WNUR 4-on-4: Basketball Recruiting Edition
With National Signing Day coming up and recruiting season ratcheting up once again, we asked our panel the biggest stories in the world of college basketball recruiting. Ryan Fish, Zach Pereles, Eric Klaus, and Ben Goren answer our 4 pack of questions.
1) Everyone knows that Arizona, Duke, and Kentucky have great recruiting classes coming in. But what’s one class that’s flew under the radar that college basketball fans should be watching out for?
Ryan Fish: It seems like few are talking about Marquette, yet they’ve been able to add some serious talent. After a disappointing 2014-15 campaign, the Golden Eagles have the 10th best overall recruiting class according to ESPN. That list includes two ESPN Top 100 recruits, four-star guard Haanif Cheatham and five-star forward Henry Ellenson. Don’t sleep on second-year coach Steve Wojciechowski or this talented group of soon-to-be-freshmen.
Zach Pereles: I’ll go with Marquette here. After Buzz Williams bolted for Virginia Tech last year, Marquette lost several recruits and a lot more games than Golden Eagle fans have been accustomed to over the past few years. Steve Wojciechowski, coach Krzyzewski’s top assistant, took the helm and now has an incredible recruiting class considering he’s only been there one year. (That’s way too many insane last name spellings in one sentence). The nation’s second best power forward, Henry Ellenson, will be taking his talents to Milwaukee this coming year, and he’ll have a fellow ESPN Top 100 guy, Haanif Cheatham, with him. There are also three four-star guys—Matt Heldt, Sacar Anim (once a Northwestern target) and Traci Carter—that will likely see playing time next year. Right now, Marquette is looking like a team that could make a big leap in Wojciechowski’s second year.
Eric Klaus: There’s a lot of good choices here but I’ll go with Oregon State. Not typically known as a hotspot for recruits or for media members, Corvallis, OR, will be the home of one of the nation’s Top 25 recruiting classes next year. A lot of the credit here goes to head coach Wayne Trinkle who looks well on his way to turning around the OSU program. His first full recruiting class features 6 signees in all, including 4 consensus top-150 players in SG Stephen Thompson Jr., SF Tres Tinkle, PG Derrick Bruce, and C Drew Eubanks. With these four in tow (along with a pair of other 3-star recruits), the Beavers, who finished 17-14 this season, should be able to compete for an NCAA tournament bid sooner rather than later. Making the tournament would be quite an accomplishment for Oregon State, as they have not made the NCAA’s top postseason tournament since 1990 (only Northwestern has a longer tournament drought among Power 5 teams).
Ben Goren: Nobody (except for Zach and Ryan) seems to realize it, but Marquette has a top 10 rated draft class by pulling in 4 players in the Rivals top 150. Golden Eagles head coach Steve Wojciechowski (a former Duke assistant) wasted now time in making a splash in recruiting. His first season at Marquette didn’t go great as they went 13-19, but clearly he’s got the goods when it comes to convincing top talent to come to Milwaukee. 3 of the 5 recruits in Marquette’s 2015 crop are local kids: 2 (Matt Heldt and 5-star power forward Henry Ellenson) are from Wisconsin and 1, Northwestern target Sacar Anim, is from Minnesota. Wojciechowski is going to have a freshmen crew stocked full of talent. Whether or not it will show up in the win-loss column remains to be seen.
2) The Big Ten has a ton of elite talent coming in this year. Which recruiting class ranks above the rest?
Ryan Fish: Michigan State. The Spartans’ 2015 class is the highest ranked in the Big Ten right now, and for good reason. Tom Izzo has two four-star and two five-star recruits to work with this fall, including third-ranked center in the nation Caleb Swanigan, who initially seemed to be headed elsewhere. Now he and McDonald’s All-American Deyonta Davis will help the Spartans’ front line significantly.
Zach Pereles: Tom Izzo is working his magic again. Need to replace Branden Dawson? Just go ahead and bring in Caleb Swanigan, the number three center in the class AND Deyonta Davis, the number five power forward. At 6’8” and 275 pounds, Swanigan is a load to deal with down low, and Davis brings the athleticism of Dawson and perhaps even better shooting ability. If Davis packs on the pounds, he may as well be Dawson 2.0, but even better offensively. Those two McDonalds All-Americans are joined by high-IQ sharp shooters Matt McQuiad (an ESPN Top 100 guy) and Kyle Ahrens. Izzo is set up perfectly for another Final Four run.
Eric Klaus: If this question had been asked a week ago, the answer would have likely been very different. However, with Michigan State picking up a commitment from 5-star center Caleb Swanigan last week, they now clearly have the conference’s best class. Swanigan is joined in MSU’s class by fellow 5-star big man Deyonta Davis, and two top-150 shooting guards in Matthew McQuaid and Kyle Ahrens. Pairing this talented foursome with Tom Izzo, a coach who typically gets the most of out his players, should make the overall impact of this recruiting class larger than that of any other in the conference. There are a number of other strong recruiting classes in the B1G this year (most notably those of Ohio State, Illinois and Maryland), but none of them has as much star potential as MSU’s does with its combo of Swanigan and Davis. For that reason, I’ll give MSU’s class the nod for best in the B1G.
