As the clock ticks closer to the rapidly approaching and much-anticipated late signing period, which begins April 16, the competition among college programs for the top undeclared prospects in the Class of 2008 continues to intensify.
Only five uncommitted players from the ESPN 100 remain. Marquee programs are locking horns over these five, and other highly regarded 2008 prospects, in their attempts to fill voids on the roster during this critical period. Major college programs like Kentucky, which signed 6-foot-8 PF Patrick Patterson, and Florida, which brought in 5-11 PG Jai Lucas, struck gold during the late signing period in 2007, and many schools hope to duplicate their successes.
Commitment issues (ESPN 100 undeclared prospects)
1. Tyreke Evans, 6-5, SG, (Aston, Pa.)
ESPN 100 rank: No. 4
Everyone's favorite undeclared prospect, Tyreke Evans had a host of schools vying for his services until recently cutting down his long list of suitors. Word has it that the 2008 McDonald's All-American Game's MVP has narrowed down his list to two schools: national championship game runner-up Memphis and hometown Villanova. Both schools could make great use of the various talents Evans possesses. In all likelihood, Memphis will lose both of its super-talented perimeter players and most-gifted scorers, Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts, to the NBA. Evans loves to shoot the basketball, and if he chooses the Tigers, he will give Memphis that bona fide scoring threat with size the Tigers will need on the perimeter next season. Should Evans elect to stay close to home and attend Villanova, he would provide the Wildcats with prototypical size and length at the shooting guard position. Villanova's need to secure a pledge from Evans could increase if their top player, combo guard Scottie Reynolds, bolts early for the NBA. Evans will make his much-anticipated announcement April 16 on ESPNEWS and ESPNU.
2. Rashanti Harris, 6-9, C, (Columbus, Miss.)
ESPN 100 rank: No. 36
Just as Kentucky did in 2007 with Patterson, major programs relish the opportunity to add a quality big man this late in the recruiting process. Rashanti Harris has no shortage of suitors, with Ole Miss, Mississippi, Memphis, Texas and Alabama all contending for his services. Although Harris needs to improve his offensive moves and footwork in the post, he excels on the defensive end and is a solid rebounder. Harris has athleticism and leaping ability, so he excels in the open court as a finisher. Unfortunately, Harris will take his considerable upside to either a prep school or a junior college because of academic difficulties. As he works to get his academics in order, expect the competition for this big man to remain high.
3. Wesley Witherspoon, 6-8, SF, (Lilburn, Ga.)
ESPN 100 rank: No. 72
Wesley Witherspoon will provide a program at the next level with a long, defensive-minded wing player with good versatility. His ballhandling skills and temperament are very strong; Witherspoon could play some point guard in a pinch, though he looks most comfortable at the small forward spot. He has very good athleticism and quickness, and should develop into a good perimeter player in college if he improves his perimeter shooting, which he will need to do because of his rather slight build. Witherspoon has a positive impact on a game without having offensive plays drawn up for him, and many schools covet those qualities. Colorado, Virginia, Florida, Memphis and Texas all have a high level of interest in Witherspoon.
4. Jeff Taylor, 6-7, SF, (Hobbs, N.M.)
ESPN 100 rank: No. 73
Jeff Taylor has a smooth, accurate shooting touch from the perimeter that could help him develop into a good player on the next level. With the dearth of good shooters in college basketball, programs relish the chance to add a quality shooter to the mix. Taylor -- with his impressive shooting ability, improving rebounding ability and experience playing for the Swedish national team -- should make significant contributions almost immediately in college. Gonzaga, Vanderbilt and Texas have the inside track in the race for Taylor.
5. Brad Tinsley, 6-3, SG, (Oregon City, Ore.)
ESPN 100 rank: No. 95
Brad Tinsley, once part of an outstanding 2008 recruiting haul for former Pepperdine coach Vance Walberg, has seen schools line up for his services after he was released from his letter of intent. Teams correctly recognize the importance of quality point guard play in college basketball, and coaches aggressively pursue good point guard prospects when they become available this late in the recruiting period. Although he is not a great athlete, Tinsley has enough athleticism to play major college basketball. He excels as a shooter, and if he is paired with a quick, penetrating guard, he can burn opposing defenses and scorch the nets from the perimeter. Tinsley also passes the ball very well, easily finding open teammates for scoring chances. Tinsley currently has a number of programs attempting to secure his commitment, with Oregon, Butler, USC and Vanderbilt among his top choices.
Best of the rest (top uncommitted prospects just outside of the ESPN 100)
Paul McCoy, 5-11, PG, (Portland, Ore.)
Another talented point guard prospect from Oregon slated to attend Pepperdine, Paul McCoy has the ability to break down opposing guards, and put increased pressure on opposing defenses. McCoy has Virginia, Kentucky, SMU, UNLV, Washington State and others vying for his services.
Latavious Williams, 6-8, PF, (Starkville, Miss.)
Another top uncommitted big man from Mississippi with scholastic issues, Latavious Williams will probably enroll in prep school for the 2008-09 year to improve his academic standing. He has electric athleticism and a long frame, which gives him plenty of room for development. Kentucky, Southern Illinois, Mississippi State, Tennessee Virginia Tech and other schools remain interested in Williams.
Frank Ben-Eze , 6-10, C, (Arlington, Va.)
A one-time Harvard commit, Frank Ben-Eze has the size, an aggressive approach and upside that should make him a great fit for almost any major college program. He plays very hard and runs the court well for a big man. He has a reliable outside jumper for a big man, and plays with passion and attacks the hoop in the paint. As Ben-Eze gains more strength and refines his post moves, he should grow into an inside force. Boston College, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, DePaul and other top programs continue to compete for Ben-Eze's signature.
Verdell Jones, 6-4, PG, (Champaign, Ill.)
Verdell Jones has great range and accuracy on his perimeter shot. He can also get to the rim and finish well, with a quick first step and good leaping ability. As Jones becomes stronger, he should have a good career as a combo guard in college. Hometown Illinois, Minnesota, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and Oregon all covet Jones and his scoring ability.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.