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Hoops Signing Period: Top Classes

The early signing period for men’s college basketball begins today and runs through the next week.

Reeling them in: Kentucky's John Calipari, UNC's Roy Williams and OSU's Thad Matta have the top classes (for now) for 2014

Going into the period, 16 of the nation’s top 25 prospects in the 247Sports.com national top 247 list for 2014 had already made verbal commitments. Each of these players were expected to sign binding national letters-of-intent during this period. There will also be a late signing period after the season in April for anybody else who has not signed.

Today, we will look at the 10 recruiting classes for 2014 via the 247Sports.com ranking system. Jerry Meyer, the national basketball recruiting editor for 247Sports.com, shares his comments on each of the top 10 classes. Plus, we have some more notables.

We will be back in the next day or so with a look at the top unsigned prospects for the 2014 class with more comments from Meyer.

National Top 10 Recruiting Classes

Keep in mind, these rankings will likely change as more players sign – particularly after the late signing period in April. The players’ national 247Sports.com rankings are in parentheses.

1. Kentucky

* Verbal Commitments (4): C Karl Towns Jr. (10th overall nationally), 7-1, Metuchen (N.J.) St. Joseph; PF Trey Lyles (17th), 6-9, Indianapolis Arsenal Tech; SG Devin Booker (31st), 6-6, Moss Point, Miss.; PG Tyler Ulis (52nd), 5-8, Chicago Heights (Ill.) Marian Catholic.

* The Skinny: Kentucky just signed the nation’s top class in 2013 with six McDonald’s All-Americans, led by current freshman Julius Randle. UK coach John Calipari did not rest on his laurels as he has another huge haul coming to Lexington.

Karl Towns Jr. leads Kentucky's class

* Jerry Meyer’s Comment: “It is a case of the rich getting richer. Every year Calipari has been at Kentucky, they’ve been in there for the number one class. Right now, they have it. It’s questionable whether it will hold up because a lot of top players haven’t decided yet. But at the start of the signing period, they have the No. 1 class.

“I like the strength they are bringing in with the two inside guys. Karl Towns Jr. and Trey Lyles are big bodies. They really control space. They are very skilled. They are not the most athletic type big men, but they are decent to good athletes with good size. Then, the backcourt with Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis you have two players who can really score. They are good shooters who can score and know how to create space. They are quality playmakers as well with their ballhandling and passing ability.”

2. North Carolina

* Verbal Commitments (3): SF Justin Jackson (12th), 6-8, Spring (Texas) Homeschool Christian; PG Joel Berry (18th), 6-0, Orlando (Fla.) Lake Highland Prep; SF Theo Pinson (22nd), 6-6, High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan Christian.

* The Skinny: UNC coach Roy Williams has scored with three top-25 verbals. The Tar Heels went into Texas and snagged Jackson, who also visited Arizona. They also got Pinson, the top player in their home state. He had also considered Indiana and rival Duke.

* Meyer’s Comment: “North Carolina is bringing in three of the better perimeter players in the country. All three of them have different attributes they will bring to the system at North Carolina. Starting at point guard, Joel Berry is physical and highly competitive. He will be a tremendous on-the-ball defender for them. He also pushes the pace. He is a great fit for Roy Williams’ system.

“Justin Jackson, at 6-8, is very difficult to guard because of that length and his shooting ability. He can catch and shoot it from deep. He is also very good at pulling up off the dribble and scoring. Theo Pinson is just an energetic and athletic wing. He may not be the refined scorer Justin Jackson is, but he is a very versatile defender and a good rebounder. He is also very good in transition.”

3. Ohio State

D'Angelo Russell ticketed to play the two at Ohio State

* Verbal Commitments (4): SG D’Angelo Russell (30th), 6-5, Montverde (Fla.) Academy; SF Keita Bates-Diop (49th), 6-6, Normal (Ill.) Community; SF Jae’Sean Tate (75th), 6-4, Pickerington (Ohio) Central; PF Dave Bell (111th), 6-9, Garfield Heights, Ohio.

* The Skinny: Ohio State has a veteran team, starting two seniors and three juniors this year. It was imperative that coach Thad Matta and the Buckeyes reload with quality and depth. They solidified the two, three and four spots with this class. They beat out Louisville and Indiana for Russell, who had a huge summer. Tate was Ohio’s top prospect as well. The lanky Bates-Diop picked OSU over Illinois, DePaul and Michigan. OSU also had a commitment from Arizona power forward Payton Dastrup, but he switched his commitment to BYU.

