Tark Classic Prep: 3 Things We Learned

We evaluated two days of the prep division at the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas and these are the three most prominent things we took away from that portion of the event. We also mention 10 prospects that stood out!

Editor’s Note: In the Tarkanian Classic high school division, FAB 50 No. 34 West Ranch (Valencia, Calif.) takes on Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) and FAB 50 No. 22 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, NeV.) battles No. 42 Oak Cliff Faith Family (Dallas, Texas)in the semifinals of the event’s Platinum Division.

1. Traditional High School Ball Is At A Crossroads

For the first time ever, the Tarkanian Classic was certified for NBA scouts and they definitely got their money’s worth, as both the prep division and high school division were loaded with talent. From that evaluation standpoint, NBA clubs want to get a head start on identifying prospects for their level and it’s a good thing to have more intel on prospects before they get to college. For college coaches, however, the high school recruiting landscape has changed since COVID-19 hit and the NCAA Transfer portal became so robust. It has nothing to do with the relative strength or weakness of the 2023 recruiting class and everything to do with college coaching staffs desiring experienced players, prospects who don’t come from a traditional high school setting i.e. foreign players, and the unrealistic expectations of incoming high school recruits. We had one West Coast D1 staff tell us while they like some of the players in the current recruiting cycle, they are simply waiting to see what college rosters look like after the season in order to upgrade their own roster. The prevailing thinking is the best way to get better quickly it to look for experienced players through the NCAA transfer portal. With academy-type programs constantly recruiting elite high school players (even after the season has started), it’s easier than ever for players to leave a situation they don’t like and harder for the fringe recruit to get an offer. High school basketball isn’t going anywhere and there will always be kids to participate on teams and to have quality events, but the scholarship offers coming from the performances at those same events are not as prevalent as in previous seasons. There is more players in the prep and academy ranks with the size colleges covet, more avenues to recruit players from (such as the NBA Academy teams), and one more important caveat to recruiting high school aged players (see below). It doesn’t seem to be anything that is going to stop these trends.

2. High School Recruits Must “Get It” Quicker

When we say “get it” we mean understanding the realities of their recruitment and what level these American high school recruits can expect to play at. For some players, this reality hits way too late in the recruiting process and it makes that particular player even more undesirable as a recruit because he feels D2, NAIA or Junior College ball is beneath him. The caveat we were referring to in point No. 1 is with the recruitment of foreign players, they are ineligible for Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) deals if they attend school in America on a student visa. There are some work-arounds to that NIL rule, but if two players are relatively equal, and one is a foreign recruit and the other a domestic, who do you think is going to get the scholarship in the current landscape? NIL is still relatively new and there is little the NCAA is in position to regulate at this point. Families see all these NIL numbers thrown around on social media (most of which will never see a player’s bank account) and it has created at atmosphere where expectations for NIL opportunities are quickly out of control. NIL makes sense for elite scholarship players, but the combination of colleges looking for more experienced recruits and unrealistic NIL expectations, makes a foreign recruit a much more desirable option. That means high school players must have a better (and faster) understanding of NCAA eligibility requirements, keep up grades, and have realistic expectations of playing level more than ever before. Those that don’t “get it” will be left behind wondering why they don’t have a scholarship when their high school career comes to a close. Even for those high school players that do get it, scholarship opportunities are harder to come by than ever before.

3. Alex Toohey & Thierry Serge Darlan Are The Real Deal

The NBA Academy teams (Global, Africa, Latin America) have been a great addition to the Tarkanian Classic, especially since the G-League 2022 AT&T Winter Showcase took place at the Mandalay Bay on the Las Vegas strip. With the Tarkanian Classic now certified for NBA scouts to evaluate, the G-League event and the Tark Prep Division gave NBA personnel an extended look at the prospects on these three academy teams, not to mention the other prep schools in attendance, and overall they liked what they saw. Gonzaga, Arizona, St. Mary’s (CA) and Tennessee are four of the college programs tapping into the foreign well the best and Gonzaga got a gem in NBA Global’s Alex Toohey, a 6-foot-8 2023 forward from Australia. The 18-year old has experience playing for the Australian Senior National Team in FIBA competition and is one of the best international prospects going the college route in 2023. In fact, if Toohey was in the national Class of 2023, he’d be a consensus Top 10 prospect. He has an element of toughness and skill that is hard to find and is a matchup problem with his versatile inside-out game. He also moves he feet on defense and can defend pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations well. NBA Africa’s Thierry Serge Darlan, a 6-6 2023 prospect, was another standout at the Tarkanian Classic and would rate as a Top 10 2023 consensus prospect as well. The South Africa native is a terrific big guard prospect. He has positional NBA size, can handle the ball well and shoot it consistently enough to make NBA scouts give him a long look. Darlan’s 7’1 wingspan and defensive intensity could shoot him up draft boards after teams take a deeper look. Darlan has plenty of options, too, as the G League has been mentioned as a potential destination, Arizona is in hot pursuit and he’s also eligible for the 2023 NBA Draft. Others standouts in the Tarkanian Classic Prep Division included 7-foot 2024 Makhan Diouf of Bella Vista Prep (Ariz.), 6-foot-9 2025 forward Alejandro Aviles of Dream City Christian (Ariz.), 6-foot-10 2025 Jaden Toombs of Dynamic Prep (Texas), 7-foot 2025 Khaman Maluach of NBA Africa, 6-foot-7 2023 Augusto Cassia of NBA Global, 6-foot-8 2024 Chris Tadjo of NBA Latin America, 6-foot-11 2024 Steven Osei of Real Salt Lake (Utah), 6-foot 2026 Imahri Wooten of Redemption Christian Academy (N.Y.) and 6-foot-3 2025 Aram Soqui Urbano of Veritas Prep (Calif.).

Ronnie Flores is the national Grassroots editor of Ballislife.com. He can be reached at [email protected]. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores

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