UNC, Duke the favorites for Barnes

Harrison Barnes, the top-ranked player in the ESPNU 100, has a face that would make millions in the World Series of Poker.

Try to get a read on the 6-foot-7 forward from Ames High in Iowa, and your summation of Barnes' recruiting likely will be off base. Try decoding histrionics, and Barnes will fool you, throw you off the trail.

Forget about having the inside track on his college decision. Barnes is the master of the unknown.

"He might have the best poker face I've ever encountered. No one knows what he's thinking. He won't tell," one college assistant said.

"That's a fair assessment of Harrison," Ames coach Vance Downs said, laughing.

Friday afternoon on ESPNU (4 p.m. ET), Barnes will let everyone in on one of the biggest recruiting secrets in decades. He is holding all the cards, and he knows it.

"He's keeping his cards close to the vest; he hasn't given up much," said Paul Biancardi, ESPN's national recruiting coordinator.

The school is bracing for Friday's media blitz, which Iowans are calling the most significant recruiting news in state history.

"I can't recall anything close in recent memory," Downs said.

When Barnes affixes his signature to the NCAA paperwork, it should come down to North Carolina, Duke and Kansas. That much is known. UCLA and Oklahoma also are involved but are considered long shots.

"Whoever gets him is getting an impact player, a difference-maker," Biancardi said. "Harrison has a desire to improve, and he brings a savvy and poise that is rare for a young person. He's a big-time player, big-time person."

Is there a wild card?

Try hometown Iowa State.

His father, Ronnie Harris, played basketball for the Cyclones, while his mother, Shirley, is an employee of the university. His classmate, Doug McDermott, who signed with Northern Iowa on Wednesday, is the son of Iowa State coach Greg McDermott.

"There's a large contingent that would love to see him become a Cyclone," Downs said. "Really there's not a bad choice in the six [finalists]. He'll make a choice based on the best fit."

If the recruiting battle boils down to a tug-of-war of pitting Tobacco Road rivals Duke and North Carolina, perhaps Roy Williams has an edge.

Before heading to North Carolina, Williams found the Iowa cornfields fertile recruiting for the Kansas Jayhawks. In 1993, he bagged center Raef LaFrentz of Monona. Five years later, he harvested future NBA first-round picks Kirk Hinrich of Sioux City and Nick Collison of Iowa Falls. The duo helped Kansas reach the 2003 Final Four.

Last season, Ames (26-0) won the Class 4A state title, with Barnes pocketing Iowa's Gatorade Player of the Year award. He averaged 19.7 points and 8.8 rebounds while connecting on 60 percent of his shots.

Ames, which opens Nov. 30 against Urbandale at Drake University's Knapp Center, begins practice Monday. The Little Cyclones are preseason favorites to repeat in 4A.

As the news conference approaches, Downs remarked how his star player has matured during the process.

"He couldn't have handled it any better," he said. "Harrison and his mom made the visits and went through the process. He's holding up fine. I've known him for years, and I won't ask him about his decision.

"We'll all find out where he's going at the same time Friday. I don't believe Harrison even knows, yet."

The Friary: Three of the four seniors from powerhouse St. Anthony High in Jersey City, N.J., have committed to schools. As for 6-9 Ashton Pankey, the lone unsigned player, he should have things wrapped up by Tuesday.

St. Anthony assistant Eric Harrield confirmed that Pankey is headed to the University of Houston on Friday for an official visit after last weekend's trip to Maryland.

Several sources feel Pankey, a Bronx, N.Y., resident, is a lock for the Terrapins, but it's the policy of coach Bob Hurley that players visit at least two schools, developing a point of reference and allowing comparison of programs.

Earlier this fall, 6-2 PG Elijah Carter committed to St. Bonaventure, 6-9 Devon Collier (No. 79 in ESPNU 100) verballed to Oregon State and PF Derrick Williams pledged to Richmond.

"Ashton, Devon and Derrick give us the tallest front line in New Jersey," Harrield said.

The Friars' foursome was supposed to sign their binding letters on Tuesday, but Hurley canceled the gathering, allowing players to send off letters individually.

The fifth starter, 6-3 junior Tyquan Goodlett, is hearing from several Big East schools, namely Cincinnati.

Credit report: Jonathan Frye defines a student-athlete. Frye, a 6-4 wing guard from Northern Guilford High in Greensboro, N.C., signed his national letter of intent with Appalachian State on Wednesday morning, but more importantly, he's already getting a leg up on his academics.

