Junior centers potentially a historic crop

When filling out a positional depth chart in preparation for a new top 100, the center position almost always lags in terms of rankable prospects. Well, not so in the junior class, where multiple high-major candidates earned consideration for a national slot.

Release a set of rankings and watch all eyes laser in on the top. That’s the nature of rankings: Most everyone enjoys perusing them top to bottom, but only after fully digesting the most elite range first.

And while abundant intrigue exists at the top of the 2016 class — Harry Giles, Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum all hold a legitimate claim to the crown — there’s an added layer of complexity at the center position that largely could define this aggregation of talent.

While no center presently occupies a top three slot, Thon Maker holds down the No. 4 overall position and is one of a whopping 25 post anchors among the top 100. For perspective, the Class of 2015 — itself considered fairly deep at center — features only 19 ranked centers.

The situation was downright ugly in the 2014 and 2013 classes, with only 13 and 14 centers ranking in the top 100, respectively.

Cage is just one of five top-100 junior centers to reside in California

In fact, no class in the history of Scout rankings ever has produced 25 top-100 centers. That factoid extends all the way back to 2002, when Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony roamed the high school landscape.

Caveats do apply. Most notably, these rankings still are quite early and will shift, dramatically, between now and when we finalize them in the 2016 spring. It’s possible we could see even more centers crack the top 100, but simply based on the odds the number would appear more likely to fall.

That’s especially true because big men tend to surface earlier as prospects but develop later, and thus by the end of their senior seasons players who previously received the benefit of the doubt no longer enjoy such a cushion. It’s also possible that some centers will evolve into power forwards, though of course some power forwards also could grow or fill out and become centers.

Numbers aside, let’s examine the specific makeup of this blue-chip assortment.

Maker, who actually might exit the class and move forward into 2015, was an easy call for top dog. His combination of seven-footer size, extraordinary speed and reflexes and improving strength have made him one of the most tantalizing attractions in all of high school basketball.

The conversation begins at No. 2. You could argue any of Marques Bolden, Jarrett Allen, Edrice Adebayo, Omari Spellman or Abdul Ado — all who rank in the overall top 25 — for that secondary position. Most of that quintet already possesses advanced bulk and strength, so colleges that land one of them should expect an immediate impact.

The next tier includes Udoka Azubuike, Isaac Humphries, De’Ron Davis, Tony Bradley, M.J. Cage, Schnider Herard and Derek Funderburk. These prospects generally appear to require more seasoning than those ahead of them, but again, we’re still talking about national top-50 prospects.

There has been a general shift within college basketball toward less power and more finesse, but teams with dominant centers still can enjoy a magnificent advantage. Many fans would consider Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor the country’s most imposing post scorers, so it’s no surprise that Wisconsin (No. 2) and Duke (No. 6) boast extremely efficient offenses.

There aren’t too many Okafors and Kaminskys floating around out there, but even lesser facsimiles can help push a team over the top.

These big men also have lumbered in terms of recruitments. Only two of the 25 ranked centers have issued early pledges: No. 23 center Jon Teske (Michigan) and No. 24 Nick Marshall (Memphis).

With that said, let the battle begin not only among these heralded centers at this year’s tournaments and camps, but among the college coaches feverishly scrambling to procure their services.

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