Highlighted by Bay Area star running back, Alabama leads recruiting ranks

harris-najee-ap.jpg
AP

Highlighted by Bay Area star running back, Alabama leads recruiting ranks

Alabama came up just short in its bid for a second straight national title on the field, but the Crimson Tide's dominance on the recruiting trail remains as strong as ever.

According to composite rankings of recruiting services compiled by 247Sports , Alabama finished atop the team standings for a seventh consecutive year. And this might have been Nick Saban's best class yet.

Florida's 2010 class that included NFL first-round draft picks Dominique Easley, Matt Elam and Sharrif Floyd is 247Sports' only higher-rated class since 2002, which is as far back as 247Sports' data goes.

"It just speaks to the process that they've put in place there and the machine that is really unstoppable," said Barton Simmons, the director of scouting for 247Sports.

Alabama's class includes seven of the top 34 players in the 247Sports Composite : running back Najee Harris, offensive tackles Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Willis, outside linebacker Dylan Moses, wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, defensive end LaBryan Ray and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Rivals and Scout rated Harris as the nation's No. 1 overall prospect.

"On paper, when you're talking about our point system and the number of five-stars, it's the best (Saban's) had at Alabama," said Mike Farrell, the director of recruiting for Rivals.

Ohio State and Southern California also had reason to celebrate.

Simmons said the average 247Sports Composite rating of Ohio State's signees is the highest of any class since 2002. Alabama finished higher in the team standings largely because it signed more players than Ohio State.

Southern California surged into the top five in the team standings with a fabulous finish. Linebacker Levi Jones, defensive tackle Jay Tufele, wide receiver Joseph Lewis and offensive tackle Austin Jackson made Signing Day decisions to join USC's class. All three are top-100 prospects in the 247Sports Composite.

"I think USC is the clear Signing Day story in terms of the way they rose in the rankings and in the days leading up to it," Simmons said. "They really had the perfect close."

Here are other notable Signing Day stories.

SIGNING DAY DECISIONS: Florida State landed the biggest prize of the day with the addition of defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, who was No. 6 in the 247Sports Composite and the highest-rated uncommitted player entering signing. Other members of the 247Sports Composite's top 50 who were uncommitted before Wednesday include defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon (Michigan), defensive ends K'Lavon Chaisson (LSU) and Ray (Alabama) plus wide receiver Jeff Thomas (Miami).

QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY: Ohio State wasn't the only program to make the most of relatively limited numbers. Although the small size of their classes kept them from ranking higher in team standings, Clemson and Stanford landed plenty of star power. Clemson has the nation's No. 2 pro-style quarterback (Hunter Johnson) and No. 2 wide receiver (Tee Higgins) according to the 247Sports Composite. Stanford has four of the top 36 players in the 247Sports Composite (offensive tackles Foster Sarell and Walker Little, quarterback Davis Mills and tight end Colby Parkinson). Mills was rated as the nation's No. 1 pro-style quarterback.

LEAVING TEXAS: New Texas coach Tom Herman will have to do a better job of keeping the state's best players home in future recruiting cycles. Texas didn't sign any of the Lone Star State's top 19 recruits according to the 247Sports Composite. Of the top 12 prospects in Texas, the only ones who chose Texas schools were inside linebacker Anthony Hines (Texas A&M) and offensive guard Jack Anderson (Texas Tech). "I think the Tom Herman effect was expected to do a little bit more," Farrell said. "You can never gauge a coach on his transitional year, (but) 2018 has to be a really good one though. I would say he'd better knock it out of the ballpark in 2018 or a lot of fans will be wondering, 'Did we really upgrade?' at least in the recruiting department."

SEC DOMINATION: Although some late decisions could shuffle the team standings, six SEC schools were ranked among the top 12 in the 247Sports Composite as of late Wednesday afternoon. Joining Alabama in that group of six were Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M. While the SEC sizzled, the Big 12 fizzled. Oklahoma likely will be the only Big 12 team in the top 20.

MISSISSIPPI'S MISERY: Ole Miss landed a top-five class in 2016 even with an NCAA investigation looming, but the effects of the Rebels' off-field issues were much more apparent this year. As of late Wednesday afternoon, Ole Miss was outside the top 30 in the 247Sports Composite rankings and ahead of only Missouri and Vanderbilt in the SEC. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze acknowledged negative recruiting made an impact. "It was ugly," Freeze said.

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

josh-jackson-kansas-ap.jpg

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Josh Jackson declared for the NBA draft on Monday after one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas history, one marked by plenty of highlights on the floor and a few distractions off it.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who is considered a certain lottery pick, was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and its 13th straight regular season Big 12 title before losing to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

"After thoroughly consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball," Jackson said in a statement Monday.

"I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas," he said, "and I look forward to starting my career in the NBA."

Jackson was the nation's No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation's top backcourts.

With natural athleticism and ability to slash to the basket - not to mention defensive chops that are rare among freshmen - Jackson quickly established himself as one of the nation's top draft prospects.

His importance was never more evident than in the Big 12 Tournament, when he was suspended by coach Bill Self following a series of off-the-court issues. The top-seeded Jayhawks stumbled in a quarterfinal loss to TCU, ending their run at the conference tournament before it really began.

