Exploring the Class of 2023: American Conference
The early signing period has passed, and HoopSeen spent the last week covering all of the action. There have been some additions to leagues across the country since we first published our superlatives for all of the most notable conferences. Now that the dust is starting to settle, it’s time to revisit and update as needed. One of the conferences with some major updates is the AAC.
This is it, folks. If you’re an AAC fan, this is the last recruiting class for this iteration of the conference. On July, 1 2023, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are putting up their peace signs and zooming off to the Big 12.
What will the conference look like moving forward? Hell if I know. Will we be writing AAC recruiting pieces moving forward? Yeah, probably because that’s just how we’re built.
They will, however, probably skew heavily in favor of Memphis for the foreseeable future, so enjoy this semblance of diversity while you can.
Modern basketball is built around guys like Ravon Griffith. Long, rangy wings with multi-dimensional games are en vogue across the board. Griffith is that and then some. He checks in at No. 56 in HoopSeen’s rankings, and that could prove to be low with the benefit of hindsight.
Griffith does a little bit of everything well already. He impacts the game in a variety of ways, and that’s what will see him the floor early on at Cincinnati. What I love about Griffith is his upside. I don’t feel like he’s come close to his potential yet.
He should be able to make an impact in some regard right away as a freshman, but he’s the kind of player that screams sophomore leap. With a season to adjust to college life, and an offseason to further hone his craft, I could see him being the guy for the Bearcats going into their second year in the Big 12.
TOP OF THE CLASS
Memphis swept in during the middle of the signing period and added three top-100 guys to their class. This brings the Tigers to four players in HoopSeen’s top 100. That’s easily more than any in the AAC. This class blends starpower and celebrity with the workman-like players that Memphis has succeeded most with during the Penny Hardaway era.
Mikey Williams and JJ Taylor are talented players without a doubt and both committed at the same time on a recent visit. They’ll be interesting players to monitor because while they have all of the talent in the world, Hardaway hasn’t necessarily been his most successful with players of that notoriety.
Where he has done his best since leading Memphis has been with tougher, grittier guys like Ty-Laur Johnson and Carl Cherenfant. Those will be the multi-year players that Penny relies on to keep and further build culture. Johnson is a tough-as-nails point guard who’ll rack up assists over his career for the Tigers while Cherenfant is going to be a hard-nosed defender who can make an all-defense team eventually. While Williams and Taylor will draw the headlines, Johnson and Cherenfant are the guys I love the most in this Memphis class.
Outside of their loaded backcourt, Memphis landed 6-foot-8 sharpshooter Ashton Hardaway. After recently committing to play for his dad, Hardaway immediately steps in as the class’ best 3-point threat.
Additionally, Ryan Forrest and David Tubek add depth at both the guard and forward spots.
In terms of talent and shee numbers, this class is as deep as it gets in the AAC. Once again, Memphis will be interesting to follow at the very least.
THREE CLASSES I LOVE
Houston is great. They’ve turned into perennial Final Four contenders, and they’ve done it with guys like the ones they’re bringing in with this class. It doesn’t matter that they’ll be facing a step up in competition in the Big 12. What Kelvin Sampson has done to prepare for that is land more highly-rated guys who still fit his system. They say that nobody stays at the top forever, but this 2023 recruiting class proves that the Cougs will be there for a long while.
Historically, the Bearcats have been one of the best, most consistent winners in college basketball, but they don’t always get the recognition of some of the other prestige programs. Wes Miller and crew haven’t let that stop them from entangling themselves in deep recruiting battles for some of the best prospects in the country. They’re not backing down, and it’s paying off.
By signing Rayvon Griffith and Jizzle James, Cincinnati has two top-75 perimeter players coming into the Queen City. This isn’t a big class for Cincinnati, but this is the kind of talent that will help their transition to the Big 12 be as seamless as possible. With the momentum the Bearcats are building on the recruiting trail, there’s no reason to believe that they can’t return to being a perennial NCAA Tournament team when they make the jump to one of the toughest leagues in the sport.
The Knights—the Golden Knights? I don’t think UCF fans like Golden Knights, so I’m just using Knights—aren’t a basketball power. Their inclusion in the Big 12 is football-centric like all of the decisions in college sports are, but they still have to compete in one of the toughest basketball leagues in the country when they make the move. I’m not saying that this class will be the one that allows them to dethrone Kansas or anything, but it’s a step in the right direction. Their guards are going to fill it up during their time in Orlando and have a chance to develop into foundational players who help the program during their transitional years.
THE OUTSIDE OF THE TOP 100 PLAYER THAT I LOVE
Originally hailing from the great state of North Carolina, the UCF commit is a familiar face around the HoopSeen world. We have him outside of our top 100, but he’s one of the guys that always impresses when we see him.
