Mid-Major Recruiting Breakdown
A look at six of the best outside the big six.
After spending the last six weeks breaking down the incoming freshman classes in the (to use a football term) BCS conferences, it’s time to step outside the big six. This week, SLAM takes a look at some of the top recruiting classes in the other conferences around the country, stopping off in places such as the Atlantic-10, CAA, Mountain West and the West Coast Conferences.
It would be almost impossible to break down every incoming class that has yet to be covered on this site, but some of the top incoming groups have been analyzed below. This is anything but a comprehensive list, as there are plenty of other solid groups that should at least get a mention, including Rice, Central Florida and Long Beach State. Still, a cutoff has to be made somewhere, so here is a look at six of the best groups of newcomers you will find in the non-major conferences this season.
UMass may have signed the top recruiting class of any team outside of the “Big Six” conferences, putting together a five-man group that features top-50 commit Terrell Vinson. The 6-7 combo-forward out of St. Frances Academy in Baltimore has the toughness and versatility to play inside or outside. He isn’t a super athletic player, but is crafty enough to be effective taking the ball the basket. He is also a threat to connect from the perimeter on a fairly consistent basis. In situations where the Minutemen opt to go for a smaller lineup, they won’t lose much on the glass by putting Vinson inside as he is a strong rebounder. Joining Vinson inside will be 6-9 power forward Raphael Putney, a native of Woodbridge, Virginia. A very good athlete, Putney can take slower big men off the dribble when he chooses to face up, but absolutely needs to get stronger. His 180-pound frame is in dire need of additional weight in order to handle the rigors of playing the post in the Atlantic-10. Sampson Carter will present some matchup problems as a 6-8 small forward with range beyond the arc. The Memphis native spent his senior season at the Winchendon School in Massachusetts where he proved to be a solid perimeter defender with his length and quickness. Offensively he is a bit limited due to his average ball handling ability, but he has the potential to develop into a solid addition to the roster given a year or two. A
pair of shooting guards were signed as well in Freddie Riley and Javon Farrell to help bolster the backcourt. Riley spent the past season at Hargrave Military Academy where he picked up offers from South Florida and VCU in addition to UMass. The 6-5 Florida native is a pure scorer who has a diverse offensive arsenal built around his dribble drive game. Farrell is a 6-4 gunner from Upper Marlboro, Maryland with plenty of range on his jumper. He is a consistent scoring threat from beyond the arc and has improved his handles to the point where defenders will need to respect his ability to get to the rim as well.
Lon Kruger signed a solid three player recruiting class for next season that will address needs in both the frontcourt and the backcourt. The group is highlighted by top-100 prospect Anthony Marshall, a 6-3 shooting guard from nearby Mojave HS. The Nevada native entertained offers from Gonzaga, Washington, Washington State and Miami before ultimately deciding to stay close to home for his college career. Marshall is a great athlete who has developed into a good scorer from the wing, mainly due to his smooth shooting stroke. Where he will really make his impact early on will be the defensive end, where he has proven to be an excellent on-ball presence who brings a tremendous amount of hustle to this end of the floor. Joining Marshall in the backcourt will be another shooting guard in California prospect Justin Hawkins. The 6-2 Woodland Hills product is an average athlete but is very crafty at both ends of the floor; he does a lot of things well. His shot has improved to the point where he is a threat to knock down the open three, but will get a lot of his points from scrappy, hustle plays. Lastly there is the addition of power forward Carlos Lopez from national champ Findlay Prep. At 6-10 and just 200 pounds, he could certainly stand to get a little stronger to handle the rigors of playing in the post, but his very solid mid-range game will make him a valuable asset offensively as he can stretch defenses out.
George Mason Patriots
The rest of the CAA likely isn’t thrilled with the talented six-man group that George Mason will be welcoming to the court this season. The Patriots loaded up in the backcourt, starting with Mount Vernon standout Sherrod Wright. The 6-4 wing had USC, Oklahoma State and Xavier on his radar before opting to go green. The New York native is an outstanding athlete who thrives on his ability to get to the rim on a regular basis; improving his jumper will drastically increase his threat as a big time scorer. Guards Rashad Whack and Vertrail Vaughns will be joining the backcourt as well, providing a pair of aggressive backcourt players who will keep opposing defenses on their toes. Whack, a 6-2 shooting guard from Maryland, is constantly in attack mode, looking to beat defenders off the bounce. His ball handling skills will need to improve somewhat as he won’t be able to blow by defenders as easily as he did in high school. Vaughns is a lightning quick point guard who joins Mason from Mesquite, Texas, where the lefty made a name for himself as a stellar passer. He is a great facilitator in the open floor and when he opts to shoulder the scoring load, is at his best pulling up off the dribble from mid-range. Forwards Paris Bennett and Luke Hancock bring a mixed bag of talents and abilities to the table. Bennett, a rugged 6-6 combo forward from east coast power St. Patrick’s in New Jersey, has a motor that seemingly never quits. Packing just 190 pounds onto his frame, Bennett is a bit too thin to be a consistent four, but isn’t still a bit too raw to constantly operate on the perimeter. Look for him to be a player who floats inside and outside, while making things happen with his hustle and athleticism. Hancock is a 6-5 small forward fresh off a year of prep school at Hargrave Military Academy. A Virginia native, Hancock is a great spot up shooter from the outside and will provide the Patriots with a weapon to stretch opposing defenses. Lastly there is the one true interior presence signed by Mason this season, 6-8 center Johnnie Williams out of Memphis. Williams is a strong post player with range out to the foul line who will provide solid defense and rebounding early on as a freshman.
