The 2011 NBA Draft is firmly in our rear-view mirror, so it's time to put our focus to the future prospects of drafts, one, two, three and four years down the road. Kyrie Irving, Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Brandon Knight and Josh Selby heard their names called without even finishing their freshman year of college and there will be several more future NBA prospects in this year's class. Here are the ten teams with the best recruiting class:
10. Syracuse Orange
Replacing an all-league center in Rick Jackson is never easy, but with several role players returning and five-star center Rakeem Christmas coming in, Jim Boeheim may not have to worry too much. Christmas will be a defensive upgrade to Jackson as he is more athletic and has more of a bounce, making him a threat to block and alter shots from day one. He will be able to roam the middle of the 2-3 zone and use his length to track down rebounds on both ends of the floor. His quickness and speed for a player of his size will also allow the Orange to get out in transition more and run the floor. Christmas is not as developed as Jackson was around the rim, especially with his back-to-the-basket. To spread the court, Boeheim brings in one of the top shooting guards in the class- Michael Carter-Williams. Carter-Williams is a thin combo-guard who is always in attack mode whether its slashing to the rim, pulling-up off the dribble, or stroking it from behind the arc. Adding to the depth in the backcourt, Trevor Cooney, is one of the best shooters in the country, with a quick release and deep range.
9. Louisville Cardinals
Starting at the guard spot and giving Louisville's already-talented backcourt a boost is future-NBA 2-guard Wayne Blackshear. He uses a combination of his strength, ball-handling and aggressive scoring to be a real threat in the open court or in the half-court setting with his dribble-drive. He is a very strong rebounder and should improve the Cards in that area as well. Undersized power forward Chane Behanan is a late-bloomer, but a thick-bodied forward that can power-up around the rim or face-up out to 12 or 15 feet. Joining him in the frontcourt is Zach Price, a developing left-handed power forward/center with some a decent touch around the rim, but he is a work in progress across the board. Another developing piece in this Louisville recruiting class is Kevin Ware, a great athlete who continues to improve his all-around basketball game, but struggles with his jump shot and ball-handling under pressure.
8. Arkansas Razorbacks
With the loss of leading scorer Rotnei Clarke (transfer), John Pelphrey needed a big-time class, but he won't even get a chance to coach these players as new head coach Mike Anderson takes over. Five-star point guard BJ Young will get a chance to lead the Hogs up-tempo offense from the start- he is a big time scorer who is always in attack mode, explosive off the dribble. Ky Madden, a 6'5" combo-guard has the size, athleticism and handle to make guarding him a mismatch nearly every time, especially in the open court. Both players could use more development with their perimeter shooting. The class has a pair of forward- a 6'8" inside-outside threat in Aaron Ross, while 6'10" Hunter Mickelson will roam the low blocks. Mickelson is a slim big with great length and a terrific work ethic, but has a ways to go in terms of reaching his full potential.
7. North Carolina Tar Heels
Roy Williams adds two of the nation's best recruits to an extremely talented core of returning stars. James McAdoo, with his old school, fundamentally sound good, would start right away for most teams, but will back-up John Henson and Tyler Zeller in the frontcourt. He is a smooth, hard-working athlete that loves to go to work around the basket. The other five-star recruit to join McAdoo is shooting guard PJ Hairston. Hairston has good size and strength, but what makes him a complete threat is his ability to knock down jumpers with deep range or utilize screens and make plays off the dribble to attack the defense. Center Desmond Hubert, forward Jackson Simmons and in-state point guard Stilman White round out the class.
6. Arizona Wildcats
Coach Sean Miller has a future all-league backcourt forming in the Pac-10 with the signing of five-star recruits Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson. Turner is a future-pro scoring point guard that uses his top-notch quickness to explode past his defender, especially when he combines that with his crossover. Johnson is just as much of a scoring guard as Turner- he is a solid jump shooter, not one of his teammate's greatest strengths, but also goes in attack mode off the bounce to get to the rim. Miller also brings in two highly-ranked forwards- Sidiki Johnson, a big man who can score from both the high post and low blocks, while Angelo Chol is not as offensively gifted but is an active shot-blocker and rebounder.
