Chet Holmgren’s commitment to Gonzaga on Monday meant one of the strangest recruiting cycles in college basketball history is one step closer to finishing. There hasn’t been in-person recruiting, campus visits, in-home meetings or coaches scouting players in gyms in more than a year. The 2021 class has survived, however, and for the most part, the recruiting class rankings don’t look too different from previous years.
With just a few ESPN 100 prospects still on the board in 2021, here are the big storylines for the updated class rankings:
Michigan remains No. 1: Very few new coaches in recent college basketball history have had the impact, both on and off the floor, of Juwan Howard. He not only led the Wolverines to a 1-seed and Big Ten championship this season, but he has them atop the recruiting class rankings. Moussa Diabate and Caleb Houstan are legit one-and-done prospects and should be able to keep the momentum Howard is building in Ann Arbor.
Gonzaga continues growth into powerhouse: Six straight second-weekend NCAA tournament appearances, 1-seeds in three of the past four NCAA tournaments, 30-plus wins in five straight seasons — and now the No. 1 recruit in the country. Mark Few and Gonzaga are a legitimate college basketball power. Jalen Suggs set the tone last year as the program’s highest-ranked recruit, and the top-ranked senior Holmgren (and five-star guard Hunter Sallis) takes it up another level.
Duke, Kentucky not battling at the top — but not too far off: For the better part of a decade, Duke and Kentucky alternated turns atop the recruiting class rankings. That has changed a bit the past few years, but both programs are still ranked in the top five. Duke has three five-star prospects, while Kentucky has three top-30 prospects. The Wildcats also have two of the 10 best transfers. Don’t expect Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari to have back-to-back down years.
Tennessee, Alabama reload: The SEC has several developing college hoops powers, especially on the transfer market. But Tennessee and Alabama, which have both taken strides in entering the national discussion the past few years, both also have top-10 recruiting classes. The Volunteers have five-stars Kennedy Chandler and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield leading a terrific class, while Alabama’s group is led by explosive guard J.D. Davison.
Remaining questions: We’re not done quite yet. There are still several five-star prospects remaining, including Jaden Hardy, Patrick Baldwin Jr., Michael Foster, Efton Reid and TyTy Washington. Hardy and Foster have been heavily linked to the G League, but Baldwin is likely to decide between Duke and Milwaukee, where his father is the head coach. Reid was set to decide last week, but pushed back his announcement, while Washington decommitted from Creighton and is down to Baylor, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Oregon and LSU. ESPN 100 forward Johnathan Lawson is also still on the board; his decommitment from Oregon is the reason for the Ducks’ drop in the rankings.
Previous ranking: 1
The Wolverines have as much recruiting momentum as anybody in America, jumping to the No. 1-ranked class with commitments from top-10 seniors Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate in a two-week span back in the fall. Houstan, a Canada native, reclassified from the 2022 class and chose Michigan over Alabama, Duke and Virginia. Diabate kept his recruitment close to the vest, but the Wolverines made up a ton of ground when they secured the French big man’s commitment. Those two join ESPN 100 guards Frankie Collins and Kobe Bufkin, along with summer commits Isaiah Barnes and Will Tschetter. Juwan Howard showed promise in his ability to get players when he landed four ESPN 100 prospects in 2020, including five-star Isaiah Todd, who eventually decided to opt for the G League. But a No. 1 class cements his status as a high-level recruiter.
Previous ranking: N/A
While its quest for a perfect season may have come up just short, Gonzaga has nonetheless now established itself as a premier destination for high school talent, even one-and-done caliber talent. Chet Holmgren, the top-ranked prospect in the ESPN 100, will follow in the footsteps of his former teammate Jalen Suggs and head west to Spokane. Holmgren is the most unique prospect in the high school game — loaded with size, skill and shot-blocking ability while still growing into his body. Hunter Sallis is another five-star prospect, this time in the backcourt, to give the Bulldogs the type of dynamic playmaker to potentially step into the role created by Suggs’ departure. They also have a commitment from Fanbo Zeng, a four-star product who was previously in the ESPN 60 and most recently played this season in China. Zeng will add frontcourt size and skill to the Bulldogs’ attack next year, while Kaden Perry is a local product from the Northwest region who should be capable of playing immediate rotation minutes next year and growing into a more signature role down the road.
