ASU basketball lands highest ranked recruit ever in Josh Christopher

Josh Christopher, of Lakewood, California, is the highest ranked recruit ever to commit to Arizona State. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley received headline-making news Monday night when five-star guard Josh Christopher from Mayfair High School in Lakewood, California, announced his commitment to the Sun Devil men’s basketball program.

In the latest ESPN rankings, Christopher is rated as the 10th-best player in his class, and he will join the No. 34-rated player, four-star forward Marcus Bagley in Tempe. Bagley signed with the Sun Devils during the early signing period on Nov. 14.

“The recruiting process has been one of the most exciting, interesting and stressful times in my life,” Christopher said in his announcement video. “I have to thank all the coaches who have recruited me and put time in to see me, reach out to me or have me on their campus.

“Sometimes I get mad at myself for picking such great schools, but I know next year I can only choose one. The next step in my life, I will be moving to Tempe and going to ASU. Forks Up.”

Christopher became the highest-ranked player in the ESPN100 era to commit to the Sun Devils, surpassing 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player and former five-star guard James Harden, who was ranked No. 21 overall. Harden played at Artesia High School, which is also in Lakewood.

As a senior this season, Christopher averaged 29.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 3.1 steals per game at Mayfair and was selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American game, the Jordan Brand Classic and the Nike Hoop Summit.

However, all of those events were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At ASU, Christopher joins his older brother, guard Caleb Christopher, who will be a sophomore next season. Josh Christopher narrowed his list to ASU, Michigan, UCLA, Missouri and USC.

Frank Burlison, a longtime national college basketball writer who runs his own scouting service, always believed Christopher would head to Tempe.

“Unlike what many other people thought, the minute that Caleb Christopher got a scholarship offer and went to ASU, I expected Josh Christopher to go to ASU,” Burlison said. “Not to take away from the magnitude of getting him, what it means for the program and what it means for the team in the 2020-2021 season.”

Steve Moore, also a Los Angeles native, played for ASU in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, averaging 12.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He understands the Los Angeles basketball scene and what this means for Hurley and the ASU program.

“It is great to keep the pipeline going of tough, gritty LA guards to Tempe,” Moore said. “… Josh signing as a five-star just shows the trust that Hurley can recruit with the best of them. It also shows that the Pac-12 is still a sought after conference to play in.

“Overall, (ASU is) just picking up steam on being a landing spot for top tier athletes and this class is just another example of it.”

Cronkite News spoke to Josh Christopher in February 2018, and Christopher said he credits his work ethic to his oldest brother, Patrick Christopher, who was a first-team All-Pac-10 Conference selection at California in 2009 and 2010 and had a brief stint in the NBA.

Josh Christopher said that when “basketball really clicked,” it was like “a rocketship” as he gained attention and recognition, and said that he understands his own game.

“If my shot is not falling, I am going to dedicate the game to getting my teammates involved and open, making sure they are knocking down shots,” Christopher said. “If my shot is falling, I am going to make sure that I keep scoring the basketball until they have to close in on me and now I have to make that pass.”

Mayfair coach Tony Davis echoed that statement.

“(Christopher) can score, he can handle it, he can pass, he can defend and he can lead,” Davis told Cronkite News in February 2018. “At least in my tenure here, we have never had anybody that young be able to do everything at the level that he is capable of doing it.”

Burlison has watched and scouted many talented basketball players, Bagley and Harden included.

Burlison has watched Christopher many times, and the 6-foot-5 and 215-pounder, has impressed him.

“At his size, (ASU is) getting a very physical guard that can score in a variety of ways,” Burlison said. “He has an ability to get into the lane and create contact and finish through or around contact, or he is going to get fouled. It is a combination of skill, size, strength, quickness and determination that makes him very, very difficult to contain.”

Burlison isn’t sure that Christopher should be the highest-ranked recruit for ASU in the ESPN100 era, though. He believes that honor should belong to Harden in 2007.

“Many of the guys doing rankings now didn’t see Harden in high school,” Burlison said. “I saw Harden in high school. He was a McDonald’s All-American, a two-time state champion and was the best player in California for two years. Does that mean that Christopher isn’t an elite player? Absolutely not. He is a great, great player.

“As good as Josh Christopher is, was or could be, he was not a better player than James Harden at the same stage.”

Christopher is different, though, and a special talent.

Burlison compared his game to J.R. Smith, with the potential to evolve into a playmaking guard like former Sacramento Kings All-Star Mitch Richmond or Harden once he is in the NBA.

“He has all the physical tools,” Burlison said. “In reality, he pretty much has an NBA body right now. He will have to make very few adjustments to transition into the college game.”

As talented as Christopher is, Burlison said that Bagley – the younger brother to former Duke and now-NBA forward Marvin Bagley – shouldn’t be underestimated. Burlison said he is amazed at how “undervalued” Marcus Bagley seems to be.

Burlison believes that Bagley is underrated in the ESPN100 rankings, and added that Bagley will also have an immediate impact as a Sun Devil. Marcus Bagley, a wing, has a much different game than Marvin Bagley, a power forward with the Sacramento Kings.

“It is hard for me to imagine that there are that many colleges that are going to have two dynamic freshmen like that,” Burlison said.

If Remy Martin and Romello White come back, Burlison said the Sun Devils are definitely a team to watch out for on the national stage.

“You have multiple guys that can drop 25 or 30 points on any given night and are capable of making plays for other people,” Burlison said. “This could be a team definitely as good as any in the Pac-12 and certainly a team that challenges for a Pac-12 Championship but also has the ability to make a deep, deep run into the NCAA Tournament.”

Back in February 2018, Caleb Christopher said that Josh Christopher had started to “seize the moment” after there was a time where he was “slept on.”

“He has the green light, and he isn’t letting it go,” Caleb Christopher told Cronkite News.

Nobody is sleeping on Josh Christopher anymore, and he is considered talented enough to be a likely one-and-done player with the Sun Devils before moving on to the NBA.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix