Top junior guards on the west coast

Even though the college basketball season isn't over yet, it's never too early to be looking ahead in recruiting. For many programs, they've been recruiting the junior class primarily for quite a while. And in just a few weeks, when the spring tournaments heat up during the evaluation period, it will be the first time that many college coaches have seen many of the potential prospects for the first time in a long time.

Throughout the spring and summer recruiting periods, we'll be bringing you a steady stream of recruiting and scouting stories from the west coast. While it won't really start getting frenzied until at least the Easter tournaments in April, we wanted to give you a little taste before then.

So, here's a look at the top five guards in the junior class in the west that haven't committed yet. DeMarcus Nelson, 6-3 SG, Vallejo (Calif.) High, would be on this list, but he committed to Duke some time ago, so we're leaving him off this scouting report. These are current the top five guards – either point guards or shooting guards – and going into April, it's good that you get to know them.

Now there is of course a chance that more guards will emerge on the west coast that could crack this top five list, but these are the top five as of March.

Jordan Farmar, 6-1 JR PG Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft. Farmar will likely be ranked as the #1 point guard prospect in the West Coast class of 2004 when we update our rankings in the spring. Farmar is unusual for a point guard in that he has the mentality and feel of a pure point – runs the team, distributes, creates for others – but also has the ability to get his own shot. He's a very good outside shooter, while also possessing a good mid-range shot. But his best attribute might be his feel for the game. He's one of those players who is thinking a step ahead of everyone else on the court. His passing ability is somewhat under-utilized on his high school team – the talent isn't very good and he's forced to score in order for them to win. The one question mark about Farmar at the highest level will be physical. He's close to 6-1, but he has a slight frame and there's a question of whether he'll be strong enough early in his career. He's more explosive than you'd think – gets up very well – and he has good, but not exceptional, quickness. He does need to work harder at the defensive end. He'll occasionally take plays off, but he carries such a burden at the offensive end that you can understand why he's not always giving maximum effort on defense. Farmar has expressed a desire to leave Southern California for college. Gonzaga right now has an early solid lead, since he's been up to Spokane for an unofficial visit and likes the atmosphere around the program. Stanford is recruiting him, and he's taken an unofficial visit to Palo Alto, and Kansas has shown interest, as well as others, like Pittsburgh. Florida recently got involved and offered Farmar, and most recently Farmar's childhood favorite Arizona has gotten involved. The family reports that Arizona has offered a scholarship, but sources out of Arizona report that they haven't. Farmar did take an unofficial visit to Tucson last weekend and came away very impressed. Playing time could be a factor for him at Arizona, though. UCLA, also, with a new coach, could become a player for Farmar. If Farmar holds out until summer before making his decision, his recruitment should get pretty wild. He'll probably, by summer's end, be a top 50 national player.

Arron Afflalo, 6-4 JR SG Compton (Calif.) Centennial. The likely #1 SG in the west, Afflalo has shown considerable improvement in the last year. Physically, his body has gotten longer and leaner, and he moves much better now than a year ago. He's played point guard at Centennial for a couple years and he's benefited from the experience. He has a good feel for the game and he's more than just a "catch and shoot" guy. He can put it on the floor, shoot off the dribble and he'll find open teammates. He will likely be a very serviceable back-up point guard option, in addition to playing shooting guard. Afflalo is not super quick – he's more in the mold of a big, strong two-guard who can score all over the court. He'll post up in the mid-post and take advantage of his size and strength. He's got a very quick release and he can stroke it consistently from three-point range. He's a good, not great, athlete and he has decent hops. He will work hard on defense. He did a very good job defending Bryce Taylor in the CIF championship game Saturday at the Pond. You'd also have to say that he looked a bit better than Taylor in that game, really showing the tough, take-control kind of attitude and aggressiveness, while Taylor took off for a long period of the game. Afflalo has listed a number of schools – like Stanford, UCLA, Arizona, Kansas, Louisville, Oregon and USC. He's generally listed as a Top 40 national player right now and will probably only cement that rep this spring and summer.

Gabriel Pruitt, 6-2 JR PG Los Angeles (Calif.) Westchester. Pruitt was ineligible this season due to some paperwork problems with his transfer from Compton Centennial. He's played mostly off the ball his first two years in high school, but he's got a point guard's feel for the game and we think there's still a chance he ends up at the one. His ball handling was improved when we saw him in the summer. In the early fall, we saw him in a tournament game play perhaps as well as we'd seen him – and he probably only took three shots the entire game. Pruitt's athleticism has shown dramatic improvement in the last year. He gets up very well now and he's able to finish inside. His outside shot is feathery soft and he'll be fine as a two-guard if it turns out that he can't play PG at a high level. Pruitt is still very slender, but he's adding weight and strength, and he should be ready to play right away as a freshman. Like a lot of West Coast players, Pruitt tends to rely a bit too much on his skill level. It's a very finesse-oriented game in the west. He could use a little more grit and toughness in his game. There's no way of knowing how much of an effect the year off will have on Pruitt's development. He's a gym rat, so we know he's been working out on his own and playing as much as he can. We'll have a better feel for where he is with his game when we see him this spring and summer. However, based on where he was at the end of last summer, Pruitt is still getting some heavy early recruiting attention. Last we checked with him in late January he listed Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon, Syracuse, Texas and UCLA. He'll definitely get attention from high majors from all over the country, and probably be a top 60 or better national prospect.

Bryce Taylor, 6-3 JR SG, Studio City (Calif.) Harvard-Westlake. If scoring is what you want, Taylor would be the top priority. He's one of the best pure shooters on the west coast and the best among the five on this list – and this is a pretty impressive list of shooters. He catches and shoots with the best of them, and he doesn't really have a limitation on the range of his outside jumper. Taylor, though, isn't just a catch-and-shoot guy but can score in many different ways. He's very good at a one-dribble pull-up, gets into the lane to score well, and can take it all the way to the hoop with some pretty good hops. His body is still just okay, not really as sleek as you might want, but it's improved and continues to improve. He has just decent quickness. His approach to the game has also improved drastically in the last year. He used to be a bit of a pouter, but now maintains a great poker face and doesn't let anything get to him. He could sustain better effort on defense. He doesn't bring as much to the game as Afflalo – the ability to run a team like a point or pass the ball – but he is a better scorer and shooter. Taylor gave us a list of Arizona, California, Duke, Kansas, Oregon, Oregon State, San Diego State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah and Washington. He's a top 50 national caliber player and will get recruited nationally.

Quentin Thomas, 6-2 JR PG, Oakland (Calif.) Tech. It's interesting – Thomas might have the most longterm potential of anyone on this list but might be less coveted at this point. Now, saying he's the lowest priority of anyone on this list isn't dissing the kid – again, this is a pretty elite list. Thomas's game, though, is probably the least developed of the guards on this list, and he might be the least ready to help a team as a freshman in 2004-2005. But, it's still really early for the high school class of 2004; Thomas very well could develop enough in the year and a half before he enrolls in college and be just as ready – if not more ready – than the other prospects. He has the potential, as stated, to be the best on this list. He has great size for a point guard – at 6-2 – and a great body, one that could definitely put on more weight and muscle, and already has. He's the quickest guy on this list, and it's not really even close. And at 6-2, with a good body, to have such quickness and athleticism, makes him the most intriguing. And it's not as if his basketball skills aren't good – they are, just the skills of the rest of the guys on this list are considerable at this stage in their development. Thomas's shot has actually improved, and he has a good-looking stroke. His ability to run a team and make decisions has also improved. He already is probably the best ballhandler, probably besting Farmar in this category since he's bigger, stronger and quicker, which enables him to get by defenders easier. We're waiting anxiously to watch Thomas this spring and summer since it's a case where it's probably better to see him play with an AAU team than his high school team. Some elite schools are already on him, including Kansas, Oregon, UCLA, USC, Cal, Georgia and Georgia Tech and he has interest in Arizona. If he steps up this spring, look for Thomas to be potentially one of the hottest commodities in the west and a top 50 national prospect. Top Stories