- Almost all of the top recruits have made their college decisions, setting the hierarchy for the 2018–19 basketball season. Which programs are feeling great about how they restocked their rosters, and which ones are left wondering what might have been?
There isn’t much left to decide in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Now that New Albany (Ind.) High shooting guard Romeo Langford has revealed that he’s headed to Indiana, all but one of the prospects given five-star ratings by the 247Sports Composite who plan to attend college, Prolific Prep (Calif.) Academy center Jordan Brown, has announced where they’ll be playing next season. (Five-star combo guard Anfernee Simons has declared for the NBA draft, and five-star small forward Darius Bazley is joining the G-League.)
To be clear, although almost all of the top recruits have determined their 2018–19 plans, there are still changes in store for many teams’ rosters over the coming months. The withdrawal deadline for players who declared for the draft but didn’t sign with agents is May 30, and there are a number of coveted graduate transfers with immediate eligibility still available. It’s also possible that some rising high school seniors could reclassify to become eligible beginning this fall. Those details should be taken into account when reviewing the recruiting classes being signed this spring. Before those pieces fall into place, SI.com takes a look at the early winners and losers from the 2018 cycle.
Including this year, the Blue Devils have pulled in one of the top two classes in the nation five years running, according to the 247Sports Composite. (Kentucky claimed the top spot in 2015, the only year in that span when they didn’t finish No. 1.) So another fruitful recruiting cycle that, in all likelihood, will enable Duke to compete for an ACC championship, earn a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament and make a deep run is business as usual in Durham.
The Blue Devils’ 2018 class is remarkable in its concentration of top-line talent. They didn’t just sign four highly regarded prospects. They signed four prospects ranked higher than every other prospect at their respective position, according to the 247Sports Composite. Those prospects are Montverde (Fla.) Academy’s R.J. Barrett, the No. 1 shooting guard; Westtown (Pa.) School’s Cameron Reddish, the No. 1 small forward; Spartanburg Day (S.C.) School’s Zion Williamson, the No. 1 power forward; and Apple Valley (Minn.) High’s Tre Jones, the No. 1 point guard.
Once Jones established himself as an elite recruit, it seemed only a matter of time before he would pick Duke, the same program his older brother, current Minnesota Timberwolves guard Tyus, helped lead to a national championship in 2015. But the Blue Devils had to fend off a host of brand-name suitors for the three other members of the class; all of them listed one-and-done pipeline Kentucky as a finalist. Whether or not Duke has overtaken the Wildcats as the nation’s preeminent recruiting force, the Blue Devils did use this cycle to restock their roster with a crop of the very best high school players in the country.
[Editor’s note: After this post was published, Duke’s 2018 class got even stronger with the news that 2019 five-star forward Joey Baker will reclassify to 2018.]
The Hoosiers were going to sign a solid class before Romeo Langford’s announcement on Monday night that he had picked them over Kansas and Vanderbilt. Indiana had already landed four-star small forward Damezi Anderson out of Riley (Ind.) High, four-star point guard Robert Phinisee out of McCutcheon (Ind.) High, four-star power forward Jerome Hunter out of Pickerington North (Ohio) High and another power forward ranked in the top echelon of three-stars in Westtown (Pa.) School’s Jake Forrester. That’s a well-rounded group of prospects capable of upgrading the Hoosiers’ roster at several spots and potentially providing several rotation players who could blossom into quality starters as upperclassmen.
Langford’s decision took Indiana’s 2018 recruiting to another level. In convincing the five-star shooting guard from New Albany (Ind.) High to stay in his home state for what is expected to be only one college season, Indiana beat out a handful of high-major heavyweights for one of the best pure scorers in the country. It’s not a stretch to imagine Langford rating out among the Big Ten’s top offensive players from the jump, and he should be able to vault Indiana into the tourney for the first time in three years. Sure, Langford may well turn pro before second-year head coach Archie Miller can mold the Hoosiers into a legit conference contender, but his presence will undoubtedly accelerate that process. It’s a monumental in-state recruiting triumph for a program that notched few of them toward the end of former head coach Tom Crean’s tenure, and it should make the idea of staying home more attractive to other Indiana-based prospects.
