NCB On The Trail: North Carolina Tar Heels

Roundtable: ESPN 100 commit predictions 

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
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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PORTLAND, Ore. -- In the 17th annual Nike Hoop Summit on Saturday, the USA team defeated the World team 84-73 for the first USA win since 2011. The USA squad featured a balanced attack as four players scored in double figures: Justise Winslow (Duke signee) led the USA team with 16 points, Jahlil Okafor (Duke) and Kelly Oubre (Kansas) each scored 14 points and Tyus Jones (Duke) added 13.

Let's take a look at what we learned from this year's Hoop Summit.

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When our final rankings came out the other day Elijah Stewart came in at No. 94.

Stewart can play, as he has a rangy frame and is a terrific jump-shooter. He’s an explosive athlete who can compete and perform in any conference. He loves to attack the rim in combination with his jumper, which makes him hard to guard. An area of improvement would be his ball handling, as he attacks with speed more than control.

UNC has inquired, as have USC, UCLA and many other programs.

If Tar Heels go after him hard, they will get a visit. His quick-trigger jumper is just what they need.
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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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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In order to return to the NCAA tournament, a team needs contributions from both returning players and incoming recruits. Here's a look at North Carolina and its chances of dancing again in 2015.

Quick references
2013-14 roster
2014 recruiting

Possible 2014-15 starting five:
G: Marcus Paige
G: Justin Jackson
F: James Michael McAdoo
F: Brice Johnson
F: Kennedy Meeks

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Roundtable: Future NCAA tourney stars 

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
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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Roundtable: 2014 defensive standouts 

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
There are a lot of different ways to win in college basketball, but one of the few staples of virtually all good teams is a commitment to defense.

Ironically, good individual defenders never seem to get the credit they deserve, and that can even be true with the recruiting process. Standouts on offense are not only easier to recognize, they’re also easier to quantify with basic statistics. There’s also a popular sentiment among college coaches that they can teach a player to defend if they have the proper physical tools.

The reality though is that college-ready defenders are perhaps even harder to find than college-ready scorers or playmakers, which should in turn make them that much more valuable. With that in mind, we went back to our team of RecruitingNation experts and asked them to pinpoint the defensive game-changers in this year’s ESPN 100:

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When we analyze and evaluate the skill set of today's basketball player, we speak quite often about their ability to drive to the rim and finish as well as knocking down 3-point shots.

What has been forgotten and not emphasized enough from coaches and workout coaches is their middle game. The ability to score the ball inside the arc and before one gets to the rim in tight quarters is a true gift. I would love to see today's player really work on their middle game to be a more well-rounded scorer.

Let's take a look at which ESPN 100 prospects possess the all-important middle game in the senior class.

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It's a great question because early in his career he was considered a long-range shooter. Back in December, I spoke with Justin Jackson (Tomball, Texas/Homeschool Christan Youth Association) about this topic.

To become more than just a shooter, he invested quite a bit of time into his middle game. In his backyard, he has a sport court where he perfected the floater and pull-up jumper.

In fact, the 6-foot-7 Jackson has the best middle game and short game in the senior class.

Once he gets inside the arc, he elevates and rises up with long arms and good bounce, and he has a soft touch.

In time, I see coach Roy Williams running plays for him at North Carolina, and he should develop into a go-to guy. He will be a scoring threat both with the ball in his hands driving and operating in ball screens. Off the ball, watch him run off screens, which will make him hard to guard.

As of today, he is a capable 3-point shooter who will become a consistent long-range threat. His middle and short game is where he scores the bulk of his points.
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When a player's ranking changes, there is usually much more than one factor that goes into the decision. Rankings are one type of measuring stick of where a player is today and where he could go from here. If you look even closer, both Theo Pinson (Greensboro, N.C./Wesleyan Christian) and Kelly Oubre (Richmond, Texas/Findlay College Prep) have five stars and a grade of 96 on a scale in which 100 is the max.

First of all, to move up in such tight quarters such as the top 25, it takes a lot of work. Pinson, a North Carolina signee, has had strong performances along with a high level of production. And, of course, he has terrific upside. We gave him high marks in all these areas. His versatility, super athletic ability and improved jumper are what stands out about his game, and the 6-foot-6, 190-pound prospect is competitive and extremely productive. That’s the reason for the bump in the rankings.

He has plenty of work to do, just like any other player. In fact, we want to see him handle the ball better under pressure and not turn his back to the defense. Also, he needs to work on driving and finishing with his left (weak) hand.

