NCB On The Trail: Michigan Wolverines

Minneapolis Nike EYBL recap 

May, 25, 2014
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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:

Roundtable: Jordan Brand Classic 

April, 18, 2014
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It has been a busy few weeks for the top prospects in the ESPN 100.

It began at the beginning of the month when they arrived in Chicago for the McDonald's All American Game. Immediately after that game concluded, some players jumped on a red-eye to New York for the Dick's Sporting Goods High School National Tournament. Last week it was a trip to the West Coast for the Nike Hoop Summit in Oregon. This week, that string of all-star events gets a fitting culmination as the top players in the Class of 2015 return to New York for the Jordan Brand Classic.

Given what we've seen, not just in the past few weeks but in the past few years, is there anything left to learn? Here are a few players whom our Recruiting Nation staff will be watching during Friday's Jordan Brand Classic (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET):


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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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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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ESPN 100: Biggest risers 

April, 9, 2014
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The finish line was already in site in February when we last updated our ESPN 100 rankings. After watching many of these prospects for the better part of the past four years, the evaluation process was no longer about learning new things as much as it was monitoring recent developments.

As a result, our most recent and final version of the 2014 ESPN 100 bears a resemblance to its predecessor, except for a select few prospects who seized their opportunity to make one lasting impression.

With that in mind, here are the players whose stock rose the most in the final ESPN 100 of the 2014 class.


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Recruit and return: Michigan 

March, 30, 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 Michigan and its chances of dancing again in 2015.

Quick references:
2013-14 roster
2014 recruiting

Possible 2014-15 starting five:
G: Derrick Walton
G: Caris LeVert
G: Zak Irvin
F: Glenn Robinson III
F: Mitch McGary


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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.


The Michigan Wolverines are having another strong season on the court this year, despite losing a pair of NBA players in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. They are on top of the Big Ten standings playing without one of their main weapons in Mitch McGary, who had back surgery.

One thing that is evident under John Beilein and staff: They put effort into their evaluations and it pays off because most of their recruits fit their system.

Projecting needs for the 2015 class could vary based on who departs for the NBA, transfers and, of course, graduation. Their class for 2014 is ranked at No. 39. This is not a complete list, but here are some main targets for the Wolverines in the Class of 2015:

Stephen Zimmerman (Las Vegas /Bishop Gorman) Jalen Brunson (Chicago/Stevenson), Luke Kennard (Franklin, Ohio/Franklin) Carlton Bragg (Cleveland/ St. Joseph's), Diamond Stone (Milwaukee/ Dominican), Eric Davis (Saginaw, Mich./ Arthur Hill), Henry Ellenson (Rice Lake, Wis./Rice Lake).

Recruiting needs change for these five 

February, 13, 2014
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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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Scout's take: SG Booker to Kentucky 

October, 31, 2013
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Five-star shooting guard Devin Booker (Moss Point, Miss./Moss Point) committed today to Kentucky over offers from Michigan, Michigan State and Missouri.

Landing the third-best shooting guard in the Class of 2014 and the No. 18 overall player in the ESPN 100 is another huge get for the Wildcats. How will he fit?


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Roundtable: Recruiting rivalries to watch 

October, 29, 2013
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Duke vs. North Carolina. Kentucky vs. Louisville. Connecticut vs. Syracuse.

Some of the greatest rivalries in sports play out on the college basketball court, but this season marks a changing of the guard in many of those rivalries as conference realignment has done away with annual matchups like UConn vs. Syracuse while carving out the potential for new ones.

Rivalries also exist in recruiting, and while they’re often an extension of natural rivalries on the court, that isn’t always the case.

Jim Calhoun and John Calipari had a huge recruiting rivalry when they were the head coaches at UConn and UMass, respectively -- despite the fact their teams never played -- stemming from the recruitment of Marcus Camby.

So whether it’s an extension of a conference rivalry, a personality clash between high-profile coaches or even the consequence of a particularly contentious recruitment process, recruiting rivalries can take shape in a number of ways.

Here’s a look at some of the most notable recruiting rivalries, whether historic or up-and-coming based on the implications of realignment, as chosen by our RecruitingNation experts:

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USA developmental team camp recap 

October, 6, 2013
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The USA Basketball Developmental National Team minicamp featured some of the nation's best high school talent representing the classes of 2014, 2015 and 2016. Head coach Don Showalter and his staff put the players through numerous intense and competitive drills, controlled scrimmages and game situations in this four-workout, two-day minicamp.

