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Inside the College Game | Greatest Class Ever?

Sun, 02/28/2010 - 1:57am


Eight of the top 11 scorers in the Big Ten are juniors.

As are four of the top five in the Big 12. And four of the top seven in the ACC. And two of the top three in the Big East.

There's a trend here.

Evan TurnerEvan TurnerIn a time where one-and-dones are supposed to be ruling the college game, the junior class has been the dominant force by a longshot this season. Ohio State's Evan Turner looks to be the favorite for all the national Player of the Year awards.

It makes sense, to some degree. Freshmen are great, but juniors have two full seasons under their belts, and that's the type of seasoning you need to be really dominant. Even the guys who are good from day one often make a leap between their second and third years, provided they stick around that long.

It also makes absolutely no sense. This is the same class that lost 10 first rounders after its freshman year, including the top three picks, four of the top five picks and three others who were chosen in the lottery.

The next year, the class lost six more players to the first round, including two more top-three picks. (Keep in mind, these totals don't include DeJuan Blair, DeAndre Jordan or Bill Walker, all second rounders.)

The recruiting class that came into college basketball – by force, I might add – in 2007 has produced nine top-10 picks in the last two years. And it's hardly done.

Turner has been the face of the most dominant class in the nation. You can start with him. But you've got to work your way all the way down: All but three teams in the most recent Associated Press poll's top 20 boast at least one player from the 2007 recruiting class among their top three players. (Syracuse, West Virginia and Tennessee are the outliers.)

Based on the combination of dropouts, draft entrants and players who flunk, this is a highly improbable situation.

And based on the class's dominance over the previous two seasons – keep in mind both runner-ups the last two years were powered by spectacular 2007-class point guards while Michael Beasley and Blake Griffin had the most dominant statistical seasons in the country those two years – I think we've reached a point where this can be said: Barring some improbable flop next season, the high school class of 2007 is the greatest in basketball history.

The depth of the class is what sets it apart. There's still enough star-power to fill out an all-American ballot or NBA Draft lottery. Turner, Patrick Patterson, James Anderson, Cole Aldrich, Gani Lawal, Larry Sanders, Dominique Jones, Craig Brackins and Solomon Alabi are all projected first-rounders right now, while Kyle Singler, and Armon Johnson could be.

Kalin Lucas might be the best leader in college basketball today. JaJuan Johnson was a top Big Ten Player of the Year candidate last season, and this year he's not even a top-five junior in the league.

But I'm not here to spout off a list of names. I'm a believer that there is no such thing as coincidence. Everything has a logical explanation, even if it's less fun to talk about that side of things.

We've established that the current junior class has left a bigger imprint on college basketball than any other. The bigger question is, why?

1. The high school and AAU circuits are peaking. Twenty years ago, college basketball was the first time players regularly competed against top competition. No more.

With the massive sprawl of the AAU circuit, players barely care about beating up on weak high school foes. They hone their games in the summer against the best players in their age groups. They represent their country in U20 games.

By the time a five-star recruit enters college, he'll have probably played more than half the number of games he ends up playing in his entire career. There's a reason the prep-to-pro program started slow – as talented as Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady were, they weren't ready from day one, unlike Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James and Dwight Howard.

The 2007 class happened to stand out even on the AAU circuit. Aran Smith, tells me the Big Time title game and talent in Las Vegas in the summer of 2006 was the best he'd ever seen. That game featured Derrick Rose and Eric Gordon facing off against Kevin Love, Renardo Sidney, Daniel Hackett, Taylor King and Class of 2008 star Brandon Jennings.

But we can't leave it at that. Because we've only explained why it is logical for the best recruiting class ever to come from this era. Still, we've seen very clearly this season that not every class is special these days, as the freshman class remains mired in mediocrity with a few exceptions. That brings us to...

2. The best players made sure they would get playing time. O.J. Mayo went to USC to be the best player in school history. Maybe he didn't accomplish his mission, but he'll be remembered – even if part of his legacy is being the central figure in recruiting violations.

J.J. Hickson went to N.C. State. Harden went to Arizona State. Anthony Randolph went to LSU. Mac Koshwal went to DePaul. Brackins went to Iowa State. And that's just a few top-20 prospects, according to Rivals.

The great majority of top players in this class got immediate playing time and were focal points in their offenses by midway through their freshmen years. Sure, Kyle Singler went to Duke. But Duke had a weak frontcourt he knew he could crack. Same for Love at UCLA and Gordon in Indiana's backcourt.

A few top players in this class, to be sure, had slow starts. Of Rivals' 28 five-star players, though, just seven weren't starters by the end of the year. And Jordan probably would have been, had he not worked his way into Mark Turgeon's doghouse at Texas A&M.

