Ten storylines to look for in July
There is no better time to be a recruiting junkie than July. Watching story lines play out, prospects blow up and listening to the daily scuttlebutt from the circuit is priceless for those of us who are emotionally involved in college basketball's second season. ESPN Recruiting is dispatching our entire staff to events throughout the country July 5, so here are 10 themes we're just as interested as you are in seeing play out:
Can Woodbury do it again?
Raise your hand if you had Adam Woodbury (Sioux City, Iowa/East) winning MVP honors at the NBPA Top 100 camp. The No. 57-ranked player is going to crack the top 50 the next time we produce a list. The big question is does he move closer to the top 25 and into All-America status or slide a few spots neatly into the top 50 based off his NBPA Top 100 Camp effort. We expect a slew of head coaches to track him from the LeBron James Skills Academy to the Nike EYBL Peach Jam, each thinking the same thing. If Woodbury replicates his NBPA Top 100 Camp effort, it'll take him no more than a day or two to turn into the hottest center prospect in the country, not named Andre Drummond (Middletown, Conn./St. Thomas More) or Kaleb Tarczewski (Claremont, N.H./St. Mark's). The biggest leap is going from good to great and Woodbury has a chance to earn that distinction in July.
When does Kentucky strike first?
Understand this, we aren't pushing the panic button, but this is Big Blue Nation and you can never underestimate the passion Wildcats fans have for their Kentucky team. The facts are this: Kentucky has three straight No. 1-ranked recruiting classes, which is absurdly successful. However, coach John Calipari enters this summer without a single commitment in the 2012 class. If he's to make it four straight No. 1's, he'd better hurry because the clock is ticking. It's almost like Calipari knows something about the NBA lockout no one else does, like a rule change keeping kids in college longer or something along those lines. Predicting where Kentucky's first pledge comes from isn't easy. Maybe Archie Goodwin (Little Rock, Ark./Sylvan Hills), DaJuan Coleman (Dewitt, N.Y./Jamesville-Dewitt) or Ricardo Ledo (Providence, R.I./Notre Dame Prep)? The best way to find out will be to see where Calipari positions himself July 6-10 -- the opening few days of the period. Remember, Kentucky does already have NC State transfer point guard Ryan Harrow sitting out for next season.
The chase for bigs
For the first few days in July, it would be helpful if elite college coaches were allowed to wear electronic ankle bracelets. That way, we'd be able to track their whereabouts and believe me, they need to be tracked. Seriously, there are so many impactful bigs within the top 30 overall prospects, it would awesome to track how the head coaches position themselves for these big men. Ten of the top 15 in the ESPNU 100 are bigs and seven of the 10 are still available. Baylor, Texas and Arizona already have their guys and are greedy to add another. For my money, the big story line of the first period is which head coaches attach themselves to certain prospects. Mitch McGary (Chesterton, Ind./Brewster Academy) is likely to draw a huge crowd simply because many of the schools recruiting him haven't been able to spend quality face time with him. In that same vein, it'll be fun to see which big-time programs follow around Coleman exclusively. It seems like Syracuse has a good stranglehold, but Kentucky won't give up. Can anyone pry Brandon Ashley (Oakland, Calif./Findlay Prep) from the grips of Arizona or Oregon? North Carolina coach Roy Williams, Kansas coach Bill Self and Arizona coach Sean Miller are going to see each other a lot now that Tarczewski cemented his list. Which one will blink first?
The battle for supremacy in 2012
This is getting good and the heat is on the big boys from the Class of 2012. Drummond scored a win against Isaiah Austin (Arlington, Texas/Grace Prep) for the rights to be called the top big man prospect for now. However, in Drummond's rearview mirror barreling down the 2012 highway is Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman). If Muhammad can stay healthy this summer and replicate the effort he put forth at the Pangos All-American Camp, he's smack dab in the middle of the conversation for best prospect in the senior class. Stay tuned.
Will Las Vegas survive?
There's a lot to like about Las Vegas in July. The pool at the Palms, dinner at a fine steakhouse ... then there's the heat and more importantly the cost of traveling to Sin City for basketball. Over the past three years, we've seen a steady decline in participation by teams in Vegas. The proliferation of other national events and the growth of places like Phoenix and Orlando on the circuit have curbed the allure of Vegas in July. This year there are three major events from July 22-26 and it's a litmus test for the future to see if Vegas remains a viable end-of-summer stop.
