July, the month of barbecues and beaches, is also the most important recruiting month on the college basketball calendar. For the next three weeks, every head coach and all his assistants will be crisscrossing the country looking for the next impact newcomer. There are three live periods for coaches to watch players: July 6-10, July 13-17, July 20-24. During each of those periods, there are dozens of events around the country -- and schools will look to hit as many as they can during the 15 days on the road. Here are some of the bigger storylines to watch.
1. Race for No. 1: Heading into last summer, there was a clear three-way race for the No. 1 spot in 2016 between Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson. Giles finished atop the rankings, although Tatum and Jackson didn’t make it easy. DeAndre Ayton has been No. 1 in 2017 for as long as he’s been on the scene, as he’s a skilled seven-footer who has shown an ability to be a matchup nightmare offensively and a defensive game-changer. Who can push Ayton for No. 1? Wendell Carter (No. 2) went for 30 points and 16 rebounds in a head-to-head matchup against Ayton in May, while Mohamed Bamba (No. 3) has shown perhaps the highest ceiling in the class when healthy. Then there’s Michael Porter Jr. (No. 4), who has been arguably the most consistently productive prospect in 2017 over the past few months. All four will battle at the Nike Peach Jam this week.
2. Is Marvin Bagley better than anyone in 2017? The “next” guy always seems like he’s better than someone that everyone has seen 50 times, but in this case, it might be true. Marvin Bagley III has been the best player in his class for a few years, and he’s done nothing to relinquish that status -- and he’s also made a strong case to be considered the best prospect in high school basketball. He averaged 20.9 points and 10.6 rebounds on the Nike EYBL circuit during the spring, and he recently trimmed his list to six schools: Arizona State, Arizona, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA, Oregon. The likes of Mike Krzyzewski, Sean Miller and John Calipari were seen at his games last summer, and he’s already taken visits to Duke and UCLA. In a head-to-head matchup with Porter in May, Bagley went for 26 points and 13 rebounds.
3. Who is at the top of Duke and Kentucky’s boards? The recruiting pecking order over the last three years has been Duke and Kentucky, and then everyone else several levels below. That doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon, and Krzyzewski and Calipari both enter the 2017 recruiting cycle needing potentially big classes to replace what is likely going to be a long list of early entries in the NBA draft. Duke has been working on three players longer than most: Carter, Bamba and No. 1 shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. (No. 9). Trent and Carter have been discussed as a package deal on multiple occasions, which only helps Duke. Rounding out the top group of priorities is Kevin Knox (No. 7), who is also considering North Carolina, Kentucky and Florida State. Like Duke, Kentucky is looking to load up at each position. Hamidou Diallo (No. 12) and John Petty (No. 17) are the top targets on the wings, with Jarred Vanderbilt (No. 20) also in the mix. Nick Richards (No. 8) is among the priorities inside. The Wildcats are also in the mix for each of Duke’s top targets, as well.
Both schools are looking for point guards, which we’ll get to in a minute.