Big East Recruiting Breakdown
A look at all 16 recruiting classes.
The summer months can be long and cruel for basketball fans. The NBA season is done, college coaches can’t get within a mile of their players when on a basketball court and even though the AAU circuit is in full swing, it doesn’t receive the same kind of easily accessible coverage that the others do. Still, it’s never too early to start looking ahead to next year and with the vast majority of high school seniors having signed letters of intent, its particularly enticing to start thinking about the impact they will be having on college campuses across America come November.
With that thought in mind, each week for the next several weeks, SLAM will be breaking down the recruiting classes for each team in the major conferences, with a look at some of the top mid-major players as well. We’re going to start things off right by taking a look at the mother of all conferences, the 16-team behemoth known as the Big East.
The ‘Cats have just one incoming freshman next season in the form of White Plains, NY native Sean Kilpatrick. A 6-5 shooting guard, Kilpatrick emerged as one of the top players in the Empire State during his time at White Plains HS, garnering interest from several other Big East programs including Pittsburgh, Seton Hall, Providence and St. John’s. After facing some academic problems, Kilpatrick opted for a year at national powerhouse Notre Dame Prep in order to get himself caught up in the classroom before committing to Cincinnati. The two-guard brings instant scoring to the floor, something that will certainly help down the road as Deonta Vaughn graduates after this season. Kilpatrick has excellent range, able to pull up from 15-feet and connect, while also showing a knack for spotting up and burying J’s from beyond the arc. He has a wiry, but strong frame that allows him to finish in traffic, and he brings a good amount of hustle to the defensive side of the floor. While Kilpatrick may not see starters minutes right away due to the log jam that head coach Mike Cronin has in the backcourt, it’s a safe bet that he will see playing time right away and increase his role in the rotation as the season progresses.
Jim Calhoun pulled in arguably the top recruiting class in the conference this season and he’s going to need the youngsters to contribute right away with the departures of Hasheem Thabeet, A.J. Price, Craig Austrie and Jeff Adrien. The jewel of this group is McDonald’s All-American big man Alex Oriakhi out of the Tilton School in New Hampshire. The 6-8 225-pound center is a blue collar workhorse who will be an immediate impact on the defensive end, while bringing a raw, but developing post game to the floor. Think Emeka Okafur and Jeff Adrien’s love child with this one. Oriakhi could very well be starting from day one and is a tenacious enough rebounder and defender that he will be a much welcomed addition in Stoors. Small forward Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, Oriakhi’s high school teammate, is the other top-40 signee for UConn out of the 2009 class. At 6-7, Coombs-McDaniel is surprisingly versatile for a player at this stage in development; able to play multiple positions on the perimeter he will give the Huskies some real nice options with the return of Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker to the backcourt. Though he isn’t particularly exceptional at anything right now, he has a high enough basketball IQ that he always seems to make the right play and even when he doesn’t, his athleticism often bails him out. Chicago guard Darius Smith received offers from Marquette and Arizona State before deciding on UConn; the 6-2 combo-guard has a nose for the basket and uses his athleticism to pester opponents on the defensive end. He could prove to be a nice backup option for Walker when the freshman dynamo needs time to cool his jets. Jamaal Tice rounds out the four-man recruiting haul for Connecticut this season. Originally from California, the 6-5 shooting guard moved to North Carolina to spend a season at basketball factory Mt. Zion Christian Academy. The move worked as Tice received interest from several major programs. A good athlete, he will serve as another rotational player in his freshman season.
DePaul Blue Demons
Last year was one of to forget for the Blue Demons, posting a goose egg in the conference wins column. It won’t be getting any easier as their top player Dar Tucker has not only declared for the draft, but signed with an agent as well, meaning he will not be returning. Center Mac Koshwal has declared as well, but it is looking like he will be returning to the Windy City for another season. As it stands, DePaul will be welcoming two newcomers to the roster this season in Tony Freeland and Mike Stovall. Freeland, a Street & Smith’s Honorable Mention All-American out of Los Angeles, is a 6-6 “combination forward” according to his future coach Jerry Wainwright. The All-City player is a good athlete with a solid wingspan, factors that make him a strong rebounder. Stovall is a JuCo transfer out of Mineral Area CC in Missouri who prior to his time there had appeared in a handful of games for Oregon State. He has pretty good size for the shooting guard position at 6-5 and will be called upon right away to handle some of the scoring responsibilities.
