by Conor Gereg
This current version of college basketball is a sport in constant roster transition, heralding an era of perpetual turnover and limited opportunities to see incoming freshmen play out their days on just one college campus. This isn’t a commentary maligning the current state of affairs or a laudatory endorsement of today’s game, but rather merely observation.
This past offseason brought yet another recording setting wave of transfers, eclipsing 1,000 players on the move from one school to the next, beating out the 800 last offseason and the 600+ the year before that. These trends aren’t necessarily a blight on the sport but when paired with the departures of top-ranked players, the college basketball landscape lacks the continuity it once featured in the not so distant past.
The 2017 recruiting class enters its senior year this fall yet only a fraction of the cohort’s top prospects actually remain in the purview of college basketball. Instead, when scrolling the 247 top 20 recruits of 2017, not a single one remains in the sport. This is a group that includes the likes of NBA talent Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson, and Trae Young yet other one time promising stars like Brian Bowen and Billy Preston.
A lot has happened in the last three years. Hell, a lot has happened in the last three months. This current cohort of seniors have seen a pandemic-shortened season, name-image-and-likeness legislation, expanded eligibility due to COVID-19, immediate one-time transfer eligibility (coming next year) and roster movement like no group ever before. On the eve of their senior season, here’s a look at some of 2017’s freshmen, today’s seniors, and the long, strange trip it’s been.
(Composite high school ranking in parenthesis via 247 Sports)
Emmanuel Akot – Boise State (Rank as a HS Prospect: 28)
An impressive performance in the U17 circuit in 2016 elevated Akot atop nearly every recruiting service four years ago. The talented Canadian wing began his career in Arizona and was lauded as one of the nation’s top new talents. After two seasons in Tucson, Akot transferred to Leon Rice’s Broncos where he sat out last season, making this fall his official Redshirt Junior debut in Boise. Akot’s offensive efficiency made him a liability at Arizona, shooting a lowly 29% from 3-PT and an abysmal 40% FT. Reports are glowing for the 6’8” forward and Akot has the physical tools to succeed in the Mountain West Conference.
Malik Williams – Louisville (Rank as a HS Prospect: 31)
After starting a combined 32 games during his freshman and sophomore campaigns, Williams found himself part of Chris Mack’s starting unit just three times in 2019-2020. Despite his 6’11” frame, Williams hasn’t developed into the shot blocking presence Cardinals fans had once hoped. Instead, Louisville has a dependable rebounder (13.1 rebounds/40 minutes) and Williams will enter this fall as the team’s top returning scorer (8.5 PPG). This may be the season where Williams’ lofty potential comes to fruition.
Paul Scruggs – Xavier (Rank as a HS Prospect: 32)
Scruggs arrived in Cincinnati alongside Naji Marshall and created what many believed to be Chris Mack’s most impressive recruiting haul while at the helm in the Queen City. The following offseason saw Mack move onto Louisville and this past offseason Naji Marshall surprised nearly everyone by forgoing his senior year. With just Scruggs left standing, the dynamic guard will have the freedom to operate as Travis Steele’s offensive focal point.
Quade Green – Washington (Rank as a HS Prospect: 33)
Green, a Kentucky transfer, will call 2020-2021 his Redshirt-Junior season due to multiple instances where he’s been forced to sit out. There’s never been a debate regarding Green’s talent but the former elite prospect appeared in just a pair of games last season prior to being declared academically ineligible. With Green’s departure the Huskies slid down the Pac-12 totem pole despite a roster chock full of talent. This Washington team is Green’s to lead in 2020-2021 and perhaps this is the year we finally see his full array of talents.
John Petty – Alabama (Rank as a HS Prospect: 34)
When Nate Oats took over in Tuscaloosa two years ago his top priority was retaining his talented young guard. Petty has all the tools to earn a place at the table as a First-Team all SEC caliber player in 2020-2021. The 6’5” combo-guard is the team’s leading returning rebounder (6.6 RPG) and second-leading scorer (14.5 PPG). Alabama will throw a triumvirate of guards at their opponents following the arrival of Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly and the return of sophomore Jaden Shakelford. Translation: Petty will get even more clean looks at the offensive end and will show added scoring efficiency.
Ethan Thompson – Oregon State (Rank as a HS Prospect: 37)
Thompson withdrew from NBA draft consideration in early August and the Beavers will return a player who has started every game he’s appeared in since arriving in Corvallis. Thompson has patiently functioned as a formidable second option throughout his tenure though the departure of Tres Tinkle and his 2,233 career points means Thompson will finally get the opportunities and spotlight he’s long waited for. The 6’5” guard tallied 14.8 PPG last season and a seismic senior leap seems to be in the cards. If the Beavers have any chance in the much improved Pac 12, it’ll be on Thompson’s back.
