Yags’ Point Forward - Class of 2016 Against the Rest
With the Final Rankings for the Class of 2016 now available, now is as good a time as ever to step back and appreciate what this group has accomplished. The most instinctive way we do that with players every day is to compare them to their peers, so it's only natural that we do it with the class as a whole as well.
Using the year's Final Rankings from NERR and ESPN 100 as the barometer, here's how this year's New England prospects stack up against the groups that have come before them.
Since their departure, New England's Class of 2012 was -and still is- the standard by which future classes in our region will be compared to in terms of elite talent, elite depth, and impact at the college level and on NBA Draft Night. Highlighted by #1 Nerlens Noel (Kentucky/76ers), #4 Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona), and #6 Steven Adams (Pitt/Thunder), New England's 2012 class put three prospects in the top-10 nationally and placed 10 prospects in the ESPN 100. But the class also welcomed two ESPN 100 from 2011 as post grads to their class with future St. John's teammates Jakarr Sampson (#32 overall in the 2011 ESPN rankings) and Amir Garrett (#99 in '11).
If that wasn't enough, Aaron Thomas (FSU), Jalen Reynolds (Xavier), and future NBA Draft Pick Semaj Christon (Xavier/Thunder) also came to New England for a post grad year and joined forces with Sampson and TJ Warren (NC State/Suns) at Brewster Academy, giving Jason Smith the best team the NEPSAC has seen in recent memory. Brewster's 6th Man in 2012, Mitch McGary (Michigan/Thunder), would go on to become the 21st overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. All had high enough individual scouting grades to be considered top-100 prospects and were part of an amazing 15-player group of New England prospects who were among the top-100 nationally.
Ironically, the Class of 2012 may not have seen their highest NBA Draft Pick come off the board yet. New London (CT) and Providence point guard Kris Dunn has a chance to become the highest drafted player from the group this summer. Dunn would have to go in the top-5 in order to surpass Noel, who went #6 overall to Philadelphia in 2013, but he's been predicted to go anywhere between #3-#8 on Draft Night throughout the season.
Dunn will become the 6th member of the 2012 class to be selected in the 1st Round of the NBA Draft and the 10th member to be drafted by or sign with an NBA organization. New Hampton's Olivier Hanlon, South Kent's Ricky Ledo, and Christon were 2nd Round Picks while Sampson signed with Philly as an undrafted free agent.
The fact that this class lost their top prospect just days before the school year was set to start, when current NBA All Star Andre Drummond chose to attend UConn instead of playing his final campaign alongside Dunn at Wilbraham & Monson, but is still unanimously considered the deepest and most talented group to come out of New England in recent memory is absolutely absurd.
So, because of those elite players and their resumes, I'll respectfully leave New England's Class of 2012 out of the discussion when it comes to comparing the 2016 class to their peers and you'll only see its individual players' names mentioned in order to put things in perspective.
The Class of 2012 retains the belt.....for now. (2017 isn't finished with their resumes!)
2016 AGAINST THE REST
New England's Class of 2016 placed 10 prospects in the Final ESPN 100 Rankings. That's an amazing number when you think about it. On any given night this winter, 10% of the nation's top-100 seniors could've been taking the court at the same time in gyms across New England. It's also the 2nd most ESPN 100 players New England has produced in the ranking's 10-year history, behind only the aforementioned 2012 Class.
Wenyen Gabriel (#14), Omari Spellman (#18), Mustapha Heron (#25), and Bruce Brown (#26) gave New England four prospects in the top-30 of the ESPN 100. While it's only half as many as top-30 prospects as the star-studded 2012 produced, it's a remarkable number when you consider that New England combined to produce five top-30 prospects in the ESPN 100 from '13-'15. Over the previous three seasons, New Hampton's Noah Vonleh (#13 in '13), Tilton's Wayne Selden (#14 in '13), Wilbraham & Monson's Goodluck Okonoboh (#26 in '14) and the Brewster duo of Jalen Adams (#25 in '15) and Isaac Copeland (#26 in '14) have been the only New England names amongst the elite of the elite nationally.
Coaches across America fell in love with Wenyen Gabriel last summer, when his infectious energy and marathon motor took the Adidas circuit by storm. That's when offers from Duke and Kentucky rolled in, immediately supplanting UConn and Providence as the local favorite to land the 6'9" gazelle. Gabriel consequently made the rise from outside of the ESPN 100 to 84th in June and 23rd in August, before settling in as the 14th best prospect in the country at year's end. Gabriel made his debut as the #1 prospect in New England this January, completing a 2-year rise that started at the back end of the top-10 regionally.
