The Southeastern Conference is known as the most elite in the sport of college football. No need for Captain Obvious. However, this past spring we did all become witness to the SEC’s resurgence in college basketball with three teams advancing to the Elite 8 (Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky). Of course what comes along with the success is Kentucky head coach John Calipari’s snarky comments that the SEC is still a Power 6 conference and how unbelievable the surprise run in the NCAA tournament was nationally.
Out west, the Pac-12 not only totaled some of the best quality wins in the country but also finished the season in strong fashion with impressive overall records, arguably better than any in the country including the consensus toughest (ACC). Also in the recruiting realm of top talent within, this past season we saw the resurgence of yet another Power 6 conference in the Pac-12. Names such as Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, TJ Leaf, Lauri Markkanen and Rawle Alkins among others come to mind as notable freshmen.
No longer is SEC basketball just Kentucky with Florida sprinkled in, and then everyone else after a major dropoff. Now it’s the SEC’s turn to feature heavily prized recruits and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Sure the SEC will put on display some ideal “one-and-done’s” this fall but will also have a decent amount of second-tier talent that will become super sophomores.
Let’s begin with just a few of the phenomenal, non-Big Blue Nation, premiere SEC freshmen to look forward to:
Michael Porter Jr. | PF/SF | Missouri Tigers
Tate’s Take: I wouldn’t go as far as calling him positionless, but “stretch-4” instantly comes to mind when thinking of Porter. Many have made hefty comparisons to Kevin Durant (yes, that KD), but it’s extremely unfair to put that kind of expectation and pressure on Porter. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that prior to spurning his initial Washington commitment, then head coach Lorenzo Romar was released as was Michael Porter Sr. from the staff of assistants. When Sr. left, he took Jr. with him. When then-Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin (an East St. Louis native) left to take the same position at Mizzou, he then immediately put on his thinking cap and reached out to the Porter family who hail from Columbia, MO.
Snagging Porter Jr. could turn into the ultimate package deal if brother and top-25 class of 2018 commit Jontay Porter joins along for the ride. Jontay could also potentially reclassify to play in 2017 if approved by the NCAA. Porter Jr. is an above average perimeter shooter with bounce and athleticism. Length, versatility and size are what makes his upside ceiling so high with an ability to slash. Weaknesses occasionally flash in his strength, lateral movement defensively, and aggressive play. Porter recently leaped above (Arizona commit) DeAndre Ayton for the top spot in the 2017 class. The current No. 1 expected pick for the 2018 NBA Draft has some huge shoes to fill, but will first make his hometown of TigerNation extremely happy.
Collin Sexton | PG/SG | Alabama Crimson Tide
Tate’s Take: Across the high school basketball landscape Collin Sexton is often referred to as “Young Bull,” a perfect description that fits his playing style. Sexton has the heart of a lion and takes zero plays off on both sides of the ball, which in today’s game is a rarity. Needless to say, Bama head coach and former NBA veteran Avery Johnson is not only getting the most fearless scoring machine in the class but a player who also contains a bit of an edgy side to his game (much like Johnson in his playing days). It wasn’t that long ago that Sexton wasn’t even considered among the nation’s top 50 players until a summer of showcase performances boosted Collin’s national ranking into the top 10.
The four-star guard from Georgia refused to be denied, although you cannot tell that to Sexton. There’s a huge difference between arrogance and confidence, Young Bull has made it very clear he just wants to be considered as the ultimate competitor. He’s perhaps the biggest freshman talker but like him, love him or hate him, his game forces you to respect him because he backs it up so well. Many have questioned how Johnson will be able to control the strong personality and charismatic athlete that Sexton is because he wears his emotions on his sleeves. But Sexton is the ideal leader and team player in every sense of the term.
The decision of the Tide over traditional blue bloods such as Arizona, North Carolina, Kansas, Villanova and even Florida has also made some minds wander. But Bama was hot on the trails early in the recruitment and Sexton wanted to reward consistency. A much better passer than given credit, running a team is what he will have to prove. Shot selection falls in line afterward. The McDonald’s All-American slam dunk champion will have plenty highlight reels to put on display in Tuscaloosa. Sexton is no pure point guard although it shouldn’t discredit his abilities. Collin is more of a prototypical combo guard. Bama’s highest-touted recruit in school history is a big step in the right direction toward equalizing the school’s two biggest sports. “Young Bull” Sexton is just that good.
Isaiah Stokes | PF | Florida Gators
Tate’s Take: It’s hard to mention Isaiah Stokes without mentioning his older brother and professional basketball player, Jarnell. Isaiah is a huge load inside at 6-foot-8, 270-plus pounds, and gets off the floor for blocks and dunks with sneaky athleticism for a guy his size. Sure Isaiah will slim down some at the next level, but with his wide lower-body base, it’s difficult for the opposition to get around him. He also possesses size that you don’t necessarily want him to lose too much of. As an undersized, below the basket power forward, Stokes will be an ideal fit and different look to the typical Gators length.
In many categories, Stokes will be primed to contribute and produce more than his brother who starred at Tennessee not long ago. Most impressively, he has soft hands and great footwork to go along with a plethora of inside moves and a Chuck Hayes style of play with a Charles Barkley body that moves its weight around awfully well. Expect a smooth transition to the next level. The younger Stokes chose Florida over Iowa State, TCU, VCU and (shocker) Tennessee.