Weekly Notebook: January 14

Every week we will try to sum up the bigger news stories in the world of recruiting and put into perspective what is going on and how it impacts the game of college basketball going forward.

Big Weekend of Basketball

The Martin Luther King Day weekend is always huge for high school basketball all across the country. This year Scout.com will have coverage of two events. Evan Daniels will be in Springfield, Mass. for the Hoop Hall Classic and Brian Snow will be in Kettering, Ohio for the Flying to the Hoop event.

As always the Hoop Hall is absolutely loaded. The event features five-star prospects such as Anthony Davis, LeBryan Nash, Wayne Blackshear, Michael Gilchrist, Myck Kabongo, Rakeem Christmas, and more. That is just the 2011 talent at the five-star level. In the 2012 class there is Kyle Anderson, Savon Goodman, Shabazz Muhammad, Andre Drummond, and Rosco Allen.

From a team perspective there will be many feature games. A few that really stand out are Jersey City (NJ) St. Anthony's against Hyattsville (MD) DeMatha Catholic, Mouth of the Wilson (VA) Oak Hill Academy facing Alpharetta (GA) Milton High School, and also Dallas (TX) Lincoln High School takes on Henderson (NV) Findlay Prep.

It should be one of the best weekend events of the year as always, and numerous prospects will have impressive matchups that could determine invites to the McDonald's All-American Game as well as standings in the national polls when determining who will come home with the mythical national title.

The Flying to the Hoop event will also be stacked with talent. Before heading to Massachusetts, Davis and his Chicago (IL) Perspectives team will play in Kettering. Also Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Tommy Hamilton, and Gary Harris represent the five-star talent at the event.

Joining those guys are players such as Louisville commitment Negus Webster-Chan, Florida State pledge Aaron Thomas, St. John's commitment Jevon Thomas, Illinois commitment Devin Langford, and more.

Flyin to the Hoop is Saturday through Monday event and features some of the best teams from the Midwest and a few others from around the country.

Two Freshmen to Watch

A lot has been made of 2014 prospects like Trey Lyles, Okafor, and Dakari Johnson. All three of them are physically developed interior players who are obvious can't miss prospects. Lyles has already committed to Indiana while Okafor and Johnson have high-major schools all over them.

However not much has been made of two of the best wings in the class. They would be Justin Jackson out of Houston, Texas and Drake Harris out of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Jackson first opened eyes in July playing up with Houston Hoops 16 and under squad. At the time he was only 6-foot-4 and really skinny, but he had the look of a kid who was about to really grow and also his skill set was undeniable.

Since then Jackson has grown to 6-foot-5, and according to his AAU coach, Marland Lowe, Jackson has continued to get better with his skills this year playing varsity basketball.

"He's having a great freshman year," said Lowe of Jackson. "He is playing against high level varsity competition and is averaging around 24 points per game. It is hard to imagine too many other freshmen averaging more than that on the varsity level."

Even though it is still very early in the process with Jackson, Lowe says that high-major coaches are coming in to watch him play, and they like what they see.

"It is all high-majors recruiting him," said Lowe. "They all love his work ethic and his basketball IQ. They also love his length, his understanding of the game, and his toughness. Even though he has a real skinny frame, he plays tough. He is mentally tough. There is just no quit in him."

When it comes to Harris, the 6-foot-3 shooting guard is a high level athlete and someone who can really score. According to his Meanstreets AAU coach Emanuel Christmas, Harris is off to a good start this season and is showing what he can do on the floor.

"He's special because he has the unique ability to take over a game without even really scoring," said Christmas. "He is like that as a player because he doesn't go out just trying to score 40 points every game. It just comes natural to him. He is a real good teammate. He just wants to win and is a real heady player on the offensive end."

When it comes to recruiting, Harris already has one Big Ten offer with several other schools in the region already showing significant attention.

"Everybody knows that Michigan and Michigan State are after him," said Christmas. "Purdue is in there, and his first offer came from Indiana."

He continued, "The biggest thing they like about Drake is his ability to score at will. His size and athleticism also stands out. He can get to the basket and score from deep. He does need to work on his defense, he knows that, but is working hard at improving that."

Sorting through Indiana in 2013

In the last week Scout.com took to road and has evaluated Zak Irvin, V.J. Beachem, Devin Davis, and Basil Smotherman. All of these wings are from the state of Indiana, and while Davis and Irvin both made the initial Top 35, Beachem and Smotherman were just on the outside of the list. Smotherman was especially close as he was the first player out of the rankings.

It isn't super difficult to determine that all of these prospects have the potential to be good players down the road, but there is a great debate in the state to figure out which is the best of the bunch, and how they will all project going forward.

Irvin, Beachem, and Smotherman are all extremely similar players. All have good length, all are solid athletes, and all can really shoot the ball from the perimeter. They all also need to play with more toughness rebounding the basketball to take better advantage of that length and athleticism. Davis is a bit different as he is a combo forward who plays with a high-motor and is an excellent athlete, but he is lacking the refined skill level that the others have.

After one week of seeing them all in short order, there is no concrete way to sort it out. Having so many similar players living so close to each other is rare, and now they each need to raise the level of their play in order to prove that they are the best in the region.

Commitment Recap

Typically the month of January can be slow for recruiting news. Kids are focused on their high school seasons, coaches are in the middle of the conference play, and with little free time not many prospects are able to make many unofficial visits. However this week there were two very notable commitments.

First it was Jamal Ferguson who committed to Marquette. This was a big pick up for Head Coach Buzz Williams and lead recruiter Aki Collins. Ferguson is a good wing who is athletic, can make shots, and just plays with a non-stop motor.

While Ferguson isn't currently rated in the Scout.com Top 75 for the 2012 class, he was a prospect who was discussed and is certainly on the cusp of entering the rankings if he continues his improvement this summer running with Boo Williams.

The Ferguson commitment was big for Marquette in the middle of the week, and then late in the week Texas added a huge pledge in the form of Cameron Ridley.

Ridley is a five-star prospect and one of the best true low block centers in the class. What makes this commitment so intriguing is it means, at least for one year, that Baylor and Texas will really have a matchup down low. For Texas it will be the power and skill of Ridley against the athleticism and shot blocking ability of Isaiah Austin suiting up for Baylor.

In the battle to control the Big XII, or whatever it will be called, Baylor fired the first strike with Austin, and now Texas answered in a big way with Ridley.

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