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.”

Missouri lands No. 1 player in Class of 2017 as Michael Porter Jr. commits

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Missouri and new head coach Cuonzo Martin have landed the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 a week after he took the job as forward Michael Porter Jr. committed to the Tigers on Friday.

Formerly a Washington commit under now-fired head coach Lorenzo Romar, the 6-foot-9 Porter was released from his Letter of Intent this week and many believed he’d end up back at Missouri.

The Porter family lived in Columbia for many years as two of Michael’s older sisters play for the Missouri women’s team while Michael Porter Sr. was an assistant coach for the women’s team.

When Porter Sr. was hired to Missouri to be an assistant coach on Martin’s staff this week — after losing his assistant coaching job at Washington when Romar was fired — it all but sealed the deal that the Porters would return to Missouri and Michael Jr. would play for the Tigers.

Missouri might not be an NCAA Tournament team next season after struggling to an 8-24 finish and 2-16 record in the SEC. But Porter might be the most productive freshman entering college basketball next season as he has a chance to be dominant in the SEC.

Oklahoma State promotes assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach

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Oklahoma State has decided to promote assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach, the school announced on Friday.

Boynton was an assistant with the Cowboys under former head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State to take the Illinois job last weekend. Also an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin, South Carolina, Wofford and Coastal Carolina, Boynton is a native of New York City who played his college ball for the Gamecocks.

The hire of Boynton is surprising since he doesn’t have any head-coaching experience as it follows in the footsteps of Cal promoting assistant coach Wyking Jones earlier in the day. Boynton also notably won the job over broadcaster and former Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb as Gottlieb interviewed for the job but wasn’t selected.

 

Rhode Island junior E.C. Matthews will return to school

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Rhode Island junior guard E.C. Matthews will return to school for his redshirt senior season, the school announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-5 Matthews led the Rams in scoring at 14.9 points per game this past season as he returned from a torn ACL and helped Rhode Island reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

Besides for being a talented scorer, Matthews is a good overall playmaker for the Rams as he also put up 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

With Matthews returning, it gives head coach Dan Hurley a huge weapon for next season as Rhode Island returns everyone besides the senior front court of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson.

Cal promotes assistant Wyking Jones to head coach

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Cal will promote interim head coach and former assistant coach Wyking Jones to head coach, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The story was first reported by Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports.com

A native of Inglewood, California, Jones has been an assistant coach for the Golden Bears for the past two seasons as he replaces former head coach Cuonzo Martin, who departed to take the Missouri job. This promotion comes as a bit of a surprise for some since Jones has never been a head coach at the Division I level.

Jones has spent 15 years as an assistant coach at the Division I level at places like Cal, Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount — where Jones spent his playing career.

Helping Louisville to the Final Four in 2013, Jones is a respected coach and recruiter who gets a great opportunity for his first head coaching job at the Division I level with Cal.

The Golden Bears made the NCAA tournament last year but finished 21-13 this season as they missed making the field of 68. Sophomore big man Ivan Rabb has already declared for the NBA Draft and it will be interesting to see what kind of roster Jones gets to work with right away.

One of the reasons Jones might have been retained is to help Cal keep its solid five-man recruiting class from bolting. While the Golden Bears don’t have any five-star talents coming in, it is a solid foundation for the program’s future led by a four-star guard in Jemarl Baker.

Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac declares for 2017 NBA Draft

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Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac has declared for the 2017 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-10 Isaac was a five-star prospect out of high school as he averaged 12.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. One of the most versatile defenders in the country, Isaac could protect the rim (1.5 blocks per game) and also switch out to the perimeter and cover smaller wings as well (1.2 steals per game). Also showing a solid skill level, Isaac shot 50 percent from the field, 34 percent from three-point range and 78 percent from the free-throw line.

That kind of versatility is what Isaac is banking on in the NBA Draft as he’s expected to be a top-15 pick. If Isaac can prove that he’s a reliable perimeter shooter then teams could be intrigued by him as a matchup nightmare in the front court.