It has not taken long for the Tigers’ head coaching change to bear fruit on the recruiting trail. Since being hired to replace Tubby Smith in late March, Penny Hardaway has signed five players, three of which are ranked in the top 150 of the 247Sports Composite: Cordova (Tenn.) High point guard Tyler Harris, East (Tenn.) High point guard Alex Lomax and Oak Ridge (Fla.) High shooting guard Antwann Jones, who flipped from Texas A&M. (Smith did not sign any prospects ranked that high during his two-year stint.)
Hardaway isn’t done, either. He has Memphis positioned to add a handful of elite recruits in the class of 2019, several of which he coached either on the grassroots circuit, at East High School in Memphis, or both. The biggest name among them is 6'11" center James Wiseman, the No. 1 overall player in the class of 2019. Wiseman, who transferred to East High last year, is expected to choose either the Tigers or Kentucky, and there’s speculation that he could reclassify to 2018. Memphis’s other class of 2019 targets include four-star power forward Chandler Lawson and four-star center Malcolm Dandridge, both of whom attend East High, and four-star Olive Branch (Miss.) High small forward D.J. Jeffries, a Kentucky commit.
No matter how many of them choose the Tigers, the fact Hardaway has Memphis in the mix for prospects of this caliber augurs well for his chances of reviving a program languishing in the middle tier of the American Athletic Conference. Hardaway has no experience as a college head coach, but he doesn’t need to be a whiteboard wizard to make major gains in the AAC with a roster heavy on future pros.
There are certain pockets of Big Blue Nation that may resent Duke’s grabbing three of the top five recruits in the class of 2018. The Blue Devils and Wildcats may have turned into fiercer rivals off the court than on it, and the former has won a growing share of the programs’ head-to-head recruiting battles, but Kentucky is still going to sign a superlative group of players. By the start of next season, the Wildcats’ 2018 class, currently sitting at No. 2 in the 247Sports Composite team rankings, could well surpass Duke’s.
Head coach John Calipari has signed three five-star prospects—Oak Hill (Va.) Academy small forward Keldon Johnson, Wheeler (Ga.) High power forward E.J. Montgomery and John Carroll (Md.) School point guard Immanuel Quickley—along with one four-star, Whitnall (Wisc.) High shooting guard Tyler Herro. The Wildcats could add two five-star guards in the class of 2019 who are thought to be considering a reclassification to 2018: Newton (Ga.) High point guard Ashton Hagans, who verbally committed to the Wildcats last month after previously decommitting from Georgia in late February, and South Garland (Tex.) High point guard Tyrese Maxey, for whom Kentucky is viewed as the overwhelming favorite. Reports suggest there’s also a chance that Wiseman could join them at Kentucky this fall. (That assumes he doesn’t choose Memphis instead.)
Even if some of those rumored developments don’t come to pass, another stacked recruiting haul is headed to Lexington to retool a program set to lose two potential lottery picks (point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and wing Kevin Knox), among other pieces, from a roster that reached the Sweet 16 last season.
The most important thing that happened to North Carolina from a recruiting perspective over the last year is the NCAA’s announcement in October that it would not punish the program over an academic fraud scandal involving sham classes taken by athletes over an 18-year period. That decision lifted the dark cloud that had hung over the Tar Heels as they tried in vain to land top-shelf recruits, such as future No. 2 draft pick and Kinston, N.C., product Brandon Ingram—who after picking Duke in April 2015 said he thought he would have picked North Carolina if not for the uncertainty created by the investigation.