He’s a great player to get for UCF’s move to the Big 12. Physical and strongly built, Emuobor will be able to succeed against some of the more staunch, grind-you-down defenses in the league. He’s built for it. He’ll give UCF a secondary playmaker and go-to scoring option as well.
I’d consider this one a steal in Orlando.
Houston has become one of the most reliable programs in the sport under Kelvin Sampson. Over the last few seasons, the Cougars have emerged as one of college basketball’s best teams. They’ve earned that reputation through unrelenting toughness, and that’s what 6-foot-7 PF Joseph Tugler is bringing to Houston. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’ll play like he is. That’s the kind of player that Houston has won with during their ascent.
More characteristics of Sampson’s Houston teams have been athleticism and defense, and 6-foot-10 Jacob McFarland fits that. While he’s not the imposing, gritty player that Tugler is, McFarland is an excellent rim protector and an above-the-rim finisher.
Memphis has three guards in the top-100 of the class, and they have JJ Taylor who’ll hold it down on the wing.
The jewell of this class for me is Ty-Laur Johnson. The New York point guard is as tough as they come, and he’ll be a productive player in multiple facets of the game while at Memphis. At his current level, he’s a constant triple-double threat, but in college, he won’t have to rebound nearly as much as he does now. The points and assists will still be there though. He’s at his best when he’s in attack mode and making plays out of the paint.
When I think of Memphis, I think of defense. That’s where they’ve shined during Penny’s tenure, and they have a great, versatile defender in Carl Cherenfant. He can be the guy that stifles the opponents best perimeter player.
Mikey Williams’ celebrity probably gets in the way of his on-court prowess, but the athletic guard is bringing a combination of explosiveness and illusiveness to the guard spot for the Tigers. Williams is wired to score and will butter his bread on that end of the floor.
HEY, I HAVE A HOOPSEEN CHAPTER
Being in our backyard, Tulane’s Spencer Elliott has written multiple chapters of his story on the HoopSeen stage. From playing in Georgia Cups to shining at the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions and everything in between, we’ve seen him grow into the player he is now. When he committed to Ron Hunter and the Green Wave, we loved the fit. Elliott has a chance to develop into a steal for Tulane.
After Elliott’s performance at the 2022 Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions, Josh Tec wrote: “The Atlanta Allstars boast one of the deepest, most versatile, and best overall frontcourts I’ve seen this season regardless of shoe affiliation or not. Elliott is a piece of that puzzle, and he had a solid showing at Gibbons. At 6-foot-9, he’s big, long, mobile, and skilled. Elliott works well as a lob threat down low or as a pick-and-pop option out on the perimeter. Because of his ability to move so well for his size, Elliott can be used as a switchable defender that can guard multiple positions. He’s seen a number of offers come his way this spring, but Elliott is someone that I could see having a breakout summer that sees his recruitment go to another level.”
THE THREE THINGS I LIKE THE MOST
- Cyr Malonga at East Carolina. I remember first seeing Malonga on the AAU scene with Team Thad. I was enamored with the 6-foot-11 center’s upside. While raw, there was undeniable potential in Malonga. ECU hasn’t exactly been a power in hoops, but having a guy like Malonga anchoring the paint could bring some better fortunes to Greenville.
- Carl Cherenfant is the kind of guy that Penny has had success with during his time at Memphis. He’s done the 5-star hype thing, but the Memphis head coach has had the most success with hard-nosed defenders, and that’s exactly what he’s getting in Cherenfant. I mean, this is a guy with DPOY upside. Athletic and low-maintenance, Cherenfant should develop into a stalwart for the Tigers, and his defense will see him the floor right away.
- The recruiting approach from the schools going to the Big 12. The AAC is losing some of its top teams to one of the best basketball conferences in the country. It’s going to be a major step up in competition for those teams, and they’re recruiting to prepare for it. In particular, Cincinnati and Houston have taken bigger swings on the recruiting trail and are starting to bring on some of their best recruits in the modern recruiting era.
TOP PG: Edgerrin “Jizzle”James, Cincinnati
TOP SG: Carl Cherenfant, Memphis
TOP SF: Rayvon Griffith, Cincinnati
TOP PF: Joseph Tugler, Houston
TOP C: Jacob McFarland, Houston
TOP CLASS: Memphis
TOP SLEEPER: Ryan Forrest, Memphis
TOP SHOOTER: Ashton Hardaway, Memphis
TOP SCORER: Rayvon Griffith, Cincinnati
TOP REBOUNDER: Joseph Tugler, Houston
TOP DEFENDER: Carl Cherenfant, Memphis
TOP PRO PROSPECT: Rayvon Griffith, Cincinnati