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The top 25 players to follow on the grassroots basketball circuit


Here’s a look at some of the top names to know that recruiting analysts and college basketball writers will be talking about over the next few months.

Carlton Bragg, 6-foot-9 forward, Cleveland, OH: An explosive wing forward that can play above the rim and do a lot of damage in transition, Bragg is also expanding his range and showing that he’s a capable rebounder. Can he go higher in the top 10 in 2015?

Jalen Brunson, 6-foot-1 point guard, Lincolnshire, IL: After a fantastic high school season at Stevenson, Brunson has emerged as potentially the best point guard prospect in the country. The son of former NBA guard Rick Brunson, the lefty guard can really score the ball and had multiple 50-point performances against top 25 teams in Chicago this season.

Cheick Diallo, 6-foot-9 center, Centereach, NY: Burst onto the scene last summer with a dominating performance at the NBPA Top 100 Camp and remains one of the most ominous defenders in the country. Elite shot blocker and great athlete.

Harry Giles, 6-foot-10 forward, Winston-Salem, NC: Coming off of a knee injury in June suffered during USA Basketball, Giles returns from tearing his ACL, MCL and meniscus. Can he be a No. 1 type player in 2016 coming off of the injury? How will Giles fair in the EYBL with CP3?

Josh Jackson, 6-foot-6 wing, Detroit, MI: Considered No. 1 in 2016 by a handful of national scouts, Jackson can score the ball in a variety of different ways while also being a strong passer and rebounder. How will Jackson fair on the grassroots circuit?

Skal Labissiere, 6-foot-10 forward, Cordova, TN: Recently returned from an injury to join the Arkansas Wings on the grassroots circuit and is a long and explosive athlete around the hoop. When Skal improves his ability to understand the game on-the-fly, he could be elite. Kentucky, Georgetown and Memphis are the three names most often associated with Labissiere.

Thon Maker, 7-foot center, Martinsville, VA: After exploding as a national name thanks to a mixtape and some absurd hype, Maker is in the conversation as the No. 1 player in 2016. Maker moves freakishly well for a 7-footer his age.

Malik Newman, 6-foot-3 guard, Jackson, MS: One of the most cold-blooded scorers in recent memory, Newman is Rivals’ No. 1 player in 2015 and the scoring guard and fill it up from all over the floor. Also a gifted passer, Newman will have to hold off a bevy of good big men in 2015 to remain in the top spot.

Ivan Rabb, 6-foot-9 center, Oakland, CA: Big-time athlete can leap with the best of them from the center position and is fighting hard at being No. 1 in the 2015 class. Is playing in the EYBL with the Oakland Soldiers.

Ben Simmons, 6-foot-8 forward, Montverde, FL: This is the Australian native’s grassroots season debut after spending last summer with the Australian National team and working out in his home country. Simmons has the chance to be the best player in 2015 after helping lead Montverde to the Dick’s National Championship.

Diamond Stone, 6-foot-10 center, Milwaukee, WI: The big man from Milwaukee is a top-5 talent in 2015 and is a load to handle on the interior thanks to his soft hands and good touch and post moves. Stone also has solid footwork and rebounds well.

Jayson Tatum, 6-foot-7 wing, St. Louis, MO: Smooth wing out of St. Louis reminds some of Shaun Livingston and Scottie Pippen and he’s a consensus top-five player in 2016.

Elijah Thomas, 6-foot-9 center, Lancaster, TX: One of the premier big men in the 2015 class, Thomas is a lot to handle on the interior thanks to his 250-pound frame. Will be one of the better big men in the EYBL with Team Texas Elite.

Seventh Woods, 6-foot-1 point guard, Columbia, SC: With unbelievable athleticism and burst, Woods also became a phenomenon based on a mixtape, but he’s starting to add to his overall guard package. Can his skill set continue to grow?

Stephen Zimmerman, 7-foot center, Las Vegas, NV: Athletic lefty is just starting to figure out his overall game. Zimmerman is also highly skilled and a good teammate and communicator. Has a chance at No. 1 in 2015.

Ten More to Watch:

Isaiah Briscoe 6-foot-3 guard, Newark, NJ: Skilled scorer in 2015 can play either guard spot and fill it up from all over the floor.

Jaylen Brown, 6-foot-7 forward, Marietta, GA: Explosive wing athlete is good in the open floor and getting better with his skills from the perimeter.

Tyler Dorsey, 6-foot-4 guard, Bellflower, CA: Arizona commit can play a bit of both guard spots and is a top 10 player in 2015 and possibly the best guard not named Malik Newman.

Chase Jeter, 6-foot-10 forward, Las Vegas, NV: Forward runs alongside Stephen Zimmerman during the high school season and has a lot of upside in 2015.

V.J. King, 6-foot-7 forward, Akron, OH: Can the 2016 forward out of St. Vincent-St. Mary’s shoot into the top five?

Dedric Lawson, 6-foot-8 forward, Memphis, TN: Brother Keelon is already a Memphis commit in 2015 class. Could Dedric, a 2016 recruit, be another for Josh Pastner?

Charles Matthews, 6-foot-5 guard, Chicago, IL: After an early-season foot injury, the Kentucky commit and 2015 recruit played tremendous all-around basketball.

Doral Moore, 6-foot-11 center, Locust Grove, GA: Big man is coming on strong down south and has earned a lot of recent praise among 2015 class.

Justin Simon, 6-foot-4 point guard, Temecula, CA: Simon has earned a lot of scholarship offers out west and will challenge for best point guard in 2015.

Ray Smith, 6-foot-6 wing, Las Vegas, NV: Gaining a lot of buzz out in Las Vegas and could be the best small forward in the 2015 class.

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.