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Devils, Cavs Aim To Extract Nichols From Tennessee

Thursday, August 30, 2012 1:18pm

Tennessee native Austin Nichols improved his status more than nearly any other senior during the summer evaluation period. The 6-foot-8 big forward vaulted from fringe top-50 status all the way to No. 14 in the our updated national rankings. He recently pared his college list to six programs — Tennessee, Duke, Virginia, Vanderbilt, Auburn and Memphis — and will undertake official visits this fall.

Will either ACC program be able to lure him out of state? A star at small Eads (Tenn.) Briarcrest Christian, Nichols may favor an opportunity to compete for a local program. Although he attends school just outside Memphis city limits, the Volunteers have emerged as the presumed frontrunner.

His actions from the early summer provide context. Nichols received a late invitation to Colorado Springs for USA Basketball’s 18-under squad, but he departed suddenly due to homesickness.

“I didn’t feel comfortable playing and being away from my family and friends,” Nichols told Dave Telep. “I sat down and talked to (coach Billy Donovan) honestly but I thought going home was the best thing.”

Additionally, Nichols’ sister is a freshman at UT and thus would provide familiarity in a city located several hours from home.

Nichols’ recruitment features another wrinkle worth discussion. He has cited his Christian faith as a critical factor in his recruitment, and in a spring interview with The Devils Den he detailed how both Tony Bennett and Mike Krzyzewski have related to him:

“… with coaches like Coach Bennett and also with Coach K, to hear them talk about Christ and their relationship with Him, it’s still shocking to me, but at the same time, to know now there are coaches who share the same faith and values that I share, it’s a good thing for me to know, lets me see what kind of program they have.”

Nichols has scheduled official trips to Charlottesville (Sept. 8) and Duke (Oct. 6) this fall, and if those plans hold both programs at least will have a legitimate shot to win him over.

He likely would receive ample early playing time at either location: The Blue Devils will lose Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly after this season, and they’ve struggled to sign blue-chip frontcourt prospects the past couple recruiting cycles. Despite being a freshman, Nichols would enjoy a realistic chance to start right away.

Duke remains involved with others such as Julius Randle - who’d have something to say about that, too, of course - but Nichols does not project the way developmental recruits such as Marshall Plumlee and Josh Hairston did out of high school.

The frontcourt situation at UVa looks similar. The Wahoos actually possess solid depth, but Nichols represents a clear talent upgrade. He’s also clearly their most gifted senior target, so incoming competition alongside him appears unlikely.

At either school he’d bring post offense to the table. Nichols is a very skilled and savvy back-to-the-basket scorer who thrives in traditional post-up scenarios but also can step away and face the rim. He moves his feet well enough to apply perimeter pressure as Duke’s defensive system demands, while his methodical offensive game certainly fits Virginia’s preferred tempo.

br /> 2013 swingman Sindarius Thornwell (Under Armour/Kelly Kline)

Thornwell's List Takes Shape

South Carolina native Sindarius Thornwell continues to wield a long list, including several ACC programs, but his recruitment finally appears to be narrowing. Prepping at Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy this season, Thornwell now favors South Carolina and Syracuse.

Clemson, Florida State and N.C. State also are in the mix, but they all appear to be trailing the Gamecocks and conference newcomer Syracuse. A powerful 6-foot-5 swingman, Thornwell represents a prime opportunity for the Tigers to load up with a Palmetto State native, but obviously they have ground to make up if they’re going to land him.

Moving to Florida, top-200 Bartow (Fla.) High center Chris Perry has cut his list to five programs: Miami, Tulsa, Temple, Cincinnati and South Florida. The Hurricanes are battling lower Big East programs and Tulsa for Perry, but one must consider the context.

Miami must replace its senior-loaded frontline with Class of 2013 signees, yet nationally — and regionally — it’s a down cycle for quality big men. Perry spent just one season on the travel circuit but performed solidly against formidable opposition, and the fact that he’s a South Florida native makes him more alluring.

The Canes certainly wouldn’t be losing ground relative to the rest of the ACC. Of the soon-to-be 14 conference programs, only two schools (UNC and Pittsburgh) have claimed a top-100 from a prospect standing at least 6-8.

Depending upon the Nichols and Julius Randle recruitments, along with a few others, numerous ACC squads could find themselves wishing they’d more aggressively pursued big men outside the top 100.

br /> 2013 BF Isaiah Hicks (ACCSports.com/Arianna Hoffman)

ACC Lagging With 2013 Class?

For a more general perspective, let’s rewind to last year at this identical juncture. Including the Orange and Panthers and using last August’s (and thus not final) rankings, the ACC shaped up thusly:

No. 9 Steven Adams – Pittsburgh
No. 15 Rasheed Sulaimon – Duke
No. 25 Marcus Paige – North Carolina
No. 32 Shaquille Cleare – Maryland
No. 41 Justin Anderson -- Virginia
No. 51 Tyler Lewis – N.C. State
No. 55 James Robinson -- Pittsburgh
No. 65 J.P. Tokoto – North Carolina
No. 68 Codi Miller-McIntyre – Wake Forest
No. 93 Marcus Hunt– Georgia Tech
No. 97 Montrezl Harrell – Virginia Tech (eventual Louisville signee)
No. 99 Aaron Rountree – Wake Forest

Further, both Montay Brandon (No. 46, Florida State) and Jake Layman (No. 69, Maryland) announced their college decisions during the first week of September.

Let’s advance forward to today:

No. 13 Isaiah Hicks – North Carolina
No. 19 Tyler Ennis – Syracuse
No. 22 Matt Jones – Duke
No. 33 Solomon Poole – Georgia Tech
No. 63 Nate Britt – North Carolina
No. 80 Greg McClinton – Wake Forest
No. 86 Devon Hall – Virginia
No. 96 Mike Young – Pittsburgh

Clearly, all hope isn’t lost. Half of the ACC programs have secured a top-100 recruit, and the conference has performed only slightly worse (11 commitments to eight) than it did last year. On the other hand, in addition to the early September pledges referenced above, ACC schools fared very well during the fall and spring of the last recruiting cycle.

Seven schools inked a top-25 haul in four final team rankings for the Class of 2012. The Wolfpack led the way at No. 7, followed by Pitt (No. 10), Duke (No. 11), UNC (No. 12), Syracuse (No. 15), Maryland (No. 16) and Georgia Tech (No. 21).

To repeat that showing, conference programs must connect at a high percentage between now and November, and next spring once again could loom large.