Note: ESPN 100 No. 1 overall player Jahlil Okafor didn't play on Day 1 after rolling his ankle during a one-on-one in the post drill.

Here are a few players who were impressive this weekend from the ESPN 100, 60 and 25 rankings.

ESPN 100 Standouts

Best Motor
Myles Turner (Bedford, Texas/Trinity)
C, 6-foot-11, 225 pounds
Considering: Kansas, Ohio State, Texas, Duke, Arizona, Kentucky, Louisville, Oklahoma State

Turner's talent and shot blocking is well-documented, but his consistent motor also makes the big fella special. Regardless of the outcome of the possession, Turner never stops playing. He runs, jumps and competes at a high level, which makes him stand out.


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Kameron Chatman (Portland, Ore./Columbia Christian), the No. 49 player in the ESPN 100, has decided to take his skills to Michigan. The gifted lefty small forward chose the Wolverines over stiff competition from Arizona, Oregon and USC.

Chatman's game really began to take off prior to his junior campaign. During the summer of 2012, he was arguably the most talented player on Long Beach Poly (Calif.) before transferring. Michigan -- specifically assistant coach Jeff Meyer -- took immediate notice. Recruiting is about relationships, and the Wolverines were the first school to court Chatman.

[+] EnlargeKameron Chatman
Kelly Kline/Under Armour2014 wing Kameron Chatman will bring length and scoring moves to Michigan's class.
"With Michigan, it just wasn't about one specific coach, it was the whole staff that invested their lives with me," Chatman said.

Chatman is a hybrid forward who affects the game in multiple ways. He possesses a soft shooting touch and can handle the ball well, but the most impressive aspect of his game might be his passing prowess.

In John Beilien's hybrid Princeton offense, Chatman can be utilized in a variety of ways due to his skill set and savvy.


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Scout's take: Edwards to Purdue 

September, 14, 2013
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Purdue coach Matt Painter received some good news on Saturday when ESPN 100 small forward Vincent Edwards (Middletown, Ohio/Middletown), ranked No. 83 overall, committed to the Boilermakers over offers from Dayton, Michigan and Xavier.

"I picked Purdue because it feels like home and I am very comfortable here," wrote Edwards via text from Saturday's Notre Dame-Purdue football game.

This is a great pickup for Matt Painter, landing the second-best player from the state of Ohio. Only Ohio State commit Jae'Sean Tate ranks higher.

Why did he pick Purdue? And what will he bring to the Boilermakers? Let's break it down.


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Where will top prospects end up? 

September, 5, 2013
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With only 13 five-star prospects left on the board, all it takes is a quick glance down their recruiting lists to come to a quick conclusion: The vast majority are being recruited by a long list of the same schools. So when it’s all said and done, some of those schools are going to be left out in the cold.

Remaining 5-Star Prospects
[+] EnlargeTyus Jones
AP Photo/Damen Jackson Point guard Tyus Jones has visited Baylor and will see Kentucky, Kansas and Duke.
Jahlil Okafor (Chicago, Ill./Whitney Young), 6-10, 265, C: He and Tyus Jones will visit Kansas and Duke in October after seeing Baylor together last weekend. They’ll visit Kentucky on separate dates because of scheduling conflicts. Okafor is also scheduled to see Arizona independently.


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Michigan assistant coaches heard the questions in the beginning. They understood. In some ways, they wondered themselves.

John Beilein revamped his coaching staff in 2010, hiring two new assistants and promoting a third. As he did this, Michigan’s head basketball coach explained his processes. Beilein has adapted throughout his career but has a plan for everything in his basketball life. This includes recruiting, where his strategy is different than most.

In the hare-paced world of college basketball recruiting, Beilein moved at a relative tortoise’s pace. This took some adjusting from then-newly hired Bacari Alexander and LaVall Jordan and promoted administrative staffer Jeff Meyer.

Beilein adhered to the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ recommendation of not offering a prospect until June 15 following the player’s sophomore season. Beilein also won’t offer a prospect until he’s seen him play in person and until the player has visited Michigan’s campus.

Initially, this meant his new assistants needed to do some explaining as they recruited.

“I wouldn’t say resistance,” Alexander said of the reaction on the recruiting trail. “But I would say a curiosity to why haven’t you offered my son yet or why haven’t you guys offered my player yet.”