Those seven, by the way, were Jordan, Chandler Parsons, Jamelle Horne, Austin Daye, Beas Hamga and Corey Stokes. Daye was the No. 15 pick of the 2009 NBA Draft. Parsons and Horne have been solid forwards this year for Florida and Arizona, respectively. Stokes still hasn't broken out, but many expect him to next year for Villanova.

That leaves Hamga, the only true bust of the 28 five-star recruits. (The last I'd heard, Hamga had transferred to Valparaiso then left and may be at a junior college now. Any information on his whereabouts is welcome)

So we've figured out that nearly every top recruit was given an opportunity to play. But we haven't figured out why so many of them panned out. And we haven't even touched the four-star recruits (guys like Turner, Kalin Lucas, LaceDarius Dunn and many more), despite the fact that it is those players who have primarily been the dominant players in the NCAA right now. Which leads me to...

3. The surrounding classes were shallow. OK, maybe this is a copout rationale. But the 2006 recruiting class produced two top-notch talents, Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, and a few other really good players.

Many of those guys are still around, and I'm taking no shots at Scottie Reynolds, Damion James and the rest of this senior class.

But lets face it: The best players from that class all left early in their careers, and the few stragglers who are now seniors haven't been a very dominant bunch.

Take, for instance, Obi Muonelo of Oklahoma State. Muonelo was a major signing for the Cowboys, a top-20 recruit in 2006. He's become a steady player, averaging 13.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting an exceptional 44.5 percent from 3-point range.

But Muonelo didn't develop into the star many projected him to become. That onus fell onto James Anderson the next season. Anderson has led the Cowboys in scoring all three years he's been in Stillwater, Okla. He's now the Big 12's top scorer and a potential all-American.

The quick successes of the 2007 class left many recruits in the 2008 class wary of making sure they could get their own playing time. As a result, players such as Tyreke Evans and DeMar DeRozan eschewed schools that had returning stars in favor of places where they could be the center of attention.

Perhaps the most gifted player in the class, Brandon Jennings, ended up in Europe for elegibility reasons.

Another top freshman from the 2008 class, B.J. Mullens, decided to attend Ohio State, only to find himself a bench player in a support role for Turner and fellow 2007-class members Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale, and freshman William Buford, who fit better with the existing mix.

But really...

4. Maybe there just isn't a good reason. To be honest, we have yet to figure out a good reason for the talent level of the 2007 recruiting class. I'm not sure I believe that a bunch of players born in 1988 and 1989 were simply randomly selected to be great at basketball. But it seems that way.

I like to avoid copouts whenever possible. And I'd really like to hear your reasonings on why the current junior class remains so dominant after losing more talent than any class ever has after two years of college.

But no matter how you want to spin their success, we need to appreciate it. Next year, the great majority of this class will be gone. In two years, even Herb Pope will have moved on.

We talk a lot about looking for the next 1984-quality draft class. We found that in 2003. Will we find another recruiting class like 2006? Frankly, I'm not sure why we would. Then again, I'm not sure why we wouldn't.



Game notes:

Purdue losing (junior) Robbie Hummel might not hurt as much as everyone is expecting. It might hurt worse. The Boilermakers were 2-3 last year without Hummel, who missed time with various injuries. One of those wins was against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. … Here's a stat: Gonzaga guard Stephen Gray has shot just 25 percent from the field in the Bulldogs' five losses this year. He's a marksman, and when he's on, you're probably not going to beat them. When he's off, though, the team struggles. Oh, he's a junior, by the way. … The Atlantic-10 features the best conference race in the country. If you're not watching, check it out. Richmond, Temple and Xavier are deadlocked atop the league at 11-2 or 12-2, and Charlotte, Saint Louis, Rhode Island and preseason favorite Dayton are all good enough to win the conference tournament. … Despite losing to Tennessee, Kentucky's going to run away with the SEC regular season crown, and I would be shocked if they didn't win the league tournament, too. But with such a young team, it would have really helped the Wildcats to play in a tougher conference just for the experience. … Four No. 1 seeds right now are Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Duke. If Purdue wins Sunday at Michigan State, they may have a case … Yes, I still feel pretty certain Kansas will win it all. … That's all for today. Have a good one, enjoy an outstanding lineup of games and feel free to shoot me an e-mail at [email protected]. Thanks for reading.

Slim
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2004 PG: Rajon

2004

PG: Rajon Rondo/DeMarcus Nelson/Daniel Gibson/Shaun Livingston/Jordan Farmar/A. J. Price/Sebastian Telfair/Kyle Lowry, Ramon Sessions, Toney Douglas, Chris Lofton
SG: Rudy Gay/Dorell Wright/J. R. Smith/Nick Young/Courtney Lee/Arron Afflalo/Antony Morrow/Kyle Weaver
SF: Josh Smith/Jeff Green/Marvin Williams/Corey Brewer/Dominic McGuire/Darnell Jackson
F-C: Dwight Howard,Al Horford,Al Jefferson,Glen Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge,Joakim Noah, Andray Blatche, Sean Williams, DJ White, Joakim Noah, Lorenzo Mata-Real/Jason Smith/Roy Hibbert/Jason Thompson/Joey Dorsey

Slim
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PG: Rajon Rondo, Shaun

PG: Rajon Rondo, Shaun Livingston, Toney Douglas
SG: Rudy Gay, J. R. Smith, Antony Morrow
SF: Josh Smith,Jeff Green,Marvin Williams
PF:Al Jefferson, Al Horford, Jeff Green
C: Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert

no 2007 is not the best class ever

sayounh
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nice article. But I just

nice article. But I just wanted to correct you that JaJuan Johnson is not the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, Kalin Lucas is.

Mkadoza
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Let Your Game Speak, in

Let Your Game Speak, in three years we will see how the class has progressed. The earliest entries have only been in the league for 2 years. A lot of the players you named also came straight from High School, so they've had even more time to establish themselves. Again, time will tell, but with players like, Beasley, Lover, Rose, Gordon, Mayo, Turner, Randolph, Harden, Flynn, Griffin, Bayless, Jordan, Blair, Hickson, Aldrich, Johnson, Brackins, the Morris twins, this class has a ton of potential.

speedy61807
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yea nice list let your game

yea nice list let your game speak, ive always said that the 2004 high school is the best ever, i just finished telling my friend the other day how many high schoolers from 2004 r in the nba right now and he was like wow, thats alot from one high school class

illinimanmark
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I don't buy the first reason

I don't buy the first reason of "high school and AAU circuits are peaking". If this is true then all classes in today's age should be stacked, but this is not always the case.

Adi Joseph
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Those of you hyping 2004, I

Those of you hyping 2004, I admit that the top player is better. For now, at least, Rose is not Howard. But the depth doesn't compare. There were far more top players who ended up not being good, and that class was not as far along after just three seasons as this one is.

By the 2007-08 season, the 2004 class had five NBA starters. This 2007 class already has seven and wasn't afforded the opportunity to jump from prep to pro, not to mention that Blake Griffin doesn't count and neither does Kevin Love, since for whatever reason, Love doesn't start.

I think you'll see in five years what I'm getting at.

Either way, my main point was this recruiting class has had a bigger impact on college basketball than any other, since this is a college basketball column. And prep-to-pro players aren't actually recruits. I don't think you could stack the 2004 recruiting class against the 2007 recruiting class, even if the biggest reason for that is that 2007 players were forced to go to college.

Anyway, thanks for the correction about Lucas. And thanks for the other feedback. 

FastAndFurious
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PG: Rajon Rondo, Shaun

PG: Rajon Rondo, Shaun Livingston, Toney Douglas
SG: Rudy Gay, J. R. Smith, Antony Morrow
SF: Josh Smith,Jeff Green,Marvin Williams
PF:Al Jefferson, Al Horford, Jeff Green
C: Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert

no 2007 is not the best class ever

2007:

PG: Derrick Rose, Johnny Flynn, Jeff Teague
SG: OJ Mayo, Eric Gordon, Jerryd Bayless
SF: Evan Turner, Austin Daye, Bill Walker
PF: Michael Beasley, Blake Griffin, Dejuan Blair
C: Kevin Love, Deandre Jordan, J.J Hickson

2007 All The Way, PLUS 2007 was VERY deep they have loads and loads of more people such as James Harden, Donte Green, Kalin Lucas, Corey Fisher, Nick Calathes, E'twaun Moore, Manny Harris, Austin Freeman, Kyle Singler, Chandler Parsons, James Anderson, Patrick Patterson, Anthony Randolph, JuJuan Johnson

And Loads of others.

whiteflash
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Gotta be honest, didn't read

Gotta be honest, didn't read the article just read the title. With that, the Highschool class of 1995 is the best class of all-time, and it's not even close.

pwells2788h
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Beas Hamga

As of December 2009, Beas Hamga was playing at Weatherford College (juco) in Texas with Kevin Durant's cousin.

Paul Wells

droppindimes247
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When you try to correct the

When you try to correct the writer of an article I suggest that you can read and comprehend what he says. The article reads that JaJuan Johnson was a leading contender for B10 player of the year last year; not the B10 player of the year like you said he stated. Don't read the articles just to pick out flaws that you imagine to be there. Enough with the negative it was a good read, this current junior class is stacked however with the new 1 and done rules you can not calculate how some of the dominant players to skip college would have been in school not to mention the ones that flopped going straight from high school to the pros. Would they have become monsters in college? Maybe they all have mature bodies that allow them to get drafted straight from high school leading to probable dominance against college competition.

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