Breaking down college basketball's top 25 recruits for 2015: Nos. 10-6
The top high school basketball players in the country typically get significant playing time during their first college seasons. Most of those players have already arrived or will soon be arriving on campus to begin their freshmen campaigns. With that in mind, SI.com is taking a look this month at how each player in the 2015 Recruiting Services Index Top 25, a composite of several recruiting services, fits in with his new team. Here are Nos. 10-6:
10. Stephen Zimmerman, UNLV
UNLV coach Dave Rice has come under scrutiny for his inability to maximize the talent on his roster. That criticism won’t subside if the Rebels don’t improve this season. In Zimmerman, Rice landed one of the most talented frontcourt players in the country. He drew scholarship offers from more than 20 programs before ultimately choosing UNLV in April (he decided not to sign a National Letter of Intent). Zimmerman began drawing attention before he even played his first game at powerhouse Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, then helped the Gaels win four consecutive state championships.
UNLV was the first school to offer Zimmerman a scholarship, and they made him a priority throughout his high school career. Rice’s brother, Grant, is the head coach at Gorman, but Rebels assistant Ryan Miller has been credited with leading the team's pursuit of Zimmerman. At 7-feet, 224 pounds, Zimmerman is renowned for his scoring prowess on the blocks, distribution skills and mid-range shooting touch. His ability to both convert from close range and to find other scoring options will elevate UNLV’s offense, which ranked 89th last season in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency.
Though promising forward Christian Wood declared for the draft after last season, the Rebels return a solid supporting cast around Zimmerman in the frontcourt. Sophomores and former top-40 recruits Goodluck Okonoboh and Dwayne Morgan are back, and Ben Carter will become eligible after sitting out last season as a transfer from Oregon.
9. Henry Ellenson, Marquette
When Wally Ellenson transferred from Minnesota to Marquette in July 2014, many observers wondered whether his more highly-touted brother, Henry, would follow him to Milwaukee. Less than four months later, after narrowing his list to three schools (Kentucky, Marquette and Michigan State), Henry Ellenson committed to the Golden Eagles.
Ellenson’s pledge came a few weeks after another top-100 player, shooting guard Haanif Cheatham, committed to Marquette. It also happened before former Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski spent one game as head coach of the Golden Eagles. Moreover, the Ellenson commitment created optimism within a program that months earlier had stunningly lost its highly regarded coach, Buzz Williams, to Virginia Tech. In Ellenson, Wojchiechowski had landed a program-changing recruit who’s believed to be the highest-ranked prospect to pledge to the Marquette since Doc Rivers.
Ellenson’s calling card is his offensive versatility. The 6'10", 245-pounder can score in the post but is also capable of stepping away from the paint and knocking down jump shots. He was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Wisconsin in 2015 after averaging 27.4 points, 12 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.8 assists per game as a senior at Rice Lake High.
Ellenson will step into a different situation than many of his fellow elite recruits. Marquette won only 13 games last season and it could struggle to compete with Villanova, Georgetown and others in the Big East after losing five of its top eight scorers. Into the breach steps Ellenson, the centerpiece of a five-man recruiting class ranked 15th in the nation by Rivals.com. Expect him to shoulder big minutes and use a lot of possessions while breathing life into an offense that posted the lowest adjusted efficiency and the second-worst effective field goal percentage in the Big East during conference play last season, according to kenpom.com.
8. Malik Newman, Mississippi State
Ben Howland spent two seasons away from coaching after UCLA fired him in March 2013, but he wasted little time getting to work on the recruiting trail once he replaced Rick Ray as Mississippi State’s head coach this March. The next month, Newman pledged to the Bulldogs over Kentucky, Kansas and Ole Miss. It helped Mississippi State that Newman attends Callaway High in Jackson, Miss., and that his father, Horatio Webster, played for the Bulldogs in the 1990s. Meanwhile, Mississippi State had recruited Newman heavily when Ray was still in charge, and Howland benefited from assistant Korey McCray also having pursued Newman while he was at LSU.