Previous ranking: 4
The Blue Devils have an elite three-man group. Paolo Banchero (No. 3) has a case to be the top-ranked prospect in the country. He has been consistently productive for most of his high school career and will make an impact in Durham, North Carolina, from day one. A.J. Griffin (No. 27) committed to Duke in November 2019, and while he has barely played in the past year, he has great size and physical tools for the wing and can make plays at both ends of the floor. The third piece to the group is five-star guard Trevor Keels, one of the best pure scorers in the class. He’ll immediately upgrade Duke’s backcourt production. The Blue Devils also improved their backcourt depth with the addition of ESPN 100 point guard Jaylen Blakes earlier this week. Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils are also in the mix for elite uncommitted prospect Patrick Baldwin Jr.
Previous ranking: 21
After landing a top-five group that included two five-star prospects in the 2020 class, Rick Barnes has reeled in an even potentially deeper group in 2021. It begins with Kennedy Chandler, one of the top point guards in the country, who chose the Volunteers over the likes of Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and hometown Memphis. Chandler should have the ball in his hands from day one next season; he loves to attack the rim and will consistently make plays off the dribble. He’s the third-highest-ranked recruit to pick Tennessee since the ESPN recruiting database began in 2007. Chandler is joined in the backcourt by Jahmai Mashack, a four-star wing from California, who is one of the premier defensive players in the class. Quentin Diboundje Eyobo is a 6-foot-6 wing from Montverde Academy who provides long-term depth and versatility on the wing. Up front, Tennessee landed both ESPN 100 center Jonas Aidoo this spring following his decommitment from Marquette and five-star forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, who reclassified from 2022 to 2021 to join the Vols right away, giving them one of the best incoming frontcourt tandems in the country as well. In total, this group now includes five players, four ESPN 100 products and two five-star prospects.
Previous ranking: 3
With three commitments in a 10-day span back in the fall, John Calipari’s class started to take shape. Nolan Hickman, a point guard with emerging upside, got things started in August before the momentum built in October. Bryce Hopkins is a big-bodied combo forward and mismatch scorer who can make contributions offensively from the get-go. Daimion Collins is a big man who fits the Kentucky prototype upfront as a rim runner, explosive finisher, and shot-blocker with tons of room for future growth. ESPN 60 five-star guard Skyy Clark is also on board but still technically a part of the Class of 2022, although a future reclassification up to 2021 remains a legitimate possibility. Calipari has hit the portal hard this spring, landing top-10 transfers Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia) and Kellan Grady (Davidson).
Previous ranking: 23
The Jayhawks have a talented frontcourt trio heading to Lawrence next year that should create a ton of matchup problems. Zach Clemence is a floor-spacing big man who possesses good size along with a beautiful shooting stroke. He’ll pull opposing rim protectors away from the basket and open up the lane, which is ideal for fellow ESPN 100 forward K.J. Adams, a 6-foot-6 bulldozer forward who attacks the rim with relentless physicality. Sydney Curry gives them a big body in the middle out of the junior college ranks. The backcourt includes ESPN 100 lead guard Bobby Pettiford, a playmaker who should add some burst to the lineup, and Kyle Cuffe, an explosive leaper with the speed to match. He is a potential redshirt candidate after reclassifying up from 2022.
Previous ranking: N/A
Fresh off winning the SEC regular-season and tournament championships, Nate Oats is reloading on the recruiting trail. The key piece is five-star J.D. Davison, one of the most explosive guards in the country. Davison will bring game-changing leaping ability and elite finishing skills; he’ll be a staple on highlight reels. Upfront, top-30 center Charles Bediako should help immediately with his size and wingspan. He has a high ceiling. Oats also landed transfers Nimari Burnett (Texas Tech) and Noah Gurley (Furman), but don’t forget about four-star small forward Jusaun Holt — he will help the Crimson Tide’s perimeter shooting.
