The Pac-10 might not have received the national buzz in 2009 that it had in years past, but the conference was still stocked with talent. In fact, in Chad Ford's initial 2009 NBA mock draft, he had four players from the league projected to go in the top 10 in next month's draft. The 2009 recruiting class will bring a fresh batch of skilled prospects to one of America's elite leagues. Here's a look at a few players and classes worth watching in the Pac-10.
Top class: UCLA Bruins
Ben Howland's 2009 class is deep and talented. This is a group that will help keep UCLA at the top of the Pac-10. Tyler Honeycutt (Sylmar, Calif.), a versatile 6-foot-8 small forward, is the headliner. Honeycutt is a player with unbelievable athleticism and an advanced offensive skill set. I'd like to see him take over games more, but that killer instinct should come with time. Another promising prospect at the 3 is Mike Moser (Portland, Ore./Grant). Moser is not a great shooter yet, but he does everything else quite well. His defensive ability and high basketball IQ should get him on the court early in Westwood.
This class is huge overall, with no prospect shorter than 6-7, and the three interior prospects -- PFs Brendan Lane (Rocklin, Calif.) and a href="http://insider.espn.go.com/ncb/recruiting/tracker/player?recruitId=42900">Reeves Nelson (Modesto, Calif./Modesto Christian) and C Anthony Stover (Los Angeles/Windward) -- all have major potential. Lane is a finesse big, with range out to the 3-point line. Nelson, on the other hand, is a tenacious rebounder and tough guard down low. Stover has great length and athleticism, but he is very raw.
Surprise class: Oregon State
Craig Robinson definitely has a once-woeful program heading in the right direction. The Beavers' five-man class is led by ESPNU 100 prospect Roberto Nelson (Santa Barbara, Calif.). Nelson is a very strong guard who plays with a scorer's mindset. He should be an important part of the Beavers' offense next season.
Up front, Oregon State added the dynamic Australian duo of 6-9 Angus Brandt (Lake Forest, Ill./ Lake Forest Academy) and 6-7 Rhys Murphy (Lee, Maine/Lee Academy). Brandt has a great feel for the game and excels as a face-up power forward. He has the ability to score utilizing the turn-and-face move when he gets on the block. Murphy is a pure shooter from the wing. Joe Burton (Hemet, Calif./West Valley) is a big-bodied prospect who could be a force in the low block.
Top recruit: PG Abdul Gaddy, Washington
The University of Washington received an explosive performance from its dynamic freshman, 5-9 Isaiah Thomas, during the 2008-09 season. He is more of a combo guard who can get his own shot at anytime; he averaged 15 ppg. On the other hand, Thomas averaged only 2.6 apg and 2.6 turnovers -- not exactly what you want from your point guard.
However, Lorenzo Romar took advantage of some misfortune in Tucson and snagged the purest point guard in the land in 6-3 Abdul Gaddy (Tacoma, Wash./ Bellarmine Prep) from the claws of the Wildcats during the early signing period. Gaddy isn't the quickest or most explosive point guard in the country, but he has the best feel for the position, and he is still very young -- two years younger than classmate John Wall. His jump shot has improved dramatically in the past couple years and he possesses great size to see over opposing defenses.
During the 2009-10 season Romar will have the luxury to utilize a three-guard offense with Thomas, Gaddy and Venoy Overton. There is a lot of versatility and skill with this group, not to mention solid depth.
Top newcomer (transfer): PF Alex Stepheson, USC
Stepheson, who redshirted last season, will have two years of eligibility for the Trojans -- and the timing couldn't have been any sweeter for the Trojans faithful. During his redshirt season there have been positive reports from those close to the program of how Stepheson has impacted practices, especially on the defensive end. He doesn't possess the interior offensive skills and footwork of the recently departed Taj Gibson, but he will provide an outstanding defensive presence in the middle with his shot-blocking and rebounding. Stepheson has a very strong frame with very long arms and isn't afraid to mix it up in the paint area.
Sleeper recruit: F Victor Rudd, Arizona State
Rudd, who played most of his senior season at Nevada's Findlay Prep before leaving the team, improved his stock tremendously this past season. A 6-7 athlete, he has refined his jumper to the point that he is a threat from the midrange. His quickness makes him a tough matchup for traditional power forwards and he's on the big side for a 3. Look for him to contribute right away for ASU. He has the potential to be a major impact player as an upperclassman.
Joel Francisco has been a high school basketball scout for 15 years. He has written for Hoop Scoop Magazine and Basketball Times and organized "So-Cal's Finest," his own scouting service.