PORTLAND, Ore. – Led by Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Joel Embiid and Aaron Gordon, the Class of 2013 was the most heralded and hyped prep basketball group in years. The aforementioned pretty much lived up to the billing and are now projected top picks in this year's NBA draft.
Meanwhile, the Class of 2014 fell under its predecessor's shadow. But despite the lack of fanfare, could this year's class led by only one nationally familiar name actually be as good or possibly even better?
"I don't know if it's as good as last year, but it's underrated," one NBA scout said. "I don't think it's that big of a drop off. Last year there were five or seven players like, 'Wow.' There are probably four or five this year, and that's still pretty impressive."
Said another NBA scout: "They have the potential to supersede last year's class."
The only well-known member of this year's prep class is Duke signee Jahlil Okafor, a 6-foot-10, 260-pound center from Chicago Whitney High School. Okafor was co-Most Valuable Player of last week's McDonald's All-America Game and was ranked as the No. 1 player in the country by Rivals.
Okafor also is the anchor of a very big class participating in this week's Hoop Summit pitting the USA Junior National Team against a team of international teen standouts on Saturday. There is also brawny 6-9, 240-pound Kansas signee Cliff Alexander; undecided 6-11, 240-pounder Myles Turner of Bedford Trinity High (Texas); and still growing 6-11, 240-pound Kentucky signee Karl Towns. Joining them is Arizona-bound Stanley Johnson, a 6-7, 226-pound small forward in high school, who won four California state titles at Mater Dei High.
"The big fellas like Okafor, Towns and Alexander are pretty good," one NBA scout said. "If they would have been in this year's draft class they would have been as heralded … The talent in bigs here now is just as good as last year."
Said another NBA scout: "There is a lot of size in this year's class, which is certainly a factor. Size with skill."
Several NBA scouts said that the prep Class of 2014 prospect who has most stood out this week during Hoop Summit practices has been Southern Methodist-bound point guard Emmanuel Mudiay.
The product of Dallas Prime Prep Academy, a school co-founded by former NFL star Deion Sanders, is considered the biggest recruit in SMU's history. Mudiay will represent his birthplace of The Republic of Congo on the World Team. The strong and crafty 6-5, 197-pounder has dominated World Team practices this week. Mudiay said he is already learning a lot about what is needed to make it to the NBA from SMU coach Larry Brown, who coached the Detroit Pistons to the 2003-04 NBA Finals title.
So will Mudiay depart to the NBA after one year at SMU?
"I get asked that a lot, but I'm just playing basketball right now," Mudiay said. "I feel like if I just put the work in the opportunity will present itself."
Said one NBA scout: "He's a jump shot away from being really good. He plays with a ton of aggression and he's always putting pressure on the defense."
One NBA scout said there is a big drop off with this class after Okafor, Mudiay, Towns, Johnson and Alexander. However, another NBA scout said Turner has a chance to be special, too.
"Many of these players are going to play for coaches known for developing talent out of high school," one NBA scout said. "You see more skill in this year's class than the year before. Last year was more raw talent."
Johnson believes this overshadowed prep class will have lots of household names after their freshman seasons in college. He also believes the lack of attention will bring less pressure to succeed than the Class of 2013 endured.
"You guys can talk about Wiggins and Julius and I'm just going to sneak up on you and play 15 years [in the NBA]," Johnson said. "I talk to Aaron a lot and there is a lot of pressure on him with all the hype around his name. He's supposed to be this, that and the other. Guys like me, Jahlil, Emmanuel and Cliff were obviously talked about, but we're under the radar because [the Class of 2013] made it so big.
"I find it intriguing, to be honest. It's so much easier for me to play because Andrew Wiggins was the best freshman to come out since God."