By Jeff Goodman
ATLANTA – I’m on my way home after spending the last few days drinking sweet tea, eating peaches and, yes, also watching the elite players in the country.
I’ve been doing this recruiting deal for the past dozen years – and have never been so intrigued by the top three players in a class.
Sure, LeBron was can’t miss back in the Class of 2003, but his sidekicks were Loul Deng and Shannon Brown. There was Kevin Durant and Greg Oden a half-dozen years ago, but the No. 3 guy was Brandan Wright.
This trio I just watched – over and over – is special.
No, not that one in the Class of 2012 – which features Shabazz Mohammad and a pair of underwhelming big men in Andre Drummond and Isaiah Austin.
I’m talking about the group of rising juniors. The Class of 2013.
I honestly can’t get enough of this trio.
To me, there are three guys who clearly stand above the fray: Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Nerlens Noel.
All reside in the frontcourt; all offer something different; and all play hard.
You’ve got the smooth and skilled 6-foot-8 Parker, the Simeon High (Ill.) product who likely has the highest ceiling, and occupies most recruiting gurus’ No. 1 overall spot.
Then you’ve got the 6-8 Randle, a Texan who gets after it with a similar intensity level of Kevin Garnett (without the punk attitude) and is a warrior in the paint.
Finally comes Noel, a rail-thin 6-10 Everett, Mass., native who blocks shots like someone never seen before at the high school level.
I can’t get enough of watching all of them, and I’d take any of them over anyone in the Class of 2012.
But it’s extremely different for me to single out any of them as the No. 1 player in the country.
So I went to 10 high-major Division 1 coaches and got their take. Parker earned six votes, Randle collected three and Noel was the choice of one.
Parker: ``The guy can flat-out put the ball in the hole. He can score it in every way.”
Parker: ``He has the best skill level and is the best shooter of the three.”
Parker: ``He’s so versatile and will be able to impact the game right away.
Randle: ``No one gets more done. He gets to the line more than anyone and is unbelievably competitive. He’s a great rebounder and is so unselfish.”
Parker: ``He’s like Carmelo Anthony.”
Noel: ``I haven’t seen anyone that can impact the game the way he can in 30 years. He’s a game-changer.”
Parker: ``He’s a combination of Grant Hill and Kobe.”
Randle: ``Guys like him just aren’t out there anymore. He just plays harder than everyone else.”
Parker: ``I could see him being a star in the NBA, maybe not to the level of LeBron or Kobe – but close.”
Randle: ``Parker has a higher ceiling, but I’ll take this kid every day of the week.”
The following is a list of the Top 3 players (consensus) since the turn of the century:
2011 -- Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers and Michael Gilchrist.
2010 -- Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger and Kyrie Irving
2009 -- Derrick Favors, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins
2008 -- Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans
2007 -- O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon
2006 –- Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Brandan Wright
2005 -- Josh McRoberts, Monta Ellis, Martell Webster
2004 -- Dwight Howard, Shaun Livingston, Al Jefferson
2003 –- LeBron James, Loul Deng, Shannon Brown
2002 –- Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton
2001 –- Eddy Curry, Kelvin Torbert, Dejuan Wagner
2000 –- Zach Randolph, Eddie Griffin, Darius Miles