With every significant all-star game completed and nearly every prospect of consequence (with one grand exception) signed, sealed and delivered for next year, it’s time to close the door on the Hoopniks Top 150 for the 2013 class, which was last updated in the Fall, after several player reclassifications.
Basketball recruiting at times has a necessary element of hype to it, which we do try to temper with reality. Still, this group on balance has the chance of being exceptional, given the continued development and maturation of the elite prospects in the class. Rumblings out of practices from various all-star games indicate that there will be significant professional options on the table for several members of our top 10, provided they perform well in what could be their one season audition in the NCAA D-1 ranks.
The upper echelon of the class is extremely talented, leading off with our No. 1, Canadian sensation Andrew Wiggins, a 6’-8” wing forward that played at Huntington Prep (WV). Since his reclassification to the 2013 class, Wiggins was immediately anointed to the head of this class. A freakish athlete with solid skill level, Wiggins needs only time and extended range on his outside shot to be nearly unguardable. At this late stage in the recruiting process, there is no rush for Wiggins to jump into a college decision or even sign a letter of intent, as there is a spot for him anywhere. Wiggins will have high expectations wherever he lands, for the college he signs with, himself personally with media hype and pressure, and the hopes of hoops heads in Canada.
Just behind Wiggins is prototypical power forward Julius Randle, who possesses a ridiculous combination of size and agility that is made for today’s hoop scene. He is both gifted physically and has amassed significant skills, making him what would be an easy choice for No. 1, save for the presence of Wiggins. Randle has an alpha-dog mentality that shook of the rust of significant injury this year to star after missing most the season. His total package means that he can step in and be the man from the outset for the Kentucky Wildcats next season.
Randle’s future teammate Andrew Harrison comes in at No. 3. With a bully’s physical game at the high school level, Harrison needs a jump to college to necessitate that he expand his skillset, as he has too much power for his high school peers. He is a jumbo size lead guard at 6’-5”, 210 pounds and could be a major problem for opponents with tutelage under coach John Calipari and his staff. Harrison has the tools physically, and will need improvement on nuances to reach his full potential.
Duke-bound Jabari Parker finished strong this season, and if he can get in prime physical form, his time in Durham could be short. Parker is perhaps the most skilled and savvy player in the class, and at his best is a mismatch nightmare given his power forward strength with true wing and face-up skills. Parker has faced perhaps the most scrutiny in the class, no thanks to a misleading Sports Illustrated cover, but has shown himself to be among the most composed and mature prospects in the class. Parker has faced intense media attention in Chicago for several years, and his thrived despite the pressure placed on him.
An energetic and athletic Bay Area dynamo, Aaron Gordon is hard to justify ranking at No. 5, given his tremendous explosiveness and frame. Gordon’s comparisons to Blake Griffin (which could be based more on physical appearance than game) don’t do justice to that fact that he is an elite prospect in his own right, and his own player. Gordon made a wise to decision to attend Arizona, which should give him the opportunity to develop his wing skills, as his future position will be the “3”, and the Wildcats have up front bruisers to support him. Gordon is capable of producing highlight reel performances, and has shown no trouble putting his team on his back in numerous situations.
Harrison’s twin Aaron is also Kentucky-bound, and in reality has nearly identical upside to his brother. While Aaron Harrison has played off the ball in high school and will likely do the same at Kentucky, he too can run the point, and has the same frame as his brother. Aaron Harrison also is a better outside shooter, making him an intriguing combo guard for the future. The Harrison twins have seldom been separated in the past several years, in high school, club and all-star games, so it remains to be seen how they stand alone.
Like Wiggins, 6’-9” Noah Vonleh is a relatively recent reclassification to the 2013 class. His terrific length, motor and expanding skillset are ideal with how the “4” position is changing in the NBA. He isn’t a polished product just yet, but the Indiana Hoosiers have a real jewel in Vonleh. As his hybrid skills pair with his 7’-3” wingspan and continued physical growth, don’t bet against Vonleh rising up this list as time moves on. Vonleh can be a do-it-all force on the floor in stretches, and he’ll have the chance to star next season and beyond.
Two future Florida Gators, Kasey Hill and Chris Walker come in at No. 8 and No. 9 on our final rankings list. Hill is a lead guard with an impressive winning background, while Walker is a big man that hasn’t yet realized his tremendous potential in connection with his athletic gifts. Hill won a national title at Montverde Academy (FL) this year, and he has a bit of everything in his quiver. Walker will no doubt be the recipient and explosive finisher of many of Hill’s pinpoint passes going forward. As always, the sum is greater than the parts, and Hill and Walker have already played on the grassroots circuit together, quite successfully, for the Florida Rams/Elite for numerous weekends.
Rounding out our top 10 is another Kentucky-bound player, James Young, a lengthy wing with bounce. Young is the fourth future member of the Wildcats in this class, so it’s hard to say what he will produce as a freshman, so this is a long-term play. Young is yet another physical mismatch that can wear the crown of scorer if needed. He’s comfortable being the man, but he’ll blend in, at least early on.
The reality is that several additional prospects on our list are top 10 caliber talents, but there are only so many slots to fill them in with. As a result, this is a very strong group and deeper than usual in the teens and early 20s, as a result of the depth of the class.
Several players outside of the top 10 have the chance to be national names as freshman. Super-charged scoring guards Isaac Hamilton (UTEP) and Keith Frazier (SMU) will likely be handed the basketball and the keys to the offense early on in their college careers. They project as top candidates to be the top freshmen scorers nationally next year, based on their multi-faceted offensive games, and having shown no bashful in launching shots at the high school level.
Also notable is 7-footer Joel Embiid, who is headed to player for the Kansas Jayhawks. It remains to be seen what the Jayhawks, who replace significant talent from last year’s team, will be composed of, but if Embiid progresses the same way in the next 18 months as he did in the last time period, the sky is the limit. However, it’s best to be temper expectations of freshmen big men in BCS-level leagues. Embiid, a native of Africa, hasn’t had nearly the exposure to the game that others on the list have had, which is both a good and a bad thing.
There are several other interesting storylines to watch for next season. For instance, will arguably the winningest player on the list, point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, be enough to get the Washington Huskies back over the hump as he returns to the Pacific Northwest from Findlay Prep (NV)? Will talented prep school point guard Terry Rozier (or perhaps JC transfer Chris Jones) be placed in a key spot from day one for the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals? Still, those questions aren’t yet on the forefront of most hardcore basketball fans, as the open-ended mystery for where No. 1 Wiggins lands is all most can contemplate for now.
Make no mistake, this class is both deep, and talented at the very top. There’s a lack of true post players, as is true everywhere, but new age combo players (particularly 2-3 and 3-4) are abundant. There’s certainly the chance of multiple NBA all-stars emerging from this group, given continued development. In all, four prospects in our final top 20 are reclassifications from the 2014 class, meaning there is some truth to the robbing Peter to pay Paul storyline in this class as it is a bit deeper than expected with those high-level prospects joining the class.
At this stage, though, it appears as if this class and its members will make a major impact on college basketball next season, and beyond.