Pinson's move up was all about his outstanding fall and high school season to date. He jumped from No. 13 to No. 10 on our board and along the way jumped over a few outstanding players, including No. 11 Oubre. The Kansas signee is outstanding, with a an extremely bright future. With a strong second half of the season, the 6-7, 190-pound Oubre could jump right back into the top 10. It's never an easy group to crack, as everyone is elite, and it usually comes down to who demonstrates the traits of determination, focus, high energy, multiple efforts, unselfishness, coachability and being a great teammate.

Talent is never enough, but when you do possesses the ability, it's important for a prospect to dominate the games on a consistent basis and try to do everything to help their team win. Who they play with and who they play against is also factored into the equation. Appreciate the question!
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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When you speak of Tyus Jones (Duke), Emmanuel Mudiay (SMU) and Joel Berry (North Carolina), you are looking at three of the elite point guard recruits in the country. Each brings his own talent, physical tools and traits to play the position. I don't see a drop off among them at all.

Berry has been a starting point guard since his freshman season, so he knows how to lead. He is tough-minded, makes open shots, defends the ball and makes winning plays. Berry was recently was named to the USA Junior National Select Team that will compete in the Nike Hoop Summit in April.

Jones is the best passer of the trio and manages the end of games extremely well. Mudiay has more of the physical tools such as size (6-5, 190 pounds) and speed and is the best driver of the three. From his penetration, Mudiay also displays excellent passing vision.

Point guard is the most important and most difficult position to make the adjustment to the college game, and as future leaders, they all have a huge learning curve processing the game and performing at the next level. Duke, SMU and North Carolina each signed elite players and people with these three point guard prospects.

Healthy Rashad Vaughn gaining momentum

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- It appeared as if nobody would stop Theo Pinson (Greensboro, N.C./Wesleyan Christian) on Monday afternoon. In a highly anticipated matchup between Wesleyan Christian and Findlay Prep at the Spalding HoopHall Classic, the No. 13-ranked player in the Class of 2014 scored in every manner possible. Pinson scored his team’s first 11 points and entered the locker room at halftime with a game-high 18.

Then Rashad Vaughn (Golden Valley, Minn./Las Vegas Findlay Prep) took over.

[+] EnlargeRashad Vaughn
Courtesy of Kelly Kline/Under ArmourRashad Vaughn (right), a top-10 recruit in the 2014 class, has done well to come back from his knee injury.
Begging for the defensive assignment, Vaughn convinced Findlay head coach Jerome Williams to let him guard the North Carolina commit for the game’s final 20 minutes.

“Theo came out hot -- red hot -- in the first half,” Williams said. “In the locker room, Rashad was mad. He was the first one saying, ‘I want to guard him, coach. Give him to me. I don’t want to look at this no more.’ That’s why he started the second half, and rightfully so.”

It paid major dividends as Vaughn’s defensive prowess limited Pinson to five second-half points en route to a lopsided 73-44 Findlay win. Pinson appeared flustered down the stretch as the long-armed Vaughn wouldn’t allow any easy looks or drives to the hoop.

“I just put the handcuffs on him,” Vaughn said after the game. Vaughn, the No. 17 player in the Class of 2014, scored 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting in 22 minutes of action. He showed the long range coveted by many high-major programs and explosiveness to get to the basket.

The performance was particularly impressive considering the circumstances. It was Vaughn’s first game back from a knee injury that kept him out of the last six games. According to Williams, Vaughn had missed nearly two months and just returned to practice this week.

The initial plan was to ease him into a game environment, but when Pinson started heating up, Vaughn decided there was no time to tiptoe back into action.

"I felt a little winded, but not like I should have been,” he said. “Coach put us through a hard practice yesterday. I felt like I got a lot of my wind back. I thought I played well on the defensive end, shot well … I just felt the confidence coming back more and more.”

While Vaughn’s game returns to form, his recruitment continues to heat up.

Vaughn is currently the second-highest ranked uncommitted prospect in the 2014 class behind Myles Turner (Bedford, Texas/Trinity). He said he’s considering Iowa State, Kansas, North Carolina, UNLV and Kentucky. Wildcats head coach John Calipari and assistant Orlando Antigua watched much of Monday’s game from seats behind one of the hoops, and Vaughn admitted he noticed their presence.

He said he has a visit for North Carolina already set for next month. A trip to Kentucky, while not 100 percent, is also in the works. He hopes to make a college decision by late February or early March.

“I’ve got relationships with all the coaches,” Vaughn said. “It’s really about where I fit in and where I can get better as a player.”