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The Least Substantive Texas Basketball Recruiting Article Ever

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ESPNU

I’m pasting in this bit Jeff Haley wrote in last year’s recruiting chapter because it’s hilarious and still accurate:

“A number of years ago this chapter’s author was doing a radio hit for a sports-talk station somewhere in Texas when he was asked about recruiting. “I really don’t know anything about recruiting,” he said, when asked what chances the Longhorns had of landing Emmanuel Mudiay.

(It turned out, the chances were not good. Mudiay committed to SMU but never played college basketball, opting instead to play for a year in China when it became clear that the NCAA was not going to certify many of the classes on his transcript. That was when we learned that putting Deion Sanders in charge of a high school was a bad idea; the NCAA never did certify a single course from the short-lived Prime Prep Academy.)

What followed was an awkward pause -- it was as if this answer was the only one that the show’s host wasn’t anticipating. They had this guy on because he supposedly knew about Longhorn basketball, and all he wanted to talk about was Javan Felix’s turnover percentage.

And yet, here we are. Six years later and we are into year two of writing about recruiting. God help us all.”

I try to keep up with this stuff as best I can and I relay the things I learn when I can confirm them (or be transparent when I can’t confirm them). Having said that, there are others who are more attuned to recruiting than me. Dustin McComas is consistently plugged in to Texas Longhorns basketball recruiting; along with him, Tim Preston, and Justin Wells, you can stay as updated on Texas recruiting as your heart desires. If you want information that’s more national in nature, Kevin Flaherty and Andrew Slater are excellent sources of recruiting information.

The last couple of classes have a chance to build real momentum going forward as they’re more likely to be around for several years than significant chunks of the previous classes. That’s not to say that I’m against courting the one & done recruit, I’d rather see a player like Mohamed Bamba in burnt orange than not. Rather, I think it’s as important when you bring them in as it is to land them in the first place. Very few programs can plan on having multiple lottery picks per year in their recruiting classes, these days it’s basically Duke, Kentucky...and that’s about it. Even Kansas and North Carolina don’t bring in the one-year rentals at the rate of the Blue Devils and Wildcats, much less a school like Texas. While Texas can lease a NBA player here and there, it isn’t and shouldn’t be expected to be a core part of every class. It’s my opinion that Texas should be (to the extent they can be) selective in which lottery types they bring into the fold. Having a lottery talent come into a team full of 4-star freshman is good, having a lottery talent come into a team full of 4-star juniors is better. (All things being equal, I’d rather have a lottery guard than a lottery big, but that’s a discussion for another time.) Call it the Cherry On Top recruiting strategy where the lottery talent is the final piece on a team that’s hitting the peak of its talent cycle. Imagine Mo Bamba on Shaka’s first Texas team, you think they’re still a six seed that year? Chances are they’re a three or four seed instead. Even better, imagine Kevin Durant showing up a year later when DJ Augustin, Damion James, and AJ Abrams are pushing an Elite Eight appearance. These are the sort of right time, right place talent maximizations programs should be shooting for, though it’s admittedly threading a needle to land this sort of situation. Where I’m going with this is Shaka Smart and staff have shown the ability to recruit elite talent, so deciding which years are the ones to really go after that crown jewel is a significant angle in the recruiting process. The last two classes lead me to think they may be considering something like this, or at the very least are honing in on what types of players they want to consistently land with an eye on the big fish who show some interest in donning the burnt orange.

When you look at these two classes, patterns start to emerge.

  1. There is no such thing as too many ball-handling guards.
  2. Find