NCB On The Trail: Thomas Welsh


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.

McDonald's Game players to watch 

April, 2, 2014
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The basketball world will be watching the 37th annual McDonald’s All-American Game on Wednesday night (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET) from the United Center in Chicago.

The 24 players selected to participate have already received the greatest honor in high school basketball, but with practices having started, they’re quickly realizing that this week is as much about things to come as it is a celebration of their careers to date.

The game isn’t just a chance for these players to excite their future fan bases, but also to perform, in many cases for the first time in their career, in front of NBA scouts and front office personnel expected from all 30 teams. It all but ensures a competitive few days of action as the players are always anxious to make a good impression.

That type of environment is also ideal for our ESPN RecruitingNation staff as we take one of our final looks at the top players in the country before ultimately putting the Class of 2014 player rankings to bed. With that in mind, we asked our team of evaluators which player they were most interested in observing this week:


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Recruit and return: UCLA 

March, 28, 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 UCLA and its chances of dancing again in 2015.

Quick references:

2013-14 roster
2014 recruiting

Possible 2014-15 starting five:

PG Bryce Alford
CG Isaac Hamilton
SG Norman Powell
PF Tony Parker
C Thomas Welsh


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2014 ESPN 100: 10 things to know 

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


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Scout's take: Lonzo Ball to UCLA 

January, 9, 2014
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UCLA is hot both on the court and in recruiting.

After a huge crosstown win against USC on Sunday, the Bruins landed ESPN 25 prospect Lonzo Ball (Chino Hills, Calif./Chino Hills High School.)

Why he committed:
When Steve Alford and his staff took the UCLA job, they immediately begin recruiting Ball, and now it's paid off. Ball was recently on an unofficial to UCLA when the Bruins pounded USC, and it only took a few days after that win for him to commit to the Bruins. Once Ball witnessed the up-tempo atmosphere of Alford’s offense, he felt that he would be a perfect fit in that system.


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Take Flight Challenge recap 

January, 6, 2014
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REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- The first Take Flight Challenge was littered with Division I prospects, and the level of play was outstanding. Arizona State-bound Tra Holder put together a stellar performance with his efficient scoring while Loyola (Los Angeles) kept its undefeated season going winning an epic battle with highly regarded Compton. However, the biggest buzz out West is whether a virtual unknown prior to the summer -- UCLA-bound Thomas Welsh -- could sneak into the McDonald's All-American Game due to his dominating performances each and every night.


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UCLA under new coach Steve Alford has landed the nation’s No. 11 recruiting class. A big part of that class -- no pun intended -- is 7-footer Thomas Welsh, who has made improvement from last spring.

After Jahlil Okafor and Myles Turner, Welsh is in the conversation for next-best low-post player in the class.

Let’s take an in depth look at his game:


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Under Armour Holiday Classic recap 

December, 31, 2013
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SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- After a down year in 2012 in terms of talent, the 2013 Under Armour Holiday Classic featured a tournament loaded with individual talent and quality teams.

Savvy veterans like North Carolina-bound Theo Pinson (High Point, N.C./Wesleyan Christian Academy) and Arizona-bound Parker Jackson-Cartwright (Los Angeles, Calif./Loyola) had their way with the competition, while up-and-comers Lonzo Ball (Chino Hills, Calif./Chino Hills) and Bryce Aiken (Elizabeth, N.J./The Patrick School) exhibited glimpses of what the future beholds.

Best All-Around
Theo Pinson (High Point, NC/Wesleyn Christian Academy)
2014, SF, 6-foot-6, 210 pounds
Status: Signed with North Carolina

With his athleticism, length and improved perimeter skill set, Pinson pretty much did whatever he wanted against the competition. He was electrifying in the open court, made sound decisions (played point guard at times) and was disruptive on the defensive end due to his long arms and active hands.


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UCLA lands ESPN 100 PF Bolden

December, 10, 2013
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After a slow start to the 2014 recruiting race, the Bruins appear to be finding their groove as they landed one of the nation's better unsigned prospects in 6-foot-8, 205-pound power forward Jonah Bolden (New South Wales, Australia/Findlay Prep).

The ESPN 100 recruit chose the Bruins over SMU, USC, Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky. The Bruins were seen as the favorite and it appeared to be only a matter of time before he chose to continue his career in Westwood, despite Larry Brown and SMU making a strong push.

