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Credit: Syracuse University Athletic Communications

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What do St. Francis, USC Upstate, Massachusetts, Toledo, Belmont and Indiana State have in common?

They all have wins over ACC teams. Before Thanksgiving.

I know, I know, I said I’d stop.  But is this how the greatest basketball conference in the history of the known universe asserts its dominance?

And I never could resist low-hanging fruit.

Enough of that.

Not all of the competition is taking place on the hard court.  We’re in the middle of the fall signing period, when the bulk of the nation’s top prep players sign binding national letters of intent.

Recruiting is more than just the way programs replenish their cupboards.  It’s also a big business.  Paid recruiting sites—local and national—proliferate, giving subscribers inside info on their team’s next game-changer.

So, recruits become three-star or four-star or five-star, they compete for spots on the prestigious McDonald’s and Parade All-American teams.  Want to know the nation’s 87th best player or 19th best shooting guard?  It’s out there.

There’s as much art as science in this. The college-basketball landscape is littered with can’t miss prospects who somehow missed.

Not a surprise.  Trying to project the development or lack thereof of a teenager is a perilous task.

But the experts can miss the other way.  How about the nice, safe, three-star prospect who becomes much more than that?

The ACC gets more than its share of thoroughbreds.  But the 2013 ACC Player of the Year was Miami’s Shane Larkin.  The ACC’s leading scorer was Virginia Tech’s Erick Green.  Neither was a consensus top-100 recruit. Neither was Seth Curry, Duke’s leading scorer, who somehow managed to escape notice despite the fact that his older brother Stephen was well under way to becoming, well, Stephen Curry.  Seth didn’t get Duke’s attention until he averaged 20 points per game at Liberty.

So, let’s celebrate some of this year’s under-the-radar ACC guys.  Let me clarify.  All of these players were top high school players, all-conference, all-state, led their teams to conference and state titles.  But maybe they sat out the summer-camp circuit, maybe they were deemed too small, too slow, maybe they were late developers or suffered injuries.  For whatever, reason they were considered complementary players but have become much more.

Here’s my ACC top five—with tie– list of players who fooled the recruitniks.  In a good way.

Note that I’m not looking at freshmen.  Too early.  Note also that I’m using the RSCI rankings as synonymous with consensus.

1. Joe Harris, Virginia.  Harris was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Washington, where he played at Chelan High School.  Yes, I also had to look up Chelan, Washington.  Population, 4,000 or so.  Harris was all set to go to Washington State but followed Tony Bennett to Charlottesville.  He averaged 16.3 points per game last season and is the only returning first-team All-ACC player.  And the key to Virginia’s revival.

2. C.J. Fair, Syracuse.  Fair was the consensus number 96 recruit, the only top-100 recruit on my short list. Still, it’s a long way from there to the pre-season ACC Player of the Year; he edged Harris by one vote and top-10 prepsters like Jabari Parker and James Michael McAdoo by a lot more than that. The lanky lefty from Baltimore averaged 14.3 points and 7 rebounds per game last season.  Fair missed his junior year in high school due to a knee injury, which explains a lot.

3. Olivier Hanlan, Boston College.  The Canadian wing averaged 15.4 points per game last season and beat out prep superstars like Rodney Purvis, Rasheed Sulaimon and Marcus Paige to become the 2013 ACC Freshman of the Year.  He picked BC over Virginia Tech after being ignored by the big boys.  Boston College’s potent hockey team gets lots of talent from Canada but you can bet Steve Donahue will go back for some more hardwood talent.  Maybe others will too.

4. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame.  Father Harvey played in the NBA.  Uncle Horace played in the NBA (and was 1987 ACC Player of the Year at Clemson).  Played at fabled DeMatha High School.  But Grant averaged a modest 10.5 points per game as a senior and that’s not all that attention-grabbing.   His 13 points per game last season as an Irish sophomore are, however.  Grant’s younger brother Jerami plays for Syracuse.

T5. Akil Mitchell, Virginia.  Probably the least-touted high school player on this list.  Scout.com had Mitchell as a two-star recruit, which at the ACC level means “hello bench, nice to see you again.”  Mitchell averaged 13 points and 6.5 rebounds as a high school senior at tiny Charlotte Christian School.   But Bennett liked what he saw, especially a prodigious work ethic that has allowed Mitchell to become a third-team All-ACC player, after averaging 13 points and nine rebounds per game last season.

T5.Ryan Anderson, Boston College.  Anderson just missed making the top-100 out of Lakewood, California. But compare his 2013 statistics of 15 points and eight rebounds per game to those of North Carolina’s McAdoo or Maryland’s lottery pick Alex Len, and it’s clear that Donahue hit the jackpot when he convinced Anderson to come east.

Honorable mention:

Eric Atkins, Notre Dame

Devon Bookert, Florida State

Desmond Lee, NC State

K.J. McDaniels, Clemson

Daniel Miller, Georgia Tech

Lamar Patterson-Pittsburgh

Devin Thomas, Wake Forest

Tyler Thornton, Duke

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