Transfer portal season has given way, finally, with Emoni Bates’ surprise commitment to Eastern Michigan the last major announcement of the offseason.
Now it’s time for traditional high school recruiting in men’s college basketball, with college coaches hitting the road this month to watch the best Class of 2023 (and beyond) prospects in action at the major grassroots recruiting events sponsored by Nike, Adidas and Under Armour.
here The Athletic‘s experts answer some key questions about the state of recruiting and what to expect this month.
Where are the biggest events in July?
The three major shoe companies schedule their events for the open windows when NCAA coaches are allowed to go and watch best-on-best basketball. The first is from July 7-10. Nike’s EYBL is in Kansas City, Adidas’ 3SSB is in Rock Hill, SC, while Under Armor’s UAA is in Emerson, Ga.
The final window of the summer is July 20-24, with each circuit hosting its championship event. Nike’s famous Peach Jam is back in North Augusta, SC, while Adidas is in Los Angeles and Under Armor in Chicago.
Who is the No. 1 prospect in the country?
That’s still up for debate, though it is centered around two names. The first is guard DJ Wagner, who is the No. 1 prospect in the country for the 247Sports Composite and ranked No. 1 by ESPN.com. The other three major services (247Sports, Rivals and On3) all have him ranked No. 2. They all have GG Jackson ranked No. 1; the 6-foot-8 forward is committed to North Carolina.
Wagner is the most well-known prospect, with famous bloodlines. His grandfather, Milt, played at Louisville in the 1980s, and his father, Dajuan, was a star at Memphis and a former top high school recruit himself. The youngest Wagner, a 6-foot-3 combo guard, is a star in Camden, NJ, and it’s shaping up as a Kentucky vs. Louisville battle (more on that in a minute).
Some of the other top players in the country are Mackenzie Mgbako (6-8 forward), Justin Edwards (6-7 wing), Mookie Cook (6-7 wing), Robert Dillingham (6-2 point guard) and Matas Buzelis ( 6-9 wings).
What schools are off to good starts?
It’s remarkable: Duke transitioned from the winningest coach in men’s college basketball history, the legendary Mike Krzyzewski, to a first-timer with no prior experience, Jon Scheyer — and somehow its recruiting got better? Yep. Scheyer first gained notoriety as a recruiting whiz when he was Coach K’s assistant, helping the Blue Devils land top talents like Jayson Tatum and Zion Williamson. But in the year(ish) since he was announced as Krzyzewski’s successor, he’s taken Duke’s recruiting to a new level, landing the No. 1 class in 2022 and being well on the way to the same in 2023. Big men Mackenzie Mgbako and Sean Stewart are ranked Nos. 3 and 9, respectively, in the 247Sports Composite, 6-5 point guard Caleb Foster is No. 20 and 6-2 guard Jared McCain is ranked 24th. It’s a ludicrous haul for someone who’s only ever coached 2.5 games, and with all of those experiences filling in for an otherwise-unable Krzyzewski.
Scheyer’s next step is proving not just that he can accumulate talent, but that he can elevate it. Duke’s NBA pipeline is well-established, but continuing it is paramount for the program to keep landing elite-caliber freshmen. Where most of college basketball has pivoted to experience, Duke hasn’t because it hasn’t needed to — yet. If Scheyer shows he can quickly and effectively get groups of fabulous freshmen to gel (and win) like his predecessor, then this whole machine should keep humming along. The only danger is if that draft pedigree starts to dip, or Duke starts losing five-star players to the transfer portal instead of the pros. Neither seems likely, though, with the sheer amount of talent Scheyer has taken in thus far. It’s hard to be better than No. 1, outside of sustaining that rate.
Hubert Davis just welcomed his first full recruiting class to Chapel Hill — last year doesn’t really count, since he was promoted to head coach in April with two signees already committed — so we’ll see what type of impact this foursome can make. In Seth Trimble, Jalen Washington, Tyler Nickel, and Will Shaver (who enrolled in January and was with the team during its national title game run), Davis has four players with the potential to contribute immediately, but none guaranteed to be good enough to leave after one season. Finding guys in that middle ground is becoming increasingly important, since they become the experienced players that contenders depend on, but ideally, you’d also like to have some elite five-star guys. Especially at a blue blood like UNC.
