NCB On The Trail: Karl Towns Jr.

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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If you want an indication of how valued big men are in college basketball today, consider this:

Eighteen months ago, Columbia was the only Division I school heavily recruiting 6-foot-9 forward Sean Obi. On Monday night, after one season at Rice, Obi announced he would transfer to Duke, where he will have three seasons of eligibility beginning in 2015-16.

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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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Roundtable: Jordan Brand Classic 

April, 18, 2014
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It has been a busy few weeks for the top prospects in the ESPN 100.

It began at the beginning of the month when they arrived in Chicago for the McDonald's All American Game. Immediately after that game concluded, some players jumped on a red-eye to New York for the Dick's Sporting Goods High School National Tournament. Last week it was a trip to the West Coast for the Nike Hoop Summit in Oregon. This week, that string of all-star events gets a fitting culmination as the top players in the Class of 2015 return to New York for the Jordan Brand Classic.

Given what we've seen, not just in the past few weeks but in the past few years, is there anything left to learn? Here are a few players whom our Recruiting Nation staff will be watching during Friday's Jordan Brand Classic (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET):


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The Jordan Brand Classic features the best talent high school basketball has to offer. Here are some of the most intriguing potential matchups in this terrific annual event, which airs Friday night at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Tyus Jones (Duke) vs. Tyler Ulis (Kentucky)

This matchup will be the battle for who can get the most assists. Both are terrific pass-first point guards who can play fast or slow. They can make open shots in order to keep the defense honest, and their decision-making on the offensive end of the floor is excellent, as well. Ulis can apply more heat on the ball defensively, while Jones is stronger and the better finisher in heavy traffic. It will be interesting to see who makes the fewest mistakes with the ball and who will win the assist category as Jones and Ulis push each other on both ends of the floor.


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The two best prospects were Jahlil Okafor for the USA Team and Karl Towns Jr. for the World Team.

Okafor displayed his dominating low-post game and was virtually unguardable. He produced double- figure points (14) and rebounds (10) in only 27 minutes of play. If he gets into optimal physical condition, he can decide his future.

Towns was the only player on the World Team who could score with either hand. Okafor made it difficult for him to score because of his franchise size. He was in foul trouble most of the game so he had to sit and lost some of his aggressiveness.

Towns' future at Kentucky and beyond is extremely bright.

When you look ahead to the college game next season, Okafor should be battle-tested and ready to produce at a high level at Duke.

Towns has all the upside you could ever want in a big man. When you combine his size, shooting skills and impressive basketball instincts -- along with his defensive upside -- he could be really good at Kentucky.

With plenty of hard work and sacrifice in the offseason, they could be two of the better players in college basketball next season.
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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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Karl Towns Jr. has franchise size and a high degree of skill.

As a 7-foot-1 player at close to 250 pounds, he is most comfortable, confident and best at facing the basket shooting jumpers or passing. Don't be surprised to see this big man hanging out at the high post, in ball screens and dribble handoffs, making jump shots and handing out some assists. Towns can and will go inside and call for the ball with a big man's demeanor.

When his body starts to shed away the baby fat and when he learns how to play in a stance from low to high, opponents will be in trouble.

I like him now, but expect him to improve from potential to player in time.

His upside is NBA-like because of his elite shooting touch from anywhere on the floor, along with his mammoth size.

His playing resume is impressive, as he was a member of the Dominican Republic Senior National Team, a two-time New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year and a three-time all-state selection.

Recently he was selected to play in the Jordan Brand Classic and the McDonald’s All-American Game. His most prestigious award came this week as he was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year.

Kentucky fans will enjoy and appreciate him as a person, student and basketball player.

#AskCoachB: Projecting Kentucky

February, 18, 2014
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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.
Kentucky has the nation's No. 2 recruiting class. And this class, put together by John Calipari, is different than his past ones.

This bunch is highly ranked, with size and talent, but the difference is that this class has more skill on an individual and collective basis than in years past.

All four signees were recently named McDonald's All-Americans.

At 5-foot-9, Tyler Ulis (Matteson, Ill./Marian Catholic) might be the smallest point guard Calipari has ever coached, and he will be the best pure point guard he has ever landed. All his other great leaders were scoring guards with size, athletic ability and the mindset to score first and pass second. Ulis is just the opposite.

Devin Booker (Moss Point, Miss./Moss Point) is an outstanding long-range open shooter.

Trey Lyles (Indianapolis/Arsenal Technical) and Karl Towns (Metuchen, N.J./St. Joseph) can score inside and outside the paint, which allows them to play a high-low game. Both big men can pass against a set defense, which speaks volumes of their instincts for the game.

Of course, there will be a huge learning curve, as there is with every freshman group.

Who will decide to stay another season at Kentucky? It's never easy to figure out this early. But I would say the obvious ones are Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress.

Who's leaving? Chad Ford has Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein and James Young all in the first round on his Big Board Insider. The Harrison twins are playing much better, but it remains to be seen where they project in the draft.
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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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Video: Towns Jr. talks McDonald's invite

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
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Matt Schick interviews No. 9 overall senior Karl Towns Jr. immediately after the Kentucky commit learned he would participate in the 2014 McDonald's All American Game.
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Day two of the Spalding Hoophall Classic continued to showcase top national talent to a packed house of fans, college coaches and national media alike. Here’s a look at who stood out on Sunday:

Best guard: Jalen Coleman (Indianapolis/La Lumiere)
Every part of Coleman’s performance was impressive on Sunday. He shot the ball extremely well from long range, was low to the ground with his rips and created space in the mid-range area. Defensively he was equally impressive, shutting down Kobe Eubanks, rotating well away from the ball and communicating appropriately. More impressive than his production was the fact almost everything he did on both ends of the floor would have translated into a college game.


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Roundtable: Spalding Hoophall Classic 

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
12:00
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Held each year during the Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend, the Spalding Hoophall Classic annually is one of the best high school basketball events of the year. Many of the nation’s top teams and individual prospects are converging on the birthplace of basketball in Springfield, Mass.

ESPN will again have wide-ranging coverage, with daily recaps and analysis from our Recruiting Nation team. Four games will be televised live Monday on ESPNU.

With such a wide variety of intriguing storylines set to play out in the next five days, here’s a look at what our experts are most looking forward to this weekend:


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