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Re-ranking the 2009 recruiting class

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July’s live recruiting period, the last of its kind, just finished up, meaning that the Class of 2019 have fully had a chance to prove themselves to the recruiters and the recruitniks around the country.

Scholarships were earned and rankings were justified over the course of those three weekends, 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 2007-2014, based on what they have done throughout their post-high school career. 

Here are the 25 best players from the Class of 2009, with their final Rivals Top 150 ranking in parentheses:

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1. Kawhi Leonard (48)

Despite a controversial 2017-18 season and a forced trade to the Toronto Raptors this offseason, Leonard is still only 27 years old and arguably the best two-way wing in the NBA. A former NBA champion and Finals MVP, Leonard has two first-team All-NBA selections to go along with winning Defensive Player of the Year twice. In a significantly weaker Eastern Conference, the Raptors are hoping Leonard gives them the edge to finally make a Finals push.

2. John Wall (1)

Wall has ascended into a perennial NBA All-Star and playoff performer as he’s become one of the best floor generals in the league. Putting up great numbers and making clutch plays during the 2017 NBA Playoffs, Wall also made an All-NBA team (third team in 2017) and an All-NBA Defensive Team (second team in 2015) within the last three years. Although Wall made some key plays in the playoffs, the Wizards have struggled to make a significant dent in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

3. DeMarcus Cousins (2)

Arguably the top player in this class from a pure talent perspective, Cousins has molded into a new-age threat in the middle. With his combination of inside ability, and an improved perimeter game, Cousins became a nightly triple-double threat for the Pelicans last season until a torn Achilles’ ended his 2017-18 campaign prematurely. Although Cousins has made two All-NBA Second Teams and four all-star games, he hasn’t played in a postseason game since Kentucky was eliminated by West Virginia during the 2010 Elite Eight. Cousins made a controversial decision to sign a one-year deal with the Golden State Warriors this offseason as he chases his first postseason appearance.

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4. C.J. McCollum (UR)

It took two seasons for McCollum to crack the starting lineup in Portland, but he’s thrived as an efficient 20-point-per-game scorer over the past several seasons. Forming one of the league’s best backcourts with point guard Damian Lillard, McCollum was the league’s Most Improved Player and also led the NBA in free-throw percentage during one season.

5. Khris Middleton (140)

Quietly one of the best two-way wings in the NBA, Middleton put up great numbers during the 2017-18 season after a left hamstring injury sidelined him for much of the previous season. Middleton averaged 20.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game last season as he didn’t miss a single game for the Bucks. Also stepping up his play in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, Middleton scored 24.7 points per game and shot 61 percent from three-point range in the seven-game series loss to the Boston Celtics.

6. Hassan Whiteside (87)

A classic late-blooming big man, Whiteside has become one of the NBA’s most productive big men over the last few seasons. Leading the league in blocks and rebounds during a season within the past three years, Whiteside puts up some monster numbers with the Miami Heat. But the perception of Whiteside might have changed in the postseason this year. Whiteside struggled to stay on the floor thanks to his lack of floor-spacing as he only played 15 minutes per game during the Heat’s first-round exit.

7. Eric Bledsoe (23)

Bledsoe has become a solid mid-level starter at point guard as he helped lead the Bucks back into the NBA Playoffs after a mid-season trade from the Phoenix Suns. Putting up solid all-around numbers during the past few seasons, Bledsoe emerged into a reputable scorer and distributor once the Clippers moved him to the Suns a few seasons ago. Although Bledsoe has put up numbers, he hasn’t played in many postseason games to this point in his career. Bledsoe was also soundly outplayed by the Celtics’ Terry Rozier during stretches of the first round.

8. Avery Bradley (4)

Just finishing a lost season between Detroit and the Clippers, Bradley was one of the key pieces in the revival of the Celtics the past few seasons. Known mostly for his perimeter defense, as he’s a two-time All-NBA Defensive Team member, Bradley has also improved his offense to become a consistent double-figure scorer and solid three-point threat. Bradley re-signed with the Clippers this offseason as he’s hoping for a bounceback 2018-19 campaign.

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9. Derrick Favors (3)

A consistent piece in the Utah Jazz frontcourt, Favors has been a double-figure performer and key rotation player on a playoff team the past two seasons. Although Favors never developed into a consistent scorer after a positive start to his pro career, he is a beyond serviceable big man who has improved as a shot blocker at the NBA level. Favors just re-signed with Utah this offseason to a 2-year, $36 million deal, as he’s also one of the highest-paid players on this list.

10. Kelly Olynyk (UR)

With his ability to play inside and outside, Olynyk has become a valuable reserve big man who signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Miami Heat last offseason. Since Olynyk can knock down three-pointers, his versatility has enhanced lineups he’s played with in Boston and Miami as he’s one of the best backup big men in the NBA.

11. John Henson (5)

Spending his entire six-year run with the Milwaukee Bucks, Henson is a frontcourt rotation member for a playoff contender. A solid shot-blocker who spent much of this season as a starter, Henson is content to be a rim protector and limited scorer on a team filled with offensive weapons. Unfortunately for Henson, he battled some back issues with the NBA Playoffs as he had to miss most of the Celtics series.

12. Mason Plumlee (55)

A former All-American and four-year guy at Duke, Plumlee has been a solid rotation big man in the Western Conference. After starting his career with the Brooklyn Nets — which included a selection on the 2014 FIBA World Cup team — Plumlee was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, and eventually, the Denver Nuggets. Plumlee averaged nearly 20 minutes a game and put up decent stats for Denver this past season (7.1 points, 5.4 rebounds per game) as he’s in the midst of a three-year, $41-million contract.

13. Lance Stephenson (11)

The up-and-down pro career of Stephenson has been fascinating to follow. At one point, Stevenson was a triple-double threat for the Indiana Pacers as he had some fierce battles with LeBron in the Playoffs. Then Stevenson left the Pacers, and played for a staggering six teams in three seasons before regaining some of his previous form as a role player with Indiana. In a strange twist, Stephenson has signed with the Lakers this offseason, as he’ll be teammates with James, his former rival.

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14. Alec Burks (UR)

At one point, Burks looked like a potential double-figure scorer as he was one of the bright, young pieces the Utah Jazz were building around. But Burks has fallen out of favor the past few seasons, as he only appeared in 64 games in 2017-18 as Donovan Mitchell fever swept through Utah. Burks did find a way to become more consistent in the NBA Playoffs this season.

15. Mike Muscala (UR)

Not many would have pegged Muscala as a steady NBA big man at this point in his career. But he spent five seasons on the Atlanta Hawks before getting traded to the Philadelphia 76ers this offseason. The big man has been able to stick in the league thanks in-part to his 37 percent career three-point percentage.

16. Rodney McGruder (84)

McGruder came out of nowhere to start 65 games for the Miami Heat during the 2016-17 season, as he proved himself to be an NBA-caliber player. A stress fracture in his left leg limited McGruder to only 16 games with the Heat last season. McGruder is in the midst of a three-year deal.

17. Tim Frazier (109)

A reserve point guard on the Wizards this past season, the former Penn State product has grinded to stay in the league. Frazier has played for five teams in four NBA seasons, as he averaged close to 15 minutes per game playing behind John Wall this past season.

18. Solomon Hill (27)

It took some time for Hill to find his way into the league, but he earned his stripes as a frontcourt rotation member with the Pacers and Pelicans. Known more as a defensive presence, Hill only played in 12 games for the Pelicans last season as he was recovering from a torn hamstring.

19. Isaiah Canaan (UR)

Canaan has played in parts of five NBA seasons with five teams, as he played 19 games for the Phoenix Suns last season. Canaan had some solid games for the Suns, before they released him in late January when he fractured his left ankle. The Suns have re-signed Canaan for the 2018-19 season.

20. C.J. Wilcox (108)

Playing in parts of three NBA seasons for the Clippers and Magic, Wilcox has bounced between the G League and the NBA. Wilcox missed all of last season after right knee surgery as he was on a two-way contract with Portland. The Pacers recently signed Wilcox to a two-way contract for the 2018-19 season.

21. Travis Wear (60)

Out of the NBA for two seasons after playing for the Knicks during his rookie campaign in 2014-15, Wear grinded his way back into the league this past season, as he appeared in 17 games for the Lakers. The Lakers were so impressed with Wear’s performance that they signed him for the rest of the season. He’ll start the 2018-19 season on a two-way contract with the Lakers.

22. Brandon Paul (42)

Another late-bloomer who grinded late into the NBA, Paul played in Russia, Spain and Turkey before latching on with the San Antonio Spurs on a fully-guaranteed contract last season. Paul appeared in 64 games for the Spurs as he put 2.3 points per game. The Spurs opted to waive Paul on July 31, making him a free agent.

23. Derrick Williams (UR)

The former No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft hasn’t found a way to consistently stick in the league as he’s bounced around the league the past few seasons. After playing in 50 games with the Heat and Cavaliers in 2016-17, Williams signed a 10-day contract with the Lakers this past season, as he only appeared in two games.

24. Thomas Robinson (31)

Another former top-five pick who washed out of the league prematurely, Robinson last played in the NBA during the 2016-17 campaign when he suited up for the Lakers. After playing for six NBA teams during his career, Robinson signed on to play professional in Russia last season.

25. Hollis Thompson (63)

Thompson spent four seasons with the 76ers and a brief stint with New Orleans before moving on to Greek powerhouse Olympiacos last season. At the height of his NBA career, Thompson averaged 9.8 points per game while averaging 28.0 minutes per contest for the 2015-16 76ers.

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

FIVE NOTABLES THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE TOP 25

Renardo Sidney (16)

Still regarded, to this day, as one of the most talented high school underclassmen of his generation, Sidney was never able to sustain any sort of consistency when it came to basketball. After washing out at Mississippi State, Sidney tried to join on with the G League and a Venezuelan pro league. At least Sidney can claim he was, at one point, a No. 1 pick. The Compton Airmen of the California Basketball Association drafted Sidney No. 1 overall in 2016.

Royce White (19)

The former Houston Rockets first-round pick has been more notable for his mental health advocacy than his pro playing career. White did start to make some waves in the basketball world when he won MVP of the Canadian NBL during the 2016-17 season. Helping the London Lightning to a league championship that season, White’s issues re-appeared the following season. In April, in the midst of the NBL playoffs, White was suspended 11 games for a verbal outburst towards an official and the deputy commissioner of the league. White signed to play in Italy for next season.

Jordan Hamilton (6)

The highest-ranked player out of high school to be left off this list, Hamilton played parts of five seasons in the NBA before starting his overseas career. Hamilton has spent time in Russia, Turkey, Israel, Italy and Venezuela during his well-traveled professional career.

Xavier Henry (8)

At one time regarded as the No. 1 player in this high school class, Henry spent parts of five seasons in the NBA before playing in the G League the last several years. Henry last appeared in the NBA in the 2014-15 season when he appeared in nine games for the Lakers.

John Jenkins (15)

A first-round pick of the Phoenix Suns after three years at Vanderbilt, Jenkins was never able to carve out a role as a deep-shooting threat. After four seasons in the NBA, Jenkins eventually made his way over to Spain.

 

Ex-Tar Heel Woods comfortable back home in South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Seventh Woods can’t take a few steps around town these days without someone telling him it is good he came home. The former North Carolina player is happy with his latest choice, too.

“It’s been great,” Woods said Friday. “Family’s here, friends here. I’ve been getting along well with the players and the coaches.”