Chaundee Brown – Michigan (Rank as a HS Prospect: 39)
Danny Manning’s firing at Wake Forest meant the program’s top talents like Chaundee Brown would be departing for new teams. As of the third week of October, Brown still has yet to receive clearance to play his senior season at Michigan. If and when he takes the court this winter, Brown brings a consistent level of scoring (12.1 PPG) that the Wolverines could use in the hyper competitive Big Ten. Brown never developed into the dynamic offensive threat many predicted he’d be in Winston Salem, but an opportunity as a reliable two-way talent might be a reasonable path for the former 4-star recruit.
Jermaine Samuels – Villanova (Rank as a HS Prospect: 40)
Jermaine Samuels’ high school recruitment came down to some of the nation’s very best programs before ultimately committing to Villanova. Jay Wright’s system has developed Samuels from a spot contributor to a vital cog in a pre-season top five team. Samuels hasn’t developed into the perimeter presence some had expected, shooting a paltry 28% from 3-PT last season. Samuels has instead earned his keep as an above average rebounder (5.5 RPG) and rangy defender capable of deflecting passes and blocking shots on the interior. Should Villanova win a third championship in the last five seasons it will be in large part to Samuels’ development.
Makai Ashton-Langford – Boston College (Rank as a HS Prospect: 44)
What a trip it’s been for the talented New England guard. Ashton-Langford originally committed to Kevin Ollie’s UConn Huskies though the tumult that resulted in assistant Glenn Miller’s firing brought a de-commitment and an eventual transfer to Providence. A disappointing sophomore year jettisoned Ashton-Langford to Boston College where he’ll suit up as a junior alongside his brother DeMarr, a 4-star freshman. The lack of a consistent shooting stroke to pair with Ashton-Langford’s defensive prowess has hampered his development but a fresh start in Chestnut Hill may breathe new life into the once promising talent.
Nojel Eastern – Howard (Rank as a HS Prospect: 59)
Eastern’s exit from Purdue this was nothing shy of surprising, though in equally strange fashion, the rising senior failed to be admitted to Michigan as a transfer. With the upcoming season just weeks away, Eastern still awaits the fate of his second transfer attempt, this time to one of the country’s most heralded HBCUs, Howard University. Howard made waves following the commitment of five-star Makur Maker, and should Eastern get the green light for eligibility this season, the Bison should be able to overpower opposing teams in the MEAC.
Yves Pons – Tennessee (Rank as a HS Prospect: 63)
The Frenchman enters his senior season this fall and there’s little doubt that the Volunteers’ top-10 pre-season ranking is a reflection of Pons’ development in Knoxville. Pons ascension at Tennessee has been impressive to watch, playing just 5.2 MPG as a freshman and 11.7 as a sophomore before earning a starting spot for Rick Barnes last season, logging 33.9 MPG as a junior. While most underclassman would have likely grown frustrated with the lack of exposure early on, Pons has most certainly taken the leap that so many expected, contributing at all levels and will most certainly build on his 10.8 PPG in 2020-2021.
Isaiah Washington – Long Beach State (Rank as a HS Prospect: 65)
Washington will suit up for his third program in four years as the former New York City star travels cross-country from New Rochelle to Long Beach. Originally a Richard Pitino commit at University of Minnesota, Washington is still searching for sustained success following an impressive rookie season for the Golden Gophers where he averaged 17.3 points/40 MPG but a sophomore regression jettisoned him back to the east coast where he was second at Iona in minutes played with 33.3 MPG. 2020-2021 will promise Washington immediate playing time and an opportunity to build off of his lofty reputation as a scorer.
Sidney Wilson – St. John’s (Rank as a HS Prospect: 87)
A former AAU teammate of Isaiah Washington while paired on Team Jelly Fam, Wilson has been a victim of the NCAA’s inconsistent transfer rules. A snag in the system sidelined Wilson after he committed to St. John’s and began taking summer classes only to have a change of heart and changed course to UConn. Wilson lobbied that this abrupt change was to help him escape the shadow of family tragedy that trailed him in New York. Despite never playing a game for the Red Storm, Wilson’s request for a transfer waiver was denied—twice. The past two seasons merited flashes of Wilson’s talent though the path to more playing time seemed unattainable as Hurley reloaded the UConn roster. Enter this summer where the hyper-athletic forward transferred yet again, this time to Southern Illinois Edwardsville, a program still in its Division I infancy. Wilson finally received a bit of good news this October when he was granted immediate eligibility and a chance to dominate the Ohio Valley Conference.
