The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs.
In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the new names you need to know entering college basketball in 2016-17. This is one of the strongest and deepest recruiting classes of the last decade, so this should be a fun group to track.
Harry Giles, Frank Jackson, Marques Bolden and Jayson Tatum, Duke – Just like we’ve seen so many times over the past few years, Duke and Kentucky own the top two recruiting classes entering the 2016-17 season. The Blue Devils’ latest haul is led by four, five-star prospects, headlined by the 6-foot-10 Giles, who could be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft if he’s fully healthy and shows the explosiveness he had as a double-double machine in high school. But he is coming off of an ACL injury that cost him his senior season and Giles never got through two consecutive seasons of high school basketball. Health is his key.
The 6-foot-8 Tatum is a smooth wing who is immensely skilled in the mid-range and polished in many facets of the game. He’s the next in a long line of recent Duke wings who left for the NBA after a year in Durham. The 6-foot-3 Jackson will be asked to handle point guard responsibilities after the departure of Derryck Thornton Jr., so he might be the most important player in this class for next season. The Lone Peak High School product is an athletic two-way guard who can also space the floor and should be ready from the get-go. The late addition of the 6-foot-10 Bolden gives the Blue Devils another rim protector and a classic back-to-the-basket scorer who can operate on both blocks with both hands. This class is ridiculous — potentially the best Coach K has ever had — and given the return of veterans like Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones and Luke Kennard, Duke is the easy choice for preseason No. 1.
De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo and Wenyen Gabriel, Kentucky
Duke’s group only slightly outclasses John Calipari’s latest group and the Wildcats boast arguably the best backcourt in the country in a pair of freshmen. The 6-foot-3 Fox is the best two-way guard in the class as he’s a menace on defense and an athletic freak who is impossible to stop in transition. The lefty is a consistent perimeter jumper away from being a major force. SEC football fans might remember former Arkansas wide receiver Marcus Monk and his little brother, Malik Monk, will slide in as a starting guard in Lexington next season. The 6-foot-4 Malik is an explosive scorer who can play well above the rim or extend the floor with deep range on his jumper. He’s a streaky player at times, but he’s capable of huge scoring nights.
The 6-foot-9 Adebayo is a powerful presence around the basket who looks to tear down the rim on dunks and gobbles up rebounds on the glass. His raw power and physical presence should be a big help for Kentucky on the interior. The 6-foot-9 Gabriel might be the key for next season’s success for this team. Gabriel told NBCSports.com at the Nike Hoop Summit that Calipari wants him to play on the wing next season, which is an interesting development since Gabriel was a post player throughout high school. Gabriel’s transition to the wing is possible — he’s a quick defender who can also extend his range — but he’s still never played the position before.
Josh Jackson, Kansas: The Jayhawks might not have the depth that Duke and Kentucky have, but they might have landed the ultimate prize in the 6-foot-7 Jackson. An ultra-athletic and competitive wing, Jackson is a well-rounded player who can score, defend, rebound, handle and pass. Like Giles and Tatum, Jackson has already won multiple gold medals with USA Basketball in international competitions and he’s a seasoned vet compared to your typical college freshmen. Throwing him into a Kansas lineup that returns a lot of talent and experience puts the Jayhawks firmly back in the driver’s seat in the Big 12 race.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Do yourself a favor and stay up late to watch this 6-foot-5 point guard play as much as you can this season because Ball has a special basketball IQ and court presence. Possessing outrageous vision and a great all-around feel for the game, Ball can find teammates for easy buckets and is perhaps the best outlet passer that’s joined college hoops in the last few seasons. Also a good rebounder at guard, Ball has a funky-looking release on his jumper, but it’s been going down during his whole career to this point. The big thing to watch is how Ball co-exists with Bryce Alford and UCLA’s other returning backcourt pieces.
Markelle Fultz, Washington: It’s crazy to think that the 6-foot-5 Fultz might be better than all of the players already mentioned on this list. After a monster spring on the high school all-star circuit, Fultz is the No. 2 prospect in the Draft Express 2017 mock draft — and for good reason. A wizard handling the ball, Fultz has shown killer instincts as a scorer and he’s also started to show some D’Angelo Russell-like vision when it comes to making passes that thread the needle. The Huskies are going to need Fultz to come in and be very productive after losing Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, but he’s capable of having a huge year.