The Hoyas don’t have exactly have an elite recruiting class this season, but return all three components of last season’s group in Greg Monroe, Henry Sims and Jason Clark. The key signee this season is 6-6 small forward Hollis Thompson out of Loyola HS in Los Angeles. Thompson is one of the better prospects at his position from the class of ’09, super long and with excellent handles. His game is very smooth already and he will be looked upon to help fill some of the void left by the likely departure of DaJuan Summers. Reports have said that Thompson’s jumper which is pretty solid already is improving to the point where he can comfortably spot up from the perimeter. Kentucky product Vee Sanford is a 6-3 combo-guard who is a deep shooting threat and plays bigger than he is thanks to his excellent athleticism and leaping ability. He will be a nice addition to a backcourt that could see a lot of players rotating through next season. The final member of Georgetown’s class is a bit of a lesser known player in Jerrelle Benimon, a 6-8 small forward out of Warrenton Virginia. Benimon was named to the Washington Post’s All-Met fourth team after posting impressive averages of 21 points, 17 rebounds and 7 assists.
The Cardinals always seem to have a steady stream of super athletes coming through their program year after year; this year’s recruiting class is no exception. Let’s start with McDonald’s All-American Peyton Siva out of Seattle, Washington. The point guard is a dynamic playmaker with a great perimeter shot, but is absolutely a pass first player as given by the nine dimes he dropped in the McDonald’s AA game. Siva is also an exceptional athlete with great quickness and tremendous hops. It’s a safe bet that Rick Pitino will be handing him the reins to the offense from the moment he steps on campus in the fall as Siva will be a definite upgrade at the point guard position from what the Cardinals had last season. Top 100 player Rakeem Buckles will be another excellent addition to the Louisville attack next season. Buckles, a 6-8 power forward out of Miami, is an extremely explosive player with great overall athleticism. At this point his post game is underdeveloped and he isn’t a great rebounder, as he prefers to face up and use his quickness to take defenders off the dribble. If he improves his shooting range down the road he certainly looks capable of transitioning to the small forward position and spending more time on the perimeter, perhaps as a poor man’s Earl Clark. Massachusetts product Mike Marra was signed for one reason: the kid can shoot. The term most applied to Marra is zone buster, as in if a team goes into a zone defense he will set up camp well beyond the perimeter and start draining shots. The rest of his game is a bit stagnant, but with a penetrator like Siva on the floor, Marra can simply rotate behind plays and spot up from deep. Stephan Van Treese is another big body that can rotate in with Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings in the frontcourt. The 6-9 power forward attended Lawrence North HS (Greg Oden’s school) and is a solid rebounder who runs the floor pretty well for a player his size.
Marquette Golden Eagles
The Golden Eagles are bringing in a massive seven man recruiting class this season that will have some major holes to fill as Marquette says so long to the stellar trio Jerel McNeal, Dominic James and Wesley Matthews. Head coach Buzz Williams landed three players ranked in the ESPN Top 100, including point guard Junior Cadougan, a product of the Christian Life Center Academy in Houston. The 6-2 floor general averaged 22 ppg and 8 apg as a senior and is expected to help the backcourt right away with his quickness and toughness at the position. Forwards Erik Williams and Jeronne Maymon were the other two major signings for Marquette this season. Williams a 6-7 small forward is long and a good athlete who shows possibly the most upside of any other player joining the Golden Eagles next season. Maymon, a 6-7 power forward, is deceptively strong packing just 185 pounds onto his wiry frame. The Madison, WI product shows the potential to move out to the perimeter one day, but for now gets the bulk of his points around the rim. Bigs Youssoupha Mbao and Brett Roseboro will give Marquette something their frontcourt has been lacking for a while: size. Mbao, a 7-2 string bean from Senegal, doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table right now aside from shot blocking prowess, but with time to develop he could be an impact player down the road. Roseboro is a 6-9 220-pound bruiser who brings a little heft to the paint, but also shows a decent touch on a developing mid-range jumper. Rounding out the massive group are a pair of JuCo guards in Darius-Johnson Odom and Dwight Buycks who should see some playing time right away with the loss of McNeal and James.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
With it looking more and more likely that Luke Harangody will not be returning to South Bend, Irish head coach Mike Brey looks smart for gaining commitments from three frontcourt players for his 2009 recruiting class. Jack Cooley, a 6-8 210-pound center, reminds somewhat of Harangody in that they both are hardnosed interior players who get a large percentage of their points by outworking other players. The 6-9 Broghammer is a power forward with developing skills as a mid-range shooter and a solid passer. He spent his high school career playing on a loaded Hopkins Senior High team from Minnesota with three other D-1 recruits, so he has never been the focal point of an offense, but is a skilled player who will be a nice addition. Thomas Knight is the biggest body joining the Irish next season at 6-9 245 pounds but possessing surprising quickness for a player with his kind of frame. The graduate of Dirigo HS in Maine has a good low post game and is very strong, but at this point isn’t a great leaper, something he will have to work on in the Big East. Lastly is two-guard Joey Brooks out of Houston who at 6-5 has a strong, athletic frame that will allow him to penetrate and finish with contact against bigger players once the season starts.
