Big men are back

Robert Carter has faced the best and lived to talk big about it.

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward from Thomasville (Ga.) High School, who's No. 14 in the new ESPNU 100, battled the likes of 6-8 Shaq Goodwin (Decatur, Ga./Southwest DeKalb), 7-foot Isaiah Austin (Mansfield, Texas/Grace Preparatory) and 6-9 Tony Parker (Lithonia, Ga./Miller Grove) in the past year, and more showdowns are scheduled this summer as Carter travels with the Atlanta Xpress.

"They're big," Carter said, "but I don't really think they can guard me. You can't just be big and tall. You've got show your athleticism to go against the top bigs in the country."

This year, in particular, big men crowd the top of the rankings. Led by centers Andre Drummond (Middletown, Conn./St. Thomas More) and Austin -- who are first and second in the new rankings -- 10 of the top 15 prospects in the ESPNU 100, including five of the top six, play center or power forward.

Save for Orlando's Dwight Howard, dominant centers have nearly disappeared from the NBA. The college game appears even more depleted. ESPN.com ranked no more than three signees of 6-foot-10 or taller among the top 10 in any of the past five years -- and just seven total since 2007. The Class of 2012 promises to replenish college basketball in the frontcourt.

Five stand tall among the top nine prospects this year, including Austin and fellow 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski (Claremont, N.H./St. Mark's School), and a trio of 6-10 prospects in
Drummond, DaJuan Coleman (DeWitt, N.Y./Jamesville-DeWitt) and Mitch McGary (Wolfeboro, N.H./Brewster Academy).

"If these guys are as good as we think they are, you're going to want to have one," said Dave Telep, ESPN's senior basketball recruiting analyst. "And if you get two, you're really cooking. They're like nuclear weapons; you don't want them in the hands of the wrong people."

Of the top tier, only Austin, committed to Baylor, Texas pledge Cameron Ridley (Fort Bend, Texas/Bush) and Arizona commit Grant Jerrett (La Verne, Calif./La Verne Lutheran) have settled on schools.

The race is on for the rest.

"It's exciting on a couple fronts," Texas associate head coach Rob Lanier said. "There are very few years when you go into a recruiting class and say, 'We don't need bigs.' And what's also interesting with this class is that normally, this is the case with guards. This year, it seems almost in reverse."

But why?

"A lot of them are moving to the perimeter," said Lanier, 42, who formerly coached at Siena. "So many 6-8 guys are wing players now. That's a product of the way the game has evolved.

"All of this stuff is cyclical, and there are years when the talent pool takes on a different personality."

For their part, many of the big men appear to embrace the competition.

Carter said he'd rather belong to this group of big men than the 2011 class, which featured incoming Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis out of Chicago, but little depth in the paint.

Carter is considering scholarship offers from several Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference schools, including Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida, Florida State and Kentucky, but he doesn't have a favorite.

"If I was the type of person who just wanted to get by easy, I'd prefer last year," Carter said. "But this class, I like, because you have to actually work."

Centers Drummond and Tarczewski and power forward McGary reclassified early in their high school careers to each receive an additional year of eligibility before college.
Perhaps no one has benefited more from the extra time and glut of talent in the paint than McGary. He added more than 30 pounds to reach nearly 260 as the AAU season nears. While he says it's all muscle, he plans to shed 15 to 20 pounds before play resumes.

McGary's stock has skyrocketed, landing McGary at No. 4 in the ESPNU 100. He's considering offers from home state Indiana, Connecticut, Florida, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, among others.

It helped to practice last season against his teammates -- notably 6-10 Villanova signee Markus Kennedy -- and face Drummond, Austin, Tarczewski and small forward Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman), No. 3 in the rankings, in competition.

"It's been a great year for me," McGary said. "I'd like to play against a few more of those guys in the summer, and I probably will. We'll go from there and see who's best."

Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mshermanespn@gmail.com. Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman