Notebook: Mississippi Rising?

In our weekly Notebook feature, the national team explores creative and broad topics from the grassroots hoops realm.

Magnolia State programs gaining for Newman

This past weekend was huge for football within the borders of the state of Mississippi, with Ole Miss and Mississippi State each winning huge home games. Now there is also some buzz regarding their basketball programs possibly landing one of the elite recruits in the country.

Early on in his recruitment the conventional wisdom was that Kentucky was the team to beat for five-star Malik Newman (pictured above), but more and more the buzz continues to grow that Newman will stay home to play his college basketball, and that Ole Miss as well as Mississippi State have an excellent shot at his commitment.

Clearly this isn't to discount Kentucky, because you never do that with John Calipari, but the drumbeats have gotten louder about this over the past month. All of Newman's family have ties to Mississippi State, including that being where his father was a player, but there is more than just that.

Newman is starting to like the idea of staying close to home and leading one of the in-state programs. With that said, Ole Miss is definitely becoming a major factor in this race. The Rebels hosted Newman on an official visit this weekend, and there is at least some talk that they have momentum in this recruitment.

Mississippi State is also right there in the mix, and Newman is extremely familiar with that program as well. A visit to Kentucky will come and both of the in-state schools will have to hold their breath when that happens, but needless to say this recruitment is getting very interesting and it might be more than football making a big rise within the Magnolia State.

— Brian Snow

Zimmerman balls out

The biggest takeaway for me from the USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team mini-camp was the play of Stephen Zimmerman.

In the spring and summer, Zimmerman, a 7-foot post prospect out of Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, didn’t play with the confidence and assertiveness I’d seen from him throughout his high school career.

USAB was a huge bounce back for Zimmerman

But at the USA Basketball event this past weekend, Zimmerman was nothing short of spectacular. He appeared to have an extra bounce in his step and consistently played hard each and every possession.

Zimmerman was in good shape and even appeared more athletic than my last viewing, as he was racing end-to-end and looking to dunk everything around the basket. Zimmerman also consistently buried mid-range jump shots and used his ball skills to attack from the high post.

Zimmerman, a five-star prospect, was also very good on the defensive end and from a rebounding standpoint. He was active, protected the rim and reeled in boards in and out of his area.

This type of performance against quality competition should give Zimmerman some serious confidence heading into his final season at Bishop Gorman, where they are the favorite to win the state championship.

— Evan Daniels

Big 12 Blues

What in the world is going on with Big 12 recruiting? The conference literally has no programs represented among the country's top 20 hauls for the Class of 2015.

And yes, all usual caveats apply. It's another month before the fall signing period opens, and of course Big 12 programs historically have been busy in the spring as well. Moreover, there probably isn't a recruitnik alive who would bet against Kansas signing a top 10 class, much less top 20.

Still, this is a league desperately needing a talent infusion. Its Midwestern neighbor, the Big Ten, continues to reel in strong classes and features a conference that's fairly solid from top to bottom.

Meanwhile, a Big 12 defector to the SEC — Texas A&M — presently holds the No. 8 class nationally. At a time when Bill Self's Jayhawks have dominated the league for years, the gap between the top and bottom of the conference actually appears to be widening.

There's hope, of course. Oklahoma State recently picked up a commitment from blue-chip point guard Jawun Evans, West Virginia, Baylor and Texas also hold impressive pledges, and Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg resides as one of the country's best young coaches.

But the point stands. Among the power conferences, the league clearly is playing catch-up.

— Rob Harrington

Bagley top Arizona prospect in several years

Elite basketball prospects don't grow on trees in the state of Arizona. There have been several good ones to come out of the state, from Mike Bibby to Sean Elliott to Richard Jefferson, but it's not a place where future pros are very common.

The last five-star prospect to come from Arizona was Phoenix Saint Mary's shooting guard Jerryd Bayless, whom rated as the 9th best prospect in the 2007 class. Bayless, as good a high school and college player as he was at Arizona, was still a 6-foot-3 shooting guard, which capped his ultimate upside.

Before Bayless, the last elite prospect from the state was Richard Jefferson in 1998. The Phoenix Moon Valley small forward had much better size for the position at 6-foot-7, and has turned out to be a successful pro. Jefferson is considered one of the top prospects in the state's history, along with players such as Mike Bibby and Sean Elliott.

Over the last couple of years, word had been spreading about an emerging hooper from Arizona who is a comparable prospect to those aforementioned players at the same stage in Marvin Bagley, a 6-foot-10, 210-pound 2018 power forward out of Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol. tries not to watch players before their freshmen seasons, unless the play up, so this was our first viewing of Bagley, and he more than met the hype in the one day he played at USA Basketball. His size for position, athleticism, frame and skill set are all high level for a freshman, and he certainly is well on his way to being an elite prospect out of the 2018 class.

There's a long way to go, but Bagley currently has offers from Arizona, Arizona State and Connecticut, and you can expect that offer list to significantly expand over the coming months and years.

— Josh Gershon

Evan Daniels, Brian Snow, Josh Gershon and Rob Harrington contributed to this report

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