The 6-foot-2 Woods expected to be a collegiate force when he finished Hammond School in Columbia and picked the Tar Heels over Georgetown and South Carolina in 2016.

Instead, Woods was a backup during his time with the Tar Heels. He was part of North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament title team in 2017 but never averaged more than 11 minutes or three points a game during his three seasons in Chapel Hill . Woods missed 17 games with a broken foot during his sophomore season and averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 assists last season as backup to freshman Coby White.

In April, Woods posted on social media that it was time for a change. Woods will sit out next season per NCAA transfer rules and return to the court in 2020-21.

“I can focus on me getting into a groove,” Woods said. “Learning a new system and we didn’t want to rush anything.”

Woods, who turns 21 next month, gained attention during his middle school years for his ability to dunk and dominate opponents off the dribble at Hammond. He was a YouTube, basketball mixtape regular in the early 2010s, when ability like his was largely experienced in person watching youth games.

The buzz about Woods intensified the pressure for him to stay put and revive South Carolina. Woods felt differently.

“I just wanted to do what was best for me,” Woods said. “Going away was best for me at the time.”

Woods felt comfortable with the Tar Heels and believed it would be the best place for him to grow as a player and person.

“Only positives, all positive,” Woods said of his three years at North Carolina.

When Woods met with Martin to discuss is basketball future, the coach emphasized him taking some time away from games.

“Every time he dribbled, the crowd was sold out and every critic was out there criticizing everything he did wrong,” Martin said. “I have no idea how that young man has been able to keep the class he lives with under those circumstances.”

Woods looked at Gonzaga and Michigan before picking the Gamecocks this time. The relationship he built with Martin was rekindled the past few months and Woods was grateful to his new coach for this latest chance.

“I felt it was perfect timing just being able to come back home,” Woods said. “To come back to a coach who allowed me to come back home. That was big for me.”

Woods says he’ll spend his time improving his strength, consistency and outside shooting. He’ll be part of practices and knows that will help him develop chemistry with his future teammates.

His aspirations, as they were during middle school, are to play basketball professionally after college. He’s looking forward to a productive time off the court to recharge and improve.

“I feel like sitting out a year will be great for me and I’m going to try and use it to my advantage to make the most out of my senior year,” he said.

Report: Michigan to ‘host’ Rutgers at Madison Square Garden

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The Big Ten has long coveted New York and Madison Square Garden. The league brought in Rutgers in expansion largely to access the New York market, and it rearranged its entire schedule to get its conference tournament at MSG in 2018.

Now Michigan is apparently willing to give up a home date to play that “New York” school in order to return to one of the crown jewels of the sport.

The Wolverines are expected to be the home team this winter at Madison Square Garden when they play Rutgers, according to a report from NJ Advance Media, which cited four unnamed sources with knowledge of the situation.

The game will be part of a doubleheader with a Michigan-Rutgers wrestling dual, according to the report.

Aside from however this effects the bottom line for Michigan – which certainly isn’t hurting in the revenue department – this would appear to be a great move for both schools and the Big Ten at large. Normally, I’m against moving games off-campus to sterile and identity-less NBA arenas, but obviously Madison Square Garden is a unique venue and opportunity for all parties.

If you can get a conference game at MSG, you do it, even if you’ve got to give up a date at Crisler Center. It’s weird that it’s not just a Rutgers home date, but with the B1G’s wonky scheduling with 20-league games in a 14-team league, weird stuff is going to happen, especially when outside-the-box opportunities like this arise.

American Athletic Conference Offseason Reset: What does all the turnover mean for the league?

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The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.

That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.

Today, we are talking the American.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

SO UCONN IS LEAVING. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR THE CONFERENCE?: This is not only the biggest storyline in the American, it is one of the biggest and most intriguing storylines in all of college basketball. UConn is a storied program. It has won four of the last 20 national titles. It is a national brand that has churned out as many pros as any school in the country. It has fallen on hard times as Kevin Ollie drove the program straight into the ground. They are leaving the American and returning to the Big East, the conference that they helped launch 40 years ago.

