NCB On The Trail: UNLV Rebels

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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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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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The top-rated perimeter player left on the board, ESPN 100 No. 18 Rashad Vaughn, has committed to UNLV. After an official visit in November and many unofficial visits to the Thomas and Mack Center, he chose the Rebels on Tuesday over Iowa State, North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas.

Why he committed: Vaughn chose the Rebels because he saw a golden opportunity to take a program from good to great. UNLV is rich with history and tradition, and at times, has been the best team in the West. Vaughn wanted to go where he could not only help right away but be a difference maker. He will be a centerpiece to a team that also has two quality big men in the class as well as a strong returning roster.


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Healthy Rashad Vaughn gaining momentum

January, 22, 2014
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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.”
Shooting guard Rashad Vaughn (Golden Valley, Minn./Findlay College Prep), the No. 17 player in the ESPN 100, is being hotly pursued by several programs. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound prospect already has made two official visits (to Iowa State and UNLV) and recently set up a visit to North Carolina for Feb. 15, when the Tar Heels play Pittsburgh. For his final two visits, he is likely to choose among Arizona, Baylor, Kansas, Kentucky and Minnesota.

Let's break down the game of one of the top shooting guards in the country:


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Prep school stars shine at Showcase 

November, 25, 2013
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NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- The National Prep Showcase has annually served as the unofficial start to the prep school basketball season, and the 2013 edition was no different, hosting 23 top teams over the course of three exciting days of action.

A variety of top prospects stood out over the course of the weekend. UNLV-bound ESPN 100 big man Goodluck Okonoboh (Boston/Wilbraham & Monson) put on his latest display of shot-blocking prowess, turning away eight attempts on Saturday night, while Colorado-bound big man Tory Miller (Lee’s Summit, Mo./New Hampton) emerged as perhaps the most impactful true post player in the field.

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The early signing period arrives Wednesday, marking the first time 2014 prospects can officially sign their national letters of intent, turning previously unbinding verbal commitments into contractually binding scholarship agreements.

Here are 10 storylines to watch for during the eight-day signing period:

Jahlil Okafor
AP Photo/Damen Jackson via Triple Play New MediaJahlil Okafor is hoping to sign during the early signing period. Where will he end up?
1. Package-deal decision day
Word is that Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones are both hoping to sign during the early period, and that means the country’s biggest package deal should have a decision within days. All indications are that the duo still intends to go to school together, but the final destination has become unclear of late. Duke has long since been considered the front-runner, but there’s been growing chatter for Kansas, especially as it pertains to Okafor. Baylor is the dark horse, and while nobody seems to be talking about the Bears anymore, neither prospect has said they’re out of the running just yet.

2. Awaiting word from Alexander
We’re anticipating an announcement from Cliff Alexander, the nation’s third-ranked prospect. The 6-foot-8 big man took the nation by storm during the recent EYBL season and picked up offers from some of college basketball’s most prestigious programs in the process. Four of those remain in the hunt for his services. While Illinois and DePaul have been the perceived favorites, Kansas and Memphis are in the mix as well. Look for Alexander to trim one of those four off his list before his announcement -- and ultimately make his choice from a list of three final schools.

3. Early or late? That is the question
While Okafor, Jones, and Alexander are all expected to make their decisions in time to sign during the early signing period (that is, on or before Nov. 20), there is another group of prospects we still don’t know what to expect from. Justise Winslow just took his last visit, and he could be ready to decide. William Lee is another ESPN 100 prospect who could very well be ready in the coming days. Stanley Johnson was once targeting a January decision, but he now appears to be on the fence, as there has been mounting speculation that he could abandon those original plans in time to sign early.

4. What’s left for the spring?
With 87 players in the current ESPN 100 already committed and at least four more expected to make their decisions in time to sign early, we’re expecting over 90 percent of the current ESPN 100 to officially be off the board within the next 10 days. That’s an almost unprecedented percentage, leaving very little left on the table for the spring’s late signing period. The big prizes for those playing the waiting game are likely to be Myles Turner, Rashad Vaughn and JaQuan Lyle, along with any of the previously mentioned top prospects who ultimately decide against early signatures.

5. Care for a contingency plan
With so few prospects remaining on the board following this period, the major question is what happens to the programs that have gone the distance with top remaining prospects -- only to end up missing out on them. The best examples are Duke and Kansas. The Blue Devils and Jayhawks have gone head-to-head for Okafor and Jones and have passed on other talented guys as a result. Now they’re in a spot where the consequences of losing out on Okafor and Jones could be especially high, with no good contingency plans left on the board unless they’re able to score Turner, who isn’t likely to be excited about being perceived as anybody’s runner-up.

6. Competition for Kentucky
Kentucky currently has the top-ranked recruiting class in the country. If the Wildcats can hold on to that spot, it would be the fifth time in John Calipari’s six years in Lexington he has secured that distinction. The reality, however, is that it may be unlikely. And while Kentucky’s class is undeniably loaded, the 2014 group will be remembered as much for the guys who passed on the Wildcats -- Okafor, Alexander, Jones, Emmanuel Mudiay, Kelly Oubre and James Blackmon Jr. among others -- perhaps signaling a decline in what has been one of the most dominant recruiting periods for any program in recent history.

