As we enter into the 2016 summer, recruits across the nation are packing up and heading to their respective universities to start the arduous and exciting path towards collegiate basketball so many of them have dreamed of since they were little kids.
In the Pac-12, the pressure will be high, the basketball environment lively, and the goals will center on a trip to Glendale, AZ in ten months.
As most know, the Arizona Wildcats, with its (five) star-studded No.3 overall recruiting class tops the Pac-12 rankings. What some might not know is how the UCLA Bruins boast nearly as good of class as well. The Bruins, according to 247Sports' Composite rankings, hold the fifth overall spot nationwide.
UCLA has one of the top players in the entire 2016 class in Lonzo Ball, a 6-foot-6 point guard. He took home the McDonald's All-American Game MVP honors, and did the same at the Ballislife All-American Game. The third-ranked player is even drawing comparison's to former Bruins guard Russell Westbrook. They also have former Arizona commit TJ Leaf, who will give them a stretch forward who could create havoc both on the break and in the half court set.
Another player gracing the overall top five is Markelle Fultz, a Washington commit, who shined at the Nike Hoop Summit last April. The 6-foot-4 combo guard has the ability to make a difference the moment he sets foot in Seattle. While Lorenzo Romar landed this five-star guard, the rest of his class was a bust. Washington had only one other recruit and their team ranking is seventh overall in the Pac-12.
In Bobby Hurley's first full year of recruiting, he bought in a solid class which consisted of three four-star players including the 38th-ranked player in the country in Sam Cunliffe. ASU also landed a recent commitment from Romello White, a 6-foot-8 PF who is the 77th-ranked player in the 2016 class. In all, they had the fourth best class behind U of A, UCLA, and Oregon.
Oregon, while not having highly ranked players, are comprised of a solid group of guys and the National Junior College Athletic Association's MBB Player of the Year in Kavel Bigby-Williams. The 6-foot-10 forward from London averaged 17 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks per game, and will be a huge asset to the Ducks next season. Dana Altman also brought in Payton Pritchard, the 54th-ranked player in the class, and MJ Cage who finished 100th. This class, coupled with the returning members (who are still in flux ahead of the May 25th NBA Draft Deadline) could make Oregon the league's favorite come next fall.
After securing commitments from top 20 players Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown last season, Cuonzo Martin and the California Golden Bears fell of the cliff this season. They landed only one ranked player, Charlie Moore (71st overall), who decommitted from Memphis in early April. However, with Rabb coming back, Cal has at least some interior presence, but could struggle on the perimeter and against deeper squads. It could be a rough season in Berkeley.
In contrast to Martin, USC and Andy Enfield brought in a nice class, with his highest rated player being Jonah Mathews, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard out of California (ranked 80th). The Trojans also landed three other three-star prospects, two forwards and a guard, for the 32nd-best class in the country. If Enfield, who led the team to a 21-12 record -- the school's first winning season since 2010-2011 -- can get these guys ready, they could make a run into the top half of the conference standings.
Utah, coming off their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, landed the 86th-best player in the country in Jayce Johnson, a 6-foot-11 center from California who will look to replace NBA-bound Jakob Poeltl. Overall, Larry Krystkowiak had one four-star and three three-star recruits. After their recent success, it will be interesting if Utah's 'Coach K' is able to attract some highly touted classes to Salt Lake City. If not, Utah's success will be short lived.
Stanford, with new head coach Jerod Haase, were able to hold onto the commitment of 95th-ranked Kodye Pugh, a 6-foot-8 SF who will be able to make an impact right away on a depleted roster. The 'Tree' also secured a commitment from a player just outside the Top 100 in Trevor Stanback, a PF who had offers from across the conference. In Haase's first season, it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the Pac-12 and the new recruiting advantages/challenges he's faced with.
The rest of the teams -- Wazzu, Colorado, and Oregon State -- do not have a player ranked in 247Sports' Top 100, which, while not diminishing their talent level, does mean they are less likely to to be a name you will need to focus on this upcoming season.
The national and conference rankings shape up like this:
- Arizona (3)
- UCLA (5)
- Oregon (16)
- ASU (18)
- USC (32)
- Utah (37)
- Washington (47)
- Oregon State (51)
- Stanford (53)
- Colorado (77)
- Washington State (88)
- California (89)
With four teams in the top 20 overall and many teams returning talented players, the Pac-12 could once again be a competitive force that beats itself up in the regular season while also preparing them (hopefully) for a March full of dancing.