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December 24, 2012

Top players show how they got there

MORE: Tarkanian Classic: Johnson the MVP |
City of Palms: Intense play in finals

The week before Christmas proved to be a productive one as Rivals.com traveled to the City of Palms in Fort Myers, Fla., and then to Las Vegas for the inaugural Tarkanian Classic. We saw a slew of highly ranked players, including the top players from 2013 and 2014, Andrew Wiggins and Jahlil Okafor, as well as several competitors for the top spot in 2015. Here's a look at some of what we learned over the course of our travels.

Wiggins and Okafor remain at the top of their classes

It wasn't as if Wiggins and Okafor were in danger of losing their respective No. 1 rankings in the classes of 2013 and 2014. Still, the 6-foot-7 wing from Huntington (W.Va.) Prep and the 6-foot-10 post man from Chicago (Ill.) Whitney Young again showed why they are tops in their classes.

Actually, Wiggins isn't just tops in his class, he's tops in every class in high school basketball. The scary thing is that, as good as he is, he's still got areas of his game that need work and is just starting to scratch at what he's capable of. Right now, Wiggins uses his stupendous athleticism, body control and timing to play at a level that nobody else can reach. His ball handling has gotten better but has plenty of room for improvement, as does his shooting. He can develop a midrange game to go with his slashing, transition finishing and ability to play in the post. He confirmed that he'll set up visits with Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina in addition to the one he's taken to Florida State. The fact that he's also the best defensive player in the country is just icing on top of everything else.

In Okafor, we are witnessing the type of player who for the most part has been going the way of the dinosaurs. The junior from Chicago is a true back-to-the-basket center who has serious game and skill when it comes to scoring in the low post. Okafor has tremendous feet, strong hands, passes well out of double teams and is comfortable making strong moves to either his right or left shoulder. Additionally, Okafor is a good one-on-one post defender against other big men (he showed this against five-star senior Dakari Johnson) and is developing a nice little face-up game out to 15 feet to keep defenders on their toes.

2015 remains wide open at the top

In the class of 2015, we have designated a relatively select group of players as early four- and five-star prospects, but we've not yet ranked the class in numerical order. Were we to do so, it would be difficult to choose a No. 1 player because nobody has seized the bull by the horns. We did, however, see three five-star prospects who could be in the mix for the top spot in Malik Newman, Ivan Rabb and Stephen Zimmerman.

A 6-foot-11 center at Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, Zimmerman began the week as a four-star prospect but was deservedly moved up to five-star status. Similar in some ways to Baylor freshman Isaiah Austin, Zimmerman is a thin big man who can face up to the basket some. Though he's not as skilled as Austin facing the hoop, Zimmerman is more fluid athletically and physical around the post. Regardless of comparison, Zimmerman is coming on fast and he has a chance to figure largely in the discussion for No. 1 in his class if he continues to develop at the rate he has over the last six months.

A product of Jackson (Miss.) Callaway, Newman lived up to his five-star status and is likely the best guard in 2015. A 6-foot-3 combo guard who is becoming more comfortable at the point, Newman is almost impossible to guard in a one-on-one situation thanks to his explosive first step. He can go right or left, is a pretty good jump shooter from deep and doesn't appear to get rattled by pressure defenses. He was a little off his game in Fort Myers, where he was the subject of a lot of defensive attention, but the early target of Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Memphis, N.C. State and many more figured things out as the week went along and showed his capabilities.

Finally, like Zimmerman, Rabb was outstanding at the Tarkanian Classic. The power forward from Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd dominated in the two games we watched. He's long, lean, quick off the floor, has great hands and can run. Given that he's 15 years old, it's no surprise that Rabb's offense is still developing, but it isn't exactly raw. He can face and hit 15-footers, spin to either shoulder for buckets, and he looks comfortable setting up to operate on either side of the lane. Time should allow him to add strength and continue to be more assertive as a rebounder and shot blocker. Arizona, California, UCLA, UNLV, North Carolina and many more are tracking his early progress closely.

Unranked three-stars emerge as legitimate spring options

No, we didn't find many unsigned big men from the class of 2013 during our travels from Fort Myers to Vegas. However, a trio of unsigned shooting guards stood out as nice options at the upper mid-major to high-major level. Elijah Brown and Rashad Muhammad stand out in the West, while Douglas Brooks is one to monitor on the East Coast.

A 6-foot-3 shooting guard at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, Brown is a complete offensive player. He's always in attack mode, can finish at the rim and is a very dangerous jump shooter. Formerly a member of the Rivals150, the Butler, St. Mary's and Vanderbilt target is knocking pretty hard on the rankings door and will receive plenty of consideration for the final edition.

For the first three years of his high school career, Muhammad lived in the shadow of his older brother Shabazz. With 2012's No. 1 player in the Rivals150 off having a great freshman year at UCLA, Rashad has blossomed and taken his game to a new level. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard admitted to Rivals that his focus probably wasn't where it should have been in the past, but he's locked in now. A long and rangy jump shooter, Muhammad has a new-found level of confidence and is much improved as a driver of the basketball. Utah State is the three-star's only offer to this point, but more will be coming in the near future.

Finally, we liked what we saw out of Brooks. A 6-foot-3 shooting guard from Lake Wales (Fla.) High, he is a good athlete, can get to the rim, makes shots from outside and looks to be a good defender. We love his versatility and upside, but more than anything else it's his competitive spirit and nonstop motor that make him a valuable target moving forward. He started to come on strong at the end of the summer with his Each 1 Teach 1 team and has done a nice job of progressing with his game and approach since then.



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