This is a great thing for UConn, but this isn’t really about UConn. It’s about the American and what it means for a league that has been trying to prove they belong in the same conversation as the rest of the high-majors since it split from the Big East six years ago. And the truth is that they’ll be just fine. The Huskies have finished under .500 the last three years. They’ve missed four of the last five NCAA tournaments. The year they did go dancing, it was as the American’s automatic bid, a run that required a four-OT win over Cincinnati – which included this miracle 60-footer – in the quarters of the AAC tournament to avoid spending Selection Sunday on the bubble.

UConn is thought to be a borderline NCAA tournament team this season, which means that the Huskies will leave the league next summer having been more or less irrelevant for the better part of a decade. The American has still sent at least two teams to the Big Dance in each of their six seasons, with four teams earning a bid in three of those six years. Penny Hardaway has Memphis rolling. Kelvin Sampson has Houston rolling. Mick Cronin left Cincinnati, but John Brannen is a good coach and the Bearcats have talent. Wichita State will, eventually, be back in the thick of the NCAA tournament race.

Losing UConn is a blow for what the American’s ceiling can be. But with UCF, Temple, Tulsa and SMU all having proven capable of playing their way into an at-large bid, the conference will effectively be what it was with UConn there – a safe-bet to get three bids with four programs at the top that are annually in the at-large mix.

It’s not the ACC and it will never be, but it’s not the Mountain West, either.

(Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

CAN PENNY WIN WITH ALL THE TALENT HE HAS IN MEMPHIS?: When it comes to the conversation on the court, just how good Memphis will be is the most interesting question that we are going to have answered this year. There is no question that they are talented. James Wiseman is the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2019 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft. Precious Achiuwa is top ten and top ten. The Memphis recruiting class is ranked as the No. 1 recruiting class in college basketball, higher than Duke and Kentucky and Kansas and everyone else.

But there is also plenty of reason to be skeptical of them. For starters, we’ve seen Penny coach one season of college basketball. They probably exceeded expectations during that one season, but one year is not exactly a large sample size. I actually think Penny is going to be a good college coach. My biggest concern with this group is that they are going to be very young. Seven of their top ten players are going to be freshmen, and only two of those seven freshmen are five-star, instant impact, potential first round picks. And two of their returnees are tiny lead guards that are going to be playing behind one of those freshman – Boogie Ellis – at the point.

I understand why Memphis fans are going to go nuts and why Memphis will be a preseason top ten team. Personally, I have them ranked at No. 20 entering the season.

WHAT WILL CINCINNATI BE POST-CRONIN?: Mick Cronin spent 13 seasons as the head coach fo the Bearcats, and in each of the last nine seasons that he was in Cincinnati, he led the program to the NCAA tournament. There are only five other schools that can make that claim – Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, Gonzaga and North Carolina – and only three other programs that can say they’ve been to six straight NCAA tournaments – Villanova, Kentucky and Virginia.

Think about that for a second.

Those are massive shoes for John Brannen to be stepping in. He’s had success at Northern Kentucky, he’s a local guy with local ties and the return of Jarron Cumberland should make his life just that much easier. But don’t gloss over what Cronin did at Cincinnati. The level of consistency that he reached at that school was remarkable.

CAN HOUSTON FIND A WAY TO GET QUENTIN GRIMES ELIGIBLE?: Houston got hit with a dagger on the last day that underclassmen could return to school without losing eligibility – Armoni Brooks opted to stay in the draft instead of coming back for his senior year. The Cougars were already losing Galen Robinson and Corey Davis. They needed Brooks back to offset that loss, particularly once Kansas transfer Quentin Grimes committed to the program. Now, Houston has to try to find a way to get Grimes, a Houston native, eligible for this season. The former five-star prospect would likely be the most talented guard in the American – and the difference between being a borderline top 25 team and a borderline tournament team – if he’s eligible to play.

