NCB On The Trail: Cliff Alexander

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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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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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#AskCoachB: Future for Kansas

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
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Freshman center Joel Embiid has yet to officially announce his NBA draft decision, but it looks like fellow freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins will do so on Monday. The school released a statement that the 6-foot-8 freshman from Canada will make an announcement at 3 p.m. ET. When you have an announcement set up, it usually means you are going somewhere, not staying.

Looking ahead to 2015, Naadir Tharpe will be graduating next year, which makes point guard an absolute need in the 2015 class. Everyone will also be keeping tabs on returning wing Wayne Selden and incoming freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre next season.

The Jayhawks' needs in 2015 could be many depending on which players declare for the NBA draft next year. Here is an early peek at their wish list in 2015. On the perimeter there's Malik Newman, Jalen Brunson, Jalen Adams, Antonio Blakeney, Montaque Gill-Ceasar and P.J. Dozier. Dozier, who has been sidelined with a knee injury this year, will be back and has already shown the talent to be a high-major prospect.

The main targets for the frontcourt are ESPN 60 No. 1 Ivan Rabb, Diamond Stone, Stephen Zimmerman, Chase Jeter and Carlton Bragg.

This is an early, fluid list of recruits Kansas has targeted. There is a very good chance this list will change after the spring evaluation period.
As the NCAA tournament moves on to the Sweet 16, here's a look back at five former ESPN 100 players who helped their teams advance -- and five members of the 2014 ESPN 100 who could play a similar role next season:

[+] EnlargePatric Young
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesPatric Young and the Gators cruised by Pitt and Albany.

1. Patric Young, Florida

ESPN 100 rank: No. 13 in 2010
Young was the most physical player on the floor for Florida in its wins against Albany and Pittsburgh. Young knows he can dominate the game in the paint and on the glass. He is the type of player who produces double-doubles regularly. He's relentless on the glass, is a terrific position defender and is a shot-blocker.
The next Patric Young: No. 3 Cliff Alexander, Kansas. The most physically imposing player in the high school game, Alexander will be a difference-maker in the paint. Both Alexander and Young make their presence in the paint felt by being more powerful and explosive than their opponents. Alexander will give the Jayhawks an anchor in the middle.



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Recruit and return: Kansas 

March, 23, 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 Kansas and its chances of dancing again in 2015.

Quick references:
2013-14 roster
2014 recruiting

Possible 2014-15 starting five:

G: Naadir Tharpe
G: Brannen Greene
F: Kelly Oubre
F: Perry Ellis
F: Cliff Alexander


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Roundtable: 2014 defensive standouts 

March, 11, 2014
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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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It's hard to separate these guys. Both are difference-makers in high school who will make a big impact in college.

Today, I would take Duke commit Jahlil Okafor (Chicago/Whitney Young), because he can score inside not only with size, but with moves and a soft touch. He also has learned how to pass out of the post, which is another skill that takes most big men years to learn.

It's rare to find his game with today's post players. Okafor's body has changed, as he runs the floor better and is much more mobile, which helps when defending.

Kansas-bound Cliff Alexander (Chicago/Curie) is a physical specimen who is a great rebounder and finisher. He has won us over with his relentless approach.

I made a hard decision, but believe me, you win with either one of these prospects.

#AskCoachB: Alexander/Embiid combo?

February, 26, 2014
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Curie High School and Cliff Alexander, who is No. 3 in the ESPN 100, recently won the Chicago Public League championship and will compete for a state championship in March.

Alexander is powerful and explosive in the paint both at scoring and rebounding. He is best utilized running the floor and then playing on the blocks. At times he can function at the foul line with a straight-line drive or a short jumper.

Joel Embiid is a paint player this year, but I can tell you, from watching him in high school, he could face up with an offseason of work. His jumper is accurate from the high post and even to the arc. If he were to come back, he could play up top in the high-low offense and be a good pick-and-pop big man.

Embiid and Alexander certainly could coexist and be hard to guard because they are extremely athletic with great size, length, power and mobility. Defensively, Kansas would protect the paint and control the defensive backboard as well as anyone in the nation.

Both would need to polish up and develop their face-up games while still staying dominant inside.

It would be a great problem for Kansas coach Bill Self, who has had tremendous success in developing his post players and winning Big 12 championships.

Playing the comparison game 

February, 20, 2014
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It's a constant topic of conversation: Which player does this prospect remind us of?

Well, given that the current college basketball season has been dominated by freshmen, we took a look at Jeff Goodman’s latest ranking of college freshmen and played the comparison game.

Duke’s Jabari Parker reminds us of Duke signee Jahlil Okafor.
Although they obviously don’t play the same position or have the same style, the similarities are there, and not just the superficial ones such as their hometown of Chicago or college destination. Although Parker does his work primarily from the perimeter and Okafor on the block, Okafor has that same level of maturity that will allow him to adjust to offensive structure just as quickly as Parker has. Furthermore, Okafor likely will take over for Parker and become the immediate focal point of the way Duke plays in the half court. The Blue Devils have tailored what they do offensively to Parker this season, and they’re likely to do the same for Okafor next season.


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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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2014 ESPN 100: 10 things to know 

January, 30, 2014
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Here are 10 things to know about the updated 2014 ESPN 100 player rankings.


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Video: 2014 McDonald’s Boys’ East roster

January, 29, 2014
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Matt Schick and national recruiting director Paul Biancardi announce the East roster for the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago. Headlining the East are the nation’s No. 1 point guard, No. 1 power forward and No. 2 overall recruit.
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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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#AskCoachB: Alexander impressive

January, 23, 2014
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Since the moment we saw big Cliff, he won us over with his energy and effort.

Some prospects play hard here and there, but the nation's top power forward brings it on each possession and in every game, which is so impressive. He dominates in two categories: rebounding and finishing. He is both powerful and explosive.

Another highlight to his game is that he is a good free-throw shooting big man who creates fouls with his aggressive nature.

This past weekend he led his Curie team to a major upset against the country's No. 1 team (Montverede) with an outstanding line (30 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocks). As he continues to develop his offensive skill set against a set defense, he will elevate his total package.

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