NCB On The Trail: Antonio Blakeney

videoNow that the rosters are set for the 38th annual McDonald’s All American Game -- featuring the top 24 senior high school basketball players in the country -- let's take a closer look at the East team and a few of the many strengths its players will bring when they take on the West team April 1 at United Center in Chicago (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Help is on the way for the SEC 

January, 28, 2015
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The SEC had a blockbuster recruiting year and it wasn’t just Kentucky and Florida. The Wildcats currently hold the No. 1 spot in our class rankings but eight SEC classes made our top 40. The talent is spread out as 19 top-100 prospects will be entering the SEC next year.

We've already touched on the loaded ACC. Let’s take a look at where the SEC's help will be coming from next season.

Most impactful class: LSU

Although Texas A&M's group will push the Aggies up in the standings, LSU's class (ranked No. 6) has two top-15 prospects who will make the biggest impact. Having Ben Simmons (No. 1) and Antonio Blakeney (No. 14) arrive in Baton Rouge together will bring offense and scoring options to a roster that should be primed to challenge Kentucky for the top spot in the SEC. Simmons will be impactful from Day 1 as he brings tremendous versatility and advanced basketball instincts along with high-level athleticism. Blakeney gets buckets. Whether it’s a set play or a broken play, he can produce points with his jumper, with a drive, by creating fouls or with fast-break points. Blakeney not only brings offense, he brings offensive confidence, which is a must as you jump to the next level. Coach Johnny Jones has no departing senior starters and also has transfer Craig Victor (Arizona) ready to play in December. Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey's NBA draft status is a question worth asking. If they return, Simmons and Blakeney won’t have any direct pressure on them, and Jones will have a deep and talented roster.


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The disparaging comments started early this season -- like first-night-of-the-season early.

That’s when Missouri lost at home to UMKC and Ole Miss fell in overtime against Charleston Southern. After back-to-back seasons of only three NCAA tournament bids for the SEC, most thought it would be more of the same this campaign.

[+] EnlargeBen Simmons
Courtesy Steven RyanLSU landing No. 1 prospect Ben Simmons is huge not just for the Tigers but for the SEC as a whole.
Not much has changed since, with only four SEC teams in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology -- including two teams (LSU and Georgia) among the “Last Four Byes.” If that holds, it means the SEC will have received 14 NCAA tournament bids over the last four seasons, the lowest among the Power 5 conferences by a significant amount.

That should shift dramatically over the next few seasons, though, as the SEC’s “other” teams have improved the talent level in the league with the Class of 2015 more than perhaps any other conference. Kentucky has the No. 1 class in the country and Florida sits at No. 8, but those two are the annual staples at the top of the standings -- this season’s Gators notwithstanding.


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The player rankings in all three high school classes (ESPN 100, 60 and 25) have been updated. We base our rankings on the four Ps: Performance, production potential and projection, among many other factors. First we analyze and evaluate a prospect's individual performance, his production level now and possibly at the collegiate level, his potential in the college game, and where he could land on a possible professional draft board.

The player rankings also affect a school's class rankings, which have also been updated. Since our last update in September, some of our evaluations have changed or been confirmed. We are midway through the high school season in our rankings and there's still time for more movement, as this is a fluid process.

Here are five things to know about the new rankings.


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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.


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Five-star shooting guard Antonio Blakeney has committed to LSU after decommitting from Louisville in September. Blakeney also considered Kentucky and Missouri along with a recent push by North Carolina and NC State.

Let's take a look at what Blakeney will bring to the Tigers.


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HYATTSVILLE, Md. -- The Washington, D.C., area was the epicenter of high school basketball over the weekend, with multiple events going on near the nation's capital. The main attraction was the National High School Hoops Festival held at DeMatha Catholic (Md.).

Here are five key observations from the weekend:


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After the early-signing period, Kentucky is at the top of the class rankings. But with seven of the top-10 prospects in the ESPN 100 still uncommitted, there is plenty of work left to be done before the best class in the land is crowned.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the No. 1 class contenders, what they would have to do to finish in the top spot and what their chances are of finishing there (percentage):

Kentucky (75 percent)

Yes, the Wildcats are No. 1 now, but ironically none of their three commitments -- Skal Labissiere (No. 11), Isaiah Briscoe (No. 13), and Charles Matthews (No. 44) -- are from a top-10 ranked player in the class and so they’re far from a sure thing. John Calipari will likely look to add two more pieces to his class, one in the frontcourt and another in the backcourt. If he can get Ivan Rabb (No. 5), Cheick Diallo (No. 7), Caleb Swanigan (No. 8), Stephen Zimmerman (No. 10) or Carlton Bragg (No. 18) up front and then Jaylen Brown (No. 2), Malik Newman (No. 3), Brandon Ingram (No. 12) or Antonio Blakeney (No. 14) in the backcourt, UK has a good chance of finishing on top. If they have a mass exodus to the pros, and end up taking more than two players off this list, the top ranking will be a virtual certainty.


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Kentucky reclaims familiar No. 1 spot 

November, 14, 2014
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Heading into Thursday afternoon, Kentucky had a borderline top-40 recruiting class nationally. There was just one player in the fold, four-star guard Charles Matthews.

Less than one hour later, Kentucky was back in a familiar spot -- with the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.

The Wildcats landed commitments from Skal Labissiere (No. 11 in the ESPN 100) and Isaiah Briscoe (No. 13). Labissiere might have the highest ceiling of any prospect in the class, and Briscoe’s strong summer cemented his status as the premier point guard in 2015.


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Roundtable: Analyzing the early signing period 

November, 12, 2014
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College basketball's early signing period begins Wednesday, and while 78 of the ESPN 100's prospects have committed to schools across the country, it's time to put pen to paper. Our RecruitingNation analysts break down what they expect to see before the signing window closes on Nov. 19.


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Defense might win championships, but the only way to get back and set your defense is to to score points on a consistent basis.

The best scorers in basketball can produce when the pace is frenetic or when it slows down against an organized defense. The best scorers create space for themselves by using dribble moves, jab steps, operating on ball screens, or by reading off-ball screens and cutting to get open.

When the scoreboard needs to change, these five prospects will deliver.


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It wasn’t even two months ago that we polled 12 of the top players in the ESPN 100 with two questions.

1. Who is the best player in the class of 2015?
2. Who would you most like to team with at the next level?

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When recruit changes mind, chaos ensues 

September, 17, 2014
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On Sept. 4, Antonio Blakeney told ESPN.com’s Reggie Rankin, "I was very comfortable with the coaching staff," after pledging to attend the University of Louisville.

Two weeks later, he told Rankin, “I made a quick and emotional decision based on the wrong reasons," after decommitting from the Cardinal, before following up with a tweet that read, "I am still really considering Louisville. I like everything about there (sic) program, coaches and fans!!"

[+] EnlargeAntonio Blakeney
AP Photo/Gregory PayanAntonio Blakeney, ranked No. 14 in the ESPN 100, verbally committed to Louisville earlier this month only to decommit two weeks later.
Which, to those who parent the odd beast known as teenagers, sounds about right. Teens are as certain about their futures as they are the inner workings of nuclear physics.

The difference is, Blakeney is not your typical teen. He is the No. 14-rated player in the 2015 ESPN 100, and what should be his private, independent decision has ramifications from his home base in Florida throughout basketball offices across the country.

Decommitment is not even a word -- shows up underlined in red every time you type it. Yet it is very much a thing in college sports circles, where kids can and do renege on their verbal pledges.

The problem isn’t nearly as bad in hoops as it is in football. Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn did a numbers crunch study this summer and found that, in 2013, only 11.8 percent of the basketball players he studied made multiple commitments, down from 12.4 in 2012.

Still, it happens. And when it does, it sends coaches into a tizzy.


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Scout's Take: Blakeney to Louisville 

September, 4, 2014
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Shooting guard Antonio Blakeney, the No. 16 player in the ESPN 100, ended his recruiting Thursday by committing to coach Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals over finalists Kentucky, LSU and Missouri.

Let's break down what Blakeney will bring to the Cardinals.


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NEW YORK -- The Under Armour Elite 24 game is loaded with ESPN Recruiting Nation ranked players from the classes of 2015, 2016 and 2017 and can be seen at 7 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPNU live from Pier 2 of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Let's take a look at five matchups that we are most excited to see.

POINT GUARDS

ESPN 100 No. 62 Jawun Evans 6-foot, 180 (Dallas, Texas/Justin F. Kimball) vs. ESPN 60 No. 9 Dennis Smith Jr. 6-1, 173 (Fayetteville, N.C./Trinity Christian School): In this all-important lead guard matchup, it will exciting to see who will run their team, push the ball and set the tone. Evans -- a great finisher for his size -- has blinding speed and quickness and can get teammates involved. Smith beats defenders off the bounce with ease and is a playmaker for himself or teammates. He is a highlight finisher on the break who can simply put the defense on its heels and create help situations all over the offensive end of the floor.


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