Now North Carolina can move forward without having to ease prospects’ concerns about the possibility of major sanctions stemming from the scandal. As for the class the Tar Heels compiled in the 2018 cycle, it currently boasts the program’s highest ranking, according to the 247Sports Composite, since the 2014 haul that formed the backbone of the 2017 national championship team: point guard Joel Berry II, forward Justin Jackson and forward Theo Pinson). Greenfield (N.C.) School five-star shooting guard Coby White, the state of North Carolina’s all-time leading scorer, can help fill the production hole left by Berry’s departure, and Orlando Christian (Fla.) Prep’s Nassir Little, the 247Sports Composite’s No. 3 player, gives the Tar Heels another versatile forward to go with Pitt transfer Cam Johnson. Though this class isn’t as highly touted as in-state rival Duke’s, it will supply the Tar Heels with enough premium talent to hang with, if not edge, the Blue Devils in the ACC race next season.
Head coach Mike Brey has proven he does not require elite recruits to build quality teams. The 26-win team he steered to a No. 5 seed in 2016–17, for instance, was led by a pair of juniors (power forward Bonzie Colson and point guard Matt Farrell) and a senior (guard Steve Vasturia) ranked outside the top 100 of their high school classes, plus one other senior (wing V.J. Beachem) ranked outside the top 70.
Notre Dame’s 2018 class is not stuffed with blue-chippers, but it could be the best one Brey has signed over the course of his 18-year tenure. It also is composed of the sort of prospects that, like other Fighting Irish standouts before them, can develop into high-level starters by the time they leave South Bend. Notre Dame’s haul is ranked 14th in the country and third in the ACC, according to the 247Sports Composite. It features four four-star players—Northfield Mount Hermon (Mass.) School power forward Nate Laszewski, Mars Area (Pa.) High shooting guard Robby Carmody, Gonzaga College (D.C.) High shooting guard Prentiss Hubb and Upper Arlington (Ohio) High shooting guard Dane Goodwin—and one-three star, Marlborough (Mass.) High small forward Chris Doherty.
The Fighting Irish are not about to transform into a five-star-plucking blueblood, and they won’t earn as many plaudits for their 2018 recruiting success as the “basketball school” in the same state that did nab a five-star on Monday night. But Notre Dame does bring in players who can congeal into formidable veteran squads capable of competing at the top of one of the toughest conferences in the country. The five it has added this year fit the bill.
Arizona’s implication in the FBI’s investigation into corruption across college basketball could set the program back for years, but in the short term, it crippled the Wildcats’ 2018 recruiting class. All three of the players who were verbally committed to Arizona prior to the revelation of the probe in September—five-star Hudson Catholic (N.J.) point guard Jahvon Quinerly, four-star Crespi Carmelite (Calif.) High point guard Brandon Williams and four-star Crossroads (Calif.) School power forward Shareef O’Neal—revoked their pledges.
One member of that trio, O’Neal, subsequently committed to a Pac-12 rival, UCLA. (Quinerly signed with Villanova, and Williams is expected to announce his decision on Saturday.) Arizona has since signed one of the top shooting guards on the West Coast in Birmingham (Calif.) High four-star Devonaire Doutrive, and it’s one of three finalists for both former commit Williams and five-star Prolific Prep (Calif.) Academy center Jordan Brown. The Wildcats also recently earned pledges from Belgian four-star small forward Omar Thielemans, Pittsburgh graduate transfer Ryan Luther and Samford graduate transfer Justin Coleman.
Those are solid pickups to help make up for the aforementioned defections, but it’s too soon to gauge the extent of the fallout from the FBI probe, including how much it will hamper Arizona’s recruiting going forward. While Sean Miller is staying on as head coach for now after categorically denying a late-February ESPN report tying him to a six-figure payment made to secure All-America center DeAndre Ayton, former assistant Emanuel (Book) Richardson was fired in January after being arrested on federal charges last fall, and it remains unclear what, if any, penalties the NCAA will mete out.
