Elite recruits not headed to usual places in 2020 with Kentucky the only blue blood to land a top 10 prospect

When elite 2020 prospect Greg Brown turned his visor from back to front Friday, revealing his college commitment to Texas, it checked off the final pledge for all top 10 players in this year’s high school class. Brown choosing to stay close to home and play for Shaka Smart’s program was most notable not because Smart won out over John Calipari, Penny Hardaway, Bruce Pearl and Juwan Howard — it was headline-making because Brown said no thanks to a reported $400,000 offer to play in the G League. 

The fact that Brown announced his college choice on Instagram Live, opting to go the reveal route of a social media broadcast, where Brown has amassed 255,000 followers, was interesting and a little telling. Whereas Jalen Green’s G League commitment was a terribly kept secret in recruiting, Brown was the first player to have a real college-or-G-League element of uncertainty leading up to his announcement. The No. 9-ranked recruit in 247 Sports’ Composite for 2020 decided not to take the same path as fellow 2020 five-stars Green and Isaiah Todd. College basketball, should next season go on as expected, will welcome in yet another one-and-done talent dripping with potential. 

That’s a terrific thing, and undeniably another small win for the sport. 

Brown’s pick of Texas locked up a top 10 that has a claim to the most eclectic spread of commitments in the top 10 of a given high school class in college basketball history. Here are the destinations for the 10 best players in 2020:

If you extend out commitments to the top 15, it’s just as varied in light of No. 15 Daishen Nix’s heel turn on UCLA on Tuesday. Nix choosing to skip college basketball means four of the top 15 players will not head to college next season, which is a record. So be it through the lens of the top 15, or specifically the top 10, we’ve never seen the best players in a high school class flock to so many different and unorthodox spots. 

If you remove Kentucky from the mix — it’s no surprise that Calipari has yet again landed multiple top-10 players — the combined national titles for the other seven schools above is three … all of which all came in the 1940s (Oklahoma State and Stanford). What’s more, you remove Kentucky from the equation and the only school in the top 10 to make a Final Four in the past 15 years is Gonzaga.

What changed? Why so much diversity this year? Cunningham and Mobley both have relatives on the staffs at the schools they’ll be playing at (Cunningham’s brother, Mobley’s father). And Brown did say that COVID-19 in part was a factor for him deciding to be close to extended family, not knowing what the next year will bring. 

Regardless of the reasons, this is a wonderful plot twist in college basketball recruiting. Oklahoma State, USC, Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State landing elite recruits is aberrational. Even Gonzaga’s never landed a player ranked as high as Suggs. On an individual basis, college basketball will have a lot of atypical programs boasting one-and-done talent next season, which will make the sport that much more interesting. Variety is the spice of sport, etc.

If you like college hoops you’ll at the very least have some level of curiosity about these teams early on. If they win at a good-to-great clip by the time we hit 2021, then all the more. Cunningham’s talent is so pure he might single-handedly turn Oklahoma State into an NCAA Tournament team. USC was a tournament team last season and should be even better next season with Mobley coming into join his brother, Isaiah. Stanford had a top-10 defense last season and figures to have its best team in more than a decade. At Texas, it will by far be the best roster of Smart’s tenure and in fact could be the best Texas team since the 2010-11 group with Tristan Thompson, J’Covan Brown, Jordan Hamilton and Cory Joseph that won 28 games and earned a No. 4 seed. Arizona State is on the precipice of its best four-year stretch in program history. Bobby Hurley gets a gem in Christopher, who should navigate the Sun Devils into the top four of the Pac-12. 

Kentucky and Gonzaga of course shape up as preseason ranked teams, though Gonzaga has a chance to be the No. 1 team, while UK and its loaded incoming freshman class face the biggest rebuild in Calipari’s career at Kentucky.

But that leads me to my other point.

Yes, we’ve got unconventional teams landing star players. We’re still getting a best-of-both-worlds happenstance. If you look at the team rankings for this 2020 class, it’s still the blue bloods bringing in the very best hauls. Here’s the top ten:

Blue bloods at the top, then Rick Barnes’ Volunteers (a nice surprise) followed by Will Wade’s ever-polarizing program at LSU. (The entire situation at LSU remains fascinating from afar and, on the heels of the HBO documentary “The Scheme,” frustrating for many in the coaching ranks, but I digress.) The point is that top five is zesty. And plenty familiar. College basketball can benefit from both angles: uncommon landing spots for most of its best freshmen, but business as usual near the top of the team rankings. 

Kentucky has six freshmen coming in, all ranked between No. 4 and No. 46 at 247 Sports. Duke’s six-man company of commitments starts with No. 11 Jalen Johnson and ends with No. 44 Henry Coleman. North Carolina, coming off the worst season of Roy Williams’ Hall of Fame career, has six top-100 recruits, the most recent being four-star shooting guard Kerwin Walton, who picked the Tar Heels on Monday. UNC has three five-stars (Day’Ron Sharpe, Walker Kessler, Caleb Love), which will spawn a dawn of optimism in Chapel Hill after a hellish 2019-20 that mercifully ended in mid-March. 

Tennessee and LSU can make things interesting the SEC not just with Kentucky, but also Florida (which should be better than last season) and Arkansas, which in fact has the No. 6-ranked class as of now.  

Recruiting has its ebbs-and-flows trends. Sometimes schools jump up for a year or two before drifting back to where they normally land historically. But 2020 is different on a player-by-player basis at the top of the rankings. We’ve got a diverse destination package and to that I say: terrific. There is some recent history that shows how being a top-level player choosing the road-less-traveled can backfire in terms of team success. I refer you to to Anthony Edwards, Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons, Jalen Brown, Dennis Smith Jr., Michael Porter Jr., Charles Bassey and James Wiseman

None of them played in the NCAA Tournament, mostly because they were on bad teams (amid a couple of other issues). 

But they all were — or in the case of Edwards and Wiseman, will be — lottery picks. Fultz and Simmons still went No. 1 overall. The same will almost certainly be the case of one of the top 10 players listed above when we get to the 2021 NBA Draft. It’s refreshing to see that while college basketball still has elite 18-year-olds choosing to play the sport in overwhelming numbers, many of them are choosing to do so in a collectively irregular way that will go a long way to shaping next season, whenever that season can arrive. 

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