Randle vs. Parker vs. Noel
Julius Randle (Dallas/Prestonwood) was the top talent at the recent Amare Stoudemire Skills Academy. Nerlens Noel (Tilton, Mass./Tilton School) was the No. 1 underclassmen at the NBPA Top 100 Camp. Jabari Parker (Chicago/Simeon) won a gold medal and was named MVP of the FIBA America's championship while starring with USA Basketball last month. Three elite juniors with outstanding résumés. One of them will earn the right to enter the fall of his junior seasons as the top underclassman in America. The next 3½ weeks will be amazing and the action gets started at the LeBron James Skills Academy, and each is slated to attend. Guys like Chris Walker (Bonifay, Fla./Holmes County), Aaron Gordon (San Jose, Calif./Archbishop Mitty) and Chris Thomas (Denver, Colo./Princeton CD) are going to need hefty summers to catch these guys.
Top spot in 2014 is cloudy too
Heading into July, an argument could be made for as many as eight players to carry the distinction as top prospect in the 2014 class. Seriously, there's no great separator at the top, at least not yet. Theo Pinson (Greensboro, N.C./Oak Ridge) is our choice heading into the summer, but his rearview mirror shows plenty of traffic giving chase. We know Andrew Wiggins (Toronto/Vaughn) is the top prospect in Canada; his father played at Florida State. Jahlil Okafor (Chicago/Whitney Young) first staved off Dakari Johnson (New York/St. Patrick) for a spot on USA's team and then moved into a starring role for the squad. Tre Lyles (Indianapolis/Arsenal Tech), Wayne Selden (Boston/Tilton) -- who was the unofficial MVP at the Nike Elite 100 -- Justin Jackson (Houston/Home School) and Emmanuel Mudiay (Arlington, Texas/Grace Prep) are going to be factors. A personal favorite, Tyus Jones (Apple Valley, Minn./Apple Valley) is possibly the best pure point guard in high school basketball, all classes included. Think 2014's loaded? We do too!
Sleeper on the rise
One of the guys I'd personally like to see a lot of this summer is Danrad Knowles (Houston/Home School). "Chicken" is a wiry thin, skilled combo forward with a big upside. He made a strong impression in the spring and was a standout at the NBPA Top 100 Camp. Now the big lights of July are on him and the stands are going to be packed with the guys who control the scholarships. No way Chicken lays an egg in July, right? As for other sleepers to watch, pay attention to guard Christian Sanders (Houston/Saint Thomas), power forward Devin Thomas (Harrisburg, Pa./Central Dauphin), forward Skylar Spencer (Los Angeles/Price) and center Mike Hall (Atlanta/Woodward Academy).
Team Takeover vs. the field
There's a bulls-eye on the back of the boys from Team Takeover. Keith Stevens guided his tight-knit group to last year's EYBL Peach Jam title and Takeover is 15-0 coming into the final EYBL event of the summer. A second consecutive championship would be an amazing feat for a team that is exceptionally close. James Robinson (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha), BeeJay Anya (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha), Jerami Grant (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha) and Arnaud Moto (Fairfax, Va./Paul VI) like playing together so much they requested to be on the same team at the NBPA Top 100 Camp. Sorry, fellas, the family was broken up at camp, but they'll reunite in North Augusta, S.C., to defend their coveted title.
New coaches on the trail
Mark Gottfried was good on television for us at ESPN, but now he's back in the college game and NC State feels like it has been given a shot in the arm on the recruiting circuit. Down in Lubbock, Texas, Billy Gillispie is back in business in his native area. These are merely two of the 52 head coaches that were hired since the carousel started spinning during the season. Lots of young gun assistant coaches, like Rodney Terry (Texas to Fresno State), Archie Miller (Arizona to Dayton), Rob Murphy (Syracuse to Eastern Michigan), Andy Enfield (FSU to Florida Gulf Coast), Steve Masiello (Louisville to Manhattan), Mark Montgomery (Michigan State to Northern Illinois), Dave Rice (BYU to UNLV), Paul Lusk (Purdue to Missouri State) and Pat Skerry (Pittsburgh to Towson), are getting their first crack as well. This is the first summer on the trail without the safety net of a head coach. It'll be fun watching to see which ones become rising stars in the profession.
Dave Telep is the senior basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. His college basketball scouting service is used by more than 225 colleges and numerous NBA teams. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.