San Diego State Aztecs
SDSU welcomes in a strong recruiting class, but it is their signing of top-60 prospect Kawhi Leonard that really made some waves this year. The 6-7 small forward presents loads of potential at his level due to his still growing frame, stellar athleticism and a big wingspan that helps him at both ends of the floor. Leonard can shoot consistently out beyond the arc and is a constant threat on the offensive glass. He has significantly improved his ability to attack the basket off the dribble as well. Defensively he will be a tough customer on the perimeter due to his length. The Aztecs signed a pair of backcourt players in guards Chase Tapley and Eric Lawton, both from the California area. Tapley is an undersized 6-2 shooting guard who was a big time scorer in high school, big enough that he had Saint Mary’s and Baylor knocking at his door in addition to San Diego State. What he lacks in athleticism and quickness, he more than makes up for with craftiness and skill level. Tapley can finish well in traffic and has a great mid-range game. Lawton, a 6-1 two-guard out of West Valley HS has drawn comparisons to AI because of his slight 160-pound frame but his tremendous ability to fill up the basket. He can score from anywhere on the floor and does a great job of changing speeds on defenders. Alec Williams is a 6-5 power forward with a strong enough frame to handle himself down low despite giving up several inches on most nights. He has a good back to the basket game thanks to his excellent footwork and quickness; it also doesn’t hurt that he can step away from the paint and consistently knock down the 17-footer. The final member of the SDSU recruiting class is JuCo transfer Malcolm Thomas, who spent a year at Pepperdine before transferring to San Diego City College. The 6-9 power forward will be a strong interior presence with his 220-pound frame taking up space. He led Pepperdine in rebounding and blocks, while finishing second in scoring as a freshman two years ago.
Another year and it’s another strong recruiting class for Mark Few as he welcomes four newcomers to the Gonzaga roster for the upcoming season. There will be plenty of size joining the team, starting with 6-9 center Sam Dower out of Osseo, Minnesota. An excellent athlete with a good wingspan, Dower is a strong defensive presence and hits the glass hard at both ends of the floor. His offensive game is still a work in progress, but he has a nice jump hook right now and shows signs of developing a consistent foul line jumper. Kelly Olynyk has the potential to be a special player as a 6-10 small forward with a very strong skill set, who can score from anywhere on the floor. The native of Canada has a very soft touch around the rim with both hands, range well beyond the three-point line and handles that will allow him to operate comfortably on the perimeter. It may be a reach to call him the next Austin Daye, but he is a player in that same mold and has the numbers to back up these claims, posting averages of 35 points and 12 rebounds as a senior. Point guard G.J. Vilarino originally committed to Kentucky, before asking out of his letter of intent and signing with the ‘Zags. At 6-0 and 160 pounds, the Texas product is tiny but plays very aggressively. He is super quick, shows excellent passing skills and has the ability to take defenders to the rim on a regular basis when the opportunity presents itself. Lastly there is 6-6 shooting guard Mangisto Arop, a stellar athlete out of Ontario. Like so many players who have outstanding physical make ups early on, Arop is a big time performer defensively thanks to his length, quickness and hustle, but is still very raw offensively. He has a tremendous first step, elevates well in traffic, but still needs to fine tune his ability to finish. All in all, Gonzaga has restocked with plenty of talent to keep them competitive next season.
Brigham Young Cougars
BYU will look to stay near the top of the Mountain West with a four-man recruiting class that features a good amount of talent. To start, the Cougars signed shooting guard Tyler Haws and power forward Nate Austin, high school teammates from Lone Peak HS in Utah. Haws is a tough 6-5 gunner who can light it up from the outside on a consistent basis. He isn’t a super athlete, but possesses a very high basketball IQ that will help him at the next level. Austin at 6-10 could create some tough match ups for opposing defenses because of his open floor speed; the big man could likely get a lot of easy transition baskets. At just 210 pounds though, he is going to have to spend some time in the weight room to help make him a force in the paint. Brandon Davies, another power forward, may have been the top signing for BYU this year. The 6-7 in-state recruit had offers from Arizona, Cal and Gonzaga in addition to the Cougars. Davies has a very advanced skill set for a player his age, able to score with his back to the basket or facing up on slower defenders. He has a soft touch, excellent footwork and real nose for the basket. The final member of the 2009 class is 6-10 center Ian Harward, another in-state product who should contribute early. He shows the ability to face up and beat defenders off the dribble, in addition to his good transition speed. He is another player who will have to hit the weights though, as Harward does a poor job of rebounding for a player his size at the high school level.