Thursday, September 19, 2013
Top five undervalued classes
By Adam Finkelstein
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings landed a commitment from his second four-star prospect in as many weeks over the weekend when Matthew Fisher-Davis (Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Christian) joined Wade Baldwin (Hillsborough, N.J./St. Joseph).
With a pair of four-star prospects now on board in mid-September, Stallings’ class is considered good, but not great, by most national standards.
But the reality is that each school comes into the summer with different needs and priorities, and ultimately those objectives are tied to winning basketball games, not class rankings. Coaches consider fit, style, personnel, and a variety of other variables.
For Vanderbilt, that means looking for high-character guys who fit their system and culture. Given that approach, the Commodores are one of five schools off that couldn't hope to be off to a better start.
In Davis they landed just the type of guy who has flourished under Stallings in years past. He has even drawn comparisons to former Commodores star John Jenkins. The 6-foot-5 small forward is a knockdown shooter who runs off screens, knows how to play, and is a late bloomer physically with a high ceiling.
Vanderbilt's Kevin Stalling has secured some pieces that fit his system perfectly.
While Vanderbilt typically prioritizes skill over length and athleticism, Baldwin is the exception to the rule that helps protect them against becoming too one-dimensional. He’s incredibly long, very athletic, and naturally competitive. He has a chance to develop into one of the best perimeter defenders in the SEC, which makes it that much easier to hide more limited players on that end of the floor. Offensively, his Achilles heel -- his jump shot -- happens to be an area that Vanderbilt’s staff has a uniquely proven ability to develop and improve.
Beyond the fit to their style and personnel, Baldwin and Davis help Vanderbilt address some of pivotal objectives from a geographic standpoint. Because their emphasis is on finding the right fit, they don’t want to be limited by geography. By going into North Carolina and New Jersey, and landing commitments over programs in both the ACC and Big East, they are starting to prove their ability to do so.
That national-caliber brand they are striving to build is also reflective with their remaining targets in the 20014 class -- ESPN 100 SG Trey Kell (San Diego/St. Augustine), ESPN 100 PG Riley LaChance (Brookfield, Wis./Central), PF Michael Humphrey (Phoenix/Sunnyslope), and C Chris Egi (Markham, Ontario/Montverde Academy) should he reclassify back to the 2014 class.
Vanderbilt isn’t the only school with an undervalued recruiting class. Here’s a look at four other programs whose classes might not yet be nationally ranked but are no less successful according to their own philosophies and objectives. The classes are ranked, with Vandy in our top spot:
VCU had a proud basketball tradition long before Shaka Smart arrived, but there’s no denying that “Havoc” has brought the program to unprecedented heights. VCU’s intense fullcourt pressure defense not only has created new national branding, but it has allowed the Rams to win recruiting battles that would have once been unimaginable. Can you picture an ESPN 100 prospect spurning over a dozen high-major offers including multiple past national champs for VCU five years ago? There’s no way. But that’s exactly what Terry Larrier (Bronx, N.Y./Phelps School) did earlier this week. Right now he’s the 59th-ranked senior in America, but the reality is that there might not be a better fit for VCU’s style anywhere in the country. PF Justin Tillman (Redford, Mich./Pershing) is another incredibly long and athletic frontcourt prospect with a motor to match while PG Jonathan Williams (Newark, N.J./St. Benedict’s) is no less important than Larrier. He’s an attacking guard who is constantly getting a piece of the paint and will consequently flourish in the Rams’ aggressive system. He committed in early March so he tends to fly under the radar, but if he were still available now he’d have his choice of high-major programs.
Speaking of VCU’s proud basketball tradition, the previous chapter was written by current Alabama coach Anthony Grant, who now has the Crimson Tide as a program on the rise in the SEC. If you haven’t seen Alabama’s name much in the headlines recently, that’s because the Tide already secured their backcourt of the future, landing three commitments in an eight-day period that began just after the conclusion of the July evaluation period. Their success is a direct result of one of the most organized, and in many ways innovative, recruiting plans in the country. Alabama maximizes every hour of every day they’re on the road, and so it’s no surprise that when it was all said and done there was a trio of players who all felt like they were top priorities. PG Justin Coleman (Birmingham, Ala./Wenonah) and SF Riley Norris (Albertville, Ala./Albertville) are both local ESPN 100 prospects, while SG Devin Mitchell (Suwanee, Ga./Collins Hill) only solidifies Alabama’s presence in the Southeast. Together, the trio provides a dangerous and versatile backcourt with a jet quick point guard in Coleman, a long and athletic swingman in Mitchell, and a knock down shooter in Norris.
4. Utah Still in the infancy of their jump to the Pac-12, Utah is walking a very thin line between needing to establish themselves as a legitimate high-major recruiting presence while at the same time not wasting time with prospects who are beyond their reach. They’ve struck a perfect balance thus far in the 2014 class. ESPN 100 PF Brekkott Chapman (Roy, Utah/Roy) allowed them to win a high-profile recruiting battle over the likes of UCLA, BYU, Arizona and Gonzaga among others while simultaneously defending their home turf. Kyle Kuzma (Burton, Mich./Rise Academy) is a classic late bloomer who was one of the summer’s biggest stock-risers. He and Chapman are an incredibly versatile forward tandem who are both capable of attacking inside and out. That’s ideally suited for Larry Krystowiak offensive system, which is consistent with his NBA roots, and predicated on creating and attacking mismatches. Finally, Isaiah Wright (Boise, Idaho/Borah) gave them an under-the-radar point guard who won’t necessarily make a huge initial splash but is a throwback in terms of his ability to run a team.
The goal of any first-year head coach is to make an immediate splash – whether that’s a signature recruit, unexpectedly good record, or anything in-between. Generate momentum that you can continue to build in year two. That’s especially difficult at Northwestern where you are limited by some of the most rigorous admission standards in the country while competing in an absolutely loaded Big Ten Conference. Chris Collins exceeded even the loftiest of expectations when he landed a commitment from ESPN 100 SF Victor Law (South Holland, Ill./Saint Rita). Law was not only the highest-ranked prospect ever to commit to Northwestern but also a local product to give Collins just the splash he was looking for. Two more commitments have followed suit in the 10 weeks since with PF Gavin Skelly (Westlake, Ohio/Westlake) and PG Bryant McIntosh (Greensburg, Ind./Greensburg). Skelly is a high-level talent who has never put it all together on a consistent basis, but would be another top 100 caliber player if he did. McIntosh is a point guard with great size and many of the same attributes that Collins had himself as a player with toughness, tenacity and a well-rounded skill set.