Recruiting Home Runs (Again)
The Pac-12 had a chance at the top high school player in the country in Michael Porter Jr., who was Washington commit until a coaching change moved his father, former Washington assistant Michael Porter Sr., to Missouri. The recruit followed suit and now the league will now settle for only landing the second-best player in the 2017 class in Arizona signee DeAndre Ayton...and an impressive 18 other players in the ESPN Class of 2017 Top 100. Ayton joins other five-star prospects in Troy Brown Jr. (Oregon), Jaylen Hands (UCLA), Kris Wilkes (UCLA) and Charles O’Bannon Jr. (USC) as big-time names set to make severe impacts at their new schools from day one, but don’t sleep on some of the more unheralded recruiting lands in the Pac-12 as well.
Oregon State four-star recruit Ethan Thompson wowed at the Ballislife All-American Game, after finishing off one of the more exciting high school seasons in the country at Bishop Montgomery HS (CA), while talents like Kezie Okpala (Stanford), Kimani Lawrence (Arizona State), Jaylen Nowell (Washington) and D’Shawn Schwartz (Colorado) will all need to fill large roles within their given programs from the get-go. Given the current landscape of college basketball’s reliance upon freshmen, don’t be surprised to see the Pac-12 once again, feature a heavy rotation of rookie talents.
Both California and Washington saw head coaching changes this off-season, as former Golden Bears head man Cuonzo Martin left for Missouri, while the Huskies parted ways with Lorenzo Romar after 15 seasons at the helm. California replaced Martin from within-the-program, tabbing assistant Wyking Jones as his successor, while Washington opted for a national search, luring former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins away from the upstate New York program.
Romar has since moved into a new role as the associate head coach at Arizona, where Sean Miller worked to fill the void left by assistant Joe Pasternack’s departure to become the head coach at UC-Santa Barbara. Despite widespread rumors that he would get involved in the coaching search at his alma mater of Indiana, UCLA’s Steve Alford stayed committed to the Bruins program, with another highly-touted recruiting haul headed to campus.
The influx of stellar freshman talent to the Pac-12 has resulted in the league taking center stage in this summer’s upcoming NBA Draft. Washington’s Markelle Fultz, who averaged a stunning 23.2 points per game during his freshman season with the Huskies, is projected along with UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, as the top two picks for the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen, UCLA’s T.J. Leaf, Utah’s Kyle Kuzma and California’s Ivan Rabb are all likely first round selections as well.
Besides the Bruins, who will need to replace most of their rotation from last season, Oregon will also need to do a reload in Eugene, after saying goodbye to six of their top seven leading scorers in Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, Dylan Ennis and Casey Benson, this off-season. Looking ahead to the 2018 NBA Draft, incoming Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton is already being forecast as a likely top-five pick.
Arizona: The Wildcats are shaping up to be a top-five preseason team nationally next season, as Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and Dusan Ristic are still on campus, while Sean Miller adds one of the country’s best recruiting classes to the mix. DeAndre Ayton, already projected as a top-five selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, joins the program along with Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee and UNC-Asheville transfer Dylan Smith.
Arizona State: Arizona State’s transfer hauls won’t bring reinforcements until the season after next, meaning head coach Bobby Hurley’s rebuild will have to focus around his returning talent and a likeable recruiting class that features two ESPN Top 100 players. The Sun Devils should have a serviceable starting five, anchored by high-scoring guard Tra Holder but they’ll also need quick production from their newcomers, as well.
California: It’s hard to tell how the Wyking Jones era will begin at California, as the 44-year old has never been a coach at the Division I level but he takes over the program under rave reviews from those in the college basketball world. A bit of a character, known for his part-time acting career off-the-court, Jones will need some “stars” to emerge on-the-court for him, with a severely depleted roster in his arsenal.
Colorado: Head coach Tad Boyle missed the NCAA Tournament for the second time in his Colorado tenure, a sign that the Buffs’ program may be losing a bit of momentum in the ever-changing Pac-12. Boyle did get some good news when guard George King announced his return to school but like Jones at California, Boyle’s rebuilding campaign could be a trying effort all-season long.
Oregon: Nobody here at Building The Dam lost any sleep watching Oregon’s roster disappear this off-season, as the Ducks are now tasked with replacing a wealth of talent including Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, Dylan Ennis and Casey Benson. Head coach Dana Altman will need to be a chemistry-master, when he mixes Payton Pritchard with transfers Elijah Brown (New Mexico) and Paul White (Georgetown).
Oregon State: Drew Eubanks and Stephen Thompson Jr. returning from the NBA Draft solidifies the Beavers rotation for next season, which will also be headlined by Tres Tinkle, Jaquori McLaughlin and duo of freshmen in Ethan Thompson and Alfred Hollins. Oregon State should have enough top-level talent and depth on the bench to emerge as one of the biggest turn-around teams in the country.
Stanford: The team on paper who are shaping up to be the dark-horse of the league next season, Jerod Haase may have a diamond in the rough on his hands in Palo Alto, if the chemistry aspect of this group can merge together. Two ESPN Top 60 recruits will mix with the developing quartet of Reid Travis, Dorian Pickens, Michael Humphrey and Robert Cartwright.
