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John Clay: With elite prospects taking alternatives, has basketball recruiting lost its luster?
AP

John Clay: With elite prospects taking alternatives, has basketball recruiting lost its luster?

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Amen, left, and Ausar Thompson of Pine Crest are the South Florida Sun Sentinel Broward County boys basketball Players of the Year for small schools on March 12, 2021.

Amen, left, and Ausar Thompson of Pine Crest are the South Florida Sun Sentinel Broward County boys basketball Players of the Year for small schools on March 12, 2021. (Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A few days ago, ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla raised a few eyebrows with the following tweet:

“One Top 40 program coach told me last week that they will no longer recruit HS players but will live in the transfer portal. ‘We’re like the NBA. We can build through free agency or through the draft. We’ll take the surer thing.’”

That might seem a knee-jerk outlier opinion, except for the evidence pointing in that direction. In the future, there may not be that many elite high school prospects for college programs to recruit. The herd is thinning.

Why just Tuesday, twin brothers Amen and Ausar Thompson of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., signed with Overtime Elite, a new alternative training program that is offering six-figure salaries to prospects. OTE has hired former Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie as director and last week announced plans to build a 103,000-square foot facility in Atlanta.

Among class of 2022 prospects, the 247Sports composite ranks Ausar Thompson at No. 30 and Amen Thompson at 31. Both are 6-foot-6 combo guards. Both will skip college to prepare for the NBA draft.

The Thompsons are the second set of brothers to cast their lot with Overtime. Matt and Ryan Bewley of Orlando signed with Overtime Elite last week. Both are high school juniors. Matt Bewley is ranked No. 3 by ESPN in the class of 2023. Ryan is ranked No. 12. Both are listed at 6-9. Both will be eligible for the 2024 NBA draft. The brothers reportedly signed a seven-figure deal with Overtime.

Also last week, Marietta, Ga., guard Scoota Henderson signed a two-year deal with the G League’s Ignite program. That’s the same program that prepped blue-chip prospects Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga for this year’s NBA draft. ESPN ranked Henderson as the No. 7 prospect in the class of 2022.

That’s the new G League wrinkle in the Scoota signing. Henderson is a high school junior. He’s 17 years old. Having graduated high school early, Henderson reportedly signed a two-year deal, since he will not be eligible for the NBA draft until 2023. He’s a 6-3 guard with a 6-9 wingspan.

Henderson joins Arizona forward Michael Foster as G League signees. ESPN ranks Foster as the seventh-best class of 2021 prospect. Kentucky target Jaden Hardy announced he intends to sign with the Ignite program. Hardy is ranked No. 3 in the class of 2021 by 247Sports. Fanbo Zeng, an 18-year-old player from China, reportedly de-committed from Gonzaga last month and is also expected to join the G League program.

According to 247Sports, since the 2019 class, a total of 13 prospects have opted to skip college in favor of an alternative route to the NBA age limit of 19.

Meanwhile, the wheels on the NCAA’s transfer portal keep turning. Over 1,600 names have been placed in the portal. Massive player movement has transformed the outlook for many programs.

Take Auburn. The Tigers ended up just 13-14 overall and 7-11 in the SEC last season. Their top player, guard Sharife Cooper, is off to the draft. No matter. As expected, Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl dove headfirst into the portal. North Carolina center Walker Kessler, Arkansas guard Desi Sills, Georgia guard K.D. Johnson, Charleston guard Zep Jasper and Eastern Kentucky guard Wendell Green have all joined the Tigers, now considered among the favorites for the SEC title next season.

The same can be said of Kentucky. Addressing obvious needs, the Wildcats have added West Virginia’s Oscar Tshiebwe (muscle), Davidson’s Kellan Grady (perimeter shooting), Iowa’s CJ Fredrick (more perimeter shooting) and Georgia’s Sahvir Wheeler (point guard) through the transfer portal. Time will tell if things jell, but John Calipari appears to have improved ingredients.

All of this isn’t to say recruiting high school prospects is no longer important. lt is to say prep recruits are just one piece of the roster-building puzzle. An important piece, to be sure. Just as the transfer portal is now an important piece.

The best programs will figure out the best ways to build that roster.

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