[Editor's note: After this post was published, Williams announced his recommitment to the Wildcats]
The Orange had positioned themselves as a potential ACC contender for 2019 after their surprising tournament bid and even more surprising run to the Sweet 16. That notion became less tenable in late March, when Princeton (Ohio) High small forward Darius Bazley, ranked No. 15 in the class of 2018 by the 247Sports Composite, revealed that he was bypassing college to play in the G-League.
Bazley’s decision is a test case for future recruits who could consider following his path, but it'll also have the more immediate effect of weakening a formidable Syracuse squad with a high ceiling. Had he stuck with the Orange, Bazley would have bolstered a long, seasoned rotation that played top-five defense last season, according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency metric, and will return all five starters if second-team All-ACC guard Tyus Battle decides to pull out of the draft after declaring without hiring an agent last month. The Orange’s other big-time get in this cycle, Immaculate Conception (N.J.) High four-star combo guard Jalen Carey, is definitely suiting up for them in 2018–19 despite apparently receiving an invitation to play in LaVar Ball’s new professional league.
Syracuse is also adding head coach Jim Boeheim’s son, Buddy, a 6'5" three-star shooting guard, and it will have East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes eligible after he sat out last season in accordance with NCAA rules. Those additions are little consolation for the unexpected departure of a potential star wing. If Battle leaves, the Orange will have to hope their defensive fortitude can offset their lack of effective shot creators.
Think of this as a too-early assessment for a program in flux. Before Louisville was revealed as a central figure in the FBI probe last fall, the Cardinals held verbal commitments from two of the top guard prospects in the class of 2018—IMG (Fla.) Academy combo guard Anfernee Simons and Webster Groves (Mo.) High point guard Courtney Ramey. Both of them backed off their verbals, and eventual Indiana pledge Romeo Langford cut Louisville from his list of schools. Ramey reconsidered the Cardinals after they hired Xavier’s Chris Mack as head coach in late March, but he committed to Texas last week, while Simons decided to skip college altogether and declare for the draft.
There was no guarantee that Langford would have chosen the Cardinals if not for their connection to the FBI inquiry, but the fact that he attends high school less than 15 minutes away from the KFC Yum! Center made him an enticing target for Louisville. The Cardinals will likely add players to fill open scholarships before the start of the upcoming season—starting with Samford guard Christen Cunningham, who will be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer after committing on Monday—but the impact of the ongoing investigation could be felt for years to come. The NCAA may have already vacated the Cardinals’ 2013 national title, but it has yet to hand down any sanctions over the misconduct turned up by federal investigators.
The improvement the Tigers displayed on the court this season could lead to major strides off of it. Esteemed prospects who last fall saw a team picked to finish near the bottom of its conference led by a coach on the hot seat should be more optimistic about the program’s future after Clemson won 25 games, finished tied for third in the ACC and reached the Sweet 16 in Brad Brownell’s eighth season in charge. But the returns on that success may not show up for quite a while.
All three of Clemson’s class of 2018 signees—Greensboro Day (N.C.) School shooting guard John Newman, Hoover (Ala.) High center Trey Jemison and Piedmont Community (N.C.) High small forward Hunter Tyson—are three-star prospects, and UNC Asheville transfer Jonathan Baehre won’t be eligible until 2019–20. More importantly, this winter the Tigers could not reel in a super-hyped, five-star prospect from within state lines, Spartanburg Day School power forward Zion Williamson. Although players of Williamson’s caliber tend to flock to bluebloods, Clemson actually was viewed as the frontrunner in the lead up to his late-January announcement. He wound up deciding to leave the Palmetto State, joining Duke’s loaded class. (To compound the disappointment, the Tigers lost starting forward Donte Grantham to a torn ACL on the same day.)
Big picture, it’s hardly shocking that Clemson couldn’t close on a future lottery pick, and the overall outlook for the Tigers is bright following their remarkable turnaround under Brownell. Yet the widely held perception that Clemson was not only in the mix for Williamson but favored to keep him home made his choice a huge letdown.