Top 2021 recruiting classes headed into the New Year

The leaders of the pack are familiar names at this stage in the cycle.

As the calendar turns to 2021, it’s worth it to take a moment and examine the five front-running college basketball programs in the recruiting cycle for the 2021-2022 season. The upcoming spring and summer off-season is likely to be as tumultuous and heavy with intrigue and transfers as we’ve ever seen, but having a terrific signing class for 2021 headed into the spring is certainly never going to be a bad thing.

Michigan Wolverines

The group amassed by coach Juwan Howard and his staff is a rare, no doubt sterling class. It’s a group marked by tremendous depth, positional versatility, and potential star power. With two top 25 talents in Diabate and Houstan, along with additional signees capable of playing all five positions, it’s hard to look at this class other than being a rare talent assembly that’s being capable of both providing immediate star power and building block-style depth.

  • Isaiah Barnes | 6-6 | SF | Simeon (IL)

  • Kobe Bufkin | 6-4 | SG | Grand Rapids Christian (MI)

  • Frankie Collins | 6-1 | PG | Coronado (NV)

  • Moussa Diabate | 6-10 | C | IMG Academy (FL)

  • Caleb Houstan | 6-8 | PF | Montverde Academy (FL)

  • Will Tschetter | 6-8 | PF | Stewartville (MN)

Florida State Seminoles

To lose a top 25 talent in Bryce McGowens (who swapped from FSU to Nebraska) and still remain in the top 5 classes nationally just demonstrates how elite the Florida State group is and where the ‘Noles have been nationally for awhile now on the recruiting trail. This blue chip quartet has the standard allotment of 7-footers that Florida State seems to land regularly, along with two top 25 caliber backcourt/wing gems in Cleveland and Warley.

  • John Butler | 7-1 | C | Christ Church (NC)

  • Matthew Cleveland | 6-6 | SF | Pace Academy (GA)

  • Naheem McLeod | 7-3 | C | Chipola College (FL)

  • Jalen Warley | 6-4 | SG | Westtown School (PA)

Duke Blue Devils

As the only class that has two top 10 talents nationally at this point (notwithstanding the decent likelihood they may add another), Duke has quality over quantity and their standard, ho-hum at this point, infusion of elite talent set up for a year stopover in Durham prior to professional aspirations. Banchero has a legitimate possibility of finishing No. 1 in the class and has a resume to compare with anyone at this point. Similarly, Griffin is an elite talent on the wing that would rate as the crown jewel of just about any other class.

  • Paolo Banchero | 6-9 | PF | O’Dea (WA)

  • A.J. Griffin | 6-7 | SF | Archbishop Stepanic (NY)

Kentucky Wildcats

In all honesty, the Kentucky roster is likely to see an overhaul during the off-season, especially given their unprecedented start to the 2020 season. With that in mind, the Wildcats do have three building blocks that can help them re-configure their personnel in this trio. This could also be an effort that allows Kentucky to add some multi-year players who can help them get old. This group also adds some positional versatility that should provide additional roster flexibility.

  • Daimion Collins | 6-9 | PF | Atlanta (TX)

  • Nolan Hickman | 6-2 | PG | Wasatch Academy (UT)

  • Bryce Hopkins | 6-7 | SF | Fenwick (IL)

UCLA Bruins

UCLA has assembled a quality trio to date, with the added benefit of Etienne enrolling for the Winter term and getting a redshirt season under his belt in preparation for the 2021-2022 season. Watson is the highest-ranked player in California in the senior class, which is unquestionably the water the Bruins want to be swimming in on an annual basis to regain their elite status. McClendon could be a sleeper nationally and has plenty of upside as well.

  • Mac Etienne | 6-10 | C | Brewster Academy (NH)

  • Peyton Watson | 6-7 | SF | Long Beach Poly (CA)

  • Will McClendon | 6-3 | SG | Bishop Gorman (NV)

Beach Ball Classic offers a big stage

Virtually all of the historic holiday high school basketball tournaments were cancelled this year due to the pandemic, but the long-standing Beach Ball Classic (since 1981) in South Carolina not only held their event, but also boasted a free live stream with terrific video quality to allow viewing of high-level games, which certainly have been in short supply for understandable reasons.