Gabriel heads to Kentucky this Fall tagged with the descriptors that, even when talking about what he currently lacks, make scouts dream big.
"Raw but is coachable and learns quickly."
"Uses elite bounce, length, motor, and resilience to compensate for any current lack of strength."
"Handle and jump shot are still developing but looks very fluid and comfortable on the wing using both."
But at the end of the day, only two words need to be used when describing Gabriel; "Enormous Upside"
Omari Spellman's 6'9" frame also came with one of the most uniquely polished and silky smooth games that the NEPSAC has seen in a long time. Spellman is the only big to come through New England since '11-'12 who, in my humble opinion, would have undoubtedly held his own against the group of Noel, Tarczewski, Adams, McGary and Drummond. While each one of those future pros would've had an advantage on Spellman in some way and he would've been posterized a time or two like they all were along the way, the look on their faces after Spellman laughed it off, drew them out from the post and proceeded to take them off the dribble, catch lobs with shockingly easy bounce, and hit shots from beyond the arch in their grills as a response would have been absolutely priceless.
From the time he took the court for MacDuffie in the Fall of 2014 until he was supplanted by Gabriel in January, Spellman was considered the #1 prospect in New England. NERR ranking reflected that sentiment and was backed up by a consistent spot in ESPN 100's top-25.
It was fitting for Mustapha Heron and Bruce Brown to finish their prep careers ranked alongside one another in the ESPN 100. Their tenacity, will to win, and ability to single-handedly carry their team offensively for extended stretches was unmatched within New England this year and is only comparable to one another. Since 2013, Wayne Selden had been the gold standard amongst power wings in the region. Moving forward, however, Heron and Brown must be mentioned in the same vein.
Both players cemented themselves atop NERR's rankings early in their prep career and never budged. Each steadily added nuances to their game without sacrificing their fearless style in the process. They even capped their careers with similarly amazing stat lines (Brown 35pts/14reb/5ast, Heron 32pts, 10reb/4ast) while leading their team to victory and earning MVP honors in their respective Association's Championship Game. Most importantly though, Mustapha Heron and Bruce Brown set the tone and provided an example for younger teammates and players in the region to follow, of what it takes not just to win games, but to be considered a Winner. That's why their individual achievements will live on long after they head to Auburn and Miami to play their college ball.
While the Class of 2016 had elite players at the very top, it was their depth that set them apart. In a strong National Class, New England was well represented when it came to explosive big men and bigger wing players alike.
South Kent's Matt Moyer brought the rare mix of intelligence, elite athleticism, and high character to the floor with him every night. Mamadou Diarra was the heart and soul of the Putnam Science program and threatened to put opposing big men on a poster at a moment's notice. Tyrique Jones transformed himself from a powerful athlete to a powerful post player during his time at Vermont Academy, giving Brown the perfect wingman and forming a winning formula. Brewster teammates Taurean Thompson and Alpha Diallo watched their stocks soar upon arrival in Wolfboro, allowing the process to play out completely before deciding on their high major choices.
You only began to scratch the surface of the Class of 2016's talent if you stopped at the last New England prospect listed in the ESPN 100. High major talent could be found deep inside NERR's regional rankings and the country will be littered with major college prospects from this year's class. Even Canada will feel its presence now that James Wells has committed to McGill University in Montreal
Christian Vital (UConn), Tyrn Flowers (UMass), Chris Baldwin (UMass), Vitaliy Sjibel (Arizona State), Rapolas Ivanauskas (Northwestern), Deleon Brown (Colorado), Jordy Tshimanga (Undecided) and others will join their aforementioned classmates at high major schools next season.
Others such as Elijah Hughes (East Carolina), CJ Keyser (Wichita St), and David Dileo (Central Michigan) will bring high major skillsets to mid major programs in an attempt to become America's darling in March at some point in the next four years.
Meanwhile, some of the best academic institutions in the world will keep some talent in New England. AJ Brodeur (Penn), Miye Oni (Yale), James Foye (Dartmouth), and Ray Jerome (Penn) will be heading to Ivy League campuses in the fall.
This diverse group of future high-major players helped form New England's most talented class since the star-studded Class of 2012 and the 2nd best class of prospects to come through New England over the last decade.
BY THE NUMBERS
- Brewster Academy had the most players within the top-50 of NERR's 2016 Final Rankings with 7. Thompson, Diallo, Brown, Ivanauskas, and Keyser, were joined by Malik Fitts and Jack Lieb in the upper half of this year's class. St. Thomas More followed with 6 total as Spellman and Vital welcomed teammates Charles Brown, EJ Crawford, Mike Sagay, and Kai Mitchell. New Hampton and Notre Dame Prep each placed four recruits in the top-50.