7. The Big East is back (or never left)
If this season's recruiting class is any indication, the demise of the Big East has been somewhat exaggerated. While conference realignment might have forever changed one of the country’s most historic conferences, it apparently has not done much to hurt the brand. Xavier, Seton Hall and Georgetown have all put together top-10 classes, and Marquette and Providence are not far behind. With five different programs among the top-20 classes in the country and a total of 15 ESPN 100 prospects having already popped for the Big East, the league is recruiting as well as any in the country.

8. What’s the Matta with this class?
Ohio State has the second-ranked recruiting class in the country, a group loaded with four ESPN 100 prospects and another big man who is just on the cusp of that list. Yet nobody seems to be talking about the Buckeyes. With so much attention being paid to the potential classes at Kansas, Duke and Kentucky, Ohio State has flown under the radar. The reality is that coach Thad Matta did his work early and did it well. D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate are all coming in next year, and Payton Dastrup is essentially joining the Class of 2016 after he takes a two-year Mormon mission. The Buckeyes have solidified their future as well as any program in America.

9. Talking about the Tar Heels
Roy Williams and North Carolina are in a similar situation. They have a trio of ESPN 100 prospects on board for next season, all ranked among the top 15 prospects in the country. However, because all three were already committed by last May, the Tar Heels haven’t been at the forefront of any recent recruiting headlines. It’s a mistake to sleep on them, though, as they have one of the country’s best scorers on the wing in Justin Jackson, a swingman with elite athleticism; an alpha-male mentality in Theo Pinson; and one of the most dependable point guards in the country in Joel Berry.

10. Mid-major impact
A quick glance at the class rankings will show that the mid-majors are once again well-represented among this year’s top recruiting classes. San Diego State, VCU and UNLV have all asserted themselves as national recruiters. Steve Fisher’s four-man class is headlined by a trio of ESPN 100 products in Malik Pope, Trey Kell and Zylan Cheatham, while Terry Larrier and Mike Gilmore lead a similar four-man group for Shaka Smart and VCU. Dave Rice and the Rebels have one of the best incoming frontcourt tandems in the country in Goodluck Okonoboh and Dwayne Morgan.

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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ESPN 100 SG Rashad Vaughn names 11

July, 31, 2013
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Shooting guard Rashad Vaughn (Golden Valley, Minn./Findlay Prep) has narrowed his school list down to 11, according to a tweet from the ESPN 100 prospect.

Vaughn will decide among Baylor, Iowa State, Kentucky, North Carolina, Connecticut, Kansas, UNLV, Arizona, Georgetown, UCLA and Minnesota.

The senior is currently ranked No. 11 overall in the 2014 class.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Most young players are good at two things: taking the ball to the basket and/or knocking the down the 3-point jumper. But in the case of ESPN 25 small forward Mario Kegler (Jackson, Miss./Callaway), his ability to hit his mid-range jumper is what makes his game special. And he's been proving that this week at the adidas Invitational.

"Mario can get his own shot in the mid-range areas at will. He is a tough matchup," said AAU coach Omhar Carter of MBA Hoops.

Many high-major college programs feel the same way about Kegler, who already has offers from Ohio State, UCLA, St. John's, UNLV, Oklahoma and Texas and is receiving strong interest from Duke and others.

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ESPN 60 Dwayne Morgan set to announce 

March, 5, 2013
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ESPN RecruitingNation's 29th ranked junior is ready to announce his college decision, ESPN.com has confirmed.

Class of 2014 small forward Dwayne Morgan (Baltimore/St. Frances) will commit on April 5. He is currently considering Arizona, Maryland, Indiana, UNLV, Georgetown, South Florida and Seton Hall but is expected to narrow that list to three in the coming weeks.

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Cincinnati lands ESPN 100 Jermaine Lawrence 

February, 3, 2013
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ESPN 100 power forward Jermaine Lawrence (Springfield Gardens, N.Y./Pope John XXII) ended his recruitment on Sunday with a verbal pledge to Cincinnati, ESPN.com has confirmed.

Lawrence, who recently returned to action after battling a hand injury, chose the Bearcats over St. John's and UNLV.

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2014 SF Stanley Johnson narrows list 

January, 26, 2013
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ESPN 60 small forward Stanley Johnson (Fullerton, Calif./Mater Dei) has narrowed his list to 10 schools.


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UNLV nabs California guard Kendall Smith 

January, 4, 2013
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Senior shooting guard Kendall Smith (Antioch, Calif./Deer Valley) announced his decision to attend UNLV on Friday.

Smith Tweeted out his decision after contemplating offers from Connecticut, UCLA, Arizona State and San Diego State, among others.

"It's official for the next 4 years I will be apart of the UNLV basketball program. I am a Running Rebel now! #LetsRun," he wrote.

The 6-foot-2 Smith officially visited UNLV for their game against Chicago State on Thursday. He joins ESPN 100 power forward Christian Wood (Palmdale, Calif./Findlay College Prep) and junior college transfer Jelan Kendrick (Marietta, Ga./Indian Hills C.C.) in the Rebels' 2013 class.

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