Now that the regular signing period has come to a close, we have a chance to look back and see what stood out about the 2011 class and give some predictions for the future.
Which player really surprised you this season?
Paul Biancardi: After his junior season, Tyrone Johnson left Plainfield High School in New Jersey for national power Montrose Christian in Rockville, Md., and was determined all season long. Fresh off a National High School Invitational championship and MVP honors, Johnson led his team to a 25-1 record his senior year at Montrose Christian thanks to his ability to create, knock down open jumpers and get into the lane. Johnson was not selected to any high-level all-star games and that has motivated him even more, which makes him a perfect fit for coach Jay Wright at Villanova.
Joel Francisco: If there was one player who really elevated his stock out West, it would be electrifying PG and Long Beach State signee Michael Caffey (Corona, Calif./Corona Centennial). Caffey, who is reminiscent of a young Darren Collison, has cat-like quickness and a dizzying crossover that leaves defenders at his mercy. He should be an exceptional backup for incumbent starter and Big West POY Caspar Ware, before taking over the reins his sophomore campaign.
Mike LaPlante: Dezmine Wells, who has the chance to make a major impact as a freshman, is evidence of how great a job the Xavier staff does at identifying and getting commitments from talented prospects before they become national names. Coach Chris Mack and his staff saw something in the SF from Raleigh, N.C., early and knew they wanted to wrap him up immediately. Their skill and work paid off big time as Wells continued to climb through the rankings and stuck with his commitment to the Musketeers.
Reggie Rankin: Otto Porter, a skilled small forward with matching feel for the game from small Sikeston, Mo., is a three-time state champion who dominates game in and game out. Porter was virtually unknown until I saw him in early December 2010 at the Marshall County Hoop Fest, where the future Georgetown Hoya dropped 29 points,13 rebounds and eight steals while making it look not only easy, but routine. Porter entered our rankings soon after and rests at No. 41 overall in the final rankings.
Adam Finkelstein: Pat Connaughton's breakout performance at the 2010 AAU Nationals was an incredible story. The small forward from Saint John's Prep in Danvers, Mass., went from a low-major prospect to a high-major priority in a matter of days. While his rise up recruiting boards was a shock to those who hadn't heard his name, it was even more surprising to people like myself, who had watched him for years and saw no warning signs of such an explosion. Ultimately, his story should be an example for young players about the importance of hard work (his daily eight-hour training sessions are the stuff of legend) and believing in yourself.
John Stovall: Dom Pointer (Roseville, Mich./Quality Education Academy) is someone who was known in Michigan before transferring to Quality Education Academy to finish his career and got a little lost in the shuffle. He played this past summer with the Detroit Family travel team and his life will never be the same. The St. John's signee had a great spring and showed added offensive ability. Pointer was always a great athlete and played hard, but now he can score and shoot with some consistency. During his coming-out party, the Peach Jam in July, he scored the ball, was a monster in transition and showed he was one of the best defenders in the country (even practically shutting down Austin Rivers). Pointer rode that weekend and went from relative unknown to one of the top 50 players in the country.
Dave Telep: Around the time Kyle Wiltjer (Portland, Ore./Jesuit) committed to Kentucky, California and Gonzaga were making final preparations to position themselves for the homestretch of his recruitment. His pledge to John Calipari caught them off guard. The school of thought was Wiltjer would remain on the West Coast for college. Mix in the fact that, at the time, he hadn't even visited Lexington and his pledge was perplexing to the other schools on his list. However, Wiltjer clearly enunciated his reason for picking UK: He wanted to get better playing against the best, and given the class the Wildcats had assembled, it's hard to argue with him.
Paul Biancardi is the national director of basketball recruiting. Adam Finkelstein is a frequent contributor, both in player evaluations and event coverage. Joel Francisco is a recruiting coordinator and has been evaluating high school prospects for over 20 years. Michael LaPlante is a recruiting coordinator who has over 20 years of coaching and recruiting experience. Reggie Rankin, a recruiting coordinator, has coached in the Mid-American, American East, WAC, SEC, Big 12 and Atlantic 10 conferences over a span of 14 seasons. John Stovall, a recruiting coordinator, has worked as director of scouting for Prep Spotlight Scouting Service and magazine for 15 years. Dave Telep is the senior basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com.