With the Texas football team on its bye week, I thought I would sneak in some quick hoops recruiting notes for those interested. A lot has changed since I published the Recruiting Big Board in July, and rather than go through that exercise again, I'll just list out the remaining targets in order of importance and some brief thoughts.
From a scholarship situation, Texas currently has 11 players on scholarship and all are underclassmen. That leaves 2 available scholarships for the 2013 class, with 1 or 2 additional if Myck Kabongo and/or Cameron Ridley leave early. Consider Kabongo as likely to go, Ridley as likely to stay at this point. That means 3 available schollies. Hookem's Gerry Hamilton has been pretty adamant that Texas wants to sign two players in the fall, and leave a spot open for...
1. JULIUS RANDLE | PF | Prestonwood Christian | Plano, TX | 5*, 1st (247 Ranking)
Julius Randle is the home run swing by the staff and the last chance for the Longhorns to land one of the elite in-state prospects in the 2013 class. Matt Jones (Duke) and the Harrison twins (Kentucky, Maryland or Baylor) are long gone, and Texas appears to be no longer recruiting the uncommitted Keith Frazier. That leaves Randle. He has been hosting in-home visits from the ten remaining schools on his list, with Texas head coach Rick Barnes visiting with Randle last night. Randle also took his first official visit, to Kentucky, on Sept. 15.
I previously thought Duke, where Randle's AAU teammate Jones will play next year, would ultimately be the pick, but Kentucky or Florida have been the "buzziest" schools lately. Kentucky is, well, Kentucky. Billy Donovan coached Randle this summer on the U-18 USA team, hence the interest in Florida. Randle was scheduled to officially visit the Gators on Oct. 6 when they play LSU, but that visit may be pushed back to basketball season at Donovan's request.
Randle will sign in the spring, so there is plenty of time in this recruitment. Randle has repeatedly said he wants to visit Texas again, and the coaching staff will likely try to bring him in-season. My gut tells me that Texas makes Randle's final five, which he may release after finishing up his in-home visits, but not final one. If there is one thing working in Texas' favor, it's that Randle appears very team-oriented, and the Longhorns look to be building just that type of chemistry with their young nucleus. Another good sign: Randle recently took a trip to Austin, not to check in with the staff, but simply to hang out with Prince Ibeh and company.
2. JOEL EMBIID | C | The Rock | Gainesville, FL | 4*, 75th
Kudos to Hookem for jumping on Embiid ($) before his recruitment really took off. Embiid, who plays for Florida Elite AAU alongside five-star Gator commits Chris Walker and Kasey Hill, has seen a surge in his recruitment this summer. A native of Cameroon (but from a different region than Texas Ex Alexis Wangmene), Embiid has harnessed a considerable low-post game by studying the footwork of Hakeem Olajuwon. Uhh, yes, please. Embiid has only played basketball for a year and a half but is considered to have the Bill Simmons trifecta of tremendous upside potential.
The Longhorns have made him their top priority big man (other than Randle) and hope to bring him in for a visit in early October. UCLA and Florida are probably the two teams to beat, though the Gators have not yet extended a scholarship offer. The UCLA connection stems from Embiid's connection to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Embiid discovered basketball at one of Mbah a Moute's camps in Cameroon.
3. DEMARCUS CROAKER | SG | Jones | Orlando, FL | 4*, 86th
The state of Florida is brimming with talent this year, and Croaker is another Florida Elite player high on Barnes' radar. Like recent Texas takes Julien Lewis and DeMarcus Holland, Croaker looks more like a multi-year contributor and developmental player than a straight one-and-done vintage.
Of all the prospects on this list, Croaker is the most likely to commit to Texas. Croaker is down to just three schools: Texas, Florida State, and Murray State. He was supposed to take an unofficial visit to Texas at the end of August but couldn't make it down. Instead, he now plans to take an official visit to Austin in late September or early October. It wouldn't be a surprise if he commits soon after. Florida State is rumored to favor Xavier Rathan-Mayes at shooting guard, and somewhat ironically, Rathan-Mayes just cut Texas from his list of finalists while keeping the Seminoles. So if you are rooting for a Croaker commitment, Rathan-Mayes committing to Florida State might just do the trick.