Newman arrives in Starkville, Miss., with an impressive resume. As a high school senior, he averaged 29.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists, earned his second Gatorade state player of the year award and led Callaway to a 31-2 record and its fourth consecutive state championship. While he may only stay at Mississippi State for one season before leaving for the NBA draft (DraftExpress currently pegs him as the No. 6 pick in 2016), Newman can spark a Bulldogs offense that finished 255th in the country in adjusted points per possession last season, according to kenpom.com.
The 6'3", 178-pound Newman is one of the best pure scorers in this class, though he may need to rein in his shot selection to be more successful against better defenses. He can drive past opponents off the dribble, knock down jump shots and finish at the rim. He can excel off the ball, but Howland has indicated that his plan is for Newman to play point guard, possibly alongside the returning I.J. Ready in some instances. Newman’s versatility should help Howland sort out his backcourt rotation as the Bulldogs bring back their top three guards from last season in Ready, Fred Thomas and second-team All-SEC selection Craig Sword.
7. Diamond Stone, Maryland
Few commitments in the class of 2015 inspired more public backlash than Stone’s. After he announced in March that he would attend Maryland rather than stay in his native Wisconsin and play for the Badgers, Wisconsin fans insulted Stone on Twitter about his ACT score. The Badgers were one of the five finalists Stone listed in August, and but he denied that either academics or Under Armour—the company that sponsors his grassroots team, Young Legends—factored into his decision to spurn Wisconsin. Instead Stone, who led Milwaukee's Dominican High to four consecutive state championships and won his state's Associated Press player of the year award in 2015, said that Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and strength and conditioning coach Kyle Tarp “played a huge role.”
Whatever the reasoning behind his decision, there may be no program at which Stone would have had a better opportunity to compete for a national championship in his first season. In College Park Stone will be expected to serve as the frontcourt centerpiece of a team pegged No. 4 in SI.com’s offseason power rankings, as the Terrapins bring back projected NBA draft picks Jake Layman and Melo Trimble, and adds a pair of transfers in Rasheed Sulaimon and Robert Carter, the former of whom is a graduate transfer from Duke and the latter of whom sat out last season following his transfer from Georgia Tech.
Stone is renowned for his inside scoring repertoire. Scout.com Director of Basketball Recruiting Evan Daniels told SI's Luke Winn last July that Stone is “probably the best high-school post scorer we've seen since DeMarcus Cousins. He's just polished on the offensive end. He's not physically dominant yet, but he has terrific hands, great touch, he can hit hooks over both shoulders, he has counter moves, and he can step out and hit jump shots."
Opponents will have a tough time accounting both for Stone’s ability to catch and convert on the low block, and a strong cast of strong perimeter shooters including Layman, Sulaimon, Trimble and Jared Nickens.
6. Cheick Diallo, Kansas
By the time Diallo announced his college decision in late April, Kansas had already positioned itself as the odds-on frontrunner in the Big 12. Five-star big man Carlton Bragg chose the Jayhawks, and All-Big 12 forward Perry Ellis had decided to return for his senior season. The addition of Diallo pushed Kansas into the national title conversation and deprived Iowa State, Kentucky, Pittsburgh and St. John’s—his four other listed finalists—of one of the top frontcourt prospects in this class.
Diallo, a native of Mali who grew up playing soccer, was named the Gatorade player of the year in New York in 2015 after averaging 17.6 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game as a senior at Our Savior New American School and shone during this year’s postseason event circuit, earning Most Valuable Player honors at the McDonald’s All-American game and co-MVP honors at the Jordan Brand classic. The 6'9", 218-pounder is an active shot blocker and rebounder, but he distinguishes himself from other big men with his work rate and intensity.
Diallo should fit well in Kansas’s frontcourt. Whereas Ellis is a skilled post scorer with limited explosiveness and shot-blocking ability, Diallo is a top-notch athlete who will chase rebounds on both ends, swat plenty of shots and deter opposing ball handlers from driving to the rim. The Jayhawks won’t need Diallo to put up big scoring numbers because, in addition to Ellis and the offensively-skilled Bragg, they return a deep perimeter rotation that includes point guards Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham, and wings Wayne Selden Jr., Brannen Greene and Svi Mykhailiuk.