The Panthers are another team decimated by losses to the draft and graduation after this season with DeJuan Blair, Levance Fields and Sam Young all leaving. Luckily Pitt has locked up several talented frontcourt players, including two top-100 prospects, who should be able to help offset some of the losses. Dante Taylor is one of the top forwards in the country and at 6-8 220-pounds, he more than has the strength and frame to handle himself in the Big East right away. The Maryland product has fantastic athleticism and skill for a player of his size and he will make a killing against defenses with his ability to run the floor so well. When necessary, Taylor has shown he can step away from the basket and knock down open jumpers with pretty good range as well. St. Benedict’s Lamar Patterson received interest from several Big East and ACC schools and will give Pitt yet another tough, undersized power forward. At just 6-5, Patterson will have his work cut out for him, but has shown developing ability to play out on the perimeter. Talib Zanna, another Maryland big, shows a lot of promise and took home MVP honors in the Reebok All-American Preview Game. The 6-8 Zanna is ranked as the 10th best center in his class by Scout, and has a good motor that allows him to be productive on the boards at both ends of the floor. Sticking to this tough style of play that is Pitt basketball, the last addition to the team for next season is 6-7 center J.J. Richardson out of Texas. Richardson packs 230 pounds onto his frame and is very strong inside on the glass. The Panthers may have assembled the best rebounding recruiting class in the conference for next season.
The Friars also bring in a massive seven man recruiting class, so for the sake of conciseness, let’s look at some of the top additions to the roster. Point guard Vincent Council will be charged with leading Keno Davis’s up-tempo offense after doing so at the famed Patterson School in North Carolina this past season. At 6-2, Council has a good frame and is a true point guard in every sense of the phrase. He has solid handles, great court vision and does a good job of penetrating defenses to create for his teammates; don’t expect him to start putting up big point totals anytime soon though. Joining Council in the backcourt will be undersized point Johnnie Lacy out of Notre Dame Prep. Lacy is another good penetrator with solid quickness who should rotate through at the floor general spot as well. James Still and Kadeem Batts will join the Providence frontcourt and bring athleticism to the interior defense for the Friars. Still is a super long 6-9 center out of Detroit who has already proven himself an apt shot blocker and will pick up garbage points on the offensive glass. Batts is a slightly more solid big man at 6-7 215 pounds, but will be most valuable in pick-and-pop situations as the Georgia native has proven to have a developing mid-range jumper.
Rutgers Scarlett Knights
After bringing in one of their best recruiting classes ever last season, the Scarlett Knights decided to go big this season. Austin Johnson and Dane Miller are a pair of 6-7 athletic forwards who could prove to be matchup problems for some defenders. Johnson, a local product out of Blairstown, NJ, has good quickness which allows him to face up and take slower big men off the dribble when the opportunity presents itself. Miller shows some intriguing potential because of his handles and passing ability which will allow him to operate on the perimeter a great deal while also using his wingspan to crash the boards. Big man Brian Okam was brought in because of his massive 6-10 255-pound frame which when paired with Greg Echenique will give Rutgers some serious bulk in the middle to handle to rigors of a physical Big East Conference. Okam comes to the Scarlett Knights from Orlando, and though he presents a nice athletic package for a player with his frame, his post game is very underdeveloped at this point, consisting almost exclusively of muscling around smaller defenders.
