NCB On The Trail: Ivan Rabb


The high school basketball season is now in full swing and ESPN2 will feature a marquee matchup on Friday at 6:30 pm ET where No.1 Montverde Academy (Fla.) will host No. 16 Bishop O'Dowd out of Oakland, California.

Here's what to watch for in this game that is headlined by two ESPN 100 Top 5 prospects in No. 1 Ben Simmons, who is headed to LSU, and No. 5 Ivan Rabb who has cut his list to California, Kentucky, Kansas, Arizona and UCLA.

Recruiting has quieted down a bit since the end of the early signing period and the start of the high school and college seasons, but there are plenty of teams still looking for players. Where will these schools find them?

Available players

The most obvious route is the remaining uncommitted players in the 2015 class. We’ve gone over the top 100 players countless times, and while there aren’t too many of that caliber still on the board, that’s the straight-forward option for teams still in need. The premier programs in the country are gunning for the Jaylen Browns, Diamond Stones and Ivan Rabbs of the world, but lower-tier high-major programs and mid-major programs have to keep their eyes out. They’re looking outside the top 100 and will also be on the prowl for players set to emerge during their senior seasons.

As those borderline high-major prospects continue to wait to commit to a school, though, they see their recruitment rise significantly. And therein lies the danger for schools: The talent pool among seniors dries out, schools still need players -- and desperation kicks in. That’s when you’ll see programs reaching for players, just to fill a void or get a body on the roster. For new coaches taking over programs, it’s a necessary evil; they simply need guys. But in some cases, it’s better to hold onto a scholarship for next year instead of reaching for a guy who won’t cut it at the high-major or mid-major level and will therefore transfer or take up a scholarship for four years.


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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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After winning a gold medal with USA Basketball this past summer, Ivan Rabb, the No. 5 prospect in the ESPN 100, narrowed his list of finalists. The No. 3 power forward in the senior class told ESPN.com he will focused on Arizona, California, Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA. Georgetown and North Carolina were cut from the list.


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Last weekend, Kentucky had about 90 NBA scouts on its campus for a practice that was televised on ESPNU -- yet this weekend will feature an even bigger event for the Wildcats.

Friday brings Big Blue Madness to Lexington, where the Kentucky faithful will pack Rupp Arena for their first look at the 2014-15 edition of the Wildcats, the likely preseason No. 1 team in the country. More important, it is also the biggest recruiting weekend of the year for John Calipari and Kentucky. Seven five-star prospects from the classes of 2015 and 2016 are expected on campus this weekend, in addition to four-star commit Charles Matthews.

Calipari and his staff haven’t tried to downplay the event to the prospective recruits, either.

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Big men dominate in class of 2015 

September, 29, 2014
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A closer look at the class in 2015 shows that 10 of the top 15 prospects are either power forwards or centers. But don’t be mistaken as not all big men are the same. This is certainly not a one-size-fits-all talent pool.

Let’s look at how they are different in size, body type, skill, athletic ability and basketball IQ.

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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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Adidas Nations, one of the final team events of the summer, finished its four-day run on Monday. The talent included outstanding players in the United States to top global prospects. In the championship game, 2016 adidas U.S. Lillard defeated 2016 adidas U.S. Wall, 106-78. 2015 adidas U.S. Howard won the consolation over team Europe, 52-46.

My five takeaways


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Recruiting is a little bit like playing cards. You have to consider both your hand and your competition's before deciding how much you want to wager.

For high-profile college coaches, a scholarship offer is sometimes no more than a minimum wager to test the waters. Sean Miller is one head coach who tends to use his offers liberally, having extended 21 of them in the current 2015 class.

What’s undeniable is that once he decides he wants to go all-in, there aren’t many coaches who win more big hands. In fact, with Allonzo Trier becoming the latest ESPN 100 prospect to make an early commitment to Miller, you could argue that he has yet to miss on one of his top 2015 targets.

[+] EnlargeIvan Rabb
AP Photo/The Augusta Chronicle, Sara CaldwellIf the Wildcats get a commitment from Ivan Rabb, they might end up with the best class in the country.
The Arizona Wildcats hold additional verbal commitments from two other five-star prospects in Justin Simon and Ray Smith. They also held a commitment from Tyler Dorsey up until last June, and while the origin of that split is debatable, the bottom line for Arizona was that they thought they could get better, and they did. They never stopped recruiting Trier and Isaiah Briscoe, even after Dorsey committed, and so ultimately they had a good hand but chose to double down and ended up winning big.

