Led by Coney Island wunderkind Lance "Born Ready" Stephenson, and anchored by big menRenardo Sidney and Derrick Favors, the Class of 2009 looks, on paper, to be more diverse and more talented than its predecessor. But none of the most coveted players in the class are finished products.
Here is a brief introduction to some of the players who will be highlighting the camp and AAU circuit this year, and what some scouts say they need to work on to become elite players.
Lance Stephenson, Guard, Lincoln (Coney Island, N.Y.)
No current junior has the overall skill set of Stephenson, who scout Tom Konchalski has called "the best player in the country, regardless of class, when the lights are on." Stephenson (6-foot-5, 195 pounds) seems to raise his game to a different level on the biggest stages, highlighted by his 35-point, 16-rebound performance at the Primetime Shootout in February against city rival Rice (Harlem, N.Y.). Stephenson has great range on his jump shot, has become a better passer and has the quickest first step in high school.
What's left to prove: Stephenson has a temper and sometimes takes his frustrations out on his teammates. He also dominates the ball and has a tendency to stand around when the ball is not in his hands. Scouts say he needs to come ready to play every time he takes the court and realize that he is playing against himself and his own expectations, not necessarily the competition.
Dexter Strickland, Guard, St. Patrick's (Elizabeth, N.J.)
Strickland (6-3, 175) is a well-rounded, versatile guard who has transitioned from being a defensive specialist as a sophomore to being an elite scorer his junior year. Last season, with Roy Williams in attendance, Strickland committed to North Carolina, taking some of the suspense out of his summer.
What's left to prove: Strickland needs to realize that he is going to be a distributing point guard at the next level, and not be relied upon to take on the scoring role he inherited this year at St. Pat's. Well-honed point guard skills are what Williams will expect upon Strickland's Chapel Hill arrival.
Renardo Sidney, Forward, Fairfax (Los Angeles)
Sidney is a bit of an enigma. At 6-9, 230 pounds, he seems ideally suited to play in the post, but he has the skill set of a guard. His skill is unquestioned, and he will be one of the biggest recruiting prizes on the West Coast.
What's left to prove: Scouts say Sidney basically ate his way out of a guard spot and now has to adjust his game appropriately. He needs to get in better shape and work on his defensive rebounding. Also, he needs to adjust to being an inside-out player who starts off on the block, instead of being a player who prefers the perimeter and goes inside as his second option.
Derrick Favors, Forward, South (Atlanta)
Favors (6-9, 220) is as close to a finished product as there is in this class. He's solid in the post offensively, and has great touch from 15 feet. Most importantly, he seems to enjoy playing up to his size. He has a variety of post moves that make him difficult to stop in the half court, and he seems to realize how good of a player he can be and works toward that goal.
What's left to prove: All Favors needs to do is keep playing at this point and improve upon the skill set he already has. He is the most complete big man in the country and will be one of the stars of the summer circuit.
Kenny Boynton, Guard, American Heritage (Plantation Fla.)
Boynton may be the class's most explosive pure scorer. A bit undersized at only 6-2, 170, Boynton makes up for it with his fantastic quickness and athleticism. He gets to the basket at will and knows how to finish.
What's left to prove: Although he is strong for his size, Boynton could stand to get a little bit stronger this offseason. Plus, his shot selection could improve, and since he has always been the best player on his team, he needs to work on playing within the team concept.
Xavier Henry, Guard, Putnam City (Oklahoma City)
Henry (6-6, 210) is the best pure shooter in the class. He possesses what Konchalski calls "intergalactic range" on his jumper. He has a pro build and can get to the basket, creating his own shots off the dribble or catch.
What's left to prove: The lefty must work on his right hand. He also doesn't rebound particularly well for his size. He could be aided by developing a change of direction move off the dribble. He needs more efficiency off the dribble to be a complete player.
Here's a list of some of the other top prospects, and what they need to work on this summer:
John Wall, Guard, Word of God Academy (Raleigh, N.C.)
Strengths: Lightning-quick guard (6-3, 195) who can get to the basket with ease. He makes his teammates better.
Must Improve: Outside shooting. Defenders can sag off him at times.
DeMarcus Cousins, Forward, Leflore (Mobile, Ala.)
Strengths: Size (6-9, 250) and his ability to get easy baskets from the low blocks. Plays well facing the basket. Committed to UAB.
Must improve: Work ethic and defensive presence. Needs to work as hard on the defensive end as he does on offense.
Dominic Cheek, Guard, St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.)
Strengths: A 6-5, 170-pound guard who has great range on his jumper and can create his own shot.
Must improve: Defense and passing ability. On a St. Anthony team with incredible depth, he was not required to hone these skills. He will be next year.