Master's was the most well-represented program outside of NEPSAC's AAA and the Independents, placing 3 prospects in the top-50 as Dimencio Vaughn, Sam Ibiezugbe, and Andrew Garcia all cracked the top half of the rankings.
Sacred Heart (CT) was the only school in a state association to have a prospect in the top-50, but they got their money's worth, placing two players (Heron and Flowers) in the top-10 overall.
- 6' guard Ikenna Ndugba, 6'3" wing Ian Sistare, and 6'2" guards Christian Vital and Malik Massey were the only four players under 6'4" ranked in the top-50 of the Class of 2016. There really is something in the meat these days or we've got some fibs being told on the roster sheets. Either way, I'm investing in America's Beef Industry and a tape measure immediately.
- This year's class had 4 of the top 16 highest ranked New England recruits within the ESPN 100 since 2011 in terms of final ranking in each individual class. At #14, Gabriel is the 8th highest ranked New England prospect in the last six classes. Spellman #18 ranking puts him in the top-10 of that group while Heron and Brown are 15th and 16th on the list after finishing their careers as the #25 and #26 recruits in the nation respectively.
- New England has not traditionally been a breeding ground for elite point guards or smaller combo guards, although the Class of 2017 will certainly change that trend. Since 2011, New England's recruiting classes certainly haven't been devoid of such players, as we watched Michael Carter-Williams, Kris Dunn and Jalen Adams leave the region with impeccable prep resumes, but we've simply produced more bigs and wings in that period. The highest ranked point/combo guard in this year's class was Christian Vital who finished 12th in the final NERR rankings. But with an ESPN scouting grade of 76, Vital sits just outside of the top-10 amongst players at that position, alongside the likes of Travis Jorgenson (New Hampton/Georgia Tech), Scoochie Smith (Putnam Science/Dayton), and Rene Castro (Worcester Academy/Butler/Creighton) who all finished with similar ESPN scouting grades.
- Watching the likes of Steph Curry, Damion Lillard, Kawhi Leonard, and CJ McCollum stand out in the NBA Playoffs has to make you wonder about the value of heading to a mid major program. Young players that have elite physical attributes or one elite basketball skill, but who's overall games and basketball acumen are still very raw, might be best served to play through their mistakes at a program where the fan base doesn't demand 30-wins and the head coach lives in fear of being axed if he doesn't deliver them. The Class of 2016 certainly has some players heading to programs outside of the major conferences who I fully expect to make immediate impacts and become foundational pieces to their programs.
Robert Martin Jr. heads to Rice after a uber-successful prep career at Tilton and with the BABC. Martin Jr. always did anything necessary for his team to win and developed an extremely well-rounded skill set in the process. While coaches will always value players with elite physical measurements and skills, players who can contribute a little bit of everything on a consistent basis aren't far behind. Martin Jr. could give Rice the type of jack-of-all-trades player that players like Draymond Green have forced America to appreciate.
Dimencio Vaughn heads to Rider after a season at Master's where he was downright dominant at times. Putnam Science will attest to this after watching him drop 40 points and grab 16 boards in an upset win for Master's. The NYC native has a college-ready body, a diverse scoring repertoire, and amazing court awareness that allows him to play bigger than his 6'5" frame suggests. He should be a plug-and-play piece from the outset for Rider.
The same can be said about Will Rayman (Colgate), David Dileo (Central Michigan), Saul Phiri (LaSalle), Jack Lieb (Lehigh), Shawn Montague (Sacred Heart), Isaiah Nichols (San Jose St), Kashaun Hicks (Central Connecticut), and Jose Martinez (San Diego). All finished outside of the top-20 in our final rankings but will have every opportunity to play big minutes from the moment they step on campus.
- Lastly, while there will always be young players (and people from every age group in every industry!) who make bad decisions and lend credence to the "dumb jock" label that some love throwing out there, the overwhelming majority of New England's Class of 2016 are polite, intelligent young men with exceptional character on and off the court. Whether they were looking you dead in the eyes when you spoke to them, shaking your hand with a firm grip (don't ever give The Dead Fish handshake, fellas!), or answering questions or making statements using "Sir" at the end of their sentence, it's obvious that these young men value what the game of basketball can give them and appreciate the people around them who contribute to their success.
The Class of 2016 was just as much of a pleasure to get to know off the court as they were to watch while they were on it. We wish them the best of luck and we're confident that they'll represent New England well at the next level. Go get em, boys!