He returned for the NCAA Tournament and played well in wins over UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue, but was hamstrung by foul trouble and managed just 10 points in a season-ending loss to the Ducks.

Jackson's suspension came following an incident outside a Lawrence bar in December, when a member of the Kansas women's basketball team got into an altercation with Jackson's teammate, Lagerald Vick.

Jackson followed the woman to the parking lot and the woman said he kicked her car and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. He pleaded not guilty last week in Douglas County District Court to one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property and a trial is scheduled for May 24.

His attorney, Hatem Chahine, said he was planning to file for diversion.

Jackson also was ticketed in February after he struck a parked car and fled the scene, and that drew Self's ire when he didn't tell his coach about the incident until several weeks later.

His decision to declare for the draft came a week after teammate Svi Mykhailiuk announced he would skip his senior season. But unlike Jackson, the 6-8 sharpshooter has not hired an agent and could withdraw his name by May 24 and return to the Jayhawks.

Redemption: Year after heartbreak, UNC outlasts Gonzaga to win title

uncwins-ap.jpg
AP

Redemption: Year after heartbreak, UNC outlasts Gonzaga to win title

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's OK, Carolina, you can open your eyes.

An unwatchable game turned into a beautiful night for the Tar Heels, who turned a free-throw contest into a championship they've been waiting an entire year to celebrate.

Justin Jackson delivered the go-ahead 3-point play with 1:40 left Monday and North Carolina pulled away for a 71-65 win over Gonzaga that washed away a year's worth of heartache.

It was, in North Carolina's words, a redemption tour - filled with extra time on the practice court and the weight room, all fueled by a devastating loss in last year's title game on Kris Jenkins' 3-point dagger at the buzzer for Villanova.

"Just unreal that we get a second chance at this," junior Theo Pinson said, recounting a pre-game conversation with teammate Joel Berry II. "Not a lot of people can say they can do that. I told him, `We're about to take this thing. I'm about to give everything I got.' I knew he would, too, We just didn't want to come up short again."

But to say everything went right for Roy Williams' team at this Final Four would be less than the truth.

The Tar Heels (33-7) followed a terrible-shooting night in the semifinal with an equally ice-cold performance in the final - going 4 for 27 from 3-point land and 26 for 73 overall.

Gonzaga, helped by 8 straight points from Nigel Williams-Goss, took a 2-point lead with 1:52 left, but the next possession was the game-changer.

Jackson took a zinger of a pass under the basket from Pinson and converted the shot, then the ensuing free throw to take the lead for good. Moments later, Williams-Goss twisted an ankle and could not elevate for a jumper that would've given the Bulldogs the lead.

Isaiah Hicks made a basket to push the lead to 3, then Kennedy Meeks, in foul trouble all night (who wasn't?), blocked Williams-Goss' shot and Jackson got a slam on the other end to put some icing on title No. 6 for the Tar Heels.

Williams got his third championship, putting him one ahead of his mentor, Dean Smith, and now behind only John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp.

"I think of Coach Smith, there's no question," Williams said. "I don't think I should be mentioned in the same sentence with him. But we got three because I've got these guys with me and that's all I care about right now - my guys."

Berry recovered from ankle injuries to lead the Tar Heels, but needed 19 shots for his 22 points. Jackson had 16 but went 0 for 9 from 3. Overall, the Tar Heels actually shot a percentage point worse than they did in Saturday night's win over Oregon.

Thank goodness for free throws.

They went 15 for 26 from the line and, in many corners, this game will be remembered for these three men: Michael Stephens, Verne Harris and Mike Eades, the referees who called 27 fouls in the second half, completely busted up the flow of the game and sent Meeks, Gonzaga's 7-footers Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins, and a host of others to the bench in foul trouble.

The game "featured" 52 free throws. Both teams were in the bonus with 13 minutes left. Somehow, Collins was the only player to foul out.

Most bizarre sequence: With 8:02 left, Berry got called for a foul for (maybe) making contact with Karnowski and stripping the ball from the big man's hands. But as Karnowski was flailing after the ball, he inadvertently grabbed Berry around the neck. After a long delay, the refs called Karnowski for a flagrant foul of his own.

"I'm not going to talk about refs," Karnowski said. "It was just a physical game."

Zags coach Mark Few handled it with class, calling the refs "three of the best officials in the entire country," and insisting they did a fine job.

He might have wanted further review on the scrum with 50 seconds left. The refs were taking heat on social media for calling a held ball, which gave possession to the Tar Heels, on a pile-up underneath the Carolina basket. It set up the Hicks layup to put Carolina ahead by 3. One problem: Meeks' right hand looks to be very much touching out of bounds while he's trying to rip away the ball.

"That was probably on me," Few said. "From my angle, it didn't look like an out of bounds situation or I would have called a review. That's tough to hear."

The Bulldogs (37-2), the Cinderella-turned-Godzilla team from the small school in the West Coast Conference, tried to keep the big picture in mind. Twenty years ago, this sort of run at that sort of place looked virtually impossible. With less than 2 minutes left, they had the lead in the national title game.

"We broke the glass ceiling everyone said we couldn't break," junior forward Johnathan Williams said.

And North Carolina got over a hump that, at times this season, felt like a mountain.

"They wanted redemption," Williams said. "I put it on the locker room up on the board - one of the things we had to be tonight was tough enough. I think this group was tough enough tonight."