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Wednesday, August 27, 2008
North Carolina's talented class leads the way

By Bob Gibbons
Scouts Inc.

The fall signing period for college basketball, Nov. 12-19, is about three months away, and we are on the brink of college coaches' fall contact period, which begins Sept. 9 and extends through Oct. 5. So players' verbal commitments could really start multiplying.

Already, 60 players in the 2009 ESPNU 100 have chosen their future college. Of those players who have made their decisions, 14 of them are ranked in the top 30 and 27 are in the top 50.

Only three of the top 15 prospects, however, have decided where they'll attend college. These highly rated and still-undecided players, including the top two prospects, 6-6 G/F Xavier Henry, and 6-9 PF Derrick Favors, could significantly impact the final positioning of the 2009 fall recruiting classes.

Although these current recruiting rankings undoubtedly will change during the coming months, we thought it timely to revise and update the pre-summer recruiting list from May. North Carolina, with commitments from five players in the ESPNU top 50, retains the No. 1 spot.

Villanova, with a recent commitment from one of the nation's top sleepers, No. 27 6-9 C/F Mouphtaou Yarou (Woodstock, Va./Massanutten Military Academy), vaulted to No. 2. Three of its recruits are ranked in the top 35. Georgetown, Texas A&M and Marquette complete the top five current classes.

ESPN.com's top 10 recruiting classes

John Henson
John Henson is the No. 3 prospect in the ESPNU 150.
1. North Carolina, five verbal commitments

The Tar Heels struck early and assembled a highly talented class with five top 50 players who could make up a formidable team. This group is headed by No. 3 prospect power forward John Henson, who recently moved with his family to Tampa, Fla. He will play his senior year at Sickles High School. Henson had a tremendous summer, after which he made a considerable jump in the player rankings, and he has unlimited potential as he adds strength and weight. Other top newcomers for coach Roy Williams are No. 19 prospect Dexter Strickland (Elizabeth, N.J./ St. Patrick), a 6-3 combo guard; No. 25, 6-5 guard Leslie McDonald (Eads, Tenn./ Briarcrest Christian); and the highly skilled Wear twins, No. 49 David Wear and No. 50 Travis Wear (Santa Ana, Calif./ Mater Dei). The Tar Heels could lock up the top recruiting ranking if they can get No. 12 prospect, 6-9 forward Ryan Kelly (Raleigh, N.C./ Ravenscroft).

2. Villanova, three verbal commits

Coach Jay Wright's Wildcats ascended to No. 2 by securing commitments from three players among the top 35, led by No. 22 Maalik Wayns (Philadelphia/ Roman Catholic). The 6-footer projects as the consummate future floor leader at Villanova. The Wildcats also have Yarou, a native of of Benin, Africa, who emerged as one of the nation's best power players this summer; and No. 31 Isaiah Armwood (Rockville, Md./ Montrose Christian), a versatile 6-8 P/WF. Villanova could challenge North Carolina for top honors if it lands No. 11 Dominic Cheek (Jersey City, N.J./ St. Anthony) -- a sweet-shooting, 6-6 guard -- and No. 33, 6-10 C Aaric Murray (Concordville, Pa./ Glen Mills).

3. Georgetown, three verbal commits

Coach John Thompson III and the Hoyas have a strong three-member class of two ESPNU 100 players and one of the nation's top prep school talents. Six-foot-8 PF Chris Braswell (Chatham, Va./ Hargrave Military Academy) was a 2008 Hoyas signee, but he did not achieve the academic requirements to enroll at Georgetown this fall and will spend next year as a postgraduate player at Hargrave Military. Braswell, a force inside, will be one of the top-rated prep school players. The Hoyas also have No. 32 DaShonte Riley (Beverly Hills, Mich./ Detroit Country Day), a talented but inconsistent 6-10 C/F, and No. 75, gifted 6-7 WF Hollis Thompson (Los Angeles, Calif./ Loyola). Several highly ranked prospects are considering Georgetown, so it could advance in the final rankings.

Dashonte Riley
Is Dashonte Riley going to be Georgetown's next great center?

4. Texas A&M, three verbal commits

Coach Mark Turgeon and his hard-working staff continued their outstanding recruiting success for the Aggies; Texas A&M has received commitments from three ESPNU 100 players. They are No. 59 Naji Hibbert (Hyattsville, Md./ DeMatha), a multitalented 6-5 2G, No. 64 Khris Middleton (Charleston, S.C./ Porter Gaud), a high-scoring 6-6 WF, and No. 87Kourtney Roberson (Acadia, La.), a powerful inside operative.

5. Marquette, three verbal commits

New head coach Buzz Williams has recruited well since replacing Tom Crean at Marquette. The Golden Eagles already have three ESPNU 100 recruits and are looking to add more. Marquette's class is headlined by Junior Cadougan (originally from Toronto, but attending classes at the Christian Life Center in Humble, Texas). The 6-1 Cadougan was one of the top point guards on the summer circuit. No. 76 Jeronne Maymon (Madison, Wis./ Madison Memorial), a 6-7 power forward, is the state's second-best player. Six-foot-7 WF Erik Williams (Cypress, Texas/ Cypress Springs) is ranked No. 97.

