Commentary

Northeast highlighted by top centers

Michael Gilchrist, Khem Birch and Rakeem Christmas among best in the Northeast

Originally Published: April 19, 2011
By Adam Finkelstein | ESPN Recruiting

With the high school basketball season wrapping up, here is a look at the top players and biggest surprises in the Northeast for the 2011 class.

Michael Gilchrist, SF (Somerdale, N.J./St. Patrick)
Gilchrist spent the first three years of his high school career as the top-ranked player in the class, and while his career didn't end with that distinction, he still goes down as a pure winner with an unmatched attitude, work ethic and commitment to winning basketball games. Moving forward he is sure to make an immediate impact at Kentucky, but still has to concentrate on developing his perimeter skills in order to have a position at the highest level.

Khem Birch, C (Montreal/Notre Dame Prep)
Birch is a Canadian native who became an immediate star upon arriving in New England in the spring of 2008 thanks to his length and freakish athleticism. The gradual evolution of his all-around game had him ranked as the second-best junior in the country coming into this year, only to pull a surprise when he signed with Pittsburgh and announced he was reclassifying to 2011. He'll make his most immediate contributions on the defensive end next year, while continuing to develop his interior skills on the offensive end.

[+] EnlargeChristmas
Kelly KlineRakeem Christmas is the No. 19 overall player in the 2011 class.

Rakeem Christmas, C (Philadelphia/Academy of New Church)
The McDonald's All-American has tremendous talent and potential, but the Syracuse-bound big man has never been able to completely figure it out. He finishes his high school career almost as well known for the inconsistency of his effort and attitude as he is for his dominant shot-blocking and rebounding. If coach Jim Boeheim finds a way to keep him motivated on a daily basis he could have the Big East Rookie of the Year; if not, he'll have his second disappointing blue-chip center in as many years.

Michael Carter-Williams, SG (Hamilton, Mass./St. Andrew's)
The summer of 2009 saw Carter-Williams' recruiting stock take off with breakout performances at both the Nike Peach Jam and AAU nationals. While he committed to Syracuse just a few months later, it wasn't for some time that people started to realize what the Orange had. The last 15 months have seen MCW shoot up the national rankings, culminating with a spot in the McDonald's All-American Game. Now the combo guard with great size and a silky-smooth skill set needs only increased muscle mass before he's able to make a big impact in the Big East.

Jakarr Sampson, SF (Wolfeboro, N.H./Brewster Academy)
Sampson is an Ohio native who is long, lanky, athletic and can do a lot of different things on the floor. He has good ball skills and is a very good slasher to the basket (especially going right). His length and athleticism make him a good rebounder. He can grab boards and turn them into immediate fastbreaks, pushing the ball himself. Look for him to be a prime contender for playing time at St. John's once he arrives on campus. Sampson needs to improve as a shooter and get stronger, but the rest of the package is there.

Maurice Harkless, SF (Queens/South Kent School)
Harkless is one of six ESPNU 100 players heading to St. John's next year, and while he is already considered one of the top swingmen in the country, what stands out about the New York native is just how much room he still has to develop. An incredibly high-level athlete who makes plays by virtue of his length and athleticism, his upside is through the roof if he can ever develop a consistent half-court skill set.

LaQuinton Ross, SF (Jackson, Miss./Life Center Academy)
Ross is as talented a small forward as there is in the country. He has size, length, athleticism and a well-rounded skill set including 3-point range, a dependable pull-up game, and even some polish with his back to the basket. However, he has to address a couple of glaring weaknesses in his lack of upper-body strength and a motor that gets stuck in idle. Much like Christmas, Ross is a guy who can be as good as he wants to be but has to decide if he's willing to pay the price.

Erik Copes, C (Philadelphia/Imhotep Charter)
He could be the most important recruit Karl Hobbs has ever landed at George Washington. Not only is he one of the premier big men in America but his commitment also came at a time when Hobbs was fighting to keep his job. Luckily for Hobbs, Copes' uncle, Roland Houston, is an assistant at GW, otherwise this story could have had a much different ending. Now this dump truck disguised as a man has an opportunity to have a big impact for all four years of his career and contend for rookie of the year honors in the Atlantic 10.

Malcolm Gilbert, C (Philadelphia/Academy of New Church)
It was at the 2010 Rumble in the Bronx when Gilbert's East Coast Elite team met Andre Drummond's Connecticut Basketball Club. Gilbert used his length and phenomenal defensive instincts to block Drummond's shot seven times and lead his team to the title. It was more of the same throughout the summer as Gilbert quickly became known as one of the nation's premier interior defenders and found a place where his talents would be best utilized when he committed to Pittsburgh in August.

Myles Mack, PG (Paterson, N.J./St. Anthony)
New Jersey's premier lead guard is staying home to play for Mike Rice and he arrives with a long résumé of success. He first made a name for himself during his years at Paterson Catholic but transferred to St. Anthony when the school closed. He led Bob Hurley's club to the mythical national championship this year going 33-0, winning the New Jersey Tournament of Champions, knocking off St. Patrick in the process and becoming a more pure point guard along the way.

Five surprises

Pat Connaughton, SF (Arlington, Mass./St. John's Prep)
No player had more of a breakout summer in 2010 than Connaughton, who came into July with one Division I scholarship offer and left with invitations from UCLA, Tennessee, Boston College, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and others. Ultimately, he chose Notre Dame, where he will double as a pitcher for the baseball team and should fit in perfectly in a culture of skilled overachievers that Mike Brey has built his program around.

Elijah Carter, PG (Paterson, N.J./Brewster Academy)
Carter has seen his potential gradually rise to levels no one could have predicted when his high school career began. A combo guard who began his career at St. Anthony and made an early commitment to St. Bonaventure, Carter ultimately decommitted and chose to do a post-graduate year at Brewster Academy where he now finds himself with handfuls of high-major suitors.

Angel Nunez, SF (Bronx/Notre Dame Prep)
The Bronx native saw his recruitment take off in the summer of 2009 with coaches from the nation's most prestigious programs lining up for his services. Unfortunately that summer proved to be the climax of his high school career because he never reached his potential and barely got off the bench for Notre Dame Prep this year. While Nunez is still heading to Louisville next year he has to get much stronger and tougher while changing his approach to the game to have a chance of lasting under Rick Pitino.

Kadeem Jack, PF (Queens/CJEOTO)
Jack is another New York native who saw his recruitment take off in the spring of his senior season at Rice High School, when his suitors included North Carolina, UConn and Arizona. Ultimately, Jack opted to head to prep school at South Kent but his stay was short-lived as he moved to CJEOTO Academy in early November before enrolling at Rutgers for the second semester. Rice could be just the guy to get Jack to play hard every time out, and if that's the case he will have a very bright future.

Jordan Laguerre, SG (Manchester, N.H./New Hampton)
There isn't another player in the Northeast who has a longer résumé of success but is more under the radar than Laguerre. Whether it be the Pittsburgh Jam Fest, Rumble in the Bronx or adidas Super 64, Laguerre always comes to play when the lights are the brightest. He committed to UMass just before last summer's July live period and once again proved to be a steal this year when he finished second in the balloting for NEPSAC player of the year.

Adam Finkelstein has been a coach or scout at the high school, college and pro levels. He was an assistant coach in Division I by the age of 24 and also worked as a scout for Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting.