July Live Period Preview: Five story lines to track this month

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Jayson Tatum (Getty Images)

1. How will Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Terrance Ferguson look after USA U19?

The USA U19 team just captured the gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships in Greece and now four five-star prospects — all of them uncommitted — are scheduled to compete during the July live evaluation period. With the gold medal game being completed on Sunday and the live period beginning on Wednesday, it will be interesting to see just how much the 6-foot-7 Jackson, 6-foot-8 Tatum, 6-foot-10 Giles and 6-foot-6 Ferguson have in the tank. Although the four were playing in an age group two years older than them, they all earned major minutes and were big factors in why the United States is bringing home gold.

It’s also worth noting that Jackson, Giles and Tatum are the consensus top-three prospects heading into July and they’ll be battling for the No. 1 spot in the 2016 class rankings. The race for No. 1 will be entertaining to watch as well.

2. Who emerges as the best guard in the 2016 Class?

During the spring, it looked as though Dennis Smith had the crown locked up as the best guard in the Class of 2016. Although the 6-foot-2 North Carolina native still has a great chance to be the top guard in the national class, he’s going to be pushed by some strong competition during the month of July. 6-foot-5 Kobi Simmons from Atlanta, 6-foot-2 Utah native Frank Jackson and De’Aaron Fox, a 6-foot-3 product of Houston, are all legitimate threats to go at Smith. Each top-ten national prospect has shown some flashes of great play during the spring and summer. Jackson and Simmons both play with Smith in the adidas circuit. Doing his best to hold off the competition, Smith is generating rave reviews from the recent Steph Curry Camp, so he might be very tough to top.

3. How good is the top of the 2016 class?

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Kelly Kline/Under Armour

One of the big questions that will be answered in the next few months is just how good the top of the 2016 class truly is. Coming off of a down year at the top of the Class of 2015, the 2016 class certainly looks stronger than the class ahead of it at the top. There are many in the basketball world who believe players like Jackson, Giles and Tatum will be bonafide stars in college basketball from the moment they set foot on campus. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait another year for this strong top of the 2016 class to enter the college ranks, but it will be interesting to see where this class stacks up against, say, the Class of 2013, which was led by the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Joel Embiid.

4. Is Thon Maker worth all the hoopla?

Coming off of an MVP performance at the NBPA Top 100 Camp in June, five-star 7-foot-0 center Thon Maker firmly put himself back on the national map after some so-so outings during the high school season as he tried to decide whether to rush his graduation and go to college in December or finish out his full senior season. Now that Maker says he’s back in the Class of 2016 full time, can he make a push to get back into the conversation among the best players in the class? Maker didn’t play in front of the college coaches during the April evaluation period, so it will be interesting to see how he looks playing against elite competition in front of the biggest college coaching names in the country.

5. How is DeAndre Ayton going to play with a target on his back?

Many regard Class of 2017 6-foot-11 center DeAndre Ayton as the best long-term prospect in high school basketball, regardless of class. By playing against older competition at the Under Armour All-America Camp in Charlotte, it will give Ayton another chance to face off against the best high school talent in the country, including Thon Maker, Dewan Huell, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Sedee Keita — this time in front of college coaches. Ayton fared very well at June’s NBPA Top 100 Camp against older players and he already dominated North Carolina (as in the Tar Heels) as a high school sophomore during an exhibition game in the Bahamas last summer. Can Ayton continue to separate himself as the best prospect in all of high school basketball? That remains to be seen.