NCB On The Trail: Cliff Alexander

College basketball’s incoming freshman class features some elite rim protectors. They are the guys who are able to patrol the paint on defense and turn away a wide variety of would-be scorers. Here are the best shot-blockers in the class and one name to know in 2015:

1. Myles Turner, Texas
He went on national television and announced he was going to “hook em.” Well, he might have also meant he was going to “block em.” Arguably the best shot-blocker in the rising freshman class, Turner will provide an immediate boost to Texas’ defense with his ability to turn away shots at the rim. What’s going to be interesting is to see how Rick Barnes elects to use Turner in combination with returning center Cameron Ridley, not to mention last season’s starting power forward Jonathan Holmes. The trio is likely to see plenty of time on the floor together next season, which could mean more of a 2-3 zone from the Longhorns. That allows both Turner to anchor himself to the front of the rim when he plays in the middle, as well as show his mobility in challenging shots on the perimeter from the wing position.

Members of the Class of 2014 have (mostly) made their decisions. Which incoming freshmen should you get to know? Here is a look at the best rebounders -- and one name to know in 2015:

1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Okafor is as wide as a door and next to impossible to keep from a rebound that comes off the glass within reach of his suction-cup hands. Okafor is strong and physical and in the best shape I have seen him, and his motor is hitting on all cylinders.


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In high school basketball, the best players usually concentrate on their offense because that’s how their teams win games. But there are several prospects who have the potential to be elite defenders. Let’s examine the five best defenders among the incoming freshmen and one from the Class of 2015.

1. Justise Winslow, Duke
Winslow has a college-ready body and mindset that will help him influence the game with his defensive prowess. His defensive versatility might be the best among the entire freshman class as the 6-foot-6 forward can defend point guards through power forwards. The athletic Winslow can be a factor in full-court pressure or trapping situations as well as in a straight-up man-to-man denial defense locking up, the opposing team's best offensive threat. What makes him a special defender is that he is always thinking about where he should be next on the floor. Winslow will be extremely important for Duke next season.


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It’s been a busy month for the top high school seniors in America.

First, it was the McDonald’s All American Game, then the Nike Hoop Summit and finally last week’s Jordan Brand Classic.

While these all-star-style games are mostly about show and only rarely about competition, they also serve as the first real opportunity that NBA scouts have to evaluate these prospects.

With the vast majority of the NBA’s 30 franchises having a consistent presence at all three events (both games and practices), we spoke to front-office personnel from five different teams to see their first impressions of the top players in the ESPN 100.

Here’s what they had to say:


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The Jordan Brand Classic featured much of the nation’s top talent.

Obviously, a number of players operate at the same position. That said, each brings a different aspect at the spot. Let’s take a look at some of the best and break down how they are different and impactful.


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Jordan Brand Classic standouts 

April, 20, 2014
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The Jordan Brand Classic was played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Friday.

This game is always filled with future NBA talent and usually has the No. 1 pick in a future NBA draft.

Twenty-two of the country's elite players went head to head for likely the last time before they meet again in college. There were so many impressive plays and highlights, so let's take a look at what we learned from the event.


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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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McDonald's game matchups to watch 

April, 1, 2014
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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
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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.
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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video Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation national recruiting director Paul Biancardi a question about basketball recruiting? Tweet it to @PaulBiancardi using the hashtag #AskCoachB.

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
Feb 26
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video Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation national recruiting director Paul Biancardi a question about basketball recruiting? Tweet it to @PaulBiancardi using the hashtag #AskCoachB.

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.

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