Previous ranking: 8
Emoni Bates is only a high school junior and might never play college basketball, but when he made an early verbal commitment to Michigan State, it gave the Spartans an undeniable surge on the recruiting trail and the momentum necessary to build their latest top-10 class. They already held a commitment from Pierre Brooks, a 6-foot-5, four-star wing from nearby Detroit, and less than 10 days after Bates’ pledge, they landed Max Christie, a five-star guard who recently sprouted up to 6-foot-7. Later in the summer, they landed another big guard and Michigan native in Jaden Akins, solidifying a three-man class from inside the ESPN 100 and reasserting their dominance in the Midwest region.
Previous ranking: 9
The Seminoles actually had the top recruiting class in the country until top-35 prospect Bryce McGowens decommitted in October, but Leonard Hamilton still has yet another strong group headed to Tallahassee. The headliner now is Matt Cleveland (No. 30), who was one of the most impressive prospects during the spring and early summer at various livestreamed events. Jalen Warley (No. 46) can play both backcourt positions and is another player who has truly broken out over the past year. John Butler (No. 66) will bring upside to the center position, while 7-foot-3 Naheem McLeod is considered one of the top junior college prospects in the country. All four of the commits pledged during a two-week span in July and August.
Previous ranking: 10
Dan Hurley and the Huskies went from an empty class to a three-man group in just over two weeks in July and August. It started with Rahsool Diggins, a tough playmaking lead guard from the Philadelphia area whom opponents struggle to keep out of the lane. After Diggins came Jordan Hawkins, an upside wing who can shoot it from the perimeter and has great bounce at the rim. Capping off the stretch was Samson Johnson, a 4-man with a very high ceiling who combines mobility, fluidity, leaping ability and some budding skill. In total, UConn has landed three players who all have the potential to grow into signature pieces of its program.
Previous ranking: 12
Auburn had no seniors and only two upperclassmen on this past season’s roster, so the 2021 recruiting class was always going to be more about quality than quantity. The Tigers couldn’t have gotten off to a better start than a commitment from Jabari Smith, the fifth-ranked prospect in the ESPN 100 and highest-rated recruit to commit to the program since at least 2007, when ESPN’s recruiting database began. He’s arguably the most fundamentally sound frontcourt player in the class, extremely versatile and able to impact the game on both ends. Four-star guard Trey Alexander gives them a big combo guard who is capable of contributing on a deep roster immediately as a freshman, but also has lots of potential to grow into more of an offensive focal point a couple of years down the road. The departures of Sharife Cooper and Justin Powell meant Bruce Pearl needed some reinforcements this spring, though, and he went out and landed Walker Kessler, Wendell Green Jr. and Zep Jasper on the transfer market.
Previous ranking: 5
Scott Drew’s club was the talk of the recruiting world in July when the Bears reeled off three commitments within the span of a week from a pair of highly touted ESPN 100 products in Langston Love and Kendall Brown, along with an ultra-versatile and productive forward in Jeremy Sochan. All three are multi-positional, experienced against top competition and capable of making an immediate impact. Brown is a 6-foot-7, 195-pound combo forward and one of the most explosive prospects in the country. Love is a powerful scorer on the wing, and Sochan is cerebral and skilled up front. Coming off this year’s national championship, all three freshmen should have the opportunity to play right away next year.
Previous ranking: 16
This may be the best recruiting class in Nebraska history. The focal point is Bryce McGowens, a versatile 6-6 guard who had initially committed to Florida State but is now joining the Huskers. Older brother Trey McGowens transferred in from Pittsburgh the year prior. Fred Hoiberg has another ESPN 100 product in the class as well in Wilhelm Breidenbach, a skilled frontcourt player who hopes to follow the same trajectory on which Hoiberg guided Georges Niang at Iowa State. Together, they become the first ESPN 100 tandem to commit to Nebraska since 2015. Hoiberg rounded out the group with center Oleg Kojenets and shooting guard Keisei Tominaga.
