The top 25 players to follow on the grassroots basketball circuit

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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.

Sweet 16 Preview: Thursday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday night, and the games are going to be terrific.

Oregon-Michigan should be thrilling, Gonzaga-West Virginia is a fascinating contrast of styles and Kansas-Purdue features arguably the two best players in college basketball.

Oh, and then there’s Arizona-Xavier, with Sean Miller and Chris Mack doing battle.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan (-1.5), 7:09 p.m. (CBS): So this run that Michigan on, is it a fluke?

Frankly, I don’t think that it is. Derrick Walton has been awesome for the better part of two months while Michigan’s perimeter shooters have always been shooters and the duo of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner are legit. I honestly do not believe that the Wolverines are a team of destiny after the plane crash. They are just really good and a perfect roster for John Beilein to tinker with.

That’s why they’re favored on Thursday night. But here’s the thing … Oregon is pretty good themselves. Dillon Brooks is going to be guarded by a big man, which should be a matchup that Brooks can take advantage of, and Tyler Dorsey has been playing terrific basketball since the start of the Pac-12 tournament.

If you like small-ball, spread-the-court basketball, you’ll love this game.

PREDICTION: Michigan (-1.5)

No. 1 Gonzaga (-3) vs. No. 4 West Virginia, 7:39 p.m. (TBS): On paper, I think Gonzaga should win this game. They have a good back court in Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins, a pair of talented point guards that have won a lot of games in their career. Gonzaga is also the best defensive team in the country. So if they don’t turn the ball over against West Virginia’s press and they make it difficult for West Virginia to score in the half court and get into their press, they should be able to win this thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

My concern with Gonzaga is game-pressure. They didn’t handle it well down the stretch against BYU in their one loss of the season, and I’m not convinced that they win that second round game against Northwestern if the officials don’t blow the goaltending call. How are they going to handle an endless wave of Mountaineers in their face?

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-3)

No. 1 Kansas (-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): More than any other game this weekend, I’m fascinated to see how these two teams decide to try and play each other. Kansas has, essentially, one big man that Bill Self can trust, and he’s going up against a Player of the Year candidate in Caleb Swanigan and one of the best big men in the country at drawing fouls in Isaac Haas. Will Self double-team Swanigan knowing that Purdue may be more effective offensively when Swanigan can find shooters out of the double-team, or will he risk Lucas getting in foul trouble by trying to guard Swanigan one-on-one?

Then, at the other end of the floor, how will Purdue deal with the Kansas back court? Frank Mason III, the NBC Sports National Player of the Year, and Devonte’ Graham are a nightmare for anyone to deal with, let alone a team that struggles against penetrating guards and that lacks rim protection. It should be a fascinating coaching battle.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-5)

No. 2 Arizona (-7.5) vs. No. 11 Xavier, 10:09 p.m. (TBS): On paper, Arizona should be able to handle a Xavier team that doesn’t have Edmond Sumner or Myles Davis. That said, as we all know, Chris Mack and Sean Miller are very close and used to work together. Mack knows everything that Miller is going to do and vice versa. I think this game will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair that comes down to the final minutes.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+7.5)

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jerred Shayok will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org

Porter, Jr. will ask for Washington release

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There may be an overwhelming assumption on where Michael Porter, Jr. – and his father – will ultimately end up, but the five-star recruit is said publicly that he see his re-recruitment process through.

Porter, Jr. said in a teleconference Wednesday that he will ask for his release from Washington, and his father, a former Huskies assistant, has been offered a job at Missouri by new Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin.

“Right now I’m just trying to take it slow with my family and weigh my options,” Porter Jr. said, according to the Kansas City Star. “I plan to get my (national letter of intent) from Washington back and just go from there, not saying that I’m not going to Washington anymore, but I just want to get it back and weigh my options.”

The prevailing thought has been that the Porters will ultimately land in Columbia, where they have significant history.

Still, it would appear at least publicly that Porter, Jr., a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, will weigh his options in at least the short-term.

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.