- Paul Biancardi, Basketball Recruiting
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For college coaches the process of evaluating and recruiting talent is never-ending. So, although the 2009 recruiting cycle came to a close on Wednesday, most coaches turned their attention to 2010 when they completed their class weeks, or even months, ago.
The top gun
The 2009 class had some very strong perimeter players -- led by Texas commit Avery Bradley (Tacoma, Wash./Findlay Prep) and Kansas commit Xavier Henry (Oklahoma City/Putnam City). That looks to be the case with in 2010, as well.
In this initial edition of the 2010 ESPNU 100, SG Harrison Barnes (Ames, Iowa) is our top-ranked prospect. Barnes has all the ideal attributes to be a special player at the 2-guard position. When we talk about an elite player, greatness begins with his approach. Barnes has that aspect of the sport down pat. He approaches situations with poise and is confident in his ability. Barnes knows his strengths and how to use them to make others around him better.
Of course, physical gifts also go a long way toward greatness. Barnes is a very good shooter; he's effective from long range and is adept in the all-important middle game (a skill that is somewhat lost with today's youngsters). When Barnes puts the ball on the floor, he slashes his way to the basket and finishes at the rim. He can also initiate offense with his strong ballhandling and passing ability.
At 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds, Barnes' size allows him to be an effective perimeter defender and rebounder. When he gets a rebound, Barnes is quick to push the ball up the court and create a fast-break situation.
Barnes' long frame and athleticism allow him to be an impact perimeter defender. On that end of the court, he approaches the game with energy and urgency. He can be a lockdown man defender and is also a very good shot-blocker.
I'd like to see Barnes be in nonstop attack mode. There are times that he defers to teammates when he could easily make plays himself. That type of killer instinct takes time, however. Besides that, Barnes is an elite basketball player and a very good kid (an honor-roll student).
Nearly every major program in the country is after Barnes -- including Duke, North Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma, Kentucky and both Iowa schools. He has yet to narrow down a list of finalists for his potential college destination.
Wings worth watching
As I previously mentioned, the 2010 class has a lot of depth at the wings. In addition to Barnes, two perimeter prospects bound for Big Ten schools have shown big-time talent.
Illinois recruit Jereme Richmond (Waukegan, Ill.) is ranked No. 5 in the ESPNU 100. Richmond's athleticism is off the charts, but he also has tons of basketball skill. His feathery jumper extends beyond the 3-point line and he's one of the best passers, regardless of position, in this class. He needs to continue to work on solid dribble moves and on beating his man off the dribble with a change of speeds.
DeShaun Thomas (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers), an Ohio State-bound SF, will give the folks in Columbus plenty to cheer about. Thomas, who ranks No. 7 in the Class of 2010, is an excellent athlete, and that trait makes him a very good rebounder and versatile defender. He also is a capable shooter from long range.
Blockbuster big men
Not to be outdone, a trio of big men are also among the elite prospects in the Class of 2010.
Checking in at No. 2 is Texas commit Tristan Thompson (Henderson, Nev./Findlay Prep). The 6-9 Thompson is among the most athletic big men in the prep ranks. He has good range on his jumper, which extends to about 15 feet. However, Thompson is at his best facing up and putting the ball on the floor; his long frame and soft touch make him a devastating finisher in the paint. Defensively, he needs to concentrate on denying his man touches in the post. He is good at blocking his man's shot or coming from the weak side. Thompson's intensity has been doubted at times, but I expect that to change. He knows he needs to approach each possession with passion and focus to consistently maximize his ability.
In our most recent Super 60 rankings, Jared Sullinger (Columbus, Ohio/Northland) held down the top spot. The Ohio State commit falls to No. 4 this time around, but that is more about other players picking up their games than any kind of letdown on Sullinger's part. In fact, Sullinger has had a very strong spring on the club circuit. He has shown the ability to score inside and with his jumper. Because of his strong frame (6-8, 250), Sullinger is very difficult for opponents to handle on the post. To make the most of his talents in college, it's imperative for Sullinger to keep in shape. If he does that, with his size and skill, he can be an elite post player at the next level.
Like Sullinger, Joshua Smith (Kentwood, Wash.) is a powerful post prospect. Smith, who is the No. 6 prospect in the 2010 class, is surprisingly explosive around the basket given his size (6-9, 280). He rebounds well in a crowd and is very difficult for smaller players to box out. Defensively, Smith is a good shot-blocker when guarding his man or coming from the weak side. We'd like to see him work on his post moves and run the floor with more consistency. Smith has yet to pick a college and is considering tons of high-major offers, with interest from marquee programs across the nation.
Promising point guards
Checking in at No. 3 in the new rankings is Brandon Knight (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Pine Crest), the best point guard in the class. Knight's skills were already elite, but he has become even better by adding a long-range jumper to his arsenal. He looks to have become much stronger in his upper body. Knight dominates games with the ball in his hands; he can get wherever he wants off the bounce. Knight is more of a scoring point guard, but he knows how to run a team in the half court or on the break. His game is similar to that of current New Jersey Nets point guard Devin Harris. Both players have speed with the ball in the open floor and a quick first step to the basket. Once in the lane, Knight utilizes his pull-up jumper or finishes through contact for the old fashioned three-point play.
This past spring, ESPN RISE named Knight the Gatorade National Player of the Year. That award was the cherry on top for Knight after he led Pine Crest to a second consecutive state championship. Knight is one of the country's most sought-after prospects. All the best programs in America are vying for his services.
Knight isn't the only elite point guard in the 2010 class. Kyrie Irving (Elizabeth, N.J./St. Patrick) is also on the wish list of college coaches from coast to coast. Irving, the son of former BU great Drederick Irving, is a tremendous athlete. He's a terrific ballhandler and passer and could play either guard position at the next level -- though we like him best at the point. Irving has yet to commit to a college.
Paul Biancardi, who spent 2007-08 as an assistant coach on Rick Majerus' staff at Saint Louis University, is the national recruiting director for ESPN Scouts Inc. He has 18 years of coaching experience at the Division I level. He was an assistant at Boston University, Boston College and Ohio State before becoming the head coach at Wright State, where he earned Horizon League Coach of the Year honors in the 2003-04 season.