The standout prospects in the Class of 2011 have two and a half years of high school ahead of them. That doesn't mean that they aren't garnering plenty of interest from college recruiters. Of our top 25 players in the 2011 class, five already have verbally committed to a college.
Many of the players in the 2011 class have been complementary players early in their careers, but that will soon change. Beginning this summer, these players will be upperclassmen. This generally means that they will be their team's go-to option on offense and strong enough to withstand the the competition. We feel that the following five players will be worth watching in the year ahead; with a strong commitment to improve and hard work they have the talent to become stars at the college level.
Michael Gilchrist, SF, Elizabeth, N.J./St. Patrick
Currently ranked as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2011, Gilchrist can dominate the action at both ends of the floor with explosive ability. At 6-7, he's a fantastic defender who can guard multiple positions. He has great length and tremendous foot speed for his size. Gilchrist's offensive skills are coming along; he can hit a wide-open 3 on occasion, but he is more comfortable and consistent from 15 feet and in. He handles the ball well in transition and at the high post, but he does tend to get in trouble when he dribbles into traffic. His biggest improvements this season have come playing out on the perimeter behind the 3-point line; he's improved his ball handling, his screening on and away from the ball, and his understanding of spacing with his teammates.
Right now he can beat any opponent down the floor and finish with thunderous dunk. In the half court, he has no trouble taking his teammates' drop-off passes up to the rim quickly. Gilchrist produces points from the foul line each game because he is always attacking the rim with the drive, or from his low post touches. This young man is a special player who has some of the best upside of any player in the prep ranks. He displays high-major athletic ability, developing skills with great effort and an attitude to do whatever it takes to win and improve. What will separate him from his peers is his work ethic and willingness to improve. He plays for one country's top high school programs, St. Patrick, for coach Kevin Boyle, who does an outstanding job in skill work with his players.
Austin Rivers, SG/PG, Winter Park, Fla., verbally committed to Florida
The son of Doc Rivers has a bright future. What makes Rivers so special is his size (6-foot-3), skill and feel for the game. He has a high basketball IQ that he combines with a great deal of talent. Rivers is also a tough competitor who may be harder on himself than his opponents. Rivers scores in transition with acrobatic layups and pull-up jumpers. In the half court, he is great at setting up his defenders with fakes and moving without the ball to score with his terrific midrange jumpers and ability to get to the rim. He can make the open 3, but he needs to become more consistent with his outside shot. Rivers is skilled enough to help at the point; he has the ability to run the offense and get others involved with his great court vision when he penetrates. Rivers has steadily climbed our ESPNU Terrific 25 rankings because he has played at a high level on a consistent basis. If you have the chance, don't miss an opportunity to see this future Florida Gator.
Chane Behanan, PF Cincinnati/Aiken, verbally committed to Cincinnati
Behanan is a horse on the low block. He is extremely strong for his age and is a power player inside. Behanan has solid low-post moves and is always working to improve them. His best move currently is a drop-step power move on the block. He scores mostly inside but has been working to improve his perimeter game. He is a solid shooter right now out to 15 feet. He is an excellent rebounder who can garner rebounds outside of his area. He is a decent defender inside who may need to improve his intensity some on that end of the floor. Behanan is not a great shot-blocker, but he is big enough and strong enough to take up space in the lane and be a better position defender. He is a solid passer. Behanan is definitely tough inside. He has a solid basketball IQ and solid hands -- though his hands do need to improve in order for him to take his game to the next level. Behanan is a good, not great, athlete. But he is a very good player and should be a great asset down the road for his future college choice: the University of Cincinnati.
Johnny O'Bryant, C, Cleveland, Miss./East Side
O'Bryant has a chance to emerge as a top 10 prospect in the Class of 2011 by the end of the summer circuit; he is a high-level athlete who continues to improve his offensive skills and will remind a lot of coaches of a young Kevin Garnett. He is aggressive and plays with a high level of intensity; he goes after everything around the rim, and with his length, he is good for at least one put-back dunk a game. O'Bryant is a good shot-blocker who can really dominate the paint on the defensive end of the court. His face-up jump shot is improving to go along with a solid low post presence.
Angelo Chol, F, San Diego, Calif./Hoover
Chol has improved immensely since his freshman campaign. He possesses that prototypical frame for the 4 or the 5 that college coaches covet. This lefty, because of his length and improving skill, has an unstoppable jump hook and a much-improved perimeter jump shot. Although he is still very young, Chol can dominate a game for stretches at a time. He has excellent timing around the basket and is one of the most prolific shot-blockers on the West Coast. In addition, he has a nice pair of hands and generally snags anything in his area. Once his frame fills out and if he continues to hone his skills, Chol could turn out to be the No. 1 post prospect on the West Coast. Tony Wroten (Renton, Wash./Garfield) is the obvious choice for best 2011 prospect on the West Coast class of 2011. Chol, however, could make a tremendous splash this spring and summer.
Paul Biancardi, Joel Francisco, Reggie Rankin, Mike LaPlante and John Stovall contributed to this report.