Saint John’s Red Storm
Look for the Johnnies to play improved basketball this season. Justin Burrell continues to get better down low and Anthony Mason Jr. will be back after missing most of last season due to injury. Helping the Red Storm resurgence will the arrival of four new players, two from the prep ranks and two from the JuCo circuit. Small forward Omari Lawrence spent his last season at South Kent Prep continuing to refine a game that is already pretty appealing at this point in his career. Lawrence is listed at 6-4 but has a huge wingspan; something that coupled with his constant effort has allowed him to become an excellent perimeter defender already. He is very much a slasher at this point, doing the bulk of his damage going to the basket since his perimeter shooting is still a work in progress at this point. Malik Stith is an undersized point guard who will make for a nice back up early on; he isn’t going to bring any dynamic playmaking abilities to the table, but he manages the offense well. The Red Storm will get an added scoring punch from JuCo transfers Dwight Hardy and Justin Browlee who are both good athletes with pretty good range on their shots.
Seton Hall Pirates
The Pirates had just one scholarship to play around with this season thanks to the return of nearly everyone on their roster from last season, so Ferrakohn Hall will be the only addition to the roster in the fall. The 6-7 power forward had offers on the table from Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Oregon State before ultimately deciding to journey to the Garden State for his collegiate career. Hall is still very raw at this point and will earn his playing time as an energy player on the defensive end who crashes the offensive glass for his points.
South Florida Bulls
The Bulls will be bringing in a six-man class for the upcoming season with the emphasis being to improve the backcourt around star Dominique Jones. A trio of guards, Mike Burwell, Jordan Dumars and Shaun Noriega all bring perimeter shooting to the table for South Florida. This ability to spread to floor and draw defenses out will allow Jones to penetrate and attack the rim which is where the strength of his game as a bigger guard lies. Junior College transfer Jarrid Famous (6-11, 235) will give the Bulls their biggest body in the middle since Kentrell Gransberry left a couple of seasons ago. Famous won’t necessarily be an offensive presence, but he will be a shot blocking presence who can help out a great deal on the glass.
Jim Boehiem is losing quite a bite of talent from his team last season, but he’s bringing in a great deal of it as well, mainly in the form of Detroit big man DaShonte Riley. At 6-11 with good athleticism and a huge wingspan, Riley just oozes with the potential to one day be a low post force in the Big East. Right now he makes his biggest impact on the defensive end as a shot blocker and rebounder, but his post footwork has improved and he is even showing signs of developing the ability to hit the open foul line jumper. Shooting guard Brandon Tiche and small forward James Sutherland, both New York products, are equally dangerous when given space to get off their shot on the perimeter. The biggest challenge facing both players right now is improving the ability to attack defenders off the dribble and add more versatility to their offensive repertoires.
If there’s one team that can lay claim to having a better recruiting class in the Big East then UConn, it is most certainly Villanova. The Wildcats inked four players ranked in the ESPN top 100, including McDonald’s All-Americans Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns. Cheek, a 6-6 shooting guard out of Jersey City, has great size for his position, but is equally as athletic making him super versatile for a perimeter player. He rebounds well for a guard and is an excellent three-point shooter who will be able to make an impact shooting the ball right away. Wayns is an excellent point guard out of Philadelphia who has the court vision and passing skills to develop into one of the elite floor generals in the conference one day. The other two members of Jay Wright’s latest group are high school teammates Mouphtauo Yarou and Isaiah Armwood out of Montrose Christian in Maryland. Yarou may have the most upside of any player in this class; a 6-9 235-pound man child, the power forward will give Villanova its first true interior presence in several years. His post game still has a ways to go, but for the time being his strength and hustle will allow him to be a scoring presence down low immediately. Armwood is listed as a power forward, but the super thin 6-7 senior looks like he is on his way to moving to the small forward spot in a couple of years. Armwood has solid handles, good range on his shot and is exceptionally versatile and athletic for the four position. Give this class a year to mesh together and Villanova has an great shot at being back in the Final Four once again.
West Virginia Mountaineers
For the second straight season the Mountaineers bring in a talent crop of newcomers to Morgantown. Dan Jennings (6-9, 240) will be a big body that can step in from day one and rebound the basketball while taking up a tremendous amount of space with his frame. Deniz Kilicli from Mountain State Academy is looking like the most intriguing prospect out of this group. The 6-9 center moves well for a big man and has exceptionally soft hands around the basket. Give him a year to adjust to life in the Big East and he will develop into a very nice player on the block for West Virginia. Dalton Pepper, a 6-5 shooting guard, has a very solid build packing 215 pounds. This extra muscle will allow him to push past weaker guards on the perimeter, though his bread and butter is his ability to bury the three on a consistent basis. The last addition is another shooting guard, Casey Mitchell out of JuCo powerhouse Chipola. Mitchell received interest from Tennessee and UAB, but will bring his scoring punch from the wing to the Mountaineers next season.