For the last 35 years, Marty Blake has been identifying top college and international talent as the NBA’s Director of Scouting. A former general manager of the St. Louis and Atlanta Hawks in the 1950s and ’60s, Marty will be sharing thoughts and observations from the road as he crisscrosses the country identifying top collegiate talent throughout the season leading up to the 2006 NBA Draft in June.

Spinning the Wheel on the College Scene

Happy days are here again!

College basketball signings are over and every team seems satisfied.

The march to the Final Four has come and gone. Florida is the new champion and the college signing period is just a few weeks away. Or at least I think it is.

And hope springs eternal.

Coaching changes abound.

Some surprising. Some not.

Most noteworthy are as follows: Kelvin Sampson (Oklahoma to Indiana), Mike Davis (Indiana to Alabama-Birmingham, and brought several members of his staff with him), Herb Sendek (NC State to Arizona State), Bobby Gonzalez (Manhattan to Seton Hall), Fran Dunphy (Pennsylvania cross town to Temple), Andy Kennedy (Cincinnati to Ole Miss), Bob Huggins (returns to coaching at Kansas State), and Jeff Capel (Virginia Commonwealth to Oklahoma).

Still open as of this date: NC State.

This also is the time of the year when the numerous draft blogs and mock drafts appear out of nowhere, each more ridiculous than the other.

Without acknowledging any of them, there is now a mock draft already up on the web predicting the first round order of the 2007 Draft.

Interesting since I have never heard of at least eight of the players slated on this imaginative scenario. Trust me, if they play basketball anywhere in the world and they are breathing, we have heard of them.

Naturally, everyone is starting to rank the incoming classes but it is once again obvious – the rich get richer.

North Carolina appears to be a consensus choice as the team with the top recruiting class.

Their incoming class includes the point guard Tywon Lawson, who averaged 23.8 points, 9.5 assists and 4.7 steals per game at fabled Oak Hill Academy (Va.); the 6-9 power forward Brandan Wright, who played at prep powerhouse Brentwood Academy (Tenn.) and averaged 22.4 points per game; and the swingman, 6-5 Wayne Ellington of Episcopal Academy (Merion, Pa.), who averaged 21.9 points per game.

The trio listed above is among the top eight recruits nationally.

Add to this trio, the name of the small forward, 6-6 William Graves of Dudley High School (Greensboro, NC), a top 50 player; the 6-9 center Alex Stephenson (Harvard-Westlake High School, Ca.); and the 6-8 pivot Deon Thompson (Torrance High School, Ca.) and you can see why the Tarheels could be numero uno.

Anyone who follows college basketball has been aware of the nation’s top schoolboy player – the center, 7-0, 250-pound Greg Oden. The Lawrence North Indianapolis product has led his school to two straight Indiana cage titles.

He has chosen to attend Ohio State where he will be joined by high school teammate, Michael Conley, a six-foot point, and the two guard, 6-5 Dacquan Cook, from Dunbar High School (Dayton, Ohio). This trio has played together for a number of years via the AAU ranks with great success.

Add to this mix the small forward, 6-5 Dave Lighty from St. Joseph High School (Cleveland, Ohio) and the Buckeyes should start the season as the team to beat in the Big 10.

Texas will rebuild around the 6-10 forward Kevin Durant from Montrose Christian Academy (Md.) – currently rated the second best incoming high school player and a potential scoring machine – and the home-grown point guard, 6-0 Darryl Augustine from Hightower High School (Sugarland, Tx).

They also have signed a center, 6-10 Dexter Pittman, another Texan from Terry High School in Rosenberg, Tx.

Duke hopes to make up for the loss of three senior starters, including All-Americans J.J. Redick and Sheldon Williams, by adding three players rated in the top 20.

They are the two guard, 6-5 Jonathan Scheyer from Glenbrook North High School (Northbrook, Ill.); the small forward, 6-5 Gerald Henderson from Episcopal High School (Merion, Pa.), whose father played in the NBA; and the center, 7-0 Brian Zoubek from Memorial High School (Haddenfield, N.J.).

Georgia Tech, who did not lose any of its top players to graduation, will jump back into the Atlantic Coast Conference race by adding two potential starters, also ranked among the top eight.

They are the point guard, 6-5 Javaris Crittenton from Southwest Christian High School (Atlanta, Ga.) and the power guy, 6-8 Thaddeus Young from Mitchell High School (Memphis, Tenn.).

The second-rated center in the incoming class is 6-11 Spencer Hawes, from Seattle Washington Prep, who signed with Washington. His father, Steve, played in the NBA for many years.

Most of the top major colleges added key players, albeit some of them did not need to fill as many holes as others.

Of the so-called consensus top 50, Stanford, Georgetown, Tennessee, Washington, Michigan State, Memphis, Louisville, Oklahoma and Arizona added two each while Connecticut signed three.

Surprisingly, there still were a few players out there who were making up their minds.

There are a lot of big fellows coming into college next fall which eventually bodes well for NBA teams – if they use their time in school to develop their skills.

We count eight players among the top 50 schoolboys who are 6-11 or taller and five cagers 6-11 or taller among the next 50 rated.

Incidentally, Oden was named as the high school player of the year by USA Today, Gatorade, Parade Magazine, Naismith and received the Morgan Wooten Award.

The National Basketball Association Development League (D-League), climaxing its most successful season ever, added six new franchises to the circuit, bringing to 14 the number of teams. The expected addition of one more team will allow each D-League team to have two NBA affiliates allowing those teams to reassign players from the big clubs to their D-League “farm clubs.”

The D-League has a proven track record in providing not only players but front office personnel, coaches, trainers, and referees to the NBA.

The new teams include four cities from the Continental Basketball Association (CBA).

They are the Idaho Stampede, the Dakota Wizards (Bismarck, N.D.), the Sioux Falls Skyforce (S.D.) and the Colorado 14ers.

They join the expansion Bakersfield Jam (Ca.) and a team which will be located in Anaheim, Ca. and is expected to play at the Pond in that city.

What a great year upcoming for the D-League!