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June 16, 2005Carmelo Anthony was always in the shadow of Amare Stoudamire during their days in the prep ranks. Like Anthony, Kevin Durant has been the best player behind manchild Greg Oden so far in the Class of 2006. The 6-foot-10 small forward from Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, however, may make a bigger impact sooner than Oden.
The mood in Austin is quite chipper right now. It should be. Durant is the highest profile recruit to commit to Texas in Rick Barnes era, and perhaps in school history. Not a bad feat considering Barnes has lassoed in more McDonald's All Americans to the Lone Star State than any other coach at UT.
How long will the giddiness last in Austin?
Durant is the best shooting big man in the country and his play at the major events in the spring and early summer validate his climb up the rankings and improve his status in the eyes of the always watching NBA scouts. Durant is currently the No. 2 player on the Rivals150 and is nipping at the heels of Oden, much like Anthony did with Stoudamire.
While Oden still maintains his desire to play college basketball, the pressures of being the best pro prospect in the world in the class of 2006 may be too hard to pass up.
Durant also may feel pressure to turn pro because of his proven shooting touch, ball handling skills and sheer potential. If he does decide to bypass the bling that awaits in the NBA, Durant, like Anthony did during his one season at Syracuse and Marvin Williams did this past year at North Carolina, could very well pilot a team to the Final Four and maybe beyond and could use the experience to lock himself into one of the top three picks.
The only caveat is the pending decision regarding the NBA Draft age limit, along with a potential lockout on the horizon. Durant will be watching the collective bargaining agreement discussions closely. If an age limit is imposed or a lengthy work stoppage stops play, Durant could be a college player for much longer than Anthony or Williams.
The big if
If Durant stays, Texas has a star in the making, says Rivals.com national scout Jerry Meyer.
"Without a doubt he's the hottest prospect in the country right now. He's the flavor of the month," Meyer said. "He's a legit long term elite prospect.
"Texas can only hope the NBA puts the age limit in."
Durant shot lights out at the Boo Williams Invitational and continued his scoring onslaught in New Orleans during the Nike Memorial Day Classic. The Longhorns have the flexibility to utilize Durant all over the court, which is one of the big draws for the D.C. area native, says Meyer.
"The number one thing with him is his tremendous length which really helps him offensively and defensively," Meyer said. "He's a deep range shooter and posses a problem for teams because he's so good inside and out. He's made great strides this spring. He should be able to step right in and help from day one."
Durant's decision to play for Texas should not come as a big surprise considering his comments after his trip to Austin. It's not a secret that Durant needs to add weight to his long and lanky frame and Texas, with its outstanding strength program, provides an opportunity to get stronger and prepare his body for the rigors of the NBA.
Carolina feeling blue?
The UNC fan base all but had Durant in Carolina blue after his high school and AAU running mate Tywon Lawson decided his college home would be in Chapel Hill. On paper, it was a simple decision. Durant will follow his right hand man to the ACC.
But Durant choosing the Longhorns over the Heels and 2004 national champion UConn made it not so.
North Carolina, the defending National Champions, will have no problem rebounding from Durant's decision. The options are a plenty.
So who is next for Roy Williams and Co.? Thaddeus Young comes to mind. As the No. 3 ranked player in the country, the 6-foot-8, 205-pound small forward from Mitchell High School in Memphis, Tenn., isn't a bad option. In fact, Young might just be the most versatile player in the country.
While it's no secret North Carolina wanted Durant, Williams's desire to land Young has been overlooked. The Tar Heels were a center court fixture at Young's games in the spring and should follow suit in July when the Memphis native gets back on the court during the evaluation period. Like Durant, though, Young has his own professional future on hold as the NBA discusses its draft plans.
Another player watching the NBA draft talk is Tennessee big man Brandan Wright. He's looking hard at UNC, Duke and Kentucky and has made no secrets about his desire to look at going pro. Williams has made the long, defensive-minded specialist a top priority and will wait on the league, too.
Texans Darrell Arthur and Bryan Davis are both interested in the Tar Heels. Arthur's AAU coach Jazzy Hartwell recently told Rivals.com reporter Shay Wildeboor that the No. 10 ranked player in the class of 2006 wants to visit Chapel Hill. Davis has long said UNC was high on his list.
Seattle big man Spencer Hawes, the No. 4 ranked player in the class of 2006, has his pick on where he plays his college ball. North Carolina is a viable option. But the trend with Emerald City prospects has been to stay close to home, just look at the Class of 2005.
California big man Alex Stepheson took an extended stay in the Tar Heel state after the Tournament of Champions, held at UNC, Duke and NC State. He visited Carolina's campus and remains high on the ACC school.
Regardless, life will go on for Carolina and the options for filling the forward spot in this class are strong. July will be a big month for the program. Coach Williams and staff will likely target out their top options and move accordingly. Carolina fans know this and are already talking about who is next.
Huskies move forward, too
Connecticut forward Rudy Gay tried his best to convince Durant to join him in Storrs, Conn., when the both shined for the U.S. Junior National team in France last week. The Huskies won't waste any time saying, 'what if' and focus on the next players to recruit.
UConn will look at a number of big men this summer and three of the top targets are in the Northeast. In fact, the top target may be Curtis Kelly from New York City. He recently visited the Storrs campus and Rivals.com analyst Rob Matera believes the Huskies are in a good position with the No. 14 ranked player in the class of 2006.
"He's telling everyone that things are even but I think UConn is in the driver's seat," Matera said. "UConn is a natural fit for him. Now that Durant is going to Texas, I would expect UConn to turn up the heat on Kelly."
Like North Carolina, the Huskies are also working on Stepheson and Hawes. Arkansas big man Michael Washington recently told Rivals.com he is hearing from Jim Calhoun and staff. Washington has a world of potential but also struggles with consistency. When he is at the top of his game, he's deadly inside as a rebounder and interior scorer.
Don't sleep on Lance Thomas. The forward from St. Benedict's has offers from nearly every major program in the country and will take a little longer in the recruiting process than the rest of his peers in this class. The Huskies have been working the location angle with New Jersey native. Not a bad idea considering the fact that some of his other options include Arizona and Duke.