HOW LONG WILL IT BE BEFORE WICHITA STATE IS BACK?: Gregg Marshall is one of the best coaches in all of college basketball, and the fact that he took last year’s roster and got them to 10-8 in the AAC and into the NIT should be proof of that. But the Shockers are losing Markis McDuffie and Samajae Haynes-Jones, their two leading scorers from last season, and dismissed Teddy Allen, who was supposed to be the leading scorer this year, last month.

Wichita State went 14-4 in the final two months of the 2018-19 season, including a stretch where they won 11 of 13 games against AAC opponents. They’ll win because Marshall is really good at his job. But as more time passes, it gets harder and harder to ignore the fact that in his last five years in the Missouri Valley, Marshall coached four NBA players – Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet.

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE

  • MICK CRONIN, Cincinnati: This is a massive blow to the Cincinnati program, as Cronin had become one of the most consistently successful coaches in college basketball.
  • COREY DAVIS, ARMONI BROOKS and GALEN ROBINSON, Houston: The Cougars are going to have to totally rebuild their perimeter attack, and while there are some pieces there – DeJon Jarreau, Nate Hinton, Quentin Grimes – it is not going to be easy to replicate what they lost.
  • TEDDY ALLEN, Wichita State: For my money, Allen getting dismissed is a bigger loss either McDuffie or Haynes-Jones. Marshall planned to lose his seniors, and part of that plan was having Allen’s scoring pop to replace them.
  • EVERYONE, UCF: The Knights came within one bucket of beating Duke to get to the Sweet 16 last season, but they are going to have their work cut out for them this season with Tacko Fall, B.J. Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins all gone.
  • SHIZZ ALSTON, Temple: Alston was one of the best guards in the conference, and he will be following Fran Dunphy out the door.

WHO’S BACK

  • JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati: James Wiseman is the best prospect in the conference, but for my money, Cumberland is going to be the best player in the AAC this season. There is a new coaching regime, and Cumberland’s presence should help ease the transition period.
  • EVERYONE, South Florida: South Florida is South Florida, so I’m hardly the only one that is going to need to see it to fully believe it, but the Bulls bring back everyone from a team that won 24 games last year. They have a really, really good backcourt. We’ll see.
  • KELVIN SAMPSON, Houston: Keeping Sampson despite overtures coming from a handful of schools, namely Arkansas, was the most important thing Houston could do this offseason. I fully believe that he is one of the 10-15 best pure basketball coaches in college hoops right now.
  • ALTERIQUE GILBERT, UConn: UConn loses Jalen Adams, but it shouldn’t matter if Gilbert can find a way to be healthy for four months this winter. That, however, is never a guarantee.

WHO’S COMING

  • JAMES WISEMAN and PRECIOUS ACHIUWA, Memphis: These two are the reason that the Tigers are going to enter the season in the top ten of both polls. We more or less know what they are going to be. The big question with Memphis, the key to the Tigers reaching their ceiling, centers on the rest of their newcomers.
  • QUENTIN GRIMES, Houston?: If Grimes, a former top ten recruit and Kansas transfer, can find a way to get eligible for this season the Cougars won’t have to worry all that much about losing Armoni Brooks.
  • AKOK AKOK, UConn: Everyone knows about the guards that UConn is bringing in, but the key to the Huskies getting to the NCAA tournament this season is going to be Akok’s impact in his first season as a Husky. Once considered a five-star prospect, Akok enrolled at UConn at the semester break and will play the 2019-20 season as a redshirt freshman.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-AAC TEAM

JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati (Preseason Player of the Year)
DEJON JARREAU, Houston
QUINTON ROSE, Temple
PRECIOUS ACHIUWA, Memphis
JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. MEMPHIS: We talked more in-depth about the Tigers earlier, but I will say this: They are far and away the most talented team in the league, and they are also far and away the youngest relevant team in the league. How that translates into wins in a conference where the rest of their title competition have more experience and/or are built on toughness and physicality is going to be interesting to watch.