Now, that’s not to say that Arizona has their pick of all the best prospects in the country. Not at all. Only that Miller plays his hands especially well, analyzing not only the talent of the player but also his ties to the situation and those of his competition before deciding how much time and resources he wants to invest.

Chase Jeter is the perfect example. The five-star big man from Las Vegas committed to Duke on Monday night. Sure, Arizona would have loved to have him. They offered, actively recruited him, and even made his final six. But make no mistake about it, they were never all-in. They knew they weren’t getting him long before he went on national TV and had prioritized another big man much earlier in the process -- namely Ivan Rabb.

Rabb was not only the top-ranked prospect in the ESPN 100 heading into the July evaluation period, he was also a product of the same AAU program, the Oakland Soldiers, that has supplied Arizona with arguably the biggest recent pipeline in all of college basketball recruiting in recent years with Nick Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Aaron Gordon, and Stanley Johnson among others.

Now, Rabb is the last remaining target left on Arizona’s big board and the exclamation point that could punctuate what could ultimately be the nation’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class.

Oakland Soldiers program director Mark Olivier doesn’t know where Rabb will ultimately decide to go to college. Rabb is currently in Dubai with Team USA's U17 team and hasn’t given indication of any favorites or time frames. In fact, Rabb’s high school coach at Bishop O’Dowd, Lou Richie, is far more involved in his recruitment. One thing Olivier does expect though is that Rabb will make his own decision.

“I look at Ivan and I don’t think he’s that type of kid in that he’s going to go there because somebody else went there,” Olivier said.

Nevertheless, it would be only natural for the player who first began wearing a Soldiers uniform when he was in the 7th grade to want to follow so many of the players that he grew up admiring, especially Johnson, who took Rabb under his wing during last year’s EYBL season.


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LAS VEGAS -- The LeBron James Skills Academy concluded on Saturday with an impressive North Carolina squad methodically putting away a talented Syracuse team 65-52 in the championship. North Carolina was a well-rounded team that received a number of stellar performances from the likes of Ivan Rabb, Aaron Falzon, Malik Monk, Jake Lindsey, Cassius Winston and Aaron Holiday.

Here were some of the standout performances and interesting storylines from the LeBron camp:

Intriguing matchup


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LeBron James Skills Academy recap: Day 2 

July, 11, 2014
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Ivan Rabb, the No. 1 player in the ESPN 100, has had his moments at this camp. However, Ben Simmons is making a strong push for that spot as he has been clearly the best player after a couple of sessions. There is no player in the country who combines skill, savvy and athleticism like Simmons.

Most explosive

Malik Monk
2016, SG, 6-foot-3, 180 pounds


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Five burning questions: Arizona 

June, 20, 2014
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At this time last week, Arizona had two early verbal commitments in the Class of 2015 and two graduating seniors whose scholarships would need to be filled.

The Wildcats' work seemed to be done early. Except it wasn’t. Not even close.

Last weekend, ESPN 100 guard Tyler Dorsey decommitted from the Wildcats in a move that many had come to expect.

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Accusations of academic scandal have hit North Carolina once again. This time it is specific to the men’s basketball program.

While the plot has only thickened since the first “Outside the Lines” report, what many now want to know is whether there will be any tangible impact on the product Roy Williams and UNC will put on the floor.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesHow will the accusations of academic fraud impact Roy Williams' ability to recruit his 2015 class? It's probably still too early to tell.
The simple truth is we don’t know yet. Should this spark another investigation or the NCAA deem it necessary to get involved, there could certainly be repercussions. Otherwise, while it’s something that Williams will have to deal with on the recruiting front, it’s likely not an insurmountable obstacle.

You could also make the argument that North Carolina’s 2015 recruiting class is now even more important than ever, as the Tar Heels will look to silence those critics who may be whispering of their demise from the shadows.

On the surface there aren’t many pieces to replace, as Desmond Hubert is the only scholarship player in the senior class. They do have additional scholarships available, however, and that could be important should Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, or incoming freshman Justin Jackson play well enough next season to warrant an early jump to the NBA.

From the looks of its early recruiting, North Carolina appears to be focusing on 10 players with hopes of bringing in a three-man class.


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