* Meyer’s Comment: Thad Matta deserves a lot of credit – both he and his staff – for this recruiting class. It’s funny, some people across the country are quick to doubt Thad and his ability to recruit. Yet, he typically brings in some great classes.

“D’Angelo Russell finished off the summer extremely strong. He is a versatile guard who could play the one or the two. He is a crafty and smart player who can pass and score. Keita Bates-Diop, if he builds up his body, he could be a tremendous college basketball player. He is not the same kind of scorer that a Deshaun Thomas was. But I could see him having the type of impact and productive career where he keeps getting better year after year like Deshaun did.

“Jae’Sean Tate brings athleticism and energy to the court. That’s the type of player every team has to have. Bell is an intriguing prospect. He has a high ceiling with his length and athleticism.”

4. Florida

* Verbal Commitments (3): SG Brandone Francis (19th), 6-5, Jackson (Fla.) Arlington Country Day; SF Devin Robinson (29th), 6-8, Church View (Va.) Christchurch; PG Chris Chiozza (28th), 5-10, Memphis (Tenn.) White Station.

* The Skinny: Florida coach Billy Donovan has a track record of producing great point guards. The next one in that lineage could be Chiozza, who dazzled onlookers on the summer circuit with his playmaking ability. All three of these verbals are in the national top 30 as the Gators strive to compete with Kentucky in the SEC.

Brandone Francis will stay home and play at Florida

* Meyer’s Comment: Brandone Francis made a big impression on me with his play this past spring and summer. He sort of came out of nowhere. He had been dealing with injuries. He will give Florida a lot because he is physical and has a great feel for passing the ball. Some have compared him to Deron Williams in the NBA. That might be stretching it a bit, but he is a big, physical guard who can shoot the ball. He can play the one or the two.

“Chiozza is like lighting in a bottle. He is not the biggest guy at 5-10, but he is really athletic. He can really score and make plays. He reminds me of (Miami’s) Shane Larkin when I watch him play. Devin Robinson, that was a great recruiting pick-up by Billy Donovan. A lot of schools were after Robinson because he’s 6-8 and he can really score. He shoots the ball really well. He can attack the basket off the dribble as well.”

5. Maryland

* Verbal Commitments (4): PG Melo Trimble (35th), 6-2, Arlington (Va.) Bishop O’Connell; SG Dion Wiley (58th), 6-3, Oxon Hill (Md.) Potomac; C Trayvon Reed (68th), 7-1, Burlington (N.J.) Life Center Academy; SF Jared Nickens (107th), 6-6, Norristown (Pa.) Westtown.

* The Skinny: Since winning the national title in 2002, Maryland has only been to one Sweet 16 (2003). In the last six years, the Terrapins have only been to two NCAA tournaments and none since 2010. So for coach Mark Turgeon to land a top-five class – and with Maryland moving from the ACC to the Big Ten next year – this could be a sign that the Terps are headed back on an upswing.

* Meyer’s Comment: “This class is a good start and may be good enough to get them back into the top 25 nationally. Is it a no-brainer or a definite? I don’t know about that. We’ll have to see because these four guys can’t do it alone. But they are four very good players.

Trayvon Reed is a bit of a project. He is a 7-footer and has the length, but he really has to build up his body and become a more aggressive and instinctual player. You can’t teach that kind of length. His better days are a year or two down the road. Melo Trimble is a guy who could contribute right away. He was one of the steadier point guards on the summer circuit this year. He doesn’t have elite speed, but he is a tremendous shooter and he plays with strength and composure.

Dion Wiley is a big, strong wing player. Like Trimble, he is also a tremendous shooter. Jared Nickens is sort of a do-it-all small forward type. He is a slasher and plays with some athleticism. I think he will be big for Maryland defensively. He can lock down in multiple positions.”

Shaqquan Aaron will cross-country to play at Louisville

6. Louisville

* Verbal Commitments (3): SG Shaqquan Aaron (14th), 6-8, Seattle (Wash.) Rainier Beach; PF Jaylen Johnson (55th), 6-9, Ypsilanti, Mich.; C Chinanu Onuaku (64th), 6-10, Upper Marlboro (Md.) Riverside Baptist.

* The Skinny: The Cardinals are coming off their first national championship under Rick Pitino and the school’s first since 1986. Louisville is predominantly a veteran team, so Pitino needed to reload and build for the future with this class. He went to the west coast to get the dynamic Aaron, who picked UL over UCLA, Arizona, Washington and many others. He also got Michigan’s top prospect in Johnson. Louisville is in its first and only year in the American Athletic Conference before moving to the ACC next year.