2. HOUSTON: I trust Kelvin Sampson as much as I trust any coach in college basketball to be able to find a way to make his pieces work. Losing Armoni Brooks hurts, but with Nate Hinton and DeJon Jarreau in the backcourt, there is some talent. There’s a possibility Quentin Grimes may find his way into playing this season, too. Throw in some size and depth in the frontcourt, and the Cougars look like they are going to be heading back to the tournament.

3. CINCINNATI: The Bearcats have the guy that very well could end up being the best player in the league on their roster in Jarron Cumberland. He looks like a linebacker, but he managed to put up 18.8 points, 4.4 boards and 3.6 assists while shooting 39 percent from three last season. He can hoop. Cincinnati also returns Keith Williams and Tre Scott while adding Jaevin Cumberland, Jarron’s cousin, a grad transfer from Oakland. The big question with this group is going to be how the adjust to new head coach John Brannen. With Mick Cronin back, I would probably slot Cincinnati second.

4. WICHITA STATE: For my money, the Shockers are the most interesting team in this conference. Yes, they lost their top two scorers from last season – not to mention the guy they thought was going to be their top scorer this season – but this was a deep team last season that really came on strong down the stretch. They won 11 out of 13 down the stretch of the AAC season, and then proceeded to beat Furman, Clemson and Indiana on the road in the NIT to get to that tournament’s Final Four. Jaime Echenique is one of the best bigs in the league while Dexter Dennis and Erik Stevenson look ready for big sophomore seasons. They’re tough, they’re battle-tested and they have arguably the best coach in the league. We’ll see.

5. TEMPLE: The Aaron McKie era at Temple will begin with a team capable of getting back to the NCAA tournament if things break right. Shizz Alston is gone, and that hurts, but the Owls will bring back both Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis. That will be enough to keep them in the top half of the league.

6. UCONN: Losing Jalen Adams is going to hurt, but beyond that, the Huskies bring back a lot of important pieces from last season. They should have plenty of perimeter depth even if Alterique Gilbert’s health struggles continue, as they add James Bouknight and Jalen Gaffney to a rotation that already includes Christian Vital. Josh Carlton and Tyler Polley will provide some continuity in the frontcourt, but I think Danny Hurley’s second season in Storrs is going to come down to how well Sidney Wilson and Akok Akok perform in their second year on campus.

7. UCF: The Knights are a tough team to project this season. On the one hand, they lost all of their dudes – B.J. Taylor and Tacko Fall graduated while Aubrey Dawkins turned pro. On the other hand, they have a number of really good transfers getting eligible this year (Dazon Ingram, Matt Milon, Yuat Alok, Ibrahim Doumbia) while Collin Smith looks like he’ll be ready for a big year. They’ve got a chance to sneak up on some people.

8. SOUTH FLORIDA: The Bulls are the sleeper in the American, and they have a chance to be really, really good. David Collins and LaQuincy Rideau give them one of the best backcourts in the league, and they return basically everyone from last season, when they finished 24-14 overall and 8-10 in the league. I’m not sure they have the ceiling to crack the top three in the league, but if you were to tell me that they can finish above Wichita State, Temple, UConn and UCF, I wouldn’t call you crazy.

9. TULSA: Losing DaQuan Jeffries, Sterling Taplin and Curran Scott will hurt, but Frank Haith will have some bodies coming back. Martins Igabnu and Jeriah Horne. The young Tulsa guards are going to need to step up.

10. SMU: The Larry Brown era seems so long ago. The Mustangs are now losing their two best guards off of a team that went just 3-15 in the AAC last season.