“Especially when they have a list of [offers],” Jordan said. “That curiosity, when they have lists.”

Eventually, questioning turned to understanding as Beilein and his philosophy, which he adopted before he came to Michigan, became educational. Michigan’s assistants, who sat down as a group last week with ESPN.com to explain how their recruiting strategy works, now use it as another selling point.

As they evaluate a prospect, they explain what needs to happen. It doesn’t mean they won’t recruit a player earlier -- they were the among the first schools to recruit 2014 ESPN 100 guard Devin Booker (Moss Point, Miss./Moss Point) and 2015 ESPN 60 guard Luke Kennard (Franklin, Ohio/Franklin) -- but they won’t offer a scholarship until at least all the previously mentioned criteria have been met.

“That didn’t surprise [us],” said Mark Kennard, Luke’s father. “It wasn’t a surprise or disappointment or anything. We just appreciated that they were kind of the first team to really talk to Luke and recruit him. We were like, ‘Coach, that’s awesome.’ That didn’t bother us at all.

“I want schools to be honest with us.”

Honesty is part of the process. As Michigan has resisted the changes in college basketball recruiting, it has also thrived for the same reasons.

“I’ll throw this at people,” Jordan said. “‘What’s your mom’s name?’ Because there’s a curiosity of why haven’t you offered. ‘How many brothers? How many sisters? What’s your family like? Have you considered the fact that we don’t really know each other, but there is a desire for a scholarship offer?’

“So now it’s like, ‘OK.’ It’s the education.”

[+] EnlargeJohn Beilein
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsJohn Beilein's unique recruiting process paid off with a trip to the Final Four this past season.
How Michigan recruits

Michigan finds prospects like every other program: through a series of recommendations, research and just being in the gym.

Where its strategy differs is in its evaluation style. Unlike at a lot of schools, Michigan’s staff does not work territories or positions. They favor a groupthink where all four coaches -- the three assistants and Beilein -- watch a player at different tournaments to determine a fit for what Michigan wants in skill, attitude and academics.

After watching a prospect, each assistant rates him using an internal numbers system they refuse to disclose. Those evaluations are given to Beilein, who averages out the results to aid his decisions.

“A lot of staffs get attached to a young man because of a relationship because it is your guy and you may be the point man in his recruitment,” Jordan said. “Here, we just don’t get involved in that. It’s what’s best for Michigan.”

The reason for the “cross evals” is the search for the right fit. Alexander describes the Michigan coaches as “throwbacks” because they use scouting systems and rankings only to cross-check their own numbers and evaluations.

What happens when their internal rankings don’t match with external opinion?

“That’s when we really get excited,” Alexander said.

Among the underrated-when-they-committed finds by this staff: Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Spike Albrecht.

“A lot of times it swings on the critical side,” Meyer said. “We are looking for kids that play the right way, body language, all the things that we expect out of our kids when they play. When you look at it through a lens, it’s almost a critical lens of, does he fit? Will he play the Michigan way, the right way?”

The evaluation goes beyond the prospect. Alexander made this clear through Twitter while sitting in the stands watching players during an evaluation period last July. He tweeted: “Parents need to be mindful that they’re evaluated in the stands ALSO!! #uconscious.”

Why? Part of this goes to program fit and understanding the dynamics of a prospect’s off-court life and situation. The rest, well, Alexander explains.

“Think about how that has changed,” Alexander said. “Why is that relevant? Well, now you have the Big Ten’s ‘Journey’ and have CBS Sports, ESPN, all these all-access deals in print or on television. Now what does that tell us?

“Parents have become ambassadors for your institution and they are not even aware of it.”

Part of the genesis of Beilein’s approach is rooted in academics. He wants to see a prospect’s freshman and sophomore transcripts to make sure he is trending correctly educationally. This, Meyer said, is “non-negotiable.”

The unofficial visit piece allows for everyone to become acquainted. For Michigan, there is interaction, observation and more informed opinion from non-recruiters like graduate assistants, trainers and strength coaches. For the families, it allows an opportunity to ask any questions they want without the pressure of a commitment.

“How are you going to come here, how are you going to choose Michigan, if you’ve never been to Michigan,” Jordan said. “You’ve got to know the people.”

