Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players from the Class of 2006?

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July’s live recruiting period is right around the corner, meaning that the Class of 2016 will have a chance to truly prove themselves to the recruiters and the recruitniks around the country. Scholarships will be earned and rankings will be justified over the course of those three weekends in July.

But scholarship offers and rankings don’t always tell us who the best players in a given class will end up being. Ask Steph Curry. Over the course of the coming weeks, we will be re-ranking eight recruiting classes, from 2004-2011, based on what they have done throughout their post-high school career. 

Here are the 25 best players from the Class of 2006, with their final Rivals Top 150 ranking in parentheses:

READ MOREThe complete Re-ranking the Classes series

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1. Kevin Durant (2): This is an easy choice. After spending one season at Texas (25.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg), Durant has developed into one of the best players in all of basketball and won NBA MVP honors in 2014. Durant’s also won a scoring title (2010) and played in the NBA Finals for the Thunder.

2. Stephen Curry (NR): Curry was a mere afterthought in most recruiting circles, as much wasn’t made of his decision to attend Davidson. Three years later, however, the sharpshooter was a key figure in their Elite 8 run in 2008 and a lottery pick the following year. Now, there are questions as to whether or not the reigning NBA MVP is the greatest shooter of all time.

3. Russell Westbrook (NR): Westbrook went from being a late addition to UCLA’s 2006 recruiting class to be a lottery pick within the space of two seasons in Westwood. From there he’s paired up with Durant to form one of the NBA’s best tandems, and with the former MVP out due to injury this season Westbrook put together a stretch of four straight triple-doubles.

RELATED: Re-ranking the Class of 2004 | and the Class of 2005

4. Brook Lopez (10): Brook and twin Robin were both impact players at Stanford, helping to lead the Cardinal to the Sweet 16 in 2008. From there Lopez has been a quality center in the NBA, averaging 17.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game for the Nets. Lopez was an All-Star in 2013 (injury replacement for Rajon Rando).

5. Mike Conley Jr. (18): Conley spent just one season in college but it was a good one, as he helped lead Ohio State to the national title game where they lost to Florida. Since then Conley’s (13.4 ppg, 5.6 apg for his career) developed into one of the top point guards in all of basketball, and all that stopped him from being an All-Star with Memphis this past season was how loaded the West is at the point.

6. Ty Lawson (9): Lawson won a national title on a team led by Tyler Hansbrough in 2009, and during that season he was also named ACC Player of the Year and a second team all-American. Outside of a brief stint in Lithuania during the 2011-12 season due to the NBA lockout Lawson’s spent his entire career in Denver, where he averaged 15.2 points and 9.6 assists per game last season.

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7. Greivis Vasquez (46): Vasquez put together an excellent four-year run at Maryland, where he became the first player in ACC history to compile at least 2,000 points, 700 rebounds and 600 assists in a career. He’s played for four different franchises in the NBA since 2010, and thanks to a trade from Toronto to Milwaukee on draft night that number will grow to five next season.

8. Taj Gibson (32): Gibson put together a good three-year career at USC, earning Pac-10 All-Freshman Team honors in 2007 and winning the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2009. From there he was a first-round selection of the Chicago Bulls, and he’s carved out a nice career for himself in the Windy City. Gibson averaged 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this season.

9. Thaddeus Young (5): The Memphis native averaged 14.4 points per game in his lone season at Georgia Tech, and while he’s played for multiple teams in the NBA Young has been a solid pro. Wednesday morning it was reported that he’s re-upped with the Nets on a four-year, $50 million deal.

10. Gerald Henderson Jr. (11): Henderson played three seasons at Duke, earning first team All-ACC honors as a junior. From there it was off the Charlotte, where in six years as a pro he’s averaged 12.0 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.

11. Ryan Anderson (98): The 6-foot-10 forward led the Pac-10 in scoring as a sophomore (21.6 ppg), and he’s put together a solid career as a pro as well. In six seasons, Anderson’s averaging 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for three franchises.

12. D.J. Augustin (49): Augustin played two seasons at Texas, averaging 16.9 points and 6.2 assists per contest on the Forty Acres. In the NBA he’s been productive despite suiting up for five franchises after playing his first four seasons in Charlotte. Augustin’s averaging 10.0 points and 4.1 assists per contest in nine seasons as a professional.

