A year ago, the top guard and top post player in the class of 2014 became the biggest story in the insular world of college basketball recruiting by announcing they were a packaged deal. Chicago-bred center Jahlil Okafor and Minnesota native Tyus Jones eventually chose Duke, and now the Blue Devils are projected to be one of the better teams in America even after losing a pair of potential lottery picks to the NBA in Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.
It's happening again. As the summer AAU period heats up, the best guard and best post player in the class of 2015 are also telling anyone who will listen that they're a packaged deal.
If you don't know Mississippi guard Malik Newman and Milwaukee big man Diamond Stone yet, you will soon. Newman is an explosive 6'3 guard with range from anywhere and the athleticism to play above the rim. Stone is a 6'10, 250-pound center with a traditional back to the basket game. They want to play college basketball together in the 2015-2016 season, and no one should be surprised.
If young people are always imitating their idols, think of this as a trickle down effect from summer of the 2010 when LeBron James decided to join Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami. The Heat already have two championships in the bag and are now the first team since the 1980s Boston Celtics to reach the NBA Finals four years in a row.
James was blasted for The Decision at the time, but there's no arguing it's worked out for him. Players only have so much power. Sometimes your GM drafts Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, other times you're stuck with Mo Williams and Zydrunas Ilgauskas as your best teammates for seven years.
Meet Malik Newman
Meet Malik Newman
LeBron changed the landscape of the league by refusing to be a victim of an incompetent front office, and it's impossible to argue with the results. What was originally seen by some as taking the easy way out was really just James' attempt to write his own destiny. Does anyone think he'd be going to his fourth straight NBA Finals had he stayed in Cleveland, or gone to the Knicks?
For today's high school players, LeBron has always been the biggest star alive. Newman and Stone were both born in February of 1997, just months before Michael Jordan would win his fifth of six titles. They don't remember watching Jordan play or the way he stuck with the Bulls rather than opting to leave in free agency. For the next generation, James is the gold standard.
By declaring they're a packaged deal at this point in the recruiting process, Stone and Newman are essentially following the path James laid. They're taking their future into their own hands. Why not go play with your close friend on a team you know is going to be stacked? Winning is fun. It's a no-brainer, really.
The class of 2015 is not particularly highly regarded by recruiting analysts, but Newman and Stone each have the potential to be game-changers. Both are good enough to choose whatever school they want. The only thing holding them back from going through with their package deal will be each other. Newman checks in at No. 2 and Stone places No. 5 in ESPN's class of 2015 rankings.
A year ago, Newman and Stone played on Team USA's U-16 team in Uruguay and quickly became friends. Courtney Cronin detailed their relationship at the Clarion-Ledger:
"Whenever anyone mentions his name I think of a big, 6-foot-10, 200-something pound Kevin Hart," Newman said. "He's so big that you might think that he's serious a lot but he's so goofy and just as playful as me. He does impressions, makes fun of people, tries to (play) fight people. That's just Diamond being Diamond."
Stone already has offers from every school you can imagine, according to ESPN. Kentucky, UConn, Arizona, North Carolina, Kansas and UCLA are just a few schools in the mix. Newman doesn't have as many formal offers just yet, but there isn't another guard in the country who can match his skill set in 2015. He will go where he wants, and right now he's saying he wants to play with Stone.
Okafor and Jones will start to write their story when Duke's season begins in a few months. A year later, we might be talking about Stone and Newman the same way. It's too early to say whether Stone and Newman will go through with their plan, but it's a safe bet they won't be the last packaged deal.