[+] EnlargeMitch McGary
Courtesy of Brewster Academy When Michigan recruited Mitch McGary, they looked at more than just his play on the court.
More than on-court skill

When Alexander visits a player’s school, he searches for “indicators” about a player. To do so, he seeks out three people: the academic advisor, who can often give a broader-based picture of a player’s academics and family situation; the cafeteria worker; and the custodial staff.

More than any other people in the school, the latter two often silently observe prospects among their peers. They see a player interact when no one is watching. Alexander’s best example: Mitch McGary at Brewster Academy (N.H.).

Alexander spoke to Brewster’s groundskeeper and was told a story about a freshman bawling when his parents dropped him off the first day of school. McGary spotted the kid from a distance, stopped his conversation and ran to him, consoled him and brought him into school with his group of friends.

“Now if that is not a testament to a young man’s character,” Alexander said. “Where he’s the life of the gathering and is unselfish enough to notice somebody is in need of comfort. To do that was very telling to the groundskeeper.

“As a result, it was very telling to us.”

With McGary, who was one of the top prospects in the country at Brewster, it was another sign he would mesh with Beilein’s philosophy and locker room, which centers around the tenets of integrity, unity, passion, diligence and appreciation.

The way Michigan recruits forces prospects to display almost all those traits before committing.

When did it click?

While the recruiting strategy is nice, is it practical? Michigan received its answer while recruiting highly rated 2013 prospect Zak Irvin. The Wolverines recruited Irvin out of Indianapolis, with Indiana and Purdue, among many others, offering.

Irvin had teammates who committed early to other schools. Michigan stuck to its deadline.

[+] EnlargeZak Irvin
Kelly KlineMichigan followed its recruiting blueprint to perfection to land top-25 prospect Zak Irvin.
“The first challenge for us, because it was a little bit of a point of being anxious, was Zak Irvin,” Meyer said. “We’re thinking if we do not go out of character with our formula, we may be left at the station with a player that [Jordan] had already done a great job with the family and building relationships.

“Coach Beilein stayed the course, went four semesters of academic work, had been to campus several times.”

Irvin said Michigan’s staff explained things up front. Not enamored by offers, he didn’t mind. If anything, the process strengthened Irvin’s opinion of Michigan. The Wolverines recruited him for a year before offering. Some programs offered him after viewing him once.

Irvin eventually received his Michigan offer. He committed six weeks later.

“It turned the whole thing from my perspective,” Meyer said. “I think from all of our perspectives. If we’re doing our due diligence through the recruiting process, a young man speaks very, very loudly through his actions if he’s willing to wait. And they kind of look forward to that date.”

There’s another, almost unintentional, byproduct. By having prospects wait for an offer and go through myriad steps, Michigan has created more perceived value around an offer from the school. Instead of just another scholarship offer on a list, it is one the player had to work for.

“To see that they still wanted to offer me, it meant a lot after recruiting me for a year and seeing how well I developed and saw how much potential I had,” Irvin said. “That was really special to me.”

The extra time taken has an added effect when prospects hit campus as well. It is something, however, the current Michigan assistants couldn’t see until those recruits they got to know started to hit campus last year.

“It meant a lot to them to get the offer and going through things to make that decision,” Jordan said. “So when they get here, getting them to play hard isn’t part of the deal. It’s about fundamentally getting them to play better and more skilled. Developing and growing them as young men.

“But it isn’t going to be a deal of getting them to play hard because that was part of it.”

The other secret

Michigan’s staff won’t divulge everything. Specifics of the internal grading system is one thing. The value of a prospect’s birth date is another. The latter is a topic Beilein often brings up in discussing his young players. Asked about it, the three assistants all laughed.

“No comment,” Alexander said. “That, we can’t tell you.”

Michigan’s assistants said Beilein brought birth dates into the evaluation process, but that’s all they’ll say. Consider this: In past interviews, Beilein has mentioned the late birthdays or relatively young starting ages of 2013 commit Mark Donnal and current players Max Bielfeldt, Caris LeVert and Jordan Morgan. (Beilein, who is preparing for his first stint as an assistant coach with USA Basketball, was unavailable to comment for the story.)

It isn’t a determining factor, but it is yet another piece that makes Michigan unique.

“He’s way ahead of the curve on this stuff,” Meyer said.

In some ways, yes. But in others, Michigan’s somewhat unique recruiting process has elements of a different, older time. And suddenly, what used to be standard is innovative again.

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