bounce. His greatest skill is his feel for the game and his passing, as he can also score inside the lane or facing up. When Simmons becomes more assertive throughout the game, his high ceiling of talent will be reached.

LSU making noise on recruiting trail 

October, 25, 2013
Johnny Jones Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesJohnny Jones' recruiting success has LSU in prime position to contend next season.
When Trent Johnson left Stanford for LSU in 2008, it sent shock waves -- not fear -- throughout the coaching fraternity. Johnson was revered for his high character, and he had success in Palo Alto with the Lopez twins, but SEC coaches knew he was an outsider, that he wouldn’t be a legitimate threat to keep the top talent at home.

Johnny Jones was hired a little more than a year ago to replace Johnson in Baton Rouge, and it sent a different kind of reaction throughout the league: panic and trepidation.

“We all knew how hard it would be to get players out of the state of Louisiana,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “Johnny works -- and he’s so connected down there.”

Sure, Johnson did manage to land highly rated Johnny O’Bryant in the class of 2011, but the gems have been few and far between during his four-year tenure with the Tigers. Already, the homegrown Jones -- the popular pick when Johnson was hired -- has made waves on the recruiting trail.

Jones wasted no time in keeping Baton Rouge product Jarell Martin (ESPN, No. 11), a consensus Top 25 player and potential one-and-done kid, at home. He also brought in two more Top-100 caliber players -- big man Jordan Mickey (No. 38) and guard Tim Quarterman (No. 80) -- as part of a freshman class that ranked in the Top 10 nationally.

[+] EnlargeBen Simmons
Courtesy of Kelly Kline/AdidasBen Simmons, ESPN's No. 4 player in the Class of 2015, committed to LSU earlier this month.
Jones has also landed big man Elbert Robinson (No. 54) in the Class of 2014, and -- with the help of assistant David Patrick -- received a commitment from one of the elite players in the Class of 2015: skilled Australian forward Ben Simmons (No. 4).

LSU is back. Well, maybe not completely -- but the Tigers are coming.

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Breaking down the class rankings 

October, 16, 2013
This week's class rankings see three new entrants: Marquette, San Diego State and USC. But those aren't the only teams to watch. Here are four things you need to know about the class rankings, from LSU's big splash to Kansas' momentum and much more.

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Scout's take: Ben Simmons to LSU 

October, 14, 2013
Ben Simmons, the No. 4 player in the Class of 2015 ESPN 60, decided to give LSU a verbal commitment shortly after his unofficial visit this past weekend. Simmons has tremendous versatility and skill for his size (6-foot-9), with an innate feel for the game at a young age. The Tigers are working their way up to being a contender through the recruiting efforts of coach Johnny Jones and his staff.

[+] EnlargeBen Simmons
Courtesy of Kelly Kline/AdidasAustralia native Ben Simmons is a 6-9 lefty with a wide variety of skills.
Why he committed: Since the moment Simmons, an Australia native, landed in the United States and Montverde Academy in Florida, Jones and assistant coach David Patrick have been on him. All of the major programs offered him or were soon to offer, and he had his choice of colleges. When it comes to recruiting, it's hard to beat long-lasting relationships. In this case, Patrick is Simmons' godfather and played with his dad, Dave, in Australia.

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Trey LylesCourtesy David Dixon/tnl1.comNo. 4 recruit Trey Lyles trimmed his list to Kentucky, Louisville, Florida and Butler this week, but it could come down to a battle between John Calipari and Rick Pitino.

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Trey Lyles cut his final college list to four earlier this week down here at the Peach Jam, and the onetime Indiana commit kept the dream alive when both Louisville and Kentucky remained in the hunt.

Lyles is a stud, ranked No. 4 in the ESPN 100. Think a 6-foot-9, 250-pound version of Tim Duncan. Not overly athletic, but super skilled and with an extremely high IQ. The senior power forward out of Arsenal Tech in Indianapolis can score with both hands in the paint, has terrific touch around the basket, can bury shots from midrange, and can even step out beyond the arc and drain shots from deep.

No. 1 point guard Tyus Jones and No. 1 overall Jahlil Okafor have soaked up the majority of the headlines in the 2014 class thanks to their talents and their willingness to play together in college, but Lyles could have as much of a winning impact as anyone in this entire group. He’s a versatile scorer who can rebound, pass and help lead a team. He’s more than capable of being a double-double guy as a freshman in college thanks to his rebounding instincts.

Florida and Butler also made the cut in Lyles’ final four, but this one could very well come down to a Battle of the Bluegrass. In fact, many of those close to this recruitment feel it will ultimately be John Calipari vs. Rick Pitino.

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Momentum is a powerful thing in the world of college basketball recruiting. While it tends to be a constant for a select few national powerhouses like Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas, virtually all other programs in the country are constantly competing for any edge that can push them to that next level.

In the wake of our initial 2014 ESPN 100 player rankings release last week and as we start a team-by-team breakdown of 2014 recruiting targets by conference over the next two weeks, here’s a look at five college hoops programs that are heading into the 2014 recruiting class with some very positive momentum.

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