4. JOHNATHAN WILLIAMS III | PF | Southwind | Memphis, TN | 4*, 50th
Earlier this summer, there was general bullishness on Texas and its chances with the Memphis area prospects. That fizzled quickly after SF Nick King and SG Markel Crawford committed to Memphis, and the Longhorns appeared to move on to other targets. With all that said, as of today, Williams III appears to have the only confirmed official visit to Texas.
Following his visit to Tennessee this past weekend, Williams III told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal's John Martin that he plans to visit Texas on Oct. 12. While the football team won't be in town (it is OU weekend), Williams III will get to check out a Texas practice. It's somewhat unfortunate Longhorns fans care so little about hoops, as other more basketball-oriented schools will be holding Midnight Madness events that weekend. Along with Tennessee and Texas, Michigan State, Georgetown, and Missouri round out Williams III's top five. The big question is: if he wanted to commit to Texas, would Barnes take him knowing that would likely shut the door on Randle?
5. JAJUAN JOHNSON | SG | Southwind | Memphis, TN | 4*, 44th
The rumor is that fellow Memphis hoopster JaJuan Johnson will be in Austin the week before, on Oct. 6, though that remains unconfirmed. Like Williams III, Johnson has Texas in his final five along with Louisville, Memphis, Alabama, and Miami. The Cardinals are currently two players over their 2013 scholarship allotment, while Memphis just took a commitment from Crawford.
Reading the tea leaves, that would leave Alabama and Miami as the major players. The Crimson Tide currently have a promising class with 2 committed bigs, but no guards, while Miami has three senior guards set to graduate. The Hurricanes received Johnson's first official visit last weekend. If Texas isn't feeling the love from Croaker, Johnson may actually be the more instant-impact scorer the Horns are looking for.
6. CHINONSO OBOKOH | C | Bishop Kearney | Rochester, NY | NR
Not much has been published on the All-Name Team candidate Chinonso Obokoh, nor has he really been linked to Texas, but Hookem's Gerry Hamilton has been consistent in saying that Obokoh could be a strong fallback option for the Longhorns if Embiid commits elsewhere. Syracuse is the team most mentioned with Obokoh, and Jim Boeheim always seems to have an endless supply of bigs funnel through the Carrier Dome.
7. KARVIAR SHEPHERD | C | Prime Prep | Dallas, TX | 4*, 77th
Karviar Shepherd was a member of the powerhouse Grace Prep team that played with current Baylor Bear Isaiah Austin. That team up and left and moved on over to Deion Sanders' new school, Prime Prep. The good news? Shepherd plays high school ball with top-flight 2014 point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, Myck Kabongo's cousin. Mudiay is far and away the top 2014 target for the Longhorns at this point.
The bad news? Shepherd plays AAU ball for Urban DFW Elite, a Jazzy Hartwell program. Hartwell hasn't exactly been the biggest advocate of Texas during his time on the AAU scene. Consequently, it was somewhat of a surprise that Shepherd named Texas in his final five, along with Kansas, Texas A&M, TCU, and Oklahoma. If he were to take an official visit, it would make things more believable.
8. KEITH FRAZIER | SG | Kimball | Dallas, TX | 4*, 24th
Once thought to be Texas' primary target on the perimeter, Keith Frazier did not reciprocate interest nearly enough to keep the Horns in the hunt. Texas A&M is the presumed leader, but Frazier did tell ESPN's Reggie Rankin that Texas was in his final eight ($). Providence, Florida, LSU, SMU, Memphis, and former leader Arizona are the remaining schools.
Frazier will make a spring decision, which leaves the door slightly ajar should Barnes want to resume talks. As of now, don't count on that happening.