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Recruiting: Evaluating The Big Ten’s 2017 Small Forwards

A look at the Big Ten’s small crop of 2017 small forwards, highlighted by Purdue commit Nojel Eastern

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

There are just three prospects listed as small forwards by 247Sports committed to Big Ten schools in the class of 2017.

That small crop is a talented one, though. That list could grow with five-star and Michigan State lean Brian Bowen and four-star Indiana lean Jordan Tucker yet to announce. But as it stands, the three-man list is a solid one.

Let's take a look at the league’s next stars at the 3.

In case you missed them, you can find the last two positional previews here and here.

Big Ten’s Top 2017 Small Forwards:

-Nojel Eastern (Purdue)

The 6’6 four-star from Evanston, Illinois committed to the Boilermakers over Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois. He is ranked as the 16th best small forward in the class of 2017 according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and is the jewel of Purdue’s class.

According to Scout:

Even though he isn't a great athlete and isn't a major threat from beyond the three point arc, Nojel Eastern is still someone who has found a way to be very intriguing throughout his high school career. He suffered a broken ankle which basically cost him a year of development, but he still has improved. He is a tremendous passer and someone who has a great feel for the game. With his size and length, Eastern can play virtually anywhere on the perimeter and gives his team a ton of defensive versatility. A unique game, Eastern has to continue to be more assertive, but he has a ton of natural talent to work with.

But according to Rivals, whatever Eastern lacks in athleticism, he more than makes up for in basketball I.Q:

Most schools like him best for his knowledge of the game.

“My IQ … that’s mostly what I’m being recruited for,” he told GoldandBlack.com this spring. “I’d say 95 percent of schools are recruiting me to be a point guard, but they’d also have me playing other positions, as well. I’m fine with that. If you’re stuck on one position, you can come off the court faster than if you’re playing two or three positions.

The thing that comes up most commonly with Eastern is his versatility. He is listed as a small forward, and at 6’6, may be a little undersized for that position. Purdue has done well, however, in three guard sets this season. Nojel Eastern is taller than the trio of Carsen Edwards, P.J Thompson and Dakota Mathis, and his ability to slide in at any one of those three spots will be welcomed in West Lafayette next season.

-Connor McCaffery (Iowa)

Next in the rankings is four-star Hawkeye commit Connor McCaffery, who pledged to Iowa in the summer of 2014. The 6’4 small forward, as I’m sure most of you are already aware of, is Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery’s son. He is the 22nd ranked small forward according to the industry generated 247Sports composite rankings.

According to Rob Howe of Scout ($), Connor is a player still continuing to fill out his frame, but is already someone who has good handles, and will fearlessly drive to the bucket:

McCaffery drives the ball strong to the basket and finishes at the rim. He draws fouls at a good clip.

McCaffery, who also plans to play baseball at Iowa, plays point guard for his high school team which isn’t out of the ordinary for a player as skilled as he is. He likely won’t play that position in college though. Some outlets have him listed as tall as 6’6, and he is most likely going to be a swing two/three man who can both drive to the hoop and shoot from the perimeter.

Adding him to Iowa’s underrated class should keep them in the Big Ten conversation for a few years to come.

-Aaron Wheeler (Purdue)

The last small forward already committed to a Big Ten school would be three-star Purdue commit Aaron Wheeler, a Connecticut native who played his high school ball at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. The 6’8 prospect is listed as the 41st best small forward prospect in the class of 2017, according to the industry generated 247Sports Composite rankings.

According to Scout’s Brian Snow, Wheeler, like fellow Purdue commit Nojel Eastern, is someone who will be able to slide in and do many different things for the Boilermakers:

At around 6-foot-7, Wheeler will provide the Boilermakers with a versatile forward who can do a little bit of everything. In that way he is a little bit like current Boilermaker forward Vince Edwards.

His AAU coach, Jason Smith, thinks that Wheeler is someone who will be a problem for Big Ten defenders:

"I think Aaron has a lot of potential," said Smith. "He is a good athlete who can guard, and if he continues to work hard he will be someone who causes matchup problems on the offensive end."

Wheeler comes in as another pieces of Purdue’s extremely varied and diverse class, talent-wise. By the looks of his tape, he’s already a college-sized player. If he comes in and impressed, he, along with other members of Purdue’s five-man class, should be able to see the court early for the Boilermakers.