By Kevin Sweeney
Experience is king at the mid-major level. No one is doubting that.
However, we see each season a few freshmen that immediately change the complexion of their teams that year and beyond. A perfect example: the 2018-19 iteration of Siena. The Saints had lost nearly all its production from an 8-24 team, had a new coach in Jamion Christian, and even just projecting a playing rotation was anyone’s guess.
Enter Jalen Pickett.
Pickett, an unheralded recruit from Rochester, NY who didn’t have a D1 offer until spring of his prep year, joined Christian and the Saints over a few other late offers from MAAC programs and proceeded to set the world on fire. He was arguably the best player in the MAAC as a freshman, helping Siena double their win total from the previous year and earning Christian a higher-paying gig at George Washington in the process.
It is nearly impossible to project who will be the next Pickett– after all, even the Siena staff couldn’t have known that Pickett would have been that good, that fast. However, I do believe that based on studying film, stats, and the opinions of recruiting analysts I trust, I can highlight a few recruiting classes that aren’t quite getting the love they deserve.
NOTE: These classes are based on freshmen and JUCO transfers, but not D1 transfers.
- Freshman guard Garren Davis (The Colony, TX)
- Freshman guard Cam Spencer (Davidsonville, MD)
- Freshman forward Golden Dike (Malaga, Spain)
- Freshman forward Santi Aldama (Las Palmas De Gran Canaria, Spain)
Three years ago, Hartford basketball hopped onto the national spotlight briefly when Serbian big man Filip Petrusev committed to come play for John Gallagher’s group. Petrusev was a highly-regarded recruit who made an early pledge to Hartford thanks to his relationship with assistant coach Ivo Simovic, who has major international ties. Soon, Simovic would leave Hartford to take a job on Mark Price’s staff at Charlotte, and Petrusev would decommit and choose Gonzaga over a long list of high-major suitors.
Now, Simovic is on Tavaras Hardy’s staff at Loyola (MD) and is once again making headway on the international recruiting trail. Landing Aldama, who just won MVP at the FIBA U18 European Championships, was perhaps the biggest heist of the 2019 cycle. As Evan Daniels of 247Sports wrote, “there are very few programs nationally which would turn down a talent like Aldama so the fact he will be playing college basketball in the Patriot League was a constant talking point amongst NBA scouts and college coaches.” He’s incredibly skilled for his size, able to pass, handle, and shoot the ball and protect the rim. Aldama could be an NBA prospect down the line and should be one of the most impressive mid-major freshmen in the country.
Simovic was also instrumental in signing another Spaniard, fringe top-150 recruit Golden Dike. Dike is a well-built big man who should impact things on the glass right away. He’s still a raw offensive talent, but should be able to immediately contribute in the frontcourt.
The Greyhounds also add Cameron Spencer and Garren Davis. Spencer had a strong senior season at Boy’s Latin in MD and comes with strong athletic bloodlines (brother Pat won the Tewaaraton Award in lacrosse last season). Meanwhile, Davis put up solid numbers next to RJ Hampton for Mudiay Elite on the Under Armour Circuit last spring.
- Freshman guard Daryl Banks (Elizabeth, NJ)
- Freshman guard Doug Edert (Nutley, NJ)
- Freshman guard Aaron Estrada (Woodbury, NJ)
- Freshman wing Fousseyni Drame (Bamako, Mali)
- Freshman wing Hassan Drame (Bamako, Mali)
Shaheen Holloway’s first full recruiting class gets an ‘A’ in my mind. Long one of the better recruiting assistants in the country at Seton Hall, Holloway tapped into his tri-state roots with a trio of in-state signees to buoy their backcourt before the major haul– the Drame twins. Fousseyni and Hassan led Mali to a stunning run through the FIBA U19 World Cup this summer, putting up huge numbers and flashing enormous long-term potential in the process. Fousseyni in particular wowed me with his defensive instincts and creation ability on the wing, and as he adds weight he’ll continue to improve. Pairing the twins with athletes like Nazeer Bostick and KC Ndefo should form one of the most versatile and dynamic lineups in the MAAC, though ballhandling remains a big concern.
That’s where Banks, Edert, and Estrada come in, all capable of playing with or without the ball. A rough Peach Jam aside, Banks was very solid playing for the NJ Playaz, hitting over 40% from 3 in non-Peach Jam games and holding a great assist-to-turnover ratio. Estrada, a late signee, is an athletic guard capable of getting downhill and should further strengthen the Peacock defense. I’m not sure how quickly SPU will get things rolling, but the future is bright if Holloway continues to recruit like this.
- Freshman guard Isaiah Stevens (Allen, TX)
- Freshman wing John Tonje (Omaha, NE)
- Freshman forward David Roddy (Minneapolis, MN)
- Freshman forward James Moors (Auckland, New Zealand)
- Freshman forward Dischon Thomas (Laveen, AZ)
The headliner here for me is David Roddy, one of the more unique players in the 2019 class. An undersized bruiser who was also an excellent football player in high school, Roddy is very skilled and plays somewhat as a point forward. He chose CSU thanks in part to the relationship he built with assistant coach Dave Thorson, who has strong roots in Roddy’s home state of Minnesota. Roddy averaged over 15 points and 7 rebounds per game on the EYBL circuit and chose the Rams over multiple high-major suitors. He should be a plug-and-play contributor from the start.
I’m also a big fan of point guard Isaiah Stevens, a winner who will fit well running the show in Niko Medved’s system. He was perhaps the best player on one of the best teams in Texas last season and should impact winning positively from day one. New Zealand import James Moors is the epitome of a stretch four who shot over 50% from 3 at FIBA U19 this summer. Nevada decommit Dischon Thomas and late stock-riser John Tonje round out what should a strong class.
Meanwhile, Medved also brings in three transfers: PJ Byrd (VCU), Ignas Sargiunas (Georgia), and Teyvion Kirk (Ohio). Byrd has received a waiver to play right away.
- Freshman guard Gregory Hammond (New Orleans, LA)
- Freshman wing Mekhi Long (Bryans Road, MD)
- Freshman wing Jacob Toppin (Ossining, NY)
- JUCO guard Jeremy Sheppard (College of Central Florida)
- JUCO forward DeVale Johnson (Williston State College)
David Cox was a powerhouse on the recruiting trail under Dan Hurley, and that momentum hasn’t stopped since taking over the Rhode Island program. The three freshmen and two JUCO transfers Cox and staff signed will be added to a core that returns Jeff Dowtin, Fatts Russell, Cyril Langevine, and Jermaine Harris to form a loaded roster for 2019-20.
Long is the headliner of the class, an athletic slasher on the wing who should be game-ready as a freshman. However, the strength in this class is the depth, with all five guys profiling as potential rotation players or better throughout their careers. Toppin, the brother of Dayton star Obi Toppin, had multiple high-major options but chose the Rams instead, providing some major explosiveness at the 3 or 4 spots.
One of Hammond or Sheppard will likely take on a critical role on this year’s team as a scoring guard off the bench. Sheppard’s winding journey from a productive first year at East Carolina (over 9 points per game) to JUCO and now to Kingston has been a long one, but the talent is tantalizing. He averaged 17 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists per game while shooting 44% from 3 for one of the best JUCO programs in the country and should provide some much-needed shooting for the Rams. Finally, Johnson is an athletic stretch 4 who should be a serviceable backup to Harris.
URI disappointed relative to its talent level last season, but with a class like this it’s easy to be excited about the future of the program under Cox.
College Of Charleston:
- Freshman guard Trevon Reddish (McDonough, GA)
- Freshman guard Brenden Tucker (Lawrenceville, GA)
- Freshman forward DeAngelo Epps (Charlotte, NC)
- Freshman forward Dontavious King (Greenville, SC)
Earl Grant has continued to recruit well at the College of Charleston, and this class will do wonders in helping replace Jarrell Brantley and eventually Grant Riller. The headliner from a rankings perspective is Tucker, who turned down multiple high-major offers to join the Cougars.
Described by Grant as “wired to score” and “a terrific talent”, Tucker’s role on this year’s team remains to be seen but he seems like a building block piece for the future at the 2. He averaged 16 points and 4 rebounds per game while shooting over 50% from the field on the Adidas circuit last April. Next to him in the backcourt for a long time could be Reddish, a pure passer with great size for the position at 6-4 and a game-ready body to help out right away.
Up front, the Cougars also add two long-term pieces to track, with DeAngelo Epps the most likely to contribute as a freshman. Grant described him as “a junkyard dog” who “does winning things” when on the floor, capable of slashing to the rim and defending multiple positions. He could open up the Cougars to play smaller this year with the graduations of Brantley and Nick Harris. The status of King is unknown for the upcoming season– Grant said he’ll know more in the coming weeks but described him as a true power forward with a big body.
You can hear more from Grant on the CBB Central Podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google, YouTube, and more.