College basketball recruiting: James Wiseman's hold on the No. 1 spot in 2019 now seems up for debate
The big man, favored to ultimately pick Kentucky or Memphis, has some interesting rivals pushing for the top of the rankings
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Whether you're a college basketball fan or an NBA junkie who likes to keep track of elite high school talent in anticipation of future drafts, know this: the top end of the Class of 2019 looks like it's lacking.
This development comes on the heels of a 2018 class that's viewed as a significant drop-off from what 2015-2017 provided. So it's got to be all the more dispiriting and unnerving to NBA franchises that American youth basketball talent is seemingly hitting a downturn. That's the general feel I got after spending four days at Nike's annual Peach Jam, which wrapped on Sunday. (D.C.-based Team Takeover won the tournament; you can get a recap of some of what else happened in .)
Heading down south, I was most interested in watching James Wiseman's games. He's the No. 1 recruit in 2019 and was the centerpiece of the Bluff City Legends, the Memphis-based Nike travel team previously branded as "Team Penny" until Penny Hardaway became the coach at Memphis in March.
Wiseman was fun to watch (his team was knocked out in pool play), but he's got a long way to go and is missing a dominant -- or hell, even consistent -- rebounding habit. The 6-foot-11 forward/center averaged 16.0 points and 5.8 rebounds at Peach Jam, in addition to a solid 2.2 blocks per game. But there were times when he was overmatched, like against his biggest big man rival, Vernon Carey Jr. (see below), or while getting beat in the post by 7-footer Hunter Dickinson, a tremendous 2020 prospect out of Hyattsville, Maryland.
That Wiseman's been sitting atop the rankings as the No. 1 player for two years says something (not flattering) about the Class of 2019. In talking to coaches and recruitniks on hand in North Augusta, the scuttlebutt is how Wiseman might be the weakest No. 1, if he keeps that position, in the past 7-10 years or more.
To paraphrase a rhetorical question I heard a few folks ask at Peach Jam: If James Wiseman is the best player in your class, then how good is your class?
That query implies that Wiseman, as he enters his senior season of high school, is not as wowing or developed or promising a player as:
- R.J. Barrett, No. 1 in 2018
- Marvin Bagley III, No. 1 in 2017
- Josh Jackson, No. 1 in 2016
- Ben Simmons, No. 1 in 2015
- Jahlil Okafor, No. 1 in 2014
- Andrew Wiggins, No. 1 in 2013
- Nerlens Noel, No. 1 in 2012
- Anthony Davis, No. 1 in 2011
- Harrison Barnes, No. 1 in 2010
Given how good most/all of those guys were at 17 years old, it's not a crucifixion of Wiseman, who's destined to be a one-and-done player. I'm not here to sell all my stock on the kid; this is all relative to high school-age development. And it wouldn't be a terrible thing for all of us in the basketball world to put some more patience on all 17-year-old prospects. But ... that's not going to happen. The genie's out of the bottle, and besides, basketball is a sport where phenomenal talent is often successfully identifiable by the age of 16.
So to say that Wiseman's a symbol for a weaker 2019 class speaks to the group as much as it does him.
(Aside: This all runs in interesting, ironic contrast to the Peach Jam itself and competition therein. Because even if 2019 is a down year, this year's top Nike event didn't suffer from that circumstance. I didn't go to any other tournaments in the first live July weekend, but in speaking to many coaches who traveled around the country last week, the consensus was this year's Peach Jam being far superior in competition and watchable basketball to any other event. Nike seems to have separated itself in 2018. That also doesn't bode well for the Class of 2019 on the whole. If Under Armour and Adidas circuits are significantly underwhelming to Nike's, it's the first time in many years that's been the case.)
Wiseman could very well grow into a pretty good college player and an even better pro. For now, any comparisons to past top prospects is a commentary about his game at this point of his maturation process vs. others who've held the top spot. Keep that in mind. There's still a lot to like.
And know that any school in the country would take him in an instant.
Overall, the top 10 for 2019 seems fluid, perhaps more fluid than normal at this point on the calendar. Justin Young, a near-two-decade veteran of the Peach Jam and surrounding recruiting scene, sees a race that should be fairly open as the non-scholastic season draws closer to a finish. For example, Vernon Carey Jr., the No. 2 player, could easily turn into the top guy in 2019 by the time the rankings are reshuffled in August.
Here's a bit of Carey vs. Wiseman from the opening night of Peach Jam.
In the games I saw in North Augusta, Carey was better than Wiseman. In EYBL play, Carey averaged 19.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and shot 54.4 percent. Two high-major coaches I spoke with said they'd take Carey over Wiseman without question, and expect Carey to be the better college and NBA player.
Another said that Wiseman's build and game is going to develop beautifully by the time he's 22 years old. If his 3-point shot gets better, his stock will skyrocket.
Fun that we've got a debate percolating here, though. It's more common than not that the player who enters July before his senior year as the No. 1 guy keeps the throne. Perhaps not this year.
If not Carey or Wiseman, who else? It might be Cole Anthony who winds up as No. 1. The son of UNLV great/former NBA veteran Greg Anthony is the best guard in the class, and plays with a do-or-die attitude that's great to watch. Anthony averaged 26.8 points on 44.1 percent shooting and put up 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals on the EYBL circuit. He looks built for success. When I watched him play, his body language and attitude reminded me a lot of Quinn Cook.
The final player in the mix for top spot? Jaden McDaniels, a bendy, skinny wing from the greater Seattle area whose star is rising higher by the week. And getting that No. 1 ranking seems to mean as much to these players as anything else, college choice included. As the list of No. 1s above proves, it means you're a near-lock for elite draft status when you wind up declaring, no matter how well or poorly your college career went. There's validity to that individual chase.
So consider this a primary subplot for the next two weeks on the circuit. Wiseman vs. a batch of worthy and diverse contemporaries. Wiseman said he'd announce his cut-down list of eight schools once Peach Jam was concluded. Kentucky and Memphis are considered the automatic final two.
If it's Kentucky, he'll be the next prestigious big man/project for John Calipari, the next possible No. 1 overall pick for Big Blue Nation. That commitment could push Kentucky over Duke in the ultimate 2019 rankings, too. If it's Memphis? Then Wiseman stays local and picks his former high school coach in Hardaway, who would get by far the biggest recruiting pledge of his young career. Of course, the juiciest plot point would be Calipari losing out on a potential No. 1 NBA Draft pick to the school he left for Kentucky.
Wherever he goes, it's a story that will carry intrigue long before and long after Wiseman makes his move. A No. 1 ranking would make it even better.
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