North Carolina continued to duplicate its on-court dominance on the recruiting trail again this week when 6-3 combo guard Dexter Strickland (Elizabeth, N.J.) announced he will head to Chapel Hill in 2009. Strickland, a top-five prospect in the Class of 2009, easily creates his own offense due to his stellar penetrating skills and good quickness. He also has the ability to connect from 3-point range with his jump shot. Strickland passes the ball very well and surprisingly does not shy away from playing pressure defense.
Strickland becomes the fourth prospect from the Class of 2009 to give a verbal pledge to the Tar Heels, joining three 6-9 power forwards, the Wear Twins (David and Travis) from California and John Henson (Round Rock, Texas). North Carolina also has the interest of some of the top undeclared 2009 prospects in the nation, indicating that the Tar Heels intend to do more work in the 2009 class.
Strickland's pledge provides North Carolina with its first guard commit in the 2009 class. With North Carolina coach Roy Williams facing the prospect of possibly losing current backcourt standouts Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington early to the NBA, Williams has to quickly retool in the backcourt. Williams has only one guard in his 2008 recruiting haul, 6-0 PG Larry Drew (Woodland Hills, Calif.), which makes Strickland's choice to attend North Carolina even more significant.
Florida coach Billy Donovan managed to snare a commitment from a top big man prospect -- please stop me if you have heard this before. This time, Donovan left the sunny confines of Florida for the harsh, wintry New England climate and came away with a verbal pledge from 6-10 PF Erik Murphy (Southborough, Mass.), one of the top big man prospects in the Class of 2009.
Murphy has a very diverse offensive game, with the ability to score on the low block as well from the perimeter with a jump shot that comfortably extends out to 3-point range. Once in the paint, Murphy effectively uses either hand to finish around the basket. The son of former NBA player Jay Murphy, Erik brings a high basketball IQ along with his impressive offensive skill set. Erik will greatly benefit from a weight program and should find plenty of scoring opportunities in Florida's up-tempo offensive attack that has very skilled guards that will find Murphy and create shots for him through their penetration.
Donovan, relying on his regional ties that date back to his college days at Providence, has recently enjoyed great success recruiting in the northeastern part of the country. Current San Antonio Spur Matt Bonner left the state of New Hampshire for Gainesville and ESPN 150 prospect, 6-8 combo-forward Allan Chaney, a very talented player from New London, Conn., will arrive at the Swamp next season.
Now Donovan has struck gold again with a commitment from Murphy. Donovan's penchant for raiding the Northeast for top talent does not bode well for some of the stronger college programs based there.
Injuries taking toll on top players
6-5 SG Tyreke Evans (Aston, Pa.), the top undeclared prospect in the 2008 class, hit his head against the court in a game earlier this week, temporarily losing consciousness. Evans attempted to block a shot and landed awkwardly, resulting in the blow to the head that he sustained. Evans went to the hospital as a precautionary measure and reported movement and feeling in all of his extremities and said he had no pain in his neck and back area.
7-0 C B.J. Mullens (Canal Winchester, Ohio) missed a game earlier this week after complaining of dizziness. The Ohio State signee does not expect to miss an extended amount of time due to the minor ailment and should play in his next game this weekend.
5-8 PG Lewis Jackson (Decatur, Ill.), another ESPN 150 prospect, complained of chest pains during a game last week, leading to a hospital visit. Tests revealed the Purdue signee played while suffering from the effects of pleurisy, an ailment best described as an inflammation that affects the lungs, making it very difficult to breathe. Jackson, however, did not miss any game action, returning with his usual effectiveness.
6-9 PF Travis Wear (Santa Ana, Calif.), one of the top players in the Class of 2009, sustained a torn muscle in his left shin during a game last week. The recent UNC pledge will miss up to a month of action due to the injury.
Stars missing in action
The end of the interesting saga of 6-7 SF Nate Miles (Lenoir, N.C.) at The Patterson School looks very near as the talented prospect has completed his coursework and will graduate early next week. Miles, a Connecticut commit, now has to receive a favorable nod from the NCAA Clearinghouse as well as Connecticut's admissions board before he enrolls in time for the second semester beginning January 23.
American Heritage suspended ESPN 150 prospect 6-10 PF Eloy Vargas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) indefinitely after he voluntarily skipped a game earlier this week. Vargas, heading to Florida next season, decided to miss the game against Pace in support of a teammate who previously played for Pace. Vargas' American Heritage teammate, Ray Taylor, also voluntarily skipped the game after he did not receive his championship ring from Pace after helping the team to a state title last season.
ESPN 150 6-4 SG Mark McLaughlin (Kenmore, Wash.) has apparently closed the door on his high school career after leaving the team earlier this week. The Nevada-bound McLaughlin will concentrate his efforts solely on satisfying all academic requirements needed to gain his eligibility at Nevada for next season.
Points of Attention
5-11 PG Keiton Page (Pawnee, Okla.) exploded for a career-high 61 points in a game earlier during the week. Page, who will play at Oklahoma State next season, shot an astounding 11-16 from 3-point land and connected on 24-32 from the field.
6-0 PG Rotnei Clarke (Claremore, Okla.) erupted for 53 points in a victory earlier this week in the Wheat Capital Classic. Clarke, an ESPN 150 prospect heading to Arkansas, used this dominant offensive performance to win MVP honors for this tournament.
6-9 PF Markieff Morris (Cherry Hill, N.J.) connected on 10 3-point baskets in a game earlier this week on his way to scoring 37 points in a win. Morris, a post-graduate player originally ranked in the 2007 version of the ESPN 150, will take his shooting exploits to Kansas next season, along with his twin brother, Marcus.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.