Ben Goren: I’m pretty sure that most people are going to answer Michigan State for this question, and for good reason. But I’m going to go with the Ohio State Buckeyes. 2014-15 Ohio State was not exactly up to snuff for the Buckeyes’ typical high standards. But I challenge you to find a deeper class than Ohio State’s. Matta will bring in 5 freshmen, all of whom rank inside Rivals’ top 105. They fill a number of positions, with a ball handler in AJ Harris, a big in Daniel Giddens, and athletic wings in Mickey Mitchell, Austin Grandstaff, and the jewel of the class Jaquan Lyle. Lyle is a 6-5 guard who played basketball at prep school in Florida. That remind you of anyone? Here’s a hint: he won Freshman of the Year last year for the Buckeyes and has great hair.
3) It’s never too early to assert how good a pro 17 year-olds are going to be. So who’s the best pro prospect in this year’s recruiting class?
Ryan Fish: Tough to say this early on, but I’ll go with Ben Simmons. Ranked as the top forward prospect by ESPN and Rivals, Simmons has the size and playmaking ability (he averaged 28, 12 and 4 this season) to make a big contribution next year at LSU and most likely at the pro level, too. Jack Winter of Uproxx.com says it’s “apt” to call him a “poor man’s LeBron James.” That’s still pretty darn good.
Zach Pereles: Ben Simmons is NBA-ready right now. At 6’9” and 225 pounds, he has the build of a pro. A willing scorer and good ball handler, Simmons will almost certainly stay a Tiger for one year before hopping to NBA stardom. He’s also got a knack for the doing jaw dropping things.
Vine of Ben Simmons’ off the backboard dunk… http://t.co/TyyJp2oFrh
— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) December 21, 2014
Plus, his dad played professionally for a long time overseas. Simmons is without a doubt the most NBA-ready prospect.
Eric Klaus: I’ll make the safe pick here and go with LSU’s Ben Simmons. The 2015 recruiting class does not have as much elite-level talent as some more recent classes have had. However, Simmons, a 6’9’’ forward from Australia, is said to have a very polished game (with very few weaknesses) that should play well in the NBA. In spite of this, some believe that Simmons may not have the highest ceiling among members of the 2015 class. Nevertheless, he certainly seems like the best bet to make a significant impact at the next level. If I had to make a darkhorse pick, I’d go with Malik Newman who is thought to be the best shooter in the class. Newman, an uncommitted combo guard, could prove to be one of the NBA’s best scorers some day given his ability to light it up from all over the floor.
Ben Goren: Basketball has been around for a really long time now. It’s hard to imagine that there are players who are completely unlike anything we’ve seen before. But Thon Maker might be that guy. Using highlight mixtapes to evaluate prospects is completely ridiculous, but look at Thon Maker’s mixtape.
4) There are still plenty of top level recruits who haven’t made their college choice yet. What’s the biggest name that is yet to sign on the dotted line?
Ryan Fish: Despite the (justified) hype surrounding Jaylen Brown and seven-footer Thon Maker, I think it’s Malik Newman. The dude has serious shooting range and elite athleticism. He’s got four high school state championships in Mississippi, a gold medal with USA Basketball last summer, and professional teams overseas recruiting him already. He also shot better than 50 percent from the field each of the past two seasons. Hoops fans everywhere should watch closely where this guy goes.
Zach Pereles: Jaylen Brown is ESPN’s number two guy behind Simmons, and deservedly so. Everything he does looks effortless because he’s such a smooth athlete. He just glides through the air en-route to nifty finishes at the basket and thunderous dunks.
— Jaylen Brown ® (@FCHWPO) October 14, 2014
If he develops his outside shot, Brown will be an absolute nightmare to defend, even though he pretty much already is just based on athleticism. He reminds me a little bit of Stanley Johnson, and we all saw what Johnson did last year at Arizona. He holds offers from all over the country, but just one from the Big Ten: Michigan. Northwestern fans have to hope and pray he doesn’t wind up in Ann Arbor.
Eric Klaus: For me this pick comes down to the previously mentioned Malik Newman and to Jaylen Brown. I’ll take Brown for now because of his consistently high ratings from scouts. Brown, a 6’5” wing, has been the only other player in the 2015 class to challenge Simmons for the number #1 overall spot. In fact, many recruiting services have compared Brown’s athleticism to that of both Vince Carter and Andrew Wiggins. If that is truly the case, then it is not hard to imagine Brown having a major impact on a championship contending team come next March. With that potential, Brown looks like one of the few remaining game-changing recruits remaining. I personally could see Brown having a Justice Winslow-type impact next season in that he proves to be an efficient offensive player who can also defend and rebound well, especially if he lands on a team with other stars (i.e. Kentucky, UNC).
Ben Goren: There’s this 7-foot Australian-Sudanese player who’s playing high school ball in Canada who’s still unsigned. He’s got offers from, well, everyone. His name? THON MAKER. That’s right, the best NBA prospect is also unsigned. There are a lot of reasons for it. Maker initially looked like he was going to play pro basketball overseas this year, but he only recently made it official that he’s looking to play in college. Where he’s going to go? It’s hard to say. One issue that might play a bigger role than people think is shoe sponsorships. Even though it is illegal for amateur athletes to be formally sponsored, lots of high schoolers seemingly attend camps and showcases sponsored by only certain companies. It appears as though Thon Maker has some kind of allegiance with Adidas. Kentucky, Kansas, Arizona and Duke, schools that 247 Sports says Maker is leaning towards, are all Nike schools. The Adidas school making the biggest push? The Indiana Hoosiers. If Maker ends up in Bloomington, I might well pick Tom Crean’s squad to go to the Final Four. That’s how good Thon Maker is.