11. EAST CAROLINA: The good news is that ECU brings back Jayden Gardner, who averaged 16.3 points and 8.5 boards as a freshman. The bad news is that he is the only one of their top seven scorers to return.

12. TULANE: Tulane won four games last season and lost their top three players. new head coach Ron Hunter has some talent and transfers coming into the program, but they have a long way to go.

Auburn lands 2019 commitment from three-star wing

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Auburn landed a late commitment for the 2019-20 season on Wednesday night as three-star athletic wing Devan Cambridge pledged to the Tigers.

A 6-foot-6, 215-pound wing, Cambridge had a very strong showing at the Nike Peach Jam last week as he averaged 16.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game during pool play at the event. A big-time athlete who easily gets off the floor, Cambridge fits Auburn’s athletic, up-and-down style as he’s accustomed to playing fast and making plays with his game-changing athleticism.

Cambridge joins a seven-man mega class for the Tigers as he’s a versatile athlete who should play a number of different spots. Cambridge is still working to become more of a consistent perimeter shooting presence, but Auburn has landed a solid late commitment because there aren’t many better pure athletes in the class. If the Tigers can develop Cambridge and take their time with his development then he could turn into a very useful player.

Person avoids prison in college bribery sentencing

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NEW YORK — Former Auburn assistant basketball coach Chuck Person has avoided prison in a bribery scandal that has touched some of the biggest schools in college basketball.

Person was sentenced on Wednesday to 200 hours of community service during the two years the Probation Department will supervise him. Judge Loretta A. Preska said “no purpose would be served by incarceration.”

Sentencing guidelines called for two years in prison, though three other coaches who pleaded guilty to the same charge also received lenient sentences.

Person, who was in financial trouble at the time, accepted $91,500 in bribes to parlay his relationships with top players to steer them to a financial adviser, federal prosecutors said. The adviser, however, was working as a government cooperator.

Preska defended her decision by saying she disagreed “vehemently” with the prosecution’s claim that Person was motivated by “insatiable greed.”

“He is charitable literally to a fault,” the judge said.

She noted that after signing his first NBA contract, he sent most of the money to family members and bought his mother a house. She described how he bought homes and cars for family and friends and made continuous donations. Then, he turned down lucrative jobs in the NBA to make less money as a college coach.

Person wiped tears from his face several times during the sentencing.

Of his crime, he said: “I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway.”

Person’s guilty plea in March to a bribery conspiracy charge came nearly two decades after he was a regular presence on NBA courts, where he played for five NBA teams over 13 seasons after being drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 1986. In 2010, he earned a championship ring as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Lawyers wrote that Person’s previous financial troubles intensified almost as soon as his NBA career ended, when he was paying $30,000 monthly to his ex-wife while he was earning $18,000 annually in his first non-playing role with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Chuck’s singular focus on basketball, his failure to plan for his financial future, and his unbounded generosity ultimately had catastrophic consequences,” they wrote.

The lawyers said he knew he was violating NCAA rules and was betraying his players and their families and Auburn University.

By 2016, when he was an assistant coach at Auburn, where he had set a record as the school’s all-time leading scorer in the 1980s, he was deeply in debt with bank loans, including one to finance a community center in his hometown, and several private loans, the lawyers wrote. One financial institution had obtained a default judgment that garnished 25% of his wages at Auburn, they added.

“Creditors were growing impatient, and Chuck was becoming desperate. Chuck could have turned to his many friends for help, but he was embarrassed and ashamed,” they wrote.

Instead, the man who overcame racism and extreme poverty growing up in rural Alabama got swept up in the college basketball scandal when his search for a new loan earned him an introduction to the government cooperator, the lawyers said.

His lawyers’ submission included letters from Charles Sonny Smith, who coached at Auburn for 11 seasons through the 1980s, and Sam Perkins, another former NBA player who met Person when both competed to be on the U.S. Olympic team in 1984.

Smith called Person “my favorite player ever.” Perkins said Person was “still a good friend.”