Harry Giles

Top five grassroots storylines of 2014

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To prepare for the latest grassroots basketball season College Basketball Talk polled a dozen people within the national basketball scene at the high school and college level to give some of their thoughts to the big storylines entering this spring and summer.

1. Can Malik Newman hold off a really good group of big men for No. 1 in 2015?

Newman, a high-scoring 6-foot-3 guard from Jackson, Mississippi is the Rivals.com No. 1 player in 2015 at the moment and he’s being trailed by a talented group of big men behind him. When polled, the group consensus was that Newman would have to really fight to maintain the No. 1 spot in the rankings — if he hasn’t been passed already.

Quote: “Not sure who would move into the top spot, but at some point this summer one of the elite bigs (Rabb, Zimmerman, Stone or Simmons) will occupy that spot in the rankings.”

2. Who among the big men in 2015 separates themselves and how does it stack up to a strong group of big men in 2014?

The 2015 class of seniors-to-be has a lot of talented big men. Ivan Rabb, a 6-foot-9 center from Oakland, 6-foot-10 center Diamond Stone of Milwaukee, 7-foot Stephen Zimmerman from Las Vegas and LSU commit and Australian-native Ben Simmons have all gotten some chatter for No. 1 in the class ahead of current No. 1 Malik Newman.

Rabb seems to get the most love among the people I polled, with Ben Simmons getting some attention as well for his recent strong play with Montverde Academy. The Australian native will play his first spring and summer on the grassroots circuit this year and the LSU commit will have a chance to prove himself.

The group also believed that 2014’s group of big men were overall a stronger group with many citing Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander and Karl Towns as better than the 2015 players.

Quote: “I think Rabb is the best of the bunch. He has the best combination of size, skill, athleticism, and toughness. This group is not the 2014 class, or honestly even close, but there are some very talented bigs in this class.

3. Who emerges as the best overall guard besides Newman in 2015? Who is the best point guard and can some new points guards emerge in a dry year for lead guards?

Tyler Dorsey, already committed to Arizona, is a 6-foot-4 guard that can man a bit of both guard spots and really score when he needs to. He teamed with UConn commit Daniel Hamilton to form a really good backcourt at St. John Bosco and the California native got the nod as the best guard besides Newman.

Among point guards, Stevenson High School point guard Jalen Brunson — son of former NBA veteran guard Rick Brunson — from Lincolnshire, a suburb of Chicago, is getting a lot of talk for the top point guard while west coast standout Justin Simon is a 6-foot-4 lead guard generating buzz as well.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of positive thoughts about the point guards in 2015, in general.

Quote: “It’s pretty clear to me that Jalen Brunson should be the top point guard, especially after his 56-point explosion (in the Illinois Class 4A semifinals). Not many kids can do that. He’s every bit as good as Ulis and arguably Tyus Jones. I think a strong summer will make that clear.”

4. Who emerges as the No. 1 prospect in 2016 in the pool of really talented players in the top five?

The 2016 class is already headlined by a really intriguing group of players. Rivals.com No. 1 prospect Josh Jackson, a 6-foot-6 wing from Detroit, is a dynamic scorer and overall player and 6-foot-10 forward Harry Giles and 7-foot center Thon Maker are both right there trailing Jackson. St. Louis wing Jayson Tatum is a 6-foot-7 wing generating significant buzz already and of course there is 6-foot-1 mega athlete Seventh Woods at point guard.

Many among the group polled had a lot of positive things to say for Jackson, who has played well for over a year now. Giles earned cautious optimism from the group after returning from an ACL tear in June and Maker has a lot of fans as well.

Quote: “(Josh Jackson) was playing up in 17U and you could see how mature his understanding was. Had a good demeanor about him, and was able to do a lot of things with his size and athleticism. Like in the Rivals 2016 rankings, I see no reason why he shouldn’t remain in the top spot.”

5. Is the current model system of shoe companies forming their own leagues (EYBL, UAA, adidas Gauntlet) beneficial or harmful for youth basketball and good for college basketball?

The current model of grassroots basketball has been flipped on its head in recent years as the three major shoe companies of American grassroots basketball — adidas, Nike and Under Armour — formed their own leagues and took over grassroots basketball. The leagues are now the dominant format of the current American system with some adding shot clocks and college referees into the events to improve the overall quality.

The group polled seemed to be very much in favor of the shoe company model, as it made things far more organized and put elite groups of players together in a competitive setting. The EYBL is still the top league, in-part because it is the most established,

Quote: “I think the EYBL is the best thing to happen to high-level grassroots basketball. Strengthens the competition, limits just how many games these guys play, makes games in April meaningful, more consistency with the rosters. I like that UA and Adidas are following the same model, but they just don’t have the same kind of depth of talent.”

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.