NCB On The Trail: D'Angelo Russell

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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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NEW YORK -- The Dick's Sporting Goods High School National Tournament crowned a champion on Saturday at Madison Square Garden with a familiar name as Montverde Academy (Fla.) won its second straight title, this time 71-62 over Oak Hill Academy (Va.). Over the six-year history of this prestigious event, this was the deepest field of teams and the highest level of talent from top to bottom. Montverde came in ranked as the No. 1 high school team in the country and should walk away in that top spot when the polls are finalized.

As the final high school team event of the 2013-14 season, let's take a look at five things we learned from this year's tournament:


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Who is the best high school basketball team in the country?

That question will be answered by the end of the weekend as the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament began Thursday at New York Christ The King High School.

Huntington (W.Va.) Prep was the first team to advance to Friday’s semifinal round after ESPN 100 guard JaQuan Lyle drilled a game-winning 3-pointer with two seconds left in a 65-63 victory. Oak Hill (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) followed suit in the second act, handling Charlotte (N.C.) Northside Christian 69-60.

Las Vegas Findlay Prep looked to be on the verge of pulling away early in the second half of the third quarterfinal, but Seattle Rainier Beach came storming back, ultimately cutting the deficit to two points before Findlay was able to hang on, 67-59.

In the nightcap, Kevin Boyle made a return to the tri-state area as his Montverde (Fla.) Academy squad handled Sagemont (Fla.) 81-63 in the most lopsided game of the day.

Top Performances

[+] EnlargeMontaque Gill-Caesar
Dave Telep/ESPN.comJunior forward Montaque Gill-Ceasar helped Huntington Prep outlast La Lumiere in the Dick's Sporting Goods tourney quarterfinals.
JaQuan Lyle, Huntington Prep
Point guard, Class of 2014
6-foot-5, 215 pounds
Committed to Oregon


The first 31.5 minutes are almost an afterthought following the dynamic way in which Lyle closed the game. While he’ll be remembered for the game-winning 3-pointer he hit from the top of the key with just two seconds left and a defender draped all over him, his play on the previous possession was just as important. Huntington was trailing by one when La Lumiere (Ind.) went into a zone, hoping to confuse Huntington. Instead, Huntington got the ball to Lyle at the high post and let him go to work. He spun into the lane, attracted three defenders and dumped the ball to Thomas Bryant for an easy dunk.

Montaque Gill-Ceasar, Huntington Prep
Small forward, Class of 2015
6-6, 215
Undecided


The powerful wing might not have been the last-minute hero, but he was as efficient as anyone for Huntington. He made shots from behind the arc, moved well off the ball with curling screens and timely basket cuts and showed the versatility to bully smaller defenders on the block or score over top of them from the mid-range area. He’s a matchup nightmare because he’s so powerful for his position, but unlike most with his build, his offensive game isn’t just brute force. Therefore, almost everything he does translates to the next level.

Jalen Coleman, La Lumiere
Shooting guard, Class of 2015
6-2, 170
Undecided


Coleman didn’t have his customary shooting performance, especially in the first half, but his response to that slow start was most impressive. Even when his shots weren’t falling, he was still scoring, in large part because he was able to mix up his attack, get into the paint and get himself easy points at the free-throw line. Later on, he made a pair of huge 3-point shots with the game on the line, the last of which would have been the game-winner had it not been for Lyle’s shot.

Caleb Martin & Cody Martin, Oak Hill
Small forwards, Class of 2014
6-7, 190 and 6-7, 205
Both signed with N.C. State


Northside Christian came out of the gates with a lot of defensive intensity to catch Oak Hill off guard, but both of the Martin brothers stepped up and were critical to their team’s ability to settle down and take control of the game. Caleb was the first to respond, showing his length and smooth open-floor game to get to the rim, then following that up with a 3-pointer to get his team going. Cody was forced to take over as the team’s primarily ball-handler, where he proved be a dependable decision-maker and a valuable distributor. He asserted himself on the glass, adding 17 points to his brother’s 18. Both were an efficient 7-for-12 from the floor.

Craig Victor II, Findlay Prep
Power forward, Class of 2014
6-7, 205
Signed with Arizona


With Horace Spencer and Derryck Thornton both out of the lineup with injury and Rashad Vaughn and Kelly Oubre shaking off the cobwebs following Wednesday’s McDonald’s All-American game in Chicago, Victor stepped up to lead Findlay on Thursday. He looked a step quicker than earlier this winter, both in getting off the floor to finish around the rim and facing up his defender. He was a menace on the offensive glass, showed his soft touch on several short jumpers and even made a couple of high-level passes on the interior.

Ben Simmons, Montverde Academy
Power forward, Class of 2015
6-9, 230
Committed to LSU


Simmons was a man among boys inside the paint, not only showing off his unmatched athleticism for a variety of explosive finishes and blocks but also showing some of his more subtle tools that don’t often get as much recognition. He impressed with his quick feet and interior reflexes, the soft hands to come up with deep catches (both low and high) and the ability to get easy points by beating opposing big men from rim to rim. Once he got going, he even stepped out to hit a corner 3-pointer. Simply put, Sagemont had nobody that could come close to providing the same type of physical presence and sheer talent inside.

