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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Tuesday / May 26.
  • Class of 2014 Already Making Noise

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    By ALEX KLINE

    They are only high school freshmen, but in just a small amount of time they have already made an impact on the basketball court.

    While there is no clear-cut top prospect in the class of 2014, a number of players around the country appear destined to become stars

    2014 features two top players who verbally committed to schools before they played a single game in high school.

    Indiana head coach Tom Crean picked up commitments from Tre Lyles, a 6-foot-7 forward from Arsenal Technical (IN), and James Blackmon Jr., a 6-foot-2 shooting guard from Bishop Luers (IN).

    While this was part of a recent trend in which the Hoosiers picked up some of the top local and national talent around the country, Indiana is stacked and loaded for the class of 2014. Lyles, who committed in September, plays AAU ball for the same program Kentucky-bound Marquis Teague ran with, Spiece Indy Heat. Blackmon Jr comes from the same program and will be coached by his father, James Blackmon Sr., a former Kentucky All American.

    Despite no one emerging yet as the top player in class, one big man may end up being the best.

    Coaches are drooling over New York native Dakari Johnson, the 6-foot-8 big man who attends New Jersey powerhouse St. Patrick, which won the prestigious City of Palms Classic Wednesday night on a last-second 3-pointer from Jarrel Lane.

    Johnson put up 10 points and 12 rebounds in the semifinal win over Mater Dei (Calif.) and averaged 9.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in the event.

    One opposing coach said of Dakari, “He has size and can score down low. I’m very impressed with him. He is the next big time St. Pat’s kid.”

    St. Pat’s coach Kevin Boyle thinks Johnson could grow to 7-feet or taller.

    “It would surprise me if he doesn’t end up 7-foot to 7-2 , 300 to 310 [pounds] and be able to carry it well,” Boyle said.

    As far as his recruitment, Boyle added: “He went unofficially to Georgetown [and Xavier] and I don’t think there’s anybody who’s not going to offer him. He just has terrific potential. His biggest thing is to get in great condition.”

    Boyle also has another son who will play basketball at St. Patrick. Although he won’t get much time on the varsity level this year, Brendan Boyle, a 5-8 guard and the younger brother of former St. Pat’s standout Kevin Boyle, will make an impact in the near future for his father’s team.

    The youngest Boyle and Johnson have become great friends and Brendan is one of Dakari’s biggest supporters.

    “To me, Dakari is the most skilled, smart and well rounded players at his heights and weight that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “That is saying a lot considering I have been around some of the top high school, college and pro players throughout my life.”

    Illinois is another state that is stacked with talent for 2014.

    One school, Whitney Young, is the home of two of the best. Forwards Paul White and Jahlil Okafor are absolute beasts and people are starting to notice.

    White stands at 6-7 while Okafor is a force inside at 6- 8, 260 pounds. Multiple coaches have told me that they “love” the duo and landing both in a package deal would be ideal. Both have been on the Illinois campus a fair amount and would fit in well at the home-state school.

    Don’t sleep on Canada, though. Grassroots Canada coach Ro Russell may no longer have Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson and Myck Kabongo at his dispatch, but he has a number of freshmen who will walk in their footsteps.

    Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Kevin Zabo and Andrew Wiggins are all making big names for themselves in different locations. Rathan-Mayes, a 6-3 guard, plays high school ball with Russell and his Christian Faith Academy team in North Carolina. Zabo, a 6-2 guard, attends St. Mark’s (Mass.). Wiggins elected to stay in Canada for his freshman year and play at Vaughan.

    “They are the cream of the crop for the 2014 class,” Russell said. “They all have Top Ten potential. When they play together in AAU, it would be a joy to watch, even for me.”

    While he hasn’t established himself as a big name nationally yet, Kaison Randolph is a local prodigy.

    A 6-2 native of Trenton, N.J., Randolph plays the guard position for the Pennington School. Randolph thrives off the dribble and finishes at the basket in traffic. His ability to grab his own offensive rebounds makes him even more dangerous as he gives himself second and third chances. With loads of potential, he has not hit his peak yet according to his AAU coach.

    “Kaison has a lot of work ahead of him, but as of now he is definitely one of the top freshmen around,” said Matt Pauls of Team NJABC.

    Pauls has coached a number of talented guards over the years including Steve Rennard (Penn), Frantz Massenat (Drexel), Tony Chennault (Wake Forest) and Khalid Lewis (Delaware), among others. Look for Randolph to grow into one of the top 2014 players in the Garden State.

    With the days of Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson over at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, it’s time for one freshman to step into the spotlight and follow in their footsteps.

    Isaiah Whitehead, a 6-3 guard, had Lincoln coach Tiny Morton as his math teacher last year.

    Now Morton is a teaching Whitehead the fundamentals of being the next great New York guard. Although he is not starting right off the bat, he is putting up good numbers and contributing to Lincoln’s great season so far.

    The Railsplitters are currently unbeaten and have key wins over Brooklyn Thomas Jefferson, in which Whitehead scored 17 points, and Brooklyn Boys & Girls, in which he scored 12. While Whitehead is not flashy and does not like the attention of the media like Telfair and Stephenson did, he has the marketability. Isaiah will be Isaiah Whitehead and no one else.

    The New England area is loaded with talented seniors, juniors and sophomores. While the top freshmen have not been established yet, one player is making a big name for himself: Wayne Selden, a 6-4 forward from the Tilton School (N.H.).

    With a number of different schools after him, look for Selden to be the best up and coming talent to come out of New England for his grade.

    “He’s going to be a very special player,” said one coach on Wayne.

    For the Class of 2014, the talent level is there and the star power is already emerging.

    It will only be a matter of time until we are all talking about their recruitment and watching them play in the McDonald’s All American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic.

    (Isaiah Whitehead photo courtesy Daily News)

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.