Alex O’Connell – Creighton (Rank as a HS Prospect: 101)
O’Connell never tallied more than 15 minutes per game in any of his three seasons at Duke, a victim of Coach K’s recruiting prowess, recruiting over the 6’5” guard nearly every season. This fall O’Connell will suit up for a different top-10 team, donning a different shade of blue and likely an entirely different role than he ever had at Duke. Unfortunately for him however, it appears that he’ll watch the Blue Jays from the sidelines, sitting out as a transfer. Creighton could use O’Connell following the early departure of star junior guard Ty-Shon Alexander.
Blake Harris – Missouri (Rank as a HS Prospect: 103)
Originally a Washington commit, Harris asked for a release following the firing of Lorenzo Romar at UW. Speculation swirled that Harris would follow then assistant coach Raphael Chillious to UConn but that never transpired. Harris found his way to Mizzou where he appeared in a mere 14 games, transferring to NC State where he posted a scant 2018-2019 campaign, appearing in just 9.5 MPG and contributing 3.1 PPG. This fall Harris finds himself on his third campus, this time at North Carolina A & T of the MEAC. It’s rare that a talent of Harris’ level drops down to the MEAC ranks, but there’s plenty of optimism that the talented guard will get every opportunity to make good on lofty expectations.
David Beatty – LaSalle (Rank as a HS Prospect: 104)
Beatty entertained the masses with his explosiveness and highlight reel high school skillset, eventually committing to South Carolina where a disappointing freshman season had him packing his bags for his hometown Philadelphia where he transferred to LaSalle. Beatty paid immediate dividends for the explorers, earning a spot as an immediate off the bench contributor as a sophomore before totaling 10.7 PPG and 2.7 RPG as a junior. Beatty will keep LaSalle competitive in the much improved Atlantic 10 but it’ll take a herculean effort from the form 4-star prospect to climb into the league’s upper echelon.
Luka Garza – Iowa (Rank as a HS Prospect: 105)
Only in the beauty of college basketball can a sub-100 recruit earn back-to-back Player of the Year Honors. That’s exactly what awaits Garza in 2020-2021. Luka Garza and Dayton’s Obi Toppin appeared in nearly every Player of the Year accolade last season and lucky for Hawkeye fans, Garza turned down lucrative overseas opportunities for one last shot at a title in Iowa. As a prospect Garza held offers from Notre Dame, Alabama, Georgetown, Indiana, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Nebraska, and Northwestern but it’s in Iowa where Garza made hay, totaling 740 points last year in a pandemic shortened season. There’s little doubt that the big man’s return to school for year four most certainly cements Garza among the program’s greats.
Remy Martin – Arizona State (Rank as a HS Prospect: 143)
Martin’s choice to return for his senior season gives Bobby Hurley his most talented roster since he arrived at Arizona State. Martin has appeared on various pre-season All-American ballots, and for good reason. The Sun Devils will be reliant on the senior guard’s explosive offensive toolset. As a freshman Martin started just once, serving as a key contributor off of Hurley’s bench and earning a reputation as an immediate scoring sparkplug (16.2 points/40). Now as senior, Martin may get even more than the 15.2 shot attempts he earned last year and with that will come some gaudy box scores. At only 6’0”, Martin may need to slide into a distributor role to play at the next level, but for now, it’ll be fun watching him control the Pac 12 as an elite-level two-guard.
The following prospects found themselves outside of the consensus top 150 high school prospects. Today these names headline the sport and personify the adage of a diamond in the rough.
Hasahn French – St. Louis (Rank as a HS Prospect: 158)
Just outside the top-150 prospects, French came into the St. Louis program alongside Jordan Goodwin, the 54th overall prospect in the same class, giving the Billikens the top 2017 recruiting haul in the A10. St. Louis will content with Richmond for conference supremacy this season and French’s development is a major factor. French has started every game since joining the program and notched a double-double last year, posting an impressive 12.4 PPG and 10.4 RPG. With Goodwin leading the charge in the backcourt and French on the interior, St. Louis will most certainly be dancing come March.
Fatts Russell – Rhode Island (Rank as a HS Prospect: 198)
Russell chose Dan Hurley’s Rams over the likes of Seton Hall, Temple, and VCU yet it wasn’t until this past season that Rhode Island fans truly understood the diminutive guards elite penchant for scoring. Russell dipped a toe in the draft waters this past summer and there were even rumblings of a potential transfer but the Philadelphia guard will likely build off a season in which he was a dominant offensive focal point in Kingston. Last season saw Russell attempt a team high 15.5 shots, a mere 6.9 as a freshman, while also assuming the role as Rhode Island’s lead distributor (4.6 APG).
John Fulkerson – Tennessee (Rank as a HS Prospect: 238)
Exhibit A for player development must go to Rick Barnes and his staff who have arguably done more with less than any other program in the country. Fulkerson was the 9th best prospect in the state of North Carolina as a high school senior but he failed to register with in-state powers, instead earning offers from Clemson, Georgia, and Duquesne, Charlotte among others residing lower in the recruiting food chain. Despite the lack of accolades, Fulkerson has been a stabilizing force in Knoxville and a likely First Team all SEC candidate this season.
Jalen Crutcher – Dayton (Rank as a HS Prospect: 328)
Obi Toppin’s enormous shadow is now gone and this season Jalen Crutcher will most certainly get the fanfare he deserves. A first-team All-Conference star last year, Crutcher has already proven he can score (15.1 PPG) but it’s his team to lead now and the clean looks at the basket he saw will likely disappear now that he’s the Flyers focal point. Crutcher attempted nearly six 3-PT attempts per contest last year, converting 42% of them while making a dependable 87% from the charity stripe. For Dayton to enjoy last year’s level of success Crutcher will need to replicate these numbers and more.
Cameron Krutwig – Loyola Chicago (Rank as a HS Prospect: 348)
Krutwig chose the Ramblers over offers from both Vermont and UAB. The 6’8” big man’s impact was felt almost immediately as he was a key anchor in a Cinderella run to the Final Four during his freshman campaign. Since then Krutwig has continued to dominate on the interior, tallying 15.1 PPG and pulling in 8.1 RPG. That Final Four runs feels like ages ago though Krutwig appears poised to remind us all of 101 year old Sister Jean and that Rambler magic.
Jacob Gilyard – Richmond (Rank as a HS Prospect: 367)
At 5’9” Gilyard never received the recruiting attention he deserved, attracting interest from local programs like UM-Kansas City but high major programs failed to see what Spiders coach Chris Mooney forecasted. Gilyard has started every game since arriving in Richmond and he rewarded the coaching staff by returning for a senior season, a senior season that will likely earn him Conference Player of the Year while spearheading the league’s top program. Gilyard is a nuisance for opposing guards, poaching a career-best 3.2 steals per contest, a skill that will likely land him among college basketball’s all-time great perimeter defenders.
Colbey Ross – Pepperdine (Rank as a HS Prospect: 514)
The West Coast Conference annually boasts some of the game’s top prospects but these talents usually reside at Gonzaga, BYU, or St. Mary’s. Pepperdine’s senior point guard bucks that trend, climbing from the depths of the high school recruiting pool to a legitimate pro prospect. Ross drew interest from low to mid-majors as a high school target, securing scholarships from Rice, Weber State, Cal Poly, and Northern Colorado before enrolling in Malibu.
MaCio Teague – Baylor (Rank as a HS Prospect: NR)
Teague technically began his college career as a class of 2016 freshman, but he’ll graduate with the 2020 cohort. Now a 23 year old, this Big 12 pre-season First Teamer started his tenure at UNC Ashville where he compiled 1,078 points in just two seasons prior to transferring to Waco. In just his first season with the Bears, Teague proved his talent could translate from the Big South to the Big 12 as he proved to be the dependable scorer Scott Drew knew he was getting (13.9 PPG) but also a hard-nosed defender who’ll rebound at an elite level from the guard position (4.6 RPG). There’s a reason Baylor finds itself among rarified air this pre-season and Teague is most certainly a major factor in what appears to be one of the best Baylor teams in program history.
Derrick Alston Jr. – Boise State (Rank as a HS Prospect: NR)
Alston joined the Broncos as a walk-on before forcing the coaching staffs’ hand and earning a scholarship, and ultimately, a place atop the league’s pre-season First Team. Alston finds himself on NBA mock drafts both in part to his ability to score with ease (17.3 PPG) but also a level of versatility that allows his 6’8” frame to defend nearly any opponent. Alston is merely an average long distance shooter at this point but a career 80% FT gives promise that he can develop into a multidimensional pro-level wing.
Holland Woods – Arizona State (Rank as a HS Prospect: NR)
The Sun Devils got good news on October 19th, learning that Portland State grad transfer Holland Woods will be immediately eligible for the upcoming season. The addition of Woods gives Bobby Hurley one of the nation’s most dynamic backcourts as the 6’1” senior tallied nearly 1,400 points in his three seasons at PSU. Woods’ 17.7 PPG last year alongside his 2.1 SPG further reinforces Arizona State as one of the PAC 12 favorites this winter.