Frye told ESPN.com that he is taking 12 hours at nearby Guilford College this semester and another 12 in the spring. That's 24 credit hours before he ever steps foot onto the Southern Conference school's campus. This semester, his schedule feature courses in English, advanced mathematics, sociology and business management.

"I'll study international business in college," said Frye, who maintained a 4.2 grade-point average and will receive his high school diploma in December.

Despite graduating mid-year, Frye will finish his fourth year for the Knighthawks (30-3), who captured North Carolina's Class 3A state title in March. Frye averaged 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in only the school's second year of existence.

He chose Appalachian State over Elon, Holy Cross, Butler and Drake.

"I like what coach [Buzz] Peterson is doing; the coaching staff is great," Frye said. "I'm fortunate to have found a school within two hours of home."

Marching forward:
The school with history was, well, nearly history earlier this year. The thought of a high-level basketball team would have been scoffed at, and a player signing with a top-25 program was a pipe dream.

Last spring, Oak Ridge Military Academy, located in suburban Greensboro, N.C., nearly closed due to financial woes.

"The school didn't accept any more students for this year," coach Stan Kowalewski said. "Once the board of trustees was fired and they brought in new people with new ideas did the school make it back."

Four months and 75 full-time students later, the school tapped donors, raising $1.5 million, and there's a renaissance approach to athletics enhancing the image of the school.

For Kowalewski, who coached Northern Guilford (Greensboro, N.C.) to the Class 3A state championship in March, it also marked a second chance. Following the championship run Kowalewski's contract was not renewed.

Looking for a new gig, Kowalewski signed on with Oak Ridge Military, a program which went 6-15 last season. He was sold upon hearing the school's newfound vision.

First thing he needed players.

"I was humbled when seven former players from Northern Guilford followed me here," Kowalewski said. "It says a lot about the parents and their belief in what this school is going to do and our program."

On Wednesday, one of North Carolina's top players, 6-5 wing forward Jay Canty, signed his national letter of intent with Xavier. Canty previously attended nearby Ragsdale (Jamestown, N.C.) but needed an academic makeover before the Musketeers would offer. Canty originally committed to High Point, a Division I program from the Big South Conference.

"Once the High Point coaches left last spring, I decommitted," Canty said. "Xavier then started recruiting hard and it's a place that has a big-time program but the academics are better. If basketball doesn't work out after school, I have an education to fall back on."

When Canty reopened his recruiting the Musketeers held off charges from Providence, Boston College, Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth and Marquette.

"He was way under recruited; Xavier is a great level for him," Kowalewski said.

Oak Ridge Military, founded in 1852, is an academic institution first, with a military influence. Students wear uniforms, march in formation and adhere to strict military codes.

"At first it was tough," Canty said. "Most of us who came here this year were used to public schools. You march and salute cadets who have a higher rank but are younger than you. It's a different world but it's teaching me to stay humble and helping me mature. It'll pay off in college."

Canty and 6-2 combo guard Asad Lamot are the lone seniors. Lamot, a mid-major recruit, is the hardest worker in the program, plays sticky defense and carries a 3.5 grade-point average.

The junior class includes: 6-8 Jacob Lawson, a high-major forward with several offers from ACC, SEC and Big East schools; 6-2 Michael Neal, a mid-to-high-major, who plays above the rim; and 6-5 Justin Mitchell, a consistent jump shooter from 18 feet.

The sophomores are: 6-1 Carlos Rankins, a combo guard who finishes in transition and is receiving attention from mid-majors; 7-0 Joseph Uchebo, a Nigerian who is a skilled inside presence, with quickness which will land him at a high major; 5-9 Nolen Gerald, a highly skilled guard who can score in transition and from distance.

With several Division I players, Kowalewski is scheduling like a nationally ranked team. The Cadets will play Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) twice, Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.); God's Academy (Grand Prairie, Texas), Mountain State Academy (Beckley, W.Va.), St. Mark's (Southborough, Mass.) and United Faith Christian (Charlotte).

"We're treating this program like college," said Kowalewski, who played college ball at Dartmouth and coached at UNC Greensboro. "We're watching film, our coaches are preparing full scouting reports of opponents and we're playing against the best competition."

If the Cadets succeed this season, Kowalewski hopes to qualify for the second ESPN RISE National High School Invitational in April.

"If we win, we'd gladly go there [NHSI]. Since we don't play for a state championship this year, that's our goal," Kowalewski said.

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade National Player of the Year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.