6. N.C. State, three verbal commitments

Coach Sidney Lowe has again landed recruits from the talent-rich state of Georgia; among them are two ESPNU 100 players. Lorenzo Brown (Roswell, Ga./ Centennial), No. 48, can play both backcourt positions, and 6-8 PF Richard Howell (Marietta, Ga./ Wheeler), rated No. 58, will join him in North Carolina. Howell played on the same travel team as N.C. State's freshman standout of last year, J. J. Hickson, who was drafted by the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers. Howell has the potential to make an impact comparable to that of Hickson for the Wolfpack next year. Coach Lowe also has a commitment from one of the nation's best perimeter shooters, potential ESPNU 100 prospect 6-5 2G Scott Wood (Marion, Ind.). Although the Wolfpack now have players for all three of their available scholarships, they are still involved in talks with No. 81, 6-5 G/F Garrius Adams (Apex, N.C./ Middle Creek).

7. Connecticut, two verbal commits

Coach Jim Calhoun and the Huskies have received commitments from two players in the top 40. One of the top big men of the summer, No. 20 6-8 PF Alex Oriakhi (Tilton, N.H./ The Tilton School), is headed to Storrs. Joining him will be his high school teammate, No. 38 Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, who's a versatile, high-scoring wing. UConn will move up if the Huskies can close on any of the highly rated targets they are pursuing.

Erik Murphy
Erik Murphy is athletic enough to play in Florida's up-tempo system.

8. Florida, two verbal commits

You can always count on coach Billy Donovan to have a nationally ranked recruiting class, and this year is no exception. The Gators now have commitments from No. 24, 6-10 PF Erik Murphy (Southborough, Mass./ St. Mark's School) and No. 36, 6-10 C/F DeShawn Painter (Chatham, Va./ Hargrave Military Academy). Murphy is one of the most talented all-around big men in the nation. He is a perfect fit for Donovan's playing style. Painter is a superb athlete, but he must get stronger. If the Gators can grab shooting star 6-3 2G Kenny Boynton (Plantation, Fla./ American Heritage), who is ranked No. 13, their class could move up to No. 2.

9. Georgia Tech, four commits

Coach Paul Hewitt and his staff have gotten four talented recruits, including two ESPNU 100 players. The group is led by No. 41 Kammeon Holsey (Sparta, Ga./ Hancock Central), a versatile 6-8 forward, and No. 47 Mfon Udofia (Lithonia, Ga./ Miller Grove), a hard-nosed, 6-3 combo guard. The Yellow Jackets also have commitments from two other nationally ranked players, 6-5 G/F Glen Rice Jr. (Marietta, Ga./ Walton) and hot-shooting 6-6 WF Brian Oliver (New Castle, Del./ William Penn). Georgia Tech appears to be one of the top schools for No. 2 prospect Derrick Favors (Atlanta, Ga./ South Atlanta). The Yellow Jackets could challenge for top honors if they add Favors.

10. Illinois, four verbal commits

Based on our revised ESPNU 100, the Illini fell from the No. 2 spot to No. 10. Coach Bruce Weber now has two ESPNU 100 commitments -- No. 56, guard D.J. Richardson, who will attend Henderson, Nev./Findlay Prep for his senior year and No. 69, 6-9 PF Tyler Griffey (Wildwood, Mo./ Lafayette). Both Richardson and Griffey had outstanding performances in July and could elevate in the final player ratings. Illinois signed two other highly regarded backcourt players, 6-4 Brandon Paul (Gurnee, Ill./ Warren), who could turn out to be the Illini's top recruit next year, and 6-3 combo guard Joe Bertrand (Sterling, Ill.).

Honorable mentions

Louisville, three verbal commits

Once again, coach Rick Pitino and his Cardinals will have a highly ranked recruiting class. Louisville now has two ESPNU 100 players. No. 28 Peyton Siva (Seattle/ Franklin) is a tough, talented point guard. Athletic big man Rakeem Buckles (Opa-Locka, Fla./ Monsignor Pace), ranked No. 74, is well-suited for the team's style of play. The Cardinals also have gotten unranked sharpshooter, 6-5 2G Mike Marra (Northfield, Mass./ Northfield-Mount Hermon). Do not be surprised if Coach Pitino adds more talent to this class.

Oklahoma, three verbal commitments

Coach Jeff Capel's Sooners have three commitments, including two ESPNU 100 players. No. 37, point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin (Mouth of Wilson, Va./ Oak Hill Academy) is the Sooners' top recruit. He is joined by No. 92, 6-5 G/F Steven Pledger (Chesapeake, Va./ Atlantic Shores Christian); and unranked, but productive, 6-9 PF/C Kyle Hardrick (Norman, Okla.). Mason-Griffin is a strong, compact, spark plug lead guard who stood out against the nation's top point guards in July. He will be an outstanding future floor leader for the Sooners.

Other programs that could rank in the top 25:

Arizona (3 verbals), Arizona State (2), Auburn (2), Baylor (2), Clemson (3), Duke (1), Indiana (4), Iowa (2), Kansas State (2), Kentucky (2), Memphis (2), Michigan (2), Michigan State (2), New Mexico (3), Oklahoma State (3), Pittsburgh (2), Purdue (4), Southern California (2), UAB (2), UCLA (2), UNLV (4), Virginia (2), Virginia Tech (4), West Virginia (3), Wisconsin (2) Rutgers (2) and St. John's (2)

Bob Gibbons is a recruiting director for ESPN Scouts Inc. He is the editor and publisher of the All Star Sports Report and is widely regarded as the recruiting guru of college basketball.