Five biggest topics in high school hoops

What are the biggest storylines in high school hoops? After traveling the country the past few months watching the nation's elite and gathering information, I took a stab at what I think are the biggest topics surrounding the world of basketball recruiting.

SHOE BATTLES ARE BACK

One of the biggest storylines brewing in high school hoops isn’t on the court, but it certainly impacts things on it. Now more than ever the
Shoe companies set their live period cities
shoe company battle appears to be building and there have been recent changes at the top of the three shoe companies involved in grassroots. Carlton DeBose was moved up to run Nike’s grassroots efforts and has plenty of help from Vince Baldwin and his crew of regional scouts -- John Stovall, Chad Babel, Mike Mayo and Van Johnson. Nick Blatchford is now running the show at Under Armour and is flanked by Chris Hightower, Hanif Hill, Patrick Coombs and Shaun Scott. While Chris Rivers – who used to run Reebok’s grassroots efforts and the famous ABCD camp – and Jim Gatto appear to be overseeing the new regime at adidas, Anthony Coleman and Corey Butler will be the guys on the ground floor.

As of late, Nike has dominated the grassroots scene with their coveted and unbelievably organized EYBL format. Although we are three months away from the April live period, it’s never too early to discuss. The dates and locations were confirmed by sources at each brand. Nike will hold their live events in Hampton, Va. (April 10-12) and Lexington, Ky. (April 24-26). The Lexington location is new to the EYBL circuit and will be held at the Kentucky Basketball Academy. Under Armour made a strong push this past July and they appear ready to challenge Nike with the launch of their UA Association circuit. Under Armour will host their live events in New Orleans (April 10-12) and in Louisville, Ky. (April 24-26). adidas’ new crew was just put in place and based on the history of who is leading the way, they will be competitive. The adidas live period events will be in Dallas (April 10-12) and Indianapolis (april 24-26). 10 to 15 years ago the shoe battles were vicious and cutthroat and from what I gather they are headed back in that direction. Should make for a fun, entertaining summer.

TANTALIZING TRIO

Harry Giles is an elite 2016 prospect
I’ve been covering the basketball recruiting scene full time since 2007 and in that time span I don’t recall seeing a trio at the top of the rankings quite as good as Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Josh Jackson. Each of the 2016 prospects are different and bring something unique to the table, but all three are effective in their own way. Tatum does it with his skill and advanced scoring arsenal from the wing. Giles impacts the game with his rebounding, athleticism and ability to score just about every way you would want a 6-foot-10 power forward too. Then there’s Jackson, who is tracking as one of the best athletes in the high school ranks in recently memory. He’s competitive, a terrific passer and has a chance to be an elite perimeter defender. Attempting to rank those three is difficult and they’ve made it that much harder with their outstanding play this season. When we update the 2016 rankings in the next couple weeks we’ll toss a number next to their names, but this debate is far from over.

TRACKING NO. 1 IN 2015

Much like the top of the 2016 class, the race for the best player in the 2015 class is tight. While most think 2016 is tougher to navigate, my colleague Brian Snow thinks 2015 is much tougher to hash out, and he may be right. Our current rankings have Jaylen Brown sitting at No.
Jaylen Brown sits at No. 1
1 and he’s done nothing but back up that call. In fact, he helped Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler to the City of Palms Classic crown and was named MVP of the event and was sensational at the Hoop Hall Classic. Brown is a tremendous athlete, with impressive size for a small forward. He’s terrific in transition, has a great motor and has a chance to be an elite perimeter defender. If he improves his ball handling and his shot keeps developing at the same rate, Brown’s potential is through the roof.

But that call isn’t universal and to be honest, most around high school basketball don’t agree with our No. 1 ranking. And I’m 100-percent OK with that. Keep in mind we are searching for the best prospect, not the most productive player. There’s a difference. Regardless, in my eyes Ben Simmons and Skal Labissiere have positioned themselves nicely as we inch towards the final rankings. At 6-foot-8, pushing 6-9, Simmons is a strong, physical driver with a unique game. He’s physically dominant, a terrific passer and is a tremendous finisher at the rim. The next step for Simmons is developing a perimeter shot and post moves. Labissiere, a Kentucky signee, is a 6-11 prospect with every tool you look for in a post player. He’s not able to play physical yet, but he has the hands, touch, post game, face up game and shot blocking ability that you look for. The options are good and a final call won't be made until after the post season all-star games.

AYTON TOP PROSPECT IN COUNTRY?

Sophomore DeAndre Ayton may be best prospect regardless of class
Above I mentioned how good of prospects the top players in the 2015 and 2016 classes are, but at this stage I’m not sure any of those guys are better prospects than current sophomore DeAndre Ayton. The 6-foot-11 center has a terrific basketball frame, as he possesses wide shoulders, lengthy arms and a solid base. Athletically, he’s gifted. He’s mobile, moves his feet well and has no issues getting off the floor. Ayton is a terrific passer and to a fault, he’s almost too unselfish. He’s blessed with terrific hands and nice touch in the paint. He can also make mid-range jump shots. On defense, his pure size, length and athleticism impact the game. He gobbles up boards and is a rim protector that makes the opposition think twice about attacking the basket. Ayton is a special talent and one that is tracking as the best long-term prospect in high school basketball.

WHERE WILL THE ELITES END UP?

Seven of the top 11 prospects in the 2015 class remain uncommitted, so there’s a lot to still play out in terms of recruiting class rankings. Arizona, Kentucky and Texas A&M
Still a lot to play out for Bill Self’s 2015 recruiting class
currently sit at the top of the rankings, but with the amount of high-level players still available that will likely change. The common theme among the remaining available players is most are being recruited by Kentucky and Kansas. Kentucky, who already has the No. 2 class, is still involved with Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Stephen Zimmerman, Cheick Diallo, Caleb Swanigan, Malik Newman and Brandon Ingram. Recent history tells us that they won’t miss on all of them. Kansas has just one pledge – Carlton Bragg – but are involved with all of the same players Kentucky is, except Swanigan. When it’s said and done I expect Kansas to join Kentucky in the top three. Arizona, who is currently sitting at the pole position, is still actively pursuing Rabb and Zimmerman. A commitment from one of them could possibly lock up No. 1, considering they already have three five-star commitments. Majority of these players have said they want to wait out the process. I expect McDonald’s All-American week to be heavy for college commitments.

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