Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players in the Class of 2008?

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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 2008, with their final Rivals Top 150 ranking in parentheses:

 (Paul George/Getty Images)

READ MOREThe complete Re-ranking the Classes series

1. Paul George (UR) – From unranked to a two-time All-NBA third-team selection, George has become one of the NBA’s best two-way players and a star on the wing. Also making two All-Defense selections and two all-star games, hopefully George can return to full strength from the gruesome leg injury suffered during the USA Basketball scrimmage last August.

2. Damian Lillard (UR) – Another unranked player who has become one of the faces of the NBA, Lillard is a two-time all-star himself and earned third-team All-NBA honors in 2014. After four years at Weber State, Lillard was ready to produce immediately at the NBA level and he earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2013.

3. Klay Thompson (51) – The only member of the re-ranked top 25 to be initially ranked, Thompson earned an NBA title, third-team All-NBA recoginition and a spot in the All-Star Game in 2015. During a breakout 2014-15, Thompson set an NBA record with 37 points and nine 3-pointers in one quarter against the Kings.

4. Nikola Vucevic (UR) – Playing with the Orlando Magic, Vucevic had a breakout fourth season and took a step forward as one of the league’s best offensive big men. Already a dynamic rebounder, Vucevic also shot 52 percent from the field as a primary scoring option last season.

5. Gordon Hayward (UR) – The multi-faceted Hayward has had two consecutive very good campaigns and improved his shooting percentages in 2014-15. If Hayward continues to stay consistent, he has a chance to be a potential All-Star.

6. Greg Monroe (8) –Earning a recent big contract from the Milwaukee Bucks, Monroe averaged a double-double at 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game last season and he’s also a good passer with quick hands for a big man.

7. Draymond Green (122) –One of the breakout performers of this past season, Green thrived in Steve Kerr’s new system and put up his best all-around numbers (11.7 pts, 8.2 reb, 3.7 ast, 1.6 stls, 1.3 blks) and also earned first-team All-Defense honors.

8. Demar DeRozan (3) – The first one-and-done on the list, DeRozan has turned into an all-star two-guard, capable of big scoring numbers. Also a member of the USA Basketball team in 2014, DeRozan has helped lead the Raptors into one of the better teams in the East.

9. Jrue Holiday (2) – Ben Howland didn’t find the best way to use Holiday in his brief time at UCLA, but at point guard, Holiday has thrived and made an all-star appearance in 2013. Battling injury since his best season, Holiday has struggled at times to regain that form in New Orleans.

source: Getty Images
(Klay Thompson/NBAE/Getty Images)

10. Brandon Jennings (4) – Jennings famously played his lone season before the NBA in overseas instead of college and he’s carved out a nice career so far with the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons. Through half of the 2014-15 season, Jennings was off to a great start before a season-ending Achilles’ injury set him back.

11. Tyreke Evans (6) – Coming out of the gate strong, Evans was Rookie of the Year in 2010 before his scoring numbers and efficiency numbers took a dip. Still a consistent threat with the ball in his hands, Evans has good career numbers and is a steady performer in New Orleans.

12. Kemba Walker (14) – Walker has averaged over 17 points per game the last three seasons, but his shooting percentages took a dip this season as Charlotte missed the playoffs.

13. Isaiah Thomas (92) – The final pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas has carved his niche as a small scoring guard. Thomas played a big part in the Boston Celtics making the playoffs after being traded there mid-season.

RELATED: Re-ranking the classes 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007

14. Markieff Morris (49) – Playing all 82 games for the Phoenix Suns last season, Morris saw career bests in points, rebounds, assists and steals and stretches the floor at forward.

15. Reggie Jackson (115) – After being traded to Detroit, Jackson put up big numbers in Stan Van Gundy’s offense, averaging 17.6 points, 9.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game in 27 games for the Pistons.

16. Marcus Morris (29) – Though he had the better career at Kansas than brother Markieff, Marcus hasn’t had as much of an impact at the NBA level. A valuable role player, Marcus was traded to the Pistons this week.

17. Iman Shumpert (39) – More defensive-oriented than offense, the former McDonald’s All-American showed flashes of offensive play in the NBA Playoffs playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

18. Ed Davis (15) – As a career reserve forward, Davis has been a really good energy guy off the bench, collecting rebounds and scoring at a high percentage. Davis signed a three-year deal with the Portland Trail Blazers this week.

19. Al-Farouq Aminu (7) –Aminu has been a durable role player on the wing who can rebound and defend. Playing with the Clippers, Hornets and Mavericks, Aminu also signed with the Portland Trail Blazers this week.

(Damian Lillard/AP Photo)

20. Tyler Zeller (33) – In the best season of his brief career, Zeller looked like a rotation big man for the Boston Celtics, averaging 10.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.

21. Jae Crowder (UR) – Another Celtic who had a very good season as a reserve, Crowder thrived playing for Brad Stevens, as he had career highs in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals last season.

22. Miles Plumlee (101) – After a very good 2014-15 season for the Phoenix Suns, the oldest Plumlee never regained that form last season with the Suns and Bucks.

23. Kent Bazemore (UR) – An outstanding wing defender, Bazemore showed more of a scoring tough as a Laker and has become a valuable role player for the Atlanta Hawks.

24. Kyle O’Quinn (UR) – Through the first three seasons of his NBA career, O’Quinn has played double-digit minutes in every season and improved enough to be a bit of a stretch option for the Orlando Magic.

25. Shelvin Mack (UR) – Playing as a reserve guard for the Hawks, Mack has been tough on the defensive end to go along with steady numbers as a floor general.

Byron Mullens (1)
Samardo Samuels (9)
Willie Warren (10)
Devin Ebanks (11)
Chris Singleton (12)
Elliot Williams (16)
DeAndre Liggins (28)
Trey Thompkins (30)
Luke Babbitt (31)
Jeff Withey (36)
Darius Miller (42)
Henry Sims (48)
Jeff Taylor (52)
Larry Drew (71)
Tyshawn Taylor (77)
Quincy Acy (84)
Kim English (111)
Travis Leslie (116)
Demetri Goodson (132)
Terrelle Pryor (UR)
Bernard James (UR)
Jorge Gutierrez (UR)
Andrew Nicholson (UR)

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

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

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK

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

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK

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


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.