Semifinal Preview

Oak Hill Academy vs. Findlay Prep, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Oak Hill received excellent production out of the Martin twins in the quarterfinals, and they’ll need that again Friday if they’re going to hold off Findlay’s one-two perimeter punch of Oubre and Vaughn. Findlay has almost no interior depth to work with, so it will need not only another big game for Victor, but help from Oubre on the glass as well. Ultimately, look for depth and tempo to become potential factors here, as Oak Hill will look to wear down a Findlay team that is currently playing with just seven players. Findlay will likely play quite a bit of zone to try to slow the game as much as possible.

Montverde Academy vs. Huntington Prep, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Montverde ran away in its quarterfinal matchup while pushing the pace at every opportunity, getting a lot of easy baskets in transition as a result. Transition defense is going to be key for Huntington, but just as importantly, it will need to take care of the ball offensively and not settle for contested jumpers that could lead to potential run-outs for Montverde. Two of the best junior big men in the country will be going head to head, as Bryant and Simmons will likely be matched up. Lyle and D'Angelo Russell will lead their respective teams on the perimeter.
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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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The 2014 Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament, which features eight of the best teams in the country, as well as marquee players in the ESPN 100 and ESPN 60, takes place Thursday, Friday and Saturday in New York. The semifinals take place at Christ The King High School in Middle Village, while Madison Square Garden plays host to the championship. All games will be televised by the ESPN family of networks; click here for the schedule and other event information.

This year’s field might be the best ever. Let’s take a look at the players to watch:


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Recruit and return: Ohio State 

March, 20, 2014
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videoIn order to return to the NCAA tournament, a team needs contributions from both returning players and incoming recruits. Here's a look at Ohio State and its chances of dancing again in 2015.

Quick references:
2013-14 roster
2014 recruiting

Possible 2014-15 starting five:
G: Shannon Scott
G: D'Angelo Russell
F: Sam Thompson
F: LaQuinton Ross
C: Amir Williams


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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.



I believe D'Angelo Russell has a good chance to make the NBA.

The Ohio State signee has the tools and the mindset to be a combination guard. His stroke is strong and consistent from deep, and he has a nifty pull-up jumper inside the arc and outside the paint. Russell's instincts for scoring are well above average, and he demonstrates excellent court vision to rack up assists. He's capable of bringing the ball up the floor and initiating the offense.

However, there are many areas that he needs to develop, which include his weak hand (right) drive, his overall defensive approach and committing himself to the weight room.

Don't put a preconceived time frame on how long it should take to be drafted because that ruins the process. He needs to go to Columbus and unpack his bags with the thought of graduating and playing all four years. If the NBA wants him before that, it will let him know.

If he concentrates on helping Ohio State win and improving his skill set, his defense and his frame, I believe he'll make it.
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Making jump shots is one of the most important skills in basketball. It might look easy, but it’s hard to become a consistent shooter with range.

Taking open shots is a big part of becoming a great shooter, as well as moving without the ball. High-level shooters are ready to shoot the ball as soon as it’s passed to them.

There are many outstanding jump shooters in the Class of 2014, but here are my top five.


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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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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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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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Roundtable: Finding the best fit 

November, 18, 2013
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Recruiting is the lifeblood of any successful college basketball team, but recruiting doesn’t just mean assembling the most talented collection of prospects. It’s the process by which coaches build their rosters. Talent is certainly the foundation of that process, but only the first of several layers necessary. The rest of those layers are based on fit, fit with the coach, fit with the current personnel, and fit with that program’s style of play.

Ultimately, talent is the necessary requisite for success, but only when it is joined by the ideal fit does that prospect end up turning into a great player at the college level. With that in mind, here’s a look at whom our Recruiting Nation team dubs the best fits of this year’s early signing period.


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Buckeyes ink three ESPN 100 prospects

November, 14, 2013
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Ohio State officially landed a RecruitingNation Top 40 class on Thursday with the announcement of four student-athletes signing letters of intent.

Joining the Buckeyes in 2014 will be ESPN 100 SG D'Angelo Russell (Louisville, Ky./Montverde), ESPN 100 SF Keita Bates-Diop (Bloomington, Ill./University), ESPN 100 SF Jae'Sean Tate (Pickerington, Ohio/Central) and three-star center David Bell (Garfield Heights, Ohio/Garfield Heights).

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta landed a verbal commitment from ESPN 100 C Payton Dastrup (Mesa, Ariz./Mountain View) last week, but Dastrup changed his mind on Wednesday and signed with BYU.

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.

Buckeyes land ESPN 100 C Dastrup

November, 7, 2013
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Ohio State landed its fifth recruit from the 2014 class on Thursday evening when ESPN 100 center Payton Dastrup (Mesa, Ariz./Mountain View) announced his pledge to the Buckeyes.

Dastrup chose Ohio State over BYU and Virginia. He joins a Buckeyes class that ranks No. 2 in the nation and features ESPN 100 prospects D'Angelo Russell (Louisville, Ky./Montverde Academy), Keita Bates-Diop (Bloomington, Ill./University) and Jae'Sean Tate (Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington Central) along with 3-star center David Bell (Garfield Heights, Ohio/Garfield Heights).

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