UCLA: Jaylen Hands. Kris Wilkes. Cody Riley. Jalen Hill. Chris Smith. LiAngelo Ball. Learn the names now if you haven’t already because it’ll be a new list of surnames adorning the backs of the Bruins jerseys next season. Hands and Wilkes will lead the group but Riley and Hill are also consensus Top 100 prospects, who are on the same next-level projection as the rest of the group. It’s more of a “retool” than “rebuild” for Steve Alford in 2017-2018.
USC: The Trojans were probably a bit undersold in our Pre-NBA Draft Top 25 and they’ll definitely be moving up in the board in our next edition, which should be released sometime after the NBA Draft decision day of May 24th. USC could have the best back-court on the West Coast and they already should be considered as Sweet Sixteen contenders. Arizona still might be the Pac-12 favorite but the Trojans aren’t far off their pace.
Utah: Utah. Utah. Utah. Oh, Larry Krystkowiak has rebuilt the Utah program around a culture of hard-nosed front-court play surrounded by steady guards, but after four straight 20+ win campaigns, the other Coach K’s group may fall short next season. The loss to Kyle Kuzma to the NBA Draft and guards Devon Daniels and JoJo Zamora to transfer could leave the Utes just a little too thin across the board.
Washington: Washington will want to somehow bury their chaotic off-season into the depths of history but when the dust all settles, there will be basketball played this winter under new head coach Mike Hopkins. Described as a “players coach” from his stay at Syracuse, the road ahead for Hopkins involves most of a non-Fultz core from last year’s nine-win team, including Noah Dickerson, David Crisp and Matisse Thybulle.
Washington State: The Cougars gave head coach Ernie Kent a contract extension this off-season, showing their faith in the third year head coach despite a 25.9% win percentage in Pac-12 play. Coming off a 13-18 season, Kent will have his work cut out for him, as he needs to replace four of his top five scorers, including Cougars’ legend Josh Hawkinson. Expect guard Malachi Flynn to become the star of this squad going forward.
Three Off-Season Questions
1. Clear-cut favorites: Arizona and USC. Who becomes the third wheel?
Likely UCLA. Possibly Stanford or Oregon State.
The Bruins traded one loaded freshman class for another, but it’s unknown if this year’s rookie scoop has the potential of last year’s Sweet Sixteen roster. UCLA doesn’t necessarily have the same pieces already on the roster to compliment the youth movement, meaning the workload forced on the newcomers may be too much to handle for a whole season.
As for Stanford, the Cardinal return a bulk of last year’s production as the oldest team in the Pac-12, yet everything for the boys from Palo Alto will still sit on the health of Reid Travis. If the former McDonald’s All-American can log 30+ games of action in the 2017-2018 campaign, Jerod Haase and company could be a surprise unit.
And finally, the Beavers will definitely be much improved from a season ago but like Stanford, their eventual potential relies on the limbs of star forward Tres Tinkle. Tinkle has gone from bumps and bruises to longer-term injuries, making his health proiority number one in Corvallis.
2. Who had the best recruiting class in the conference?
There’s two ways to look at this question. In terms of addressing needs within a team, UCLA definitely plugged holes across the board, adding a five-star guard (Jaylen Hands) and forward (Kris Wilkes) to the program, in addition to four other players betwen 6’ 5” and 6’ 8” to sure up the wings and front-court spots. However, in terms of sheer future superstar potential, Arizona takes the cake. The limitless prowess of DeAndre Ayton has already been mentioned but don’t sleep on guard Brandon Randolph and forward Ira Lee, who should log steady minutes for head coach Sean Miller all-season long.
3. Who is the Pac-12’s biggest transfer market winners and losers?
Winner: Arizona State. The Sun Devils three additions will all have to sit out the upcoming season but when they hit the floor for the 2018-2019 campaign, Arizona State could have a top-five Pac-12 roster on their hands. Adding two big men in Carlton Bragg (Kansas) and Zylan Cheatham (San Diego State) gives head coach Bobby Hurley two potential front-court starters down the line, while high-scoring guard Rob Edwards (Cleveland State) could be the ultimate surprise after another season of development. Oregon’s pick-up of prolific guard Elijah Brown (New Mexico) and Utah’s landing of Justin Bibbins (Long Beach State) should also be noted as well.
Loser: Utah. It’s easy to say that Oregon’s transfers of Casey Benson and Kavell Bigby-Williams could not have come at a worse time but the Ducks weren’t the only program who had to say goodbye to some key pieces. California lost rising young guard Charlie Moore and big man Kameron Rooks, Stanford said goodbye to program-guard Malcolm Allen and Utah parted with Devon Daniels and JoJo Zamora, two important pieces for next year’s group. The Utes did add the aforementioned Bibbins as an immediately eligible graduate transfer but the former 49ers guard is just a one year-fix over the long-term star potential that Devon Daniels could’ve had.