Full-Court Press: Learning on the job
Philadelphia, PA – Deciding which school to attend can end up being the biggest decision in the life of a valued high school prospect.
In recent years, many of the top recruits have banded together at big programs like Kentucky, Syracuse and Kansas. It seems that a hidden gem emerges in a different program each season. In 2010, Allen Crabbe was not considered a top 50 signing, but he was selected in last season's NBA Draft after a stellar three-year career at California. Ben McLemore was not considered a blue chip coming out of high school either, yet he is expected to be a franchise player for the Sacramento Kings for years to come.
Playing for an elite program has the obvious benefit of increased exposure and usually comes with excellent coaching, but finding a team that has a specific hole to fill can be beneficial. Last season, Ryan Arcidiacono was the featured player in Villanova's offense as it made a run to the NCAA Tournament. Arcidiacono made a much bigger impact than point guards he was ranked behind coming out of high school, such as NC State's Tyler Lewis, who saw just 12.4 minutes of action per game. The Wolfpack were expected to be a title contender in Lewis's freshman season, but they underachieved while he was buried on the depth chart behind Lorenzo Brown and Tyler Purvis.
With Brown opting to make himself available for the NBA Draft and Purvis transferring, Lewis will most likely be a starter for a rebuilding NC State squad, while Arcidiacono gears up to lead a deep Wildcats unit back to the Big Dance.
Being a part of a top-rated recruiting class can sometimes mean a reduced role for a player who has been a star his whole life. The recruits who land at schools that offer immediate playing time can become stars overnight if they play their cards right. Here are some of the rookies that should fit in right away in their first year of collegiate basketball:
Erik Mika (BYU) - The Cougars have been the third-best team in the West Coast Conference behind Gonzaga and Saint Mary's since they joined the league in 2011. Coach Dave Rose had a glaring hole to fill with the graduation of forward Brandon Davies, who finished second on the team in scoring and first in both rebounding and blocks in 2012-13. Mika is not quite as polished as Davies offensively, but his post presence will be utilized immediately on a team that has potential to compete for the WCC crown. Playing alongside a talented backcourt that features Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino should make life easier for BYU's center of the future.
Rysheed Jordan (St. John's) - The Red Storm have failed to make it to the NCAA Tournament in two consecutive seasons, although a lack of talent has not been the cause for the shortcomings. Coach Steve Lavin's health kept him out for much of the 2011-12 campaign and he managed to guide the team to the second round of the NIT last season despite having to replace key players like Moe Harkless and Nurideen Lindsey, as well as losing leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison to a suspension in early March. Harrison is highlighting a group of talented returners to SJU which should benefit Jordan, who will be the starting point guard from day one. The Philadelphia native passed up offers from UCLA and Temple to play in the Big Apple, where he has a great chance of helping the historically rich program return to prominence.
Christian Wood (UNLV) - Dave Rice's offense has revolved around an underclassman power forward in each of the last two seasons. Mike Moser became a star as a sophomore in 2011-12 after leaving his reserve role at UCLA in the dust. Moser took a back seat last season as star freshman Anthony Bennett built his resume to great enough heights to be taken first in the NBA Draft. With Moser and Bennett both departed, the 6-foot-10 Wood is next in line to play the four in Las Vegas. He isn't from the same mold as powerful Bennett, but his jump shooting and slashing ability, along with his height, have drawn lofty comparisons to Kevin Durant. Wood's style of play is perfect for UNLV, which has no other forward with an equivalent offensive skill set.
Jabari Bird (California) - Crabbe's early departure for the NBA would have left senior guard Justin Cobbs without a running mate in the Golden Bears' backcourt. Crabbe was a vital part of Cal's offense last season, finishing second in the Pac-12 in points scored. Bird is a prototypical shooting guard at 6-6, 190 pounds who could thrive under an experienced coach like Mike Montgomery. The former head coach of the Golden State Warriors has plenty to offer to an aspiring pro like Bird. The rookie shooting guard will benefit playing alongside Cobbs (15.1 ppg, 4.8 apg) and the Bears' powerful forward tandem of Richard Solomon and David Kravish.
Jaren Sina (Seton Hall) - When Northwestern fired Bill Carmody at the conclusion of the season, Sina decommitted from the Wildcats and ended up deciding to stay in his home state to play for Seton Hall. Northwestern's backcourt was much more crowded with returners such as Dave Sobolewski, Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb back in Evanston, limiting the opportunities for Sina. Coach Kevin Willard is going to need to rely on Sina right away after starting point guard Aaron Cosby transferred and freshman floor general Tom Maayan was forced to return to his home country of Israel to serve three years in the military. Sina scored over 2,000 points in his high school career, but he may not have the athleticism to be quite is productive at the NCAA Division I level. Nevertheless, he will play right away for a Big East program.
Others to watch: Devin Williams (West Virginia), Xavier Rathan-Mayes (Florida State), Sundarius Thornwell (South Carolina), Isaac Hamilton (Texas-El Paso)