The Class of 2017 is starting to develop and form an identity as we approach the summer evaluation period.
Every class’ reputation is based on the star power at the top. This crop is unique inside the top 10 because of the tremendous positional size up front. Five prospects in the top 10 are centers or power forwards, and each one stands 6-foot-10 or taller, with unique talents and gifts in the game.
Additionally, the best small forwards in the class are loaded with versatility, shot-making ability and terrific size: Michael Porter Jr. (No. 4) has extreme versatility, Kevin Knox (No. 7) is a highly skilled shooter, and Brian Bowen (No. 10) can make plays and score.
Seven-footer DeAndre Ayton stayed at No. 1, and it isn’t hard to see why. Because of the way Ayton competes on every possession, he is the runaway choice for the top spot. He stands out because of his advanced skills as a big man and his ability to rebound and protect the rim. His ability to pass out of double coverage makes him truly unique. When he looks to establish his game from the post and then to the arc, he becomes almost unstoppable. That said, Ayton needs to become more of an everyday player, instead of a feel-like-it player, if he is going to hold on to that prestigious spot all summer.
Wendell Carter (No. 2) is a beast on the blocks with a very nice, short, face-up game. Carter is a mobile, athletic big man (6-foot-10) who defends his space inside. Mohamed Bamba (No. 3) has seemingly unlimited upside because of his enormous 7-foot-8 wingspan and a developing scoring touch paired with an active motor. Trevon Duval (No. 5) is the clear choice for the No.1 point guard in the country. He demonstrates elite explosiveness, speed and scoring ability, with a strong handle. Duval is most dangerous in the transition game.
The class of 2017 has a hard act to follow because of the 2016 class’ deep star power. There are a handful of prospects outside the top 10 who have room to develop. If those prospects reach their potential, this class can go from interesting to exciting and become better and deeper than anticipated. — Paul Biancardi
The class’ most interesting recruitments
The 2016 class saw several heated recruiting battles, especially among the five-star prospects. With the class of 2017, we can expect the usual number of Kentucky-Duke races, but there are a few top-20 prospects whose recruitments will be worth tracking closely until decision time.
No. 1 DeAndre Ayton
The best rising senior in high school basketball, Ayton made some waves in April, when he said Kansas was essentially the only school recruiting him. For a No. 1 prospect who has been a highly touted player for multiple years, it was strange. But there are some issues that have slowed his recruitment, including some chatter that he might play overseas for a year instead of college or take the Thon Maker route and do a post-grad year before entering the NBA draft. Also, he has bounced among a few high schools, which could raise some red flags. If he does go to college, Kansas, UCLA, Arizona and Kentucky will all be involved in his decision.
These two aren’t a package deal, but the schools that seem to be prioritizing this duo overlap: There’s Duke and Kentucky, of course, but there’s also a wild card: Harvard. Both Carter and Bamba have talked up Harvard as more than just on the fringes of their lists. Carter has said he wants to visit the Crimson in the fall, and the possibility of Carter and Bamba teaming up in the Ivy League is intriguing. It’s not an extremely likely scenario, but it will be something to keep an eye on as the class progresses.
No. 4 Michael Porter Jr.
The 6-foot-9 forward recently cut his list to five schools: Missouri, Washington, Virginia, Indiana and Oklahoma. That’s not the typical list for a top-five prospect, but Porter’s recruitment hasn’t been typical. Two of Porter’s sisters play for the women’s team at Missouri, and his aunt is the women’s coach. His father is an assistant at Washington (multiple schools made assistant-coach offers), and his godfather is head coach Lorenzo Romar. The Huskies also have a commitment from Porter’s younger brother, Jontay. But Washington is the heavy favorite in this one, primarily because it won the race to hire Porter’s father. There’s potential for a domino effect with five-star guard Trae Young (No. 21), a player often discussed as a package deal with Porter. Washington has been recruiting Young, and Kentucky, Kansas and hometown team Oklahoma have made him a priority as well.
No. 7 Kevin Knox
Although not a “blueblood” program, Florida State has done an excellent job on the recruiting trail with five-star prospects the past couple years, and Knox is the next target on the Seminoles’ list. This time, Leonard Hamilton will be going against the likes of Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky. Florida State went against Kentucky and Kansas for Andrew Wiggins back in 2013 and lost in the final days. Can the Seminoles convince Knox to stay in-state? His father played football for the Seminoles, and his mother played volleyball there. But with the way the big boys of college basketball have prioritized Knox, this will be a tough battle.
We’re grouping these two together because of the similarities developing in their respective recruitments. Kentucky is really gunning for these two five-star wings, but it’s facing stiff competition from a regional school. In Diallo’s case, UConn has been involved with the athletic scorer for a long time, and he attends in-state Putnam Science Academy. Kevin Ollie and John Calipari have seen him multiple times. As for Petty, Kentucky is battling with home-state school Alabama, and Avery Johnson isn’t letting Petty leave the state without a fight. — Jeff Borzello
New names to know
The ESPN 60 has grown to the ESPN 100 in the class of 2017, and there are several new names to learn. Here’s a look at the first five fresh faces on the list:
No. 25 Jaren Jackson, 6-foot-9, PF, Park Tudor School (Indianapolis)
The son of former Georgetown star and NBA player Jaren Jackson Sr., Jaren Jr. stands about 5 inches taller but is starting to show more of the perimeter skills that his father utilized as a 6-foot-4 guard. While Jackson is now operating off the dribble and shooting 3s with his 6-foot-9 frame, he is also protecting the rim on the defensive end and showing an excellent left hand around the cup offensively. His suitors include his father’s alma mater, Michigan State, Maryland, Stanford, Indiana, Notre Dame and numerous others. With no decision expected in the near future, and as his game continues to go to new levels, that list will grow before it shrinks.
No. 26 Collin Sexton, 6-foot-1, G, Pebblebrook High (Mableton, Ga.)
Sexton led the Nike EYBL in scoring this spring, with more than 30 points per game. A scorer in a point guard’s body, Sexton has the ability to score in bunches and take over a game like very few others at this age. His recruitment has grown alongside his ranking, and the likes of Arizona, Kansas, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State are now after him. Regardless of where he ends up, he’ll be a fan favorite, as his ability to stuff a scoring column, and do it with flair, is one of the most entertaining shows in high school basketball right now.
No. 34 Nickeil Alexander-Walker, 6-foot-5, SG, Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.)
A big guard who made an early pledge to Buzz Williams and Virginia Tech last month, Alexander-Walker is an undeniable talent just beginning to realize his potential. He has great size and length, a good shooting stroke from the perimeter and increasing playmaking ability, as he is long and crafty en route to the rim. As he strengthens his frame, gets more comfortable against contact and learns to value the ball more, his stock will continue to rise.
No. 41 Chaundee Brown, 6-foot-5, SF, The First Academy (Orlando, Fla.)
A power player on the wing with a college-ready body and high motor, Brown is both physical and relentless in attacking the basket. With a good first step and the abilities to absorb contact on his way to the rim and thrive in the midrange area, he has been a force all spring. Connecticut, Florida, Florida State, Maryland and Syracuse headline the list of schools offers.
No. 43 Brandon Randolph, 6-foot-6, SF, Westtown School (West Chester, Penn.)
A shot-maker on the wing, Randolph has connected on more than 40 percent of his attempts from behind the arc this spring while showing great size and length for his position. He makes all kinds of tough shots, stops quickly in transition and runs off screens in the half court. Syracuse, Indiana, North Carolina and Kansas headline his list of suitors. — Adam Finkelstein