* Meyer’s Comment: “They are bringing in a potential star with Shaqquan Aaron. The bigger question is will they get the dividends out of him that they want to get before he heads to the NBA. He’s a guy who will get drafted on potential. He could have just an OK freshman year there and still be a potential draftee or first-round type. He has tremendous playmaking and scoring ability at 6-8. You don’t see that a lot. He can handle the ball like a point guard.

“Jaylen Johnson is a tremendous energy player and a great fit for the Pitino system. His game will maximize under that system. He is a baseline-to-baseline player. He’s also a great rebounder and anticipates plays. With Onuaku, you have a big guy who can control space. He is a great complement to Johnson. Jaylen is more athletic and Onuaku would be the anchor who holds down the middle.”

7. Seton Hall

* Verbal Commitments (4): SG Isaiah Whitehead (20th), 6-4, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Abraham Lincoln; PF Angel Delgado (46th), 6-9, Troy (N.Y.) Redemption Christian Academy; SG Khadeen Carrington (144th), 6-3, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Bishop Loughlin; SF Ismael Sanogo (NA), 6-6, Newark (N.J.) East Side.

* The Skinny: With the break-up of the old Big East, Seton Hall – led by coach Kevin Willard – could be positioned as a contender in the new Big East. Willard scored nicely by bringing in the top three players in the state of New York in the 2014 class, led by the dynamic Whitehead. He picked the Pirates over St. John’s, Pittsburgh, Florida, Kansas, Indiana and others.

Seton Hall getting a good one in Isaiah Whitehead

* Meyer’s Comment: “The huge storyline with Seton Hall is Isaiah Whitehead. If he is not an elite player, he is right on the cusp of being an elite talent. He’s a guy everyone has pegged to be an NBA player, likely for years. He is built extremely well. He is a strong wing guard who can score and make plays. He is a competitive, physical player. That was a huge recruiting victory for Seton Hall to land such a great player.

“Delgado is not too shabby, either. He was probably the best rebounder on the summer circuit. He can score as well around the basket. He will more than likely be a double-digit rebounder. Carrington is a local talent and a solid guard, ranked in the top 150. He will go along well with Whitehead. He could play the one or two guard there.”

8. Georgetown

* Verbal Commitments (4): SF Isaac Copeland (39th), 6-10, Wolfeboro (N.H.) Brewster Academy; SF Paul White (87th), 6-9, Chicago (Ill.) Whitney Young; SG L.J. Peak (83rd), 6-5, Gaffney, S.C.; PG Tre Campbell (165th), 6-2, Washington (D.C.) St. John’s College.

* The Skinny: Like Seton Hall, Georgetown figures to be among the leaders in the new Big East. Coach John Thompson III will sign three top-100 players, led by Copeland.

* Meyer’s Comment: “It is a good class. You have some guys with some upside. They are all ranked in that four-star range. I could see them outplaying their rankings. You look at Tre Campbell, Paul White and Isaac Copeland, if those guys can develop strength, that’s the main thing they need to add. They are all highly skilled.

“Copeland, the highest ranked of the bunch, is a tremendous athlete. He has NBA potential if he can put it together. At 6-9, he is athletic and has skill. L.J. Peak is a well known name. He could be ready to play right away. He is a good overall wing player.”

9. San Diego State

* Verbal Commitments (4): SF Malik Pope (27th), 6-8, Sacramento (Calif.) Capital Christian; PF Zylan Cheatham (74th), 6-8, Phoeniz (Ariz.) South Mountain; SG Trey Kell (113th), 6-4, San Diego (Calif.) St. Augustine; PG Kevin Zabo (123rd), 6-1, Wolfeboro (N.H.) Brewster Academy.

* The Skinny: SDSU coach Steve Fisher recruited the Fab Five to Michigan over two decades ago. In recent years, he has made the Aztecs an NCAA fixture out of the Mountain West. Pope, a top-five California prospect, picked SDSU over the likes of Kansas, Arizona, UCLA and others.

* Meyer’s Comment: “(Fisher) is still doing it. They were able to get two of the more athletic forwards in the country in Malik Pope and Zylan Cheatham. A lot of people thought it would be one or the other. To get both of those guys, it was just an unbelievable job by San Diego State and by Coach Fisher and his staff.

Trey Kell is one of the better shooting guards in the country in terms of being a pure shooter and a scorer. Kevin Zabo is a quick point guard. He relies on his speed and can push the tempo. He gets the athletes around him involved with the game.”

