There are five players in the Class of 2007 who appear to be head and shoulders above the rest of the pack: Center Kevin Love (Lake Oswego, Ore.), who signed with UCLA; shooting guard Eric Gordon (Indianapolis/North Central), who signed with Indiana; shooting guard O.J. Mayo (Cincinnati/Huntington), who signed with USC; small forward Kyle Singler (Medford, Ore./South Medford), who signed with Duke; and point guard Derrick Rose (Chicago/Simeon), who has verbally committed to Memphis.
All five have been spectacular in their high school and AAU play heading into their senior seasons. There may be a player ranked below them who through hard work and maturation could surpass someone in this group in the next four-to-five years, but to this point, these five have proven to be the elite players in this class.
Each player brings something different to the court. They each have the body, athleticism and skill set to perform at the NBA level. With Love, it is his fundamental style and work ethic. Gordon is a spectacular player and a scoring machine. Mayo is a scoring point guard who has been a can't-miss prospect for a long time. Singler may be the best all-around skilled player, while Rose has NBA point guard written all over him.
The difficulty is that there is not a clear cut No. 1 player in the Class of 2007, as there was a year ago with center Greg Oden, now at Ohio State. Love, Gordon, Mayo, Singler and Rose will not only be stars for their respective college basketball programs but should have long careers in the NBA. If not for a new rule that makes a high school player wait one year after graduation before being eligible for the NBA draft, several of these players would be going directly to the league.
We have graded Love as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2007 because we believe he is the most fundamental high school basketball player in the last 25 years. He is the poster child for what is right with basketball today. The movement in our country is toward skill development and skills academies. Love has been in a skill development program from a young age with his dad, former NBA player Stan Love. Young players should study Love and use him as a role model to learn how to improve their own games.
Through hard work, discipline and dedication, Love has changed his body in the past three years. He has become a conditioned athlete with much better stamina. Love has dominating size (6-foot-9, 255 pounds) and has perfected his post repertoire so that he is deadly when he catches the ball down low. He can shoot with range, rebound and is the best-passing big man we have ever seen at his age. In fact, Kevin's middle name is Wesley, named after NBA great Wes Unseld, who had the best outlet pass in the pro game. Love understands shot selection, commands double teams in the post and knows how and when to deliver the ball to his open teammates.
Beyond that, Love is a warrior in the paint. He thrives on physical contact and is fearless around the hoop, where he can power the ball to the rim, take a hit and finish with a three-point play.
The past two summers Kevin played on the SoCal All-Stars team, where his inside game, rebounding, outlet passes and post presence made a very good team unbeatable last summer. Love's best attribute is that his intensity and passion for the game make everyone around him better.
Love is proof that the best athlete is not always the best player. He is a throwback to the 1960s and early '70s. This kid is a combination of pure dedication, ability and intelligence.
UCLA coach Ben Howland and assistant Kerry Keating made Love their top recruiting priority three years ago, and they will be the direct beneficiaries of Love's skills over the next few years.
Gordon was a close second to Love as the top player in the Class of 2007. He absolutely was the best player during last summer's circuit of AAU events and sneaker camps. He is a scoring machine, and he was on full display at the Nike Peach Jam and the Reebok Big Time Tournament last summer. Gordon is one of the best athletes -- and hands-down the best scorer -- in the class of 2007.
Gordon did whatever it took to help his undermanned Mean Streets AAU team win the Nike Peach Jam and reach the championship game of the Big Time Tournament. He made shot after shot, drove the ball to the hole and scored, rebounded and defended at the other end of the court.
Since playing high school basketball as an eighth grader, Mayo has been deemed a can't-miss prospect and has had more attention than anyone in the Class of 2007. He has been a physical specimen since an early age, but it appeared this summer he was not as dominating as he had been in previous summers.
Mayo has been deemed a point guard, even though he does not have a pure point guard mentality. He is much more of a scoring point. He can shoot from the perimeter and get to the rim at will. In order to be a star in the NBA, though, he must develop more of a lead guard mentality.
Mayo is a player of high intrigue and mystery. He has been pegged as the next LeBron James. While he is not Lebron, he is a very talented player. His challenge as he moves through his career is to live up to the hype that has been created around him. He projects as an NBA player, but he must concentrate more on his game than on the hype surrounding him.
Singler has the total skill package -- he shoots, handles, passes, rebounds and has a very high basketball IQ. He is a serious candidate to climb higher in our ranking of the top players.
Rose is the best true point guard in the Class of 2007. He has the size, strength and speed to penetrate, get wherever he wants to on the court and finish at the rim.
As a coach, I still believe there is much to prove for all of these players, and the best proof will take place on the court. It will be interesting to follow these players this season. Love, Gordon, Mayo, Singler and Rose will be on ESPN's high school basketball broadcasts this season, and I will take much interest in not only watching but calling these games on ESPN. Love is our choice as the No. 1 player heading into the season, but over the course of the year, it will be interesting to see if one of these other talented players takes that honor.
John Carroll spent nine years as an NBA coach, including seven with the Boston Celtics. Before joining the NBA, Carroll spent six years as head coach at Duquesne and seven years as an assistant at Seton Hall.