October 17, 2013

Mailbag: Five-star package deal?

THE LIST: Class of 2015 Rivals150

With college basketball season right around the corner, Rivals.com basketball recruiting analyst Eric Bossi dives into his mailbag.

Package deal?

Is there anything new on Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones? Do you think they will really end up at the same school?
-- Aaron, Kansas City (via email)

I have to admit that towards the end of the summer and earlier this fall I was starting to doubt whether or not Okafor and Jones would end up attending the same school. After having the opportunity to speak with them both in person at USA Basketball a few weeks ago, they sure seemed awfully convincing and the package deal seems to be holding up quite well. So, where do they end up?

It may sound simplistic, but I think how the duo's upcoming round of visits to Kansas and Duke go over the next two weekends should determine the outcome. But, we should still discuss what the latest speculation is heading into the visits.

Let's start with Jones. Ranked No. 5 nationally, the general public and behind the scenes perception has been that the point guard from Apple Valley (Minn.) High is leaning towards Duke and that he has been doing so for a while. Along with Kansas, his other finalists are Baylor and Minnesota. Both Jones and Okafor reported that the Baylor visit was strong and the Bears have been all over him. For now, Minnesota looks to be a serious longshot. The Jayhawks, though, are holding out hope that they can flip Jones in their direction and have been considered by many to be running a close second. Jones himself continues to deny that he has any leader.

Next we have 2014's top player Okafor. The Chicago (Ill.) Whitney Young center is also considering Kentucky along with the previously mentioned Baylor, Duke and Kansas. Like Jones, Okafor has continually denied any leader throughout the process. The behind the scenes talk on Okafor of late, though, has been that if he does have a leader that it is likely Kansas by a slight margin.

One way or another, something has to give and based on recruiting trail talk it is looking like the package deal is most likely to take place for either the Jayhawks or Blue Devils. The good thing is that both plan to sign early and the time for speculation can soon come to an end. Kansas gets their crack this weekend -- and it's no surprise that they've added an open to the crowd practice to the agenda for this weekend -- while Duke gets to make the last pitch next weekend when they host their season opening festivities

Future for Bluiett

What do you think will end up happening with Trevon Bluiett?
-- Scott, Indianapolis (via email)

A four-star prospect who ranks No. 45 nationally, Bluiett somewhat surprisingly backed off of his UCLA commitment a few weeks ago. Now, the Indianapolis (Ind.) Park Tudor star is taking visits and trying to determine who fits him the best.

Last weekend he was at Memphis and he is currently on an official visit to Michigan State. The other players are Xavier and Butler. Purdue has also been mentioned as a possibility but appears to be on the outside looking in.

One of the chief reasons given by Bluiett for his decommitment was distance and it is likely to play a strong factor when he chooses the second time around. Things can still change, but as he heads down the homestretch of his recruitment the feeling is that Xavier holds the edge and will be looking to fight everybody else off to nab the talented shooter.

Aztecs team to beat for Cheathem?

Where will Zylan Cheatham end up? Is San Diego State still the team to beat and where would their class rank nationally if they landed him?
-- Jason, San Diego (via email)

For the bulk of Cheatham's recruitment, the general thought has been that the Aztecs have led for his services. Now, the worm has started to turn a bit and both Washington and New Mexico are making strong plays for the four-star prospect at Phoenix (Ariz.) South Mountain.

Part of the reason that the others have made up ground is that SDSU has been so successful on the recruiting trail. Cheatham very much wants to play on the wing in college and with the commitments of Trey Kell and Malik Pope along with Winston Shepard and Dakarai Allen already on the roster, the wing may be a little crowded in Aztec country. At least, that is what Lobos and Huskies coaches are hoping Cheatham thinks.

The 6-foot-7 forward who ranks No. 73 nationally takes his final trip this weekend and he is likely to have a decision shortly after that. But, at this point it appears to be a very open race. San Diego State may very well land him, but they shouldn't be considered the lock many have thought them to be for a while now.

Different and special

My question is what makes Malik Newman so different and special compared to other two guards that are slightly undersized? Also do you see any O.J. Mayo in Malik?
-- Bigcel4477 (via RivalsHoops message board)

This is something that was covered on the message board but it is a very good question. In the original question, the poster also talked about how there were many other two guards that are in the 6-foot-4 range with strengths similar to Newman who currently ranks No. 1 in the class of 2015.

While there are plenty of 6-foot-4 shooting/combo guards that can do things similar to Newman, there aren't many who do it at the level he does. Newman is an elite shooter, has a great frame, a lighting first step and he is quite skilled as a mid range and at the rim scorer. Much of the time, it simply boils down to a case of defenders having to hope he misses his shot because he's so tough to guard. Over the last year, Newman has also improved his ball handling and passing.

Moving ahead, Newman will be pushed if he wants to keep his top ranking. He does lack ideal size for a high end, next level shooting guard he doesn't appear to be developing into a point guard, at least not at this time. Important to his development will be improving shot selection and adding strength.

As for an O.J. Mayo comparison, that's not a bad one at all. Others that have been thrown around include Eric Gordon, Ben Gordon and even Monta Ellis. He's a little different than each of them, but they are all good examples of shooting/combo guards his size who have been productive NBA players.

Room to improve

I recently read in your article about Sam Cassell, Jr. committing to UConn how he will receive heavy consideration to be upgraded from 3* to 4*. Would you be able to explain a little more as to what you are looking for from Cassell during his freshman year at Chipola to improve his status? Just curious what you have to say.
-- Tom, Coventry, Conn. (via email)

Good question and one that I'll be happy to take a stab at. Keep in mind that Cassell was a Rivals150 player coming out of high school and somebody whose development was on a steep incline. What I really like about him besides his crafty play and ability to play at the one or the two is that he will show up at UConn with loads of maturity and three years to play. Unlike most JUCO transfers who only have two years, Cassell will have three because he redshirted at Chipola. With that redshirt and him taking a prep year, he'll be the age of a typical senior during his sophomore year. Theoretically, that should allow him to be physically and mentally ready to make a contribution. To move to a four-star, I'd like to see a little more consistent shooting and I'm curious to see how sharply developed his point guard skills are. Reports I've gotten on him have been good and because of that he's somebody that I think we need to keep a close eye on for a potential move from three to four-star status .

Eric Bossi is the national basketball recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. You can click here to follow him on Twitter.




 

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