13. Spencer Hawes (6): Like a few other players on this list Hawes played one season of college basketball (Washington) before moving on to the NBA. Picked tenth overall in the 2007 NBA Draft, Hawes (who was traded to Charlotte last month) is averaging 9.2 points and 6.0 rebounds as a pro.

14. Robin Lopez (28): While twin brother Brook has been the more polished offensive piece, Robin’s been a valuable defender at the NBA level. After his two seasons at Stanford, Lopez has bounced around some but his interior presence has made the Fresno native a valuable commodity on the free agent market (which opened at 12:01 am today).

15. Patrick Beverley (65): Beverley’s career at Arkansas ended after his sophomore season due to an academic issue, and since then he’s been a solid pro both overseas and now in the NBA. Currently a free agent, Beverley averaged 10.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in Houston before injuring his knee this past season.

16. Jodie Meeks (39): Meeks was a four-star recruit entering Kentucky, and by the time he left Lexington he made 177 three-pointers and held the school record for points in a game (54) and made three-pointers in a game (10). Since then Meeks has played for five NBA teams, averaging 9.9 points per game.

17. Jordan Hill (NR): In three seasons at Arizona, Hill went from being a three-star prospect to a lottery pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. His misfortune was being picked by the dysfunctional Knicks, where he languished on the bench before being traded to Houston in 2010. Hill’s best years have come with the Lakers, where he averaged 12.0 points and 7.9 rebounds per game this past season.

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18. Marreese Speights (51): Speights was a role player on Florida’s 2007 national title team, and as a sophomore he averaged 14.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest. From there it was on to the NBA, where he’s averaging 7.9 points and 4.3 rebounds in six seasons (he won the NBA title with Curry last month).

19. Wayne Ellington (8): A national champion as a junior, Ellington’s bounced around since playing his first three seasons in the NBA in Minnesota. Ellington averaged ten points per game this past season for the Lakers, his fourth team in the last four years.

20. Hasheem Thabeet (NR): Opinions on the 7-foot-3 Thabeet varied before he joined the UConn program. In three seasons in Storrs emerged as a dominant defensive presence and helped lead the team to the Final Four in 2009. Thabeet was picked second in the 2009 NBA Draft, and his pro career did not pan out.

21. Sherron Collins (21): Collins’ pass to Mario Chalmers led to the three-pointer that sent the 2008 national title game (which Kansas ultimately won) to overtime, and from there he enjoyed a productive career at KU. Collins was a two-time consensus all-american (second team in 2009, first team in 2010).

22. Luke Harangody (104): Now playing in Spain, Harangody was an outstanding player for Mike Brey at Notre Dame. After earning Big East All-Rookie Team honors as a freshman, Harangody was a first team All-Big East selection three straight years and Player of the Year as a sophomore. Also of note: he is the first (and only) player to lead the conference in both scoring and rebounding in consecutive years (2008 and 2009).

23. Da’Sean Butler (147): Butler put together a very good career at West Virginia, where he developed into a first-team All-Big East selection as a senior and helped lead the Mountaineers to the Final Four. Unfortunately a knee injury suffered in their loss to eventual champion Duke didn’t help his NBA prospects, and since being taken in the second round that year by the Heat he’s played most of his career overseas.

24. Trevor Booker (NR): Booker earned All-ACC honors in each of his last two seasons at Clemson, landing on the second team in 2009 and the first team in 2010. Since then he’s played four seasons in Washington and one in Utah, averaging 6.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

25. Greg Oden (1): This spot is going to take some heat due to Oden’s injury-plagued pro career. But that shouldn’t lead to forgetting just how dominant he was both as a high school player in Indianapolis and during his one season at Ohio State. Hopefully he can get back into the NBA and be a contributor in the near future.

Notables:

Brandan Wright (3)
Chase Budinger (4)
Javaris Crittenton (7)
Derrick Caracter (25)
Lance Thomas (42)
Quincy Pondexter (48)
Donald Sloan (55)
Trevon Hughes (58)
Jarvis Varnado (62)
Jon Scheyer (71)
Edger Sosa (74)
Scottie Reynolds (76)
Tweety Carter (91)
Nic Wise (120)
J.T. Tiller (136)
Lazar Hayward (NR)
Omar Samhan (NR)
Ishmael Smith (NR)

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.