Previous ranking: N/A
The Hoyas have a deep five-man class in 2021, headlined by Aminu Mohammed, the highest-ranked recruit to commit to Georgetown under Patrick Ewing. Mohammed is a five-star prospect with a college-ready body and high motor who should be one of the best freshmen in the Big East next year. He isn’t, however, the only player the Hoyas will rely on to make an immediate impact. Jordan Riley is an explosive guard and one of the best natural athletes in the class of 2021. Tyler Beard provides a playmaking lead guard to complete the incoming backcourt trio. Up front, the Hoyas are keeping it in the family with the addition of Ryan Mutombo, the son of Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo, who will provide some rim protection and low-post potential, while also adding three-star forward Jalin Billingsley.
Previous ranking: 7
Mick Cronin had some unfortunate luck in his first full recruiting class in Westwood, seeing five-star point guard Daishen Nix choose the G League route rather than enroll at UCLA as originally expected. But Cronin has bounced back in the 2021 class, landing the ESPN 100 wing duo of Peyton Watson (No. 12) and Will McClendon (No. 67). Watson, a five-star prospect, has continued to boost his stock over the past year and has risen up the rankings as quickly as anyone in the country. Meanwhile, McClendon has a very good frame and is effective getting to the rim. After a shocking run to the Final Four, Cronin could have a national championship contender on his hands next season if everyone returns to Westwood. The Bruins also went out and reinforced the frontcourt with Rutgers grad transfer Myles Johnson.
Previous ranking: 22
It began with an early pledge from Isa Silva, a 6-foot-3 point guard and one of the most creative passers in the class. In September, the Cardinal won a recruiting battle for Harrison Ingram, one of the most versatile forwards in the country, who should follow in the footsteps of both Williams and KZ Okpala as the latest big, playmaking wing in Jerod Haase’s sytem. Stanford rounded out the class by securing their backcourt with a pledge from Jarvis Moss, an under-the-radar, high-upside big guard out of North Carolina.
Previous ranking: 21
Tad Boyle had six scholarship seniors in the program this past season, and while some can still return thanks to the new NCAA waiver, Tad Boyle and the Buffaloes needed something of a reload in the 2021 class — and so he went out and landed four players, with a potential fifth. Top billing goes to the ESPN 100 pair of 7-foot center Lawson Lovering and small forward Quincy Allen. Lovering has really improved over the course of his high school career, boosting his mobility and expanding his offensive game, while Allen is a talented wing scorer who can make shots. Guards Javon Ruffin and Julian Hammond III should provide depth, and Drew Carter is a dual-sport star who is expected to make a bigger impact on the court.
Previous ranking: N/A
Shaka Smart lost ESPN 100 center Jonas Aidoo shortly after replacing Steve Wojciechowski in Milwaukee, but he has added a couple of players this month to keep the Golden Eagles among the top 25 classes in the country. ESPN 100 point guard Stevie Mitchell is the headliner; he’s an attack-minded offensive player who can score on his own or create for others. Mitchell will be tasked with initiating Smart’s system from day one. Two other four-star guards will provide depth off the bat in point guard Kameron Jones and shooting guard Emarion Ellis, while frontcourt additions Keeyan Itejere and David Joplin gave the class a boost in mid-April.
Previous ranking: N/A
The skeptics weren’t sure how Mike Woodson would be able to recruit after decades at the NBA level, but if his first month on the job was any indication, he’s more than up for the job. Not only did Woodson retain key members of both the rotation and previous coaching staff, but he thrived in the transfer market as well. When it came to recruiting the high school ranks, he solidified a pledge from ESPN 100 big man Logan Duncomb and landed maybe the best truly available player left in the class, Tamar Bates. Duncomb isn’t just important because he can play immediate minutes up front; he also solidifies local recruiting pipelines. Bates, though, has a chance to be a star. He’s an elite competitor who can impact the game on both ends of the floor with his length, defensive prowess and shot-making ability.