5. Texas Longhorns
After a mass-departure of talent including five of the team's top six scorers, Rick Barnes and the Longhorns needed a star-studded recruiting class to replace the likes of Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson. Point guard Myck Kabongo from Findlay College Prep is a game-changer and future NBA lottery pick. He is a pure point guard with excellent leadership skills and rarely makes a bad decision with the ball in his hands. A trio of in-state products join the roster, two of them shooting guards to join Kabongo in the backcourt. Sheldon McClellan is a great athlete with good size and length at 6'5" who will be an asset to the point guard spotting up on the wing or finishing on the break. Julien Lewis is a different kind of 2-guard, more adept at knocking down mid-range jumpers and 3s when given the time and space- he is a more aggressive scorer off the dribble than McClellan.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes were victim of Kentucky's run to the Final Four in the East Region, but will have another shot at advancing deep into the tournament with returning talent and a strong incoming class. Point guard Shannon Scott will earn time in Thad Matta's rotation by being the team leader and running the offensive to draw the defense in and kick out to shooters on the wing or dump the ball off to Jared Sullinger down low. Backing up Sullinger will be high school All-American Amir Williams, a long, athletic post player who can get up and down in transition, but needs to bulk up to play major minutes in the Big Ten. Two wings, Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross could also break the rotation with their size, versatility and ability to play multiple positions. Ross is the more offensive-minded of the two with his perimeter shooting and athletic finishes at the rim, while Thompson is more of a playmaking point-forward with a solid handle.
3. St. John's Red Storm
The Red Storm were in desperate need of a prime-time recruiting class to build on last year's 21-win team that graduated 7 of its top 8 scorers. Coach Steve Lavin brings in an extremely talented class of eight players- four small forwards, two shooting guards, talented junior college point guard and a much-needed power forward and center. Dom Pointer leads the class of wings, along with Jakarr Sampson, Maurice Harkless and Amir Garrett, form a formidable scoring combination. Nurideen Lindsey is a 6'4" combo-guard with excellent abilities with the ball in his hands, but isn't the pass-first point guard this team needs. Joining Lindsey in the backcourt will be D'Angelo Harrison and late-comer Phillip Greene. Rounding out the final spot in the class is taken up by Nigerian center with great size, strength and quickness and the best name in the class- God's Gift Achiuwa.
2. Duke Blue Devils
Coach Kryzewski has more than a daunting task in front of him as he must replace point guard Kyrie Irving, the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, but also Nolan Smith, the ACC Player of the Year, and 1st team all-league forward Kyle Singler as well- that's 55 points and 15 rebounds per game. His prize recruit is the nation's second-best prospect, shooting guard, Austin Rivers, son of the NBA's Doc Rivers, and insane range on his jump shot; he is a scoring machine who will carry the brunt of the load and will be joined by point guard Quinn Cook, a top ten point guard in the class, who's ability to penetrate and kick will be much needed to free up Rivers. In the frontcourt, forward/center Marshall Plumlee, joins his brothers on this Duke team that is desperately in need of Marshall's size and rebounding. Michael Gbinije is a smooth, athletic wing who can handle the ball or knock down the 3. Alex Murphy is the final recruit in the class- a skilled forward that can score facing-up or in the low post. With his size and quickness, Murphy will excel in the open floor if Duke can get out and run.
1. Kentucky Wildcats
Replacing a point guard in Brandon Knight, center Josh Harrellson and a versatile swingman and defensive expert DeAndre Liggins that helped Kentucky come within one-point of NCAA championship appearance, won't be easy, but for the third straight year, Coach Calipari brings in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. This one is highlighted by the top player at three positions, including the 2012's top recruit Anthony Davis, small forward Michael Gilchrist and point guard Marquis Teague. Davis combines his size and length with terrific athleticism to become a threat both inside and out offensively, while a shot-blocking force on defense. Gilchrist will help make up for some of the defense lost by Liggins with his versatility, toughness and motor, while Teague has the makings of a harassing defender with his blinding quickness and athleticism. Teague will lead the charge offensively as you can expect this team to really get out and run. The fourth and final recruit is Kyle Wiltjer, a skilled 6'9" inside-outside threat to come off the bench.