The Class of 2007 is one such group. Featuring luminaries such as Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Kevin Love, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Gordon, Michael Beasley and others, multiple players to emerge from that class have notched significant achievements in college or the NBA.
At least over the past decade, it’s the group that most of us in the industry mention first when discussion legacy classes.
The 1995 class also warrants inclusion in this column. It’s generally remembered as the best of its decade, and for good reason: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, Stephon Marbury, Antawn Jamison and Chauncey Billups among the stars.
That class also holds significance as the first in the modern era to produce a high school-to-NBA player (Garnett), which ushered in a revolutionary wave of prepsters bypassing college for the league until the NBA halted that possibility more than a decade later.
There’s no clear leader from the 1980s, but 1989 certainly warrants mention for producing the finest center in the past quarter century — Shaquille O’Neal — along with one of the most celebrated point guards ever in Kenny Anderson, plus Bobby Hurley, Jim Jackson, Allan Houston and other future pros.
That takes us back to the Class of 1979. The first generation of national high school scouts frequently regard this particular aggregation as the very best ever, and analyzing the top it’s difficult to argue.
Ralph Sampson was the consensus No. 1 and, while younger fans may not be familiar with the name, he was a 7-4 center who went on to become a three-time national player of the year at Virginia and the No. 1 pick in the 1983 NBA draft. He averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds per game as a rookie for the Houston Rockets, but his career became sidetracked by a slew of back and knee injuries.
But Sampson had company in that great 1979 class. Players such as Isiah Thomas, James Worthy, Dominique Wilkins, Clark Kellogg, Sidney Green, Sam Bowie attained memorable — or even epic — success either in college or the NBA, or both.
That brings us back to the Class of 2016. So far, at least, the group appears to hold the most potential of any we’ve seen thus far in the current decade. It’s still too early to draw definitive conclusions about any of those classes, but from a rankings perspective the top 25 in this class proved extremely difficult.
Not only do established stars such as Harry Giles, Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum hold down the top, one easily could make the a for players outside the top 20 such as T.J. Leaf and Tyus Battle enjoying long NBA careers. Even outside the top 35, a mobile and skilled 6-8 forward like Javin DeLaurier could ascend all the way to the pros.
It’s not that anyone would expect all of the top prospects to proceed to collegiate or NBA stardom, but with so many realistic candidates for such distinction, everyone associated with grassroots basketball is excited to watch the process unfold.