Enter 2023, then, where Davis already has two five-star commits in GG Jackson and Simeon Wilcher, the former of whom might become UNC’s first No. 1 overall recruit since Harrison Barnes in 2010. Those two aren’t just a talent influx; they’re the caliber of recruits, who — if they have success — make North Carolina a viable (and cool) destination for five-stars again. This isn’t to say the Tar Heels don’t get five-stars as is; in Armando Bacot and Caleb Love, there are two on the current roster. But if Davis’ first class, and then his first class with five-stars in 2023, makes more of an impact than last year’s duo of Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn, we very soon could see UNC back atop the national recruiting rankings. Coming within a half of winning the national title in Davis’ inaugural season didn’t hurt, either. — Brendan Marks
Kentucky is probably best situated to catch Duke — if anyone does — for the No. 1 class this cycle. John Calipari and his staff have already locked up commitments from the No. 1 point guard (Robert Dillingham) and No. 5 combo guard (Reed Sheppard) in the 247Sports Composite. Those guys are ranked No. 7 and No. 22 overall. The Wildcats are also heavy favorites to land 7-footer Aaron Bradshaw, the No. 2 center and No. 15 overall prospect in the class, any day now. That one is especially notable, because Bradshaw is high school and grassroots teammates with Wagner. Landing Bradshaw would give UK three former Wagner teammates, including his stepbrother, plus Calipari, who coached his father, Dajuan, at Memphis. That’s a solid answer to rival Louisville, which has become a major player in this once-preordained recruitment by hiring Wagner family friend Kenny Payne as head coach and Milt Wagner to an off-the-court role.
Both the Cats and Cards have expressed confidence behind the scenes that they’ll land DJ, which makes this one of the juiciest recruiting battles in the rivalry’s history. But Kentucky could still land a monster class even without Wagner. Calipari is trying to fend off Tennessee for wing Justin Edwards, swoop in and steal Oregon decommit Mookie Cook and beat Arkansas for power forward Ron Holland. Those three rank Nos. 4, 5 and 11, respectively, among rising high school seniors. The Cats are also favorites to land center Ugonna Kingsley Onyenso, a top-25 player who could reclassify and enroll this fall. It’s clear that Calipari, who traveled to Spain to watch Wagner, Holland and a handful of 2024 UK targets compete for USA Basketball at the U17 World Cup, wants to send a message with this haul. That he’s still got it. —Kyle Tucker
What about G League Ignite?
The NBA’s developmental arm remains a player in the space, with an existing commitment from Buzelis, who is the No. 6 prospect nationally right now.
The G League Ignite are far from done, and there’s also Overtime Elite, which debuted last year and could have two top-five picks in the 2023 NBA Draft.
There are questions about Jackson’s path moving forward. He would reportedly be draft-eligible in 2023 if he chose to pursue something other than college basketball. Mikey Williams is another big name in this space: He’s a NIL dream with 3.7 million Instagram followers as it stands, an existing shoe deal with Puma and has kept his options open, including attending HBCU North Carolina Central. Williams recently took an official visit to Kansas.
What are other storylines to follow this month?
- There’s intrigue around Bronny James, the son of LeBron. Bronny, a four-star recruit who plays on the EYBL circuit for Strive For Greatness. He has played his recruitment very close to the vest, but coming into his final high school season it’ll start to get clearer which way he’s headed.
- Cook just decommitted from Oregon. Many coaches will line up to watch him this month for EYBL’s Oakland Soldiers.
- Among the notable first-year coaches hitting the road this month with a new polo or title: Scheyer, Payne, Shaheen Holloway (Seton Hall), Matt McMahon (LSU) and Todd Golden (Florida).
- Wagner and Stewart are leading the USA U17 World Cup team, but many coaches will fly to Spain to check out some of the others, including Holland (No. 10 in 2023), center Dennis Evans (No. 18 prospect in 2023), guard Ian Jackson (No. 2 prospect in 2024), wing Karter Knox (No. 10 in 2024) and wing Cooper Flagg (2025 prospect).
- Oklahoma State got good news to start the week, with coach Mike Boynton securing a commitment from center Brandon Garrision. The Oklahoma City product is top-60 in the Class of 2023.
(Top photo of Simeon Wilcher: Courtesy Jon Lopez/Nike)