Bolden is one of the better under-the-radar prospects in the country, but he was able to exhibit his talents in August at the adidas Nations event in California. The finesse 4-man is a willowy, skilled prospect with an intriguing skill set. He can face up his defender and either drain the 19-foot jump shot or display his underrated passing skills. He needs to get considerably stronger and much more assertive, especially in the paint, but his upside is quite impressive.

Steve Alford has a nice nucleus arriving in Westwood next season with the likes of ESPN 100 prospects Kevon Looney (Milwaukee/Hamilton) and Thomas Welsh (Los Angeles/Loyola), as well as skilled 5-man Gyorgy Goloman (Weston, Fla./The Sagemont School). Along with Bolden, this group will provide the Bruins with length, skill and savvy. If UCLA can somehow land a point guard, Alford will have all of his needs met for the 2014 class.

Scout's take: Welsh stays home at UCLA 

November, 20, 2013
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Four-star center Thomas Welsh (Los Angeles/Loyola) committed to UCLA over Stanford, California, Arizona State and USC among others.

This is a big one for new Bruins coach Steve Alford since he landed a nationally ranked prospect from his backyard in Southern California.

Why he committed: The ESPN 100 No. 90 overall player will have an opportunity to play and provide an immediate impact on the Bruins front line especially with the Wear twins being seniors this season.

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With seven ESPN 100 commitments in as many days, the last week has been incredibly busy on the recruiting wire, but the best could still be yet to come with Reid Travis, Cliff Alexander, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones all likely to make decisions in time to sign during the early signing period, which begins next week.

In case you missed any of last week’s headlines, here’s a rundown: Devin Robinson chose Florida over Indiana on Wednesday; later that night, big man Michael Humphrey picked Stanford over Arizona; Devin Booker started a busy Thursday by picking Kentucky over Missouri; James Blackmon Jr. pulled a surprise by spurning Kentucky to recommit to Indiana; Kevon Looney’s commitment to UCLA was equally surprising, with most predicting Duke, Florida or Tennessee; former UCLA pledge Trevon Bluiett picked Xavier over Butler and Michigan State on Friday; and Trey Lyles chose Kentucky over Louisville on Tuesday.

That flurry of activity, along with the upcoming announcements, has brought more clarity to a lot of top national programs. Here’s a look at some of the implications:


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Notebook: Bruins host big visitor 

September, 20, 2013
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Truth? It’s not a big campus visited weekend. Take a look at the pedestrian football schedule and you’ll see what I mean. However, there are a few stragglers on campus this weekend, some of which are crucial to a few programs this year and next.


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Notes: Cartwright could be double value 

September, 6, 2013
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This time of the year, there's always something brewing. From campus visits to the value of Stanford's newest pledge, we've dumped out the notebook into a nice, tidy column to catch you up.

Cartwright's value could be two-fold


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Top 10: Potential risers outside 100 

August, 28, 2013
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After reviewing the July notes, a number of players popped onto the radar. Whether they make any top 100 lists is to be determined, but they are candidates. Frankly, this summer could yield more change than usual in a list of this nature. I’d pay close attention to the next 100 list because I’d bet the ESPN staffers shake it up and you see a host of new faces.

If the new list had PF Michael Humphrey (didn’t see him in July), SG Matthew Fisher-Davis, SG Bryant McIntosh, PF Yante Maten, F Bonzie Colson, PG Lamonte Bearden or SG B.J. Stith, it wouldn’t be met with much resistance as those prospects each put together strong summers; some are better players than prospects and that’s a factor.

Ten Non-100 Potential Risers

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Top 10 player accolades from July 

August, 21, 2013
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The worst time to write a column about what you saw in July is right after July. The month needs to marinate on your mind so one can process what we just lived. So, nearly three weeks out from the month that was, I sat down to recall a few of the top players of July.

In the spirit of Telep's top 10, we give 10 categories and a plethora of players of influence from the most important month on the circuit.

1. Best motor big/guard: We’ll entertain motions to rename this the inaugural “Reid Travis” award and therefore hand out the overall best motor title to ... forward Reid Travis. Pac-12 aficionados close your eyes and picture the second coming of Jon Brockman, because that’s whom Travis reminds me of most. On the guard side of the ledger for the best motor, Lourawls Nairn impressed me from start to finish. There was a noticeable chip on his shoulder and he went hard at LeBron and continued through Peach Jam. The guy has no off button.


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