Previous ranking: 17
Anthony Grant’s club made national waves last year both with its collective success and with the individual stardom of Obi Toppin. Now, the Flyers are riding that wave of momentum to take them to new heights on the recruiting trail with a handful of four-star commitments, including ESPN 100 big man DaRon Holmes, the highest-ranked prospect to ever commit to Dayton. Holmes has emerging physical tools inside, along with developing face-up skills to complement his interior game. Kaleb Washington also has a ton of physical tools and potential up front, while Mustapha Amzil (who enrolled mid-year) is an ideal complement to Holmes and Washington as a skilled big forward. The future backcourt consists of two guards who can share the ball in Malachi Smith, an ultra-reliable and steady floor general who continues the Flyers’ pipeline into the New York City area, and Philadelphia native Lynn Greer III, a big and physical lead guard who did a prep year at IMG Academy.
Previous ranking: N/A
The Fighting Illini earned a 1-seed in this year’s NCAA tournament, but will have to replace five of their top eight players — including All-Americans Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. Transfers Omar Payne (Florida) and Alfonso Plummer (Utah) will help, as will the incoming crop of freshmen. Brad Underwood has a three-man class of four-star prospects, led by ESPN 100 wings Ramses Melendez and Luke Goode. Both players can shoot it from the perimeter, while Goode also has some offensive versatility outside of a 3-point shot. Earlier this month, Illinois received a commitment from four-star shooting guard Brandin Podziemski, a player who has really boosted his stock over the last year.
Previous ranking: 18
Will Wade continues to recruit at a high level since arriving in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There are no five-star prospects in the group just yet, but two ESPN 100 products, even after Alex Fudge enrolled early, for what will be a total of three immediate-impact freshman next year. Jerrell Colbert brings a high ceiling to the paint, and he’ll be able to help at both ends of the floor. Brandon Murray is a scoring wing from multiple spots on the floor who will be an offensive spark from day one. Bradley Ezewiro, who originally signed in the 2020 class but decided over the summer to reclassify and wait a year, will add additional depth to the frontline.
Previous ranking: N/A
Kevin Keatts’ class has three main characteristics. First, he and his staff did their work early, landing all three commitments in the early signing period. Second, they prioritized their local area with two of the three pledges coming from within their home state. Third, they brought in players that are capable of flourishing in their full-court system. ESPN 100 product Ernest Ross is the prime example. He is a big forward with the mobility and versatility to thrive in NC State’s up-tempo style. Terquavion Smith and Breon Pass are local products who will team up in the backcourt. Smith is a high-motored shot-maker who committed back in his sophomore year, while Pass is an explosive playmaker with an exciting style.
Previous ranking: 6
Villanova’s 2021 recruiting class has been two years in the making, so it was no surprise to see Jay Wright and his staff land four strategic pledges by the end of July. The prototype remains the same for the Wildcats, as they added skilled and versatile pieces from the top half of the East Coast who all fit their culture. One of them, Trey Patterson, ultimately graduated high school early and enrolled midseason, which dropped the Wildcats’ class since the fall. But ESPN 100 product Nnanna Njoku provides a long and powerful big man in the middle with some developing face-up skill, while Jordan Longino and Angelo Brizzi are versatile and also possess the perimeter size Villanova has historically valued in the backcourt.
Previous ranking: 15
Creighton dropped down the rankings after the decommitment of ESPN 100 point guard TyTy Washington, who has risen into five-star status after a terrific senior season. The Bluejays still have a top-25 class, however, with three commitments, including two ESPN 100 prospects. Ryan Nembhard boosted his stock dramatically as a senior, moving all the way up to No. 60 in 2021. He’s a true point guard capable of running Creighton’s offensive system. Mason Miller is a skilled southpaw forward with some bounce who is only going to keep emerging as he fills out his frame. John Christofilis is another good fit for Doug McDermott’s system; he’s a pure shooter.