2004. What a year, what a year. Thirteen players announced they'd bypass college for the NBA draft. Several schools received some very surprising news, both good and bad, and the summer was filled with big-time performances from big time players.
2004 was one of the best years in terms of producing top flight prep talent in recent memory. A record 13 players name themselves eligible for the NBA draft, trying to make the jump from amateur status to multi million dollar living. We saw the Orlando Magic take Dwight Howard, the No. 1 prep in 2004, with the number one overall draft pick.
New York Times Magazine writer Peter De Jonge wrote in his beautiful piece about Amare Stoudamire in a story called "The Leap of His Life", "Female genetic lottery winners become supermodels. Male genetic lottery winners play professional basketball." That statement rang the loudest in 2004.
Dwight Howard, Shaun Livingston, Josh Smith, Sebastian Telfair, Robert Swift, Al Jefferson, J.R. Smith, Dorrell Wright were all selected in the 2004 draft.
Guys like Robert Rothbart, Jackie Butler, Jermaine Bell and Maurice Shaw all went undrafted while LaMarcus Aldridge put his name in but decided to pull out and attend Texas instead.
Howard is averaging a double-double as a rookie. Josh Smith, since getting the nod as a starter for the Hawks, is averaging just over 10 points a contest. Jefferson is amongst league leaders in field goal percentage. The Hornets traded veteran David Wesley so J.R. Smith can get minutes in the rotation. He responded with 23 points against the red-hot Phoenix Suns.
The class of 2005 isn't nearly as strong. In fact, most scouts are leery about any preps-to-pros candidates. They do, however, look forward to getting a chance to have Greg Oden, the consensus No. 1 player in the class of 2006. Who wouldn't.
Nowadays, the destination of most players are usually known and the surprise factor is worn off. A couple of prep stars did shock the world with their decisions though. After dragging out his recruitment long past his senior season, Detroit native Malik Hairston picked a school that no one would have even guess.
Hairston, the No. 7 ranked player in the class of 2004, was down to Kansas, Michigan, Ohio State and UCLA in the home stretch of his recruitment. He visited each school. He spoke highly of every program but after a long deliberation, Hairston shocked the world and picked the University of Oregon.
Kansas did strike it rich though when they landed Illinois' Julian Wright. The No. 10 ranked player in the class of 2005 publicly stated that his final three schools were Arizona, DePaul and Illinois but then master recruiter Bill Self came to the Wright home for a visit and he left with a verbal commitment from one the country's most versatile players.
Texas is home to some of the top flight talent in the country but few of the Lone Star State's players are staying home to play their college ball. Kevin Rogers is. The 6-foot-8 power forward from South Oak Cliff High School, a school in the shadows of the Dallas skyline, will go to Waco to be a Baylor Bear. The Big 12 school was not in the picture, at least as Rogers would tell it, until two weeks before he verbally commited to Scott Drew and staff over the likes of Arizona, Georgia Tech and Kansas.
And you are?
Very seldom do players emerge out of the woodwork and become big time national level recruits. Korvotney Barber. The dunk machine from Manchester (Ga.) High School unleashed on anyone and everyone that got in his way at the always-loaded Kingwood Classic. The 6-foot-7 power forward became an instant must-have guy on the national scene and his performance at the NBA Players Association camp helped solidify his standing as a top 50 player in the class of 2005. A wrist injury shelved him for the busy July month. Auburn's location helped sway Barber away from the likes of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Kentucky.
He's one of the biggest players in the country, but Andrew Bynum didn't strike a cord with the high-majors during the spring evaluation period. That changed come July, when coaches could evaluate him again. The 6-foot-11, 280-pound manchild suddenly had offers from Connecticut, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Georgetown and North Carolina. The Huskies won in the end.
Oklahoma State has one of the best recruiting classes in 2005. And it all started with Roderick Flemings. Funny thing is, most people out of Texas don't have a clue as to who he is or what he can do. Flemings, a 6-foot-5, 190-pound shooting guard from DeSoto (Texas) High School, showed everyone what to expect in the Big 12 at the NBA Players Association camp.
Flemings led the prestigious camp in scoring and wowed everyone there with his athleticism and shooting touch from the wing. He instantly became a top 50 level recruit.
