Luke DeCock

Unusual April, with top hoops prospects undecided

Brandon Ingram of the West team tries to get off a shot against Diamond Stone of the East team during the 2015 McDonalds's All American Game at the United Center on April 1, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.
Brandon Ingram of the West team tries to get off a shot against Diamond Stone of the East team during the 2015 McDonalds's All American Game at the United Center on April 1, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. GETTY

Under most circumstances, the news that Duke landed a point guard Tuesday – one who should, technically be a high-school senior next season, not starting in the ACC – would come with a gentle reminder that basketball recruiting in April rarely delivers on the attendant hype.

This April is very different, with some of the best players in the country still uncommitted. Even more unusual is how many chips the Triangle schools still have on the table.

Six of the top 12 players in ESPN's rankings, including Kinston's Brandon Ingram, have waited the entire season to pick a college. Two, big men Caleb Swanigan and Stephen Zimmerman, made their decisions in the past week. Of the remaining four, three are considering Duke, North Carolina or N.C. State – and in Ingram's case, all three.

First, there's Derryck Thornton, the point guard Duke plucked from next year's class to replace Tyus Jones. (Louisville, which lost Terry Rozier to the pros, was after Thornton for the same reason.) He's not Jones or Kyrie Irving, but he'll allow Grayson Allen and Matt Jones to play their normal positions instead of being forced to play the point, which makes him an impact player for that reason alone. Ranked with the Class of 2015, ESPN has him 17th.

More notable is Ingram, who ESPN ranks the No. 3 prospect in the country and is considering Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State among others. Ingram has said he would likely have committed to UNC already were it not for the threat of NCAA sanctions; Duke may be the front-runner now that its point-guard problems are solved. A 6-foot-8 small forward, Ingram could claim a starting spot on anyone's roster.

N.C. State is still in the running, along with Kentucky, Kansas, Mississippi State, Mississippi and LSU, for Mississippi guard Malik Newman, ESPN's No. 10 prospect. Newman would theoretically help fill the vacancy left by Trevor Lacey's early departure to the NBA, which makes his decision even more vital for the Wolfpack than it would have been otherwise.

And North Carolina remains in the mix for Georgia small forward Jaylen Brown, ESPN's No. 4 prospect also considering a who's who of college basketball, including Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA and Michigan.

All three are legitimate top-10 prospects. It's not unprecedented for such talented players to still be making their decisions this late, but it's rare around here, where North Carolina and Duke in particular tend to latch onto targets early and land them early. Duke's two other incoming freshmen, Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter, both committed last summer.

On the other hand, the Tar Heels have only one commitment for next season, Huntersville forward Luke Maye, with Roy Williams complaining the prolonged investigation into the UNC scandal has hurt recruiting, both in terms of prospects' interest and other schools' negative recruiting. That makes what Ingram and Brown decide even more important for the Tar Heels.

Most years in April, what happens in recruiting now isn't going to have too much to do with what happens in November. John Wall, who carefully managed the entire process into May, was a rare exception. The best players available usually are of the Amile Jefferson variety, with expectations inflated by their availability this late in the process.

Jefferson, an April commitment to Duke in 2012, has been a depth forward and occasional starter, and his defense was a major factor in the national-title game win over Wisconsin, but what he's delivered at Duke hasn't matched the frenzy surrounding his announcement or his No. 25 national ranking.

With Thornton's early arrival and Ingram, Brown and Newman all deciding late, this year is a departure from the norm. Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State have a lot to gain – assuming all three players don't end up together at Kentucky.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

  Comments