Basketball recruiting: Top players take new paths to college

dscott@charlotteobserver.comNovember 14, 2012 

  • Top recruiting classes nationwide Three of the nation’s top basketball recruiting services (ESPNU, Scout.com, analyst Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports Report) rank the top 20 classes entering Wednesday’s NCAA early signing period, which runs through Nov. 21.
    ESPNUSCOUT.COMBOB GIBBONS
    1. Kentucky1. Kentucky1. Kentucky
    2. Memphis2. Indiana2. Indiana
    3. Kansas3. Memphis3. Kansas
    4. Indiana4. Kansas4. Memphis
    5. Florida5. Florida5. Florida
    6. Louisville6. LSU6. Louisville
    7. LSU7. Marquette7. LSU
    8. Michigan8. Louisville8. Michigan
    9. Marquette9. Duke9. Marquette
    10. Notre Dame10. Notre Dame10. Notre Dame
    11. North Carolina11. Arkansas11. North Carolina
    12. Arkansas12. Michigan12. Duke
    13. Duke13. N.C. State13. Baylor
    14. Baylor14. North Carolina14. Arkansas
    15. Syracuse15. UCLA15. UCLA
    16. Brigham Young16. Syracuse16. Syracuse
    17. N.C. State17. Arizona17. N.C. State
    18. Arizona18. California18. South Carolina
    19. Florida State19. Tennessee19. Florida State
    20. Missouri20. Baylor20. Arizona

The shifting dynamics of college basketball recruiting come into focus Wednesday when the NCAA’s early signing period begins.

Look at the cases of 6-foot-8 guard/forward Andrew Wiggins of West Virginia’s Huntington Prep – viewed by most experts as the top recruit in the country – and 6-5 guard/forward Sindarius Thornwell, who plays at prep powerhouse Oak Hill (Va.) Academy and is a top-25 prospect.

Wiggins and Thornwell are taking nontraditional, yet increasingly common, routes to college.

Wiggins recently “reclassified” his class status at Huntington Prep, moving his scheduled graduation date up from 2014 to 2013. So he’ll begin college (he’s expected to choose between North Carolina, Kentucky, Florida State, Syracuse and Kansas) next fall rather than in two years.

Then there is Thornwell, one of a group of homegrown Carolinas players (he’s from Lancaster, S.C.) who left the region to play at a private boarding school.

“Both of these situations are a way that parents think they can enhance their kids’ opportunities of getting into the NBA faster,” said All-Star Sports Report recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons of Lenoir. “It’s growing worse.”

Wiggins, whom Gibbons said might not announce his college decision until next week, isn’t the only nationally prominent player who has reclassified. Forward Noah Vonleh, who plays at New Hampton (N.H.) School and has committed to Indiana, did the same thing, as did center Dakari Johnson of Florida’s Monteverde Academy.

Lancaster’s Thornwell is not the only Carolinas player to leave home to play elsewhere (he’ll attend South Carolina after his senior season at Oak Hill). Charlotte’s Allerik Freeman, a former Olympic High guard, transferred to Nevada’s Findlay Prep and has committed to UCLA. Anton Gill, a guard from Raleigh’s Ravenscroft, is now at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy and will attend Louisville.

“We’ve lost a number of our top seniors,” said Gibbons. “They’re being influenced by their summer coaches, telling them they’re going to play tougher competition and that they’ll be better prepared for college both athletically and academically. And it’s all for the dream of playing in the NBA.”

Here’s what else to watch during Wednesday’s signing day:

Duke, UNC rule ACC

Duke and North Carolina already have the ACC’s top recruiting classes and are among the top 20 in the country, Gibbons said. And they will only get better if the Blue Devils and Tar Heels also land top-five prospects who have yet to commit.

“It’s a fine split now,” Gibbons said of Duke and North Carolina. “They would have to be 1A and 1B in the ACC.”

Duke has commitments from 6-6 wing Semi Ojeleye of Ottawa, Kan., Gibbons’ 26th-ranked player nationally, as well as Matt Jones, a 6-4 shooting guard from DeSoto, Texas, who is ranked 32nd.

The Tar Heels have commitments from 6-8 power forward Isaiah Hicks from Oxford Webb High (No. 14) and Nate Britt, a 6-2 point guard from Oak Hill (ranked 38th nationally).

But if Duke can land the country’s second-ranked recruit, 6-9 forward Jabari Parker from Chicago, or North Carolina can sign Wiggins or West Charlotte center Kennedy Meeks (No. 10 on Gibbons’ list), both programs would instantly have one of the top 10 recruiting classes in the country.

Duke is competing with Stanford, Kentucky, Michigan State, Brigham Young and Florida for Parker. Meeks is also considering Georgetown along with the Tar Heels.

But Wolfpack’s right there

N.C. State, which last year had one of the country’s top recruiting classes, is in the running with several schools for the No. 2 player on Gibbons’ national list, 6-9 power forward Julius Randle of Plano, Texas (along with Kentucky, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Florida). The Wolfpack has another big man on its list – 6-9 BeeJay Anya of DeMatha High in Hyattsville, Md.

N.C. State already has commitments from point guard Anthony Barber (No. 25) of Hampton, Va., and 6-9 Kyle Washington of Brewster (N.H.) Academy.

Nationally speaking

Gibbons has another 1A and 1B scenario nationally with Indiana and Kentucky.

The Hoosiers already have commitments from top 100 players Vonleh, shooting guard Stanford Robinson of Findlay Prep and wing Troy Williams of Oak Hill.

The Wildcats have the Harrison twins of Richmond, Texas – point guard Andrew Harrison (ranked No. 4 by Gibbons) and shooting guard Aaron Harrison (No. 12). Kentucky also has top-100 commitments from forward James Young of Rochester, Mich., and center/forward Marcus Lee of Antioch, Calif.

If Kentucky were to sign Wiggins or Randle, that would vault the Wildcats into the top spot.

Florida State a dark horse

Florida State, which won last season’s ACC tournament, has commitments from shooting guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (ranked 36th), a teammate of Wiggins at Huntington Prep, as well as 88th-ranked Jarquez Smith, a 6-9 forward from of Gray, Ga.

Signing Wiggins, of course, could change everything for coach Leonard Hamilton’s program. And if Mayes isn’t enough to lure Wiggins to Florida State, consider this: Wiggins’ dad, Mitchell, is a former Seminoles player and a Kinston native.

Quiet locally

The Charlotte 49ers don’t have any commitments and aren’t likely to sign anyone Wednesday. Davidson doesn’t announce its signings until the spring.

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