Julian Wright gave one of the best performances in Nike Peach Jam history as the Illinois Warriors claimed the championship. Wright, the 6-foot-8 Kansas-bound, wowed the crowd, coaches, fellow players and even his own teammates with his ball-handling, rebounding, scoring and outside shooting. Quite simply, he did it all and did it well.
Prior to July, Jeff Adrien was a player that high-majors were evaluating. Come July 31, he was a player that nearly every high-major school wanted to have on their roster for opening day next year. Adrien, a warrior of a power forward at 6-foot-6, was one of the top players at Nike camp, then he continued to win and punish opponents at the Peach Jam and capped off his great play with another round of bruising play at the AAU Super Showcase and Nationals. Connecticut won out over Kansas. The No. 47 ranked senior signed with the defending National Champions in the early period in November.
Greg Oden, the quiet and humble number one player in the class of 2006, met up with Derick Caracter, the charismatic and cherubic smiling big man that doubles as the No. 6 ranked player in the class of 2006, went head to head at the ABCD camp. The two heavyweights were the match-up that everyone had circled on their schedules and the match-up because their first meeting at the Kingwood Classic didn't live up to the billing.
Oden was contained for the first time since last summer, scoring only six points and grabbing four rebounds. Caracter used a combination of brute strength inside, getting to the foul line often and smart moves. His passing is so strong, too. On one play, he threw a pass in between Oden's legs, sending fans running in the corridors.
Gerald Green had his national coming out party at the Reebok ABCD camp. The 6-foot-8 shooting guard dazzled the field with his offensive attack, scoring on the wing and attacking the basket with no fear and determination. In the Rivals.com rankings that were released shortly after July, Green was crowned as the top player in the class of 2005.
The much bally-hooed O.J. Mayo ate the competition up all summer long. He dominated at the April events, he led the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions in scoring. He was one of the top players at the NBA Players Association camp in Richmond, Va. In July, he picked his poison against every team that came along. Did we mention he had yet to play his sophomore season yet?
Pick any tournament or camp where Bill Walker played and odds are, he'll have the best dunk in the country. At the Kingwood Classic, Walker and his D-I Greyhounds played the 15 and under Houston Hoops in the first game of the loaded event. One on one, Walker came down the floor and almost jumped right over 6-foot-8 Isaiah Rusher.
At the ABCD camp, Walker gave the packed Farleigh Dickson University gym a show in the Underclassmen All Star game. He threw down some of the year's best dunks all at the Reebok camp. Take your pick on which one was the best overall.
This Rivals.com hoops analyst's waistline got bigger and will only continue to do so in 2005. One of the reasons why is the great food at some of the best tournaments/events in the country. Our clear cut winner of the best food is found at the concession stand inside the hallowed Speice Fieldhouse in Fort Wayne, Ind. The barbecue is some of the best around, and that's coming from a native Southern.
In April, Houston was invaded by thousands of basketball players. In both George Bush International and Houston Hobby airports, one of every three persons was either a player, coach and/or college recruiter. Hal Pastner and his Vision Sports team put together the largest and best AAU tournament in the world. Over 400 AAU teams and 500 college recruiters invaded the Lone Star State in a four day period. Pastner told Rivals.com that he was busy at work for the 2005 just minutes after the Academy National Invitational on Dec. 30.
Vegas in July is hot - dry heat or not.
The air conditioner in the Riverview Park in North Augusta, S.C. is the coldest in the country. You feel the sub zero air the minute you walk into the nicest recreation center in the country.
2005 is here and a new year of hoops is upon us. How many guys will make the jump from 2005? Hopefully not a one but it wouldn't shock us if five or so guys tested the waters.
Expect the AAU season to have more energy and more big time performances from those you'd expect to put on a show. With that, expect to see a record breaking number of kids make the move to the NBA.
Expect guys like Daequan Cook, Spencer Hawes, Dave Lighty, Wayne Ellington, Gerald Henderson, Isaiah Dahlman Lance Thomas, Obi Muonelo and Bryce Webster (just to name a few) to be some of the most recruited players in the country. Things will only get crazier before they get calmer.
Expect Rivals.com to once again hit the road hard and see as many as kids as possible.