This year’s event was broken into two notable brackets, the Beach Ball Championship (with more traditional high school programs) and Winter Jam National (with more national/travelling oriented squads).

On Christmas Eve, Milton (GA) knocked off Calvary Christian (FL), 70-57 to take the Beach Ball Classic trophy home. Junior point guard Bruce Thornton, a 6-2 early commit to Ohio State, showed out when it counted, playing the entire game and putting up 22 points to go with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. His 12-12 performance from the charity stripe was also outstanding.

The title tilt also was part of an announcement of entry to the national spotlight for 6-4 sophomore combo guard Marvel Allen of Calvary Christian, who transferred from Wellington (FL) during the off-season. Allen countered Thornton’s efforts with 17 points and 4 rebounds of his own. The linked December article indicates Allen already holds scholarship offers from three high-majors in LSU, South Florida, and Virginia Tech.

Elite underclass talent was the story in the Winter Jam National championship game, as West Oaks Academy (FL) took down Combine Academy (FL) by a four point margin 69-65.

Universal top 10 sophomore prospect, 6-9 big Matt Bewley of West Oaks Academy, came up big (pun intended) to spur his team to the victory, nabbing 8 rebounds to go with 20 points. Likewise, top 100 senior swingman/swiss army knife Wesley Cardet came through in his typical stat stuffing manner, with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.

On the Combine Academy side, recent North Carolina offer 6-2 sophomore point guard Robert Dillingham, a candidate for top 10 ranking in the 2023 class nationally, led the way with 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. His recruitment is likely to reach the very highest levels before it’s all said and done.

2022 Standouts Dick, Traore, and Floyd Jr. narrow lists

Three top 150 ranked juniors (Class of 2022) presented narrowed college lists this week, with one set to pop before the first month of 2021 is over.

Gradey Dick, a 6-7 wing forward from Sunrise Christian (KS), is at No. 31 in the current 247Sports composite for the junior class. The contenders for Dick’s college services include Alabama, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Illinois, Florida, Texas Tech, Purdue, and his in-state program, Kansas. Dick was a standout at Collegiate (KS) prior to transferring to one of the nation’s most talented programs at Sunrise Christian, as he posted 20 points and 5 rebounds per game as a sophomore.

Roselle Catholic (NJ) combination guard Corey Floyd Jr. is also set to pop, sooner rather than later, at this point. The No. 125 prospect in the 247Sports composite has put out that January 14 is his commitment date, with eight high major programs under consideration. His final list favors some heavy hitters from the Northeast, as UConn, Providence, Rutgers, and Villanova are joined by Auburn, Florida, Miami, and Wake Forest as finalists.

There’s also some clarity to big man Mady Traore’s considerations. At No. 148 in the 247Sports composite, Traore has room to rise given his 6-11 frame and burgeoning skills. With origins from France, Traore has an eclectic group on his list of eight programs, including: Auburn, Oregon, Kansas, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Florida, USC, and Illinois.

Other notable commits

Southern Utah may have nabbed a sneaky good commit this week in 6-6 wing Anthony Swift. The Thunderbirds nabbed the Las Vegas-native, who reportedly held numerous mid-major offers, along with a reported tender from DePaul. Swift previously played his high school ball at Desert Pines (NV) and is at Southern California Academy (CA) this year. As a junior, Swift averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds per game on a strong team.

Another high-major program landed some versatility on Christmas Eve, as Iowa State picked up combo guard Jayden Nunn. With good size at 6-4, Nunn hails from Flint, Michigan, but is ended high school at Dream City Christian (AZ). Flint has been a long-time pipeline to Iowa State, and Nunn posted 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists as a junior at Carmen-Ainsworth (MI), according to Michigan Live.