There’s a reason that phones have been ringing off the hook with coaches calling about 2015 five-star power forward Carlton Bragg, who is one of the top 10 players in the class (per the 247 Composite rankings).
Maybe it has something to do with Bragg’s skill set being compared to that of NBA star Carmelo Anthony. Or perhaps coaches are intrigued by the fact that Bragg has his team poised to repeat as state champions in Ohio. One look at Bragg’s rim-rocking, freakishly-athletic highlight film would probably do the trick as well.
Nevertheless, Ohio’s prime prospect has the attention of college basketball’s most prestigious programs. Last Thursday, Illinois head coach John Groce and Kansas assistant Norm Roberts were in attendance as Bragg and Villa Angela-St. Joseph took on St. Edward. Bragg had 16 points in the contest.
Former Vikings assistant coach and Bragg’s mentor Michael Graves talked about the high-profile recruitment. Graves said that he has a good relationship with Groce and the Illini staff, as they have been pursuing Bragg for quite some time.
“With Illinois, they’ve been there from the beginning. They were one of the first ones to actually see him,” he said. “They’ve been there to see him this season and up at some tournaments. Groce is a friend of ours. We really like Groce.”
Graves added that he is in constant contact with the coaches from Champaign.
“Oh, every other day. Me and Dustin Ford text throughout the week. They’re excited about Carlton, and his academics—how things are going on and off the court,” Graves said. “Last time we were down there for a visit, we had a great time. They’re friends with the head coach, Babe Kwasniak. They’re friends of the program.”
The Illini are in the mix with some of the heavyweights of college basketball, including Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State and others. Illinois has had a rough go for a good portion of this season, but Graves said that won’t necessarily hurt them in Bragg’s recruitment.
“I talk to Coach Groce and he says the morale of the team is still up…He knew this year was going to be a little more rough, but he has some guys coming in next year and they should be better,” Graves said. “I actually got a chance to watch a game, and all spirits are high—nobody is down. (Groce) said he’s going to fight through it.”
Graves also said that the Jayhawks are coming on strong.
“Kansas came on within the last six months. I’ve been talking with Roberts weekly. Kansas loves him, they’re really high on him,” he said. “They send video all the time of past players that they think Carlton can be. Kansas is right there too. This is probably the fourth time they’ve been to check Carlton out. Coach told me ‘we love him and we want him.’”
Ohio State and Kentucky have also been heavily in the mix. Like Illinois, the Buckeyes have been in on Bragg from the beginning—while Kentucky has been making their push since September.
Kentucky: “I’ve been in touch with Coach (Orlando) Antigua every other day. He calls and checks on Carlton,” Graves said. “Coach Cal texts me saying: ‘We love him. We want to get you guys down.’ They wanted us to come to that Florida game, but we had a game the same day.”
“With Ohio State, it’s the same thing…They love Carlton also. They’ve been giving the whole pitch of ‘stay home.’ Coach (Thad) Matta says he can get Carlton to where he needs to be—develop him and get him to that next level.”
Bragg is well on his way to taking that next step, as he currently averages around 19 points, nine rebounds and two blocks per game. While he missed some time with a fractured big toe, Bragg has had a good season so far—according to Graves.
“Overall, he’s playing well,” he said. “He’s a matchup problem for people because he can shoot the three. He’s been posting up a lot more lately. That’s been causing problems for teams and forcing them to play zone. The one thing he’s really been doing well is getting out on the break and running the floor. I think this year he’s getting a lot more alley-oops on the fast break.”
Being compared to Anthony is lofty praise for just a junior in high school, but Graves thinks that Bragg is deserving.
“Yeah, that’s pretty fair. He can stroke it really well. I think at one point he was shooting almost 40 percent from three—showcasing that triple threat,” Graves said. “He forces teams to really guard him. He’s a player where he’s not really just a post like Diamond Stone or somebody like that…He can step out on the three-point arc and shoot threes, and he can back you down and post you up.”
Thanks to that kind of versatility, Graves said that his phone has been blowing up.
“Every day, the phones are ringing. I talked to Arizona the other day…(They’re) ringing off the hook,” he said. “(Coaches) think Carlton is a special player in that 2015 class. He’s a little different from the guys at the top, with them being mostly posts…He can fit at the top of the key, point, he can shoot the three. He’s got mid-range ability. He’s highly skilled…Kansas said in that 2015 class, Carlton might be the most skilled player for his position.”
Arizona, Duke, Louisville, Michigan, Maryland and Texas are other programs that working hard to position themselves in the picture. Duke is the only member of the group who has yet to offer him a scholarship. Graves said that Bragg will likely visit Arizona this spring, in addition to maybe Duke and Texas. Michigan is a rumored destination as well.
Graves said Bragg is looking for a destination with a good coaching staff and campus life, a suitable style of play, and notable academics. But he added that the recruitment is wide open at this point.
“Right now, he’s just going through the recruiting process. He’s going to narrow it down in September,” Graves said. “His plan is to go win that state championship, take a break, get out and check out a couple schools. Then start on the AAU circuit, get in the weight room, get a little stronger, get in the gym and touch up on a couple things. Work on his ball handling and stuff like that.”
Bragg and the Vikings (14-8) will begin their playoff push on Tuesday when they take on Oberlin at Villa Angela-St. Joseph at 7 p.m. ET. They are the No. 1 seed in the Garfield Heights District (Division III). Graves said Bragg will make his final cut this fall, and then likely ink his letter of intent during the early signing period. But Bragg’s focus is on the present.
“Carlton is working hard to be great on and off the court. We’re going to make this run and try to get a state championship,” Graves said. “The team is gelling together now. His teammates, they all support Carlton, and Carlton supports them. They’re just trying to get this second state championship.”
The race is on for this Cleveland, Ohio native—and it’s only going to get more interesting in the coming months. Bragg will be a game-changer for whichever team he suits up for during the 2015-16 season.