Dennis Smith and Omer Yurtseven, N.C. State: This could be the best inside-outside duo of freshmen in the country as the explosive 6-foot-3 Smith will run a lot of high ball screens with the Turkish 7-footer. Although he’s coming off of a torn ACL that prevented him from playing last season, Smith has already spent the spring semester at school rehabbing and getting to know the team. A great athlete who is good in ball screen situations, Smith will be a very tough cover for ACC point guards. Yurtseven hasn’t played the American game yet, but he’s a skilled center who projects as a potential one-and-done first-round pick. A skilled scorer who can also rebound, Yurtseven would have been a top-15 prospect in this loaded Class of 2016 had he played his high school ball in America.
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State: The latest jumbo wing to keep an eye on is the 6-foot-10 Isaac. Because of his size on the perimeter, Isaac can shoot over the top of smaller defenders with his smooth jumper or attack the basket with his improving handle. Isaac can also rebound in traffic at rim level and is a capable defender of multiple spots on the floor thanks to his length and athleticism. Florida State had a lot of perimeter talent that didn’t fit well together last season, but Isaac doesn’t need the ball in his hands at all times to impact a game. He could be a better fit for the Seminoles than Malik Beasley was. The question becomes whether Florida State puts Isaac at the three with a huge lineup, or opts to put more speed and skill on the floor with Isaac as a four.
Miles Bridges, Michigan State: Tom Izzo has one of his best recruiting classes ever at Michigan State and it’s headlined by the 6-foot-6 Bridges. Already at 225 pounds, Bridges is a big and strong wing who can play multiple spots on the floor. Because he can rebound, play on the perimeter or also score inside, Bridges could play a number of different positions in East Lansing next season as he could be a matchup nightmare in the Big Ten.
Terrance Ferguson, Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
This will be the most fascinating freshman class to watch play together because of the perimeter talent displayed by this group. The 6-foot-6 Ferguson is a smooth perimeter shooter who is also one of the best dunkers to enter college hoops in the last few years. The 6-foot-4 Alkins brings his rugged New York toughness to the Pac-12 as he’s tough to check attacking the basket and is also getting better as a distributor. A blur in the open floor, the 6-foot-5 Simmons is one of the fastest players in the country, but he’s also very wild at times. Markkanen, the Finnish 6-foot-10 big man, might be the most talented player in this group, but he hasn’t played against American competition very much and it remains to be seen how he’ll translate. The big key for this group will be sharing the ball. Alkins and Simmons can both get tunnel vision when it comes to attacking the basket and there isn’t a natural distributor among this group.
Omari Spellman, Villanova: The defending champs lost Daniel Ochefu in the middle, but they return most of the rest of the team (minus Ryan Arcidiacono) and gain this skilled five-star big man. The 6-foot-9 Spellman is a ton to handle on the inside around 280 pounds and he’s skilled as a scorer and rebounder. If Spellman can step in and produce, Villanova will be a major contender again next season.
Mustapha Heron, Auburn: Bruce Pearl has landed some solid recruits during his Auburn tenure, but the 6-foot-5 Heron is his signature signee. A powerful wing who is very tough to stop on the drive, Heron is the type of scorer who can come in and produce right away.
Andrew Jones, Texas: Texas landed itself a late-blooming guard in Jones, as he’s a talented scorer who can also play a little bit on the ball. With the Longhorns losing so many players to graduation this offseason, Jones is going to be asked to come in and play right away and he’ll be fun to watch with returning players like Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis.
Zach Collins, Gonzaga: The Zags might have one of the best rotation of big men in the country next season with the addition of this McDonald’s All-American. The 6-foot-11 Collins is a tough interior presence who should be able to immediately make an impact in the WCC next season.
Jarrett Allen, ???: We’re not sure where he’ll end up yet, but keep an eye out for the decision of 6-foot-10 big man Jarrett Allen. The native of Texas is still considering Houston, Kansas and Texas and many believe the Longhorns are the favorite. Regardless of where he ends up, Allen is an impact big man and potential one-and-done prospect who can defend the rim or score inside.