10. Arizona

* Verbal Commitments (3): PF Craig Victor (47th), 6-8, Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep; PG Parker Jackson-Cartwright (59th), 5-10, Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola; G Kadeem Allen (NA), 6-3, Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.

* The Skinny: Coach Sean Miller has quietly rebuilt the Arizona program and led the Wildcats to two Sweet 16s in the last three seasons. He got a verbal from Victor, a top-50 prospect and Louisiana native who most projected to LSU.

* Meyer’s Comment: “They got their point guard target in Parker Jackson-Cartwright. That was a guy they had targeted very early on in his high school career. They stayed persistent in recruiting him. He is a small player, but he brings a lot of game to the court. He can shoot with range. That brings the defense out. He is elusive off the dribble.

Craig Victor is a work horse as a rebounder and an interior scorer. He is developing more of a perimeter game. What Craig is going to give them is a physical, attack-the-basket type game like you see a Julius Randle at Kentucky. He’s that type of physical forward. Kadeem Allen is considered one of the best, if not the best, junior college player coming into next year. That was a big recruiting victory for Arizona.”

Also Notable

Here are more notables as the early signing period begins:

* These rankings could change very quickly as three of the nation’s top 10 prospects could announce their college choices on Friday.

Illinois big men Cliff Alexander (third overall nationally) and Jahlil Okafor (sixth) and Minnesota point guard Tyus Jones (fifth) could all make their college decisions on Friday. Alexander seems to be split between Illinois and Kansas, while Okafor and Jones have maintained they would like to play together. That could happen as they are both pondering Duke and Kansas, among others.

Stay tuned within the next day or so for a look at the nation’s top uncommitted prospects for 2014.

* The nation’s No. 1 prospect is going to … Southern Methodist University!?

That player on the 247Sports.com top 247 list is Emmmanuel Mudiay, a 6-5 point guard from Dallas (Texas) Prime Prep Academy. He had offers from all of the nation’s top powers, including Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Texas and others. But the lure of playing for legendary coach Larry Brown in his hometown was too much to pass up. He verbaled to SMU in August.

SMU has moved from Conference USA to the new American Athletic Conference. There, SMU will be playing against the likes of Cincinnati, Connecticut, Memphis and others.

“It is probably not shocking, but I would put it under the surprise category,” Meyer said of the Mudiay-to-SMU verbal. “The fact that Coach Calipari and the Kentucky staff had targeted Mudiay early on and recruited him so diligently. It’s rare they lose out on one of their top targets like that. It was a great recruiting win for Larry Brown.

“There is not a prospect in this class who is an overwhelming No. 1 in this class, in my opinion. Most of the industry likes Jahlil Okafor. Mudiay, what you have in him is tremendous size for his position. He is a 6-5 point guard. He’s been compared to John Wall. To me, that’s a pretty good comparison.

“Mudiay is a streaky shooter. He is not a consistent outside shooter. Other than that one chink in his armor, he has a complete game for a potential NBA point guard.”

* Another national top-five prospect who figures to sign in this period is Kelly Oubre, a 6-7 shooting guard from Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep. He verbaled to Kansas in October, picking the Jayhawks over Kentucky and others.

“He can do everything,” Meyer said of Oubre. “When you watch an NBA game and you watch the small forwards and the shooting guards, you see a bunch of Kelly Oubres out there. He is highly athletic with a great motor. He is a great rebounder. He can score at different levels. He handles the ball and passes the ball well.

“He is a guy who made a huge impression on me in the spring. We sort of got out ahead of the rest of the industry with his ranking. But I like him as a top-five player in the country.”

* Looking beyond the top 10, the next 10 classes ranked 11th through 20th right now are: 11. Stanford, 12. N.C. State, 13. Illinois, 14. Xavier, 15. Oklahoma State, 16. Providence, 17. Indiana, 18. Marquette, 19. UNLV and 20. Syracuse.

Here were Meyer’s comments on several of those classes:

On Illinois: “John Groce at Illinois is doing a great job recruiting. The pivotal recruit there is Cliff Alexander. He will announce on Friday. If they land him, they jump into the top 10 and it becomes a super class.”

On Stanford: “Stanford had a huge win when they beat out Duke and Minnesota for Reid Travis. He will be there with Michael Humphrey. They are bringing in two tremendous frontcourt players.”

On Indiana: “With Indiana, rarely do you see a player de-commit and then go back to his original school he de-committed from. But Indiana pulled that off with James Blackmon Jr. Blackmon and Robert Johnson are two tremendous perimeter scorers who can shoot the ball well. They could play together with one at the point and one at the two. Then, they brought in another shooter with Max Hoetzel.”

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