Four of the nation’s top five recruits (according to Rivals.com) in the class of 2014 are set to announce their college commitments on Friday. Two of the players – center Jahlil Okafor of Chicago and point guard Tyus Jones, who is from Minnesota – are expected to choose the same school. Power forward Cliff Alexander and small forward Stanley Johnson are not involved in any so-called “package deals,” but their decisions, like those of Okafor and Jones, carry big implications for next season’s national championship picture. All four players are scheduled to announce their decisions on an ESPNU special at 4 p.m. ET.
Here is some background information, video highlights and listed favorites for each player to get you prepared for a huge day on the college basketball recruiting calendar.
High school: Whitney Young; Chicago
Rivals rank: 1
Favorites: Duke, Kansas
Many people were surprised in May when 2013’s No. 1 player, Andrew Wiggins, chose Kansas over North Carolina, Kentucky and Florida State. If Okafor picks the Jayhawks if would be just as surprising. What would be truly shocking, based on everything Okafor has said throughout his recruitment, is if he chooses a different school than Jones. Here’s what Jones told Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis this summer about their presumed package deal: “We look for the same things, the same coaching styles and philosophies. We both like the same type of stuff. That's why we figure we want to go on this journey together and try to make something special happen in college.” Jones seems to be leaning towards Duke, so if Okafor sticks to his commitment to play with Jones, the Blue Devils will benefit from Okafor's presence in the post. But after Wiggins’ somewhat unexpected decision last year, it would be foolish to count out Kansas coach Bill Self.
Position: Small forward
High school: Mater Dei; Santa Ana, Calif.
Favorites: Kentucky, Arizona, USC
During the past four years, Arizona has signed four players from the Oakland Soldiers AAU program: junior guard Nick Johnson, since-departed guard Josiah Turner, sophomore forward Brandon Ashley and freshman forward Aaron Gordon. That list is a good reason to be bullish on Arizona’s chances of hearing its name announced at Johnson’s announcement ceremony. There’s also the matter of winning, and at Arizona – where Sean Miller has his program positioned to remain atop the Pac-12 for years to come – an elite player like Johnson would have the opportunity to compete for conference -- and possibly national -- titles. Kentucky is still in play, and it’s never smart to dismiss coach John Calipari’s chances of landing a top recruit. USC offers Johnson the opportunity to stay close to home and play in coach Andy Enfield’s up-tempo system. Any of these schools would make sense for Johnson, but neither Kentucky nor USC seem as good a fit as Arizona.
Position: Power forward
High school: Curie Metropolitan; Chicago
Favorites: DePaul, Illinois, Kansas
It has been assumed that Alexander would choose Kansas, but it appears Illinois is making a late push for the big man. Alexander’s high school coach Mike Oliver told SNY.tv last week he believed Bill Self was focusing on Okafor, and that the Kansas coach has visited Chicago in recent weeks without meeting with Alexander. “He was there to visit Jahlil,” Oliver said. At Illinois, Alexander would be joining a 2014 recruiting class currently ranked 18th in the country by Scout. He would also be able to play close to home, with a team riding an upward trajectory under coach John Groce. Kansas is an attractive option for obvious reasons, but it should be noted that Alexander’s girlfriend, Caelynn Manning-Allen, plays for the Jayhawks women’s team. And if Okafor picks Duke, as expected, that could make Alexander more likely to choose Kansas.
Position: Point guard
High school: Apple Valley; Apple Valley, Minn.
Favorites: Kansas, Duke
On his blog for USA Today, Jones recently broke down the schools he is considering. Here’s what he had to say about Duke, the presumed leader to secure Jones’ commitment Friday. “With Duke it's the opportunity to play for Coach K and the style that they play there," he wrote. "I love the way they use their guards, and I feel like I can make an impact right away. Plus they have a great fan base.” The Blue Devils offered Jones a scholarship the summer before his sophomore year, and he has since remained their priority at point guard for the 2014 class. Jones seems like a perfect fit for Duke. Of all the players on this list, none seems as easy to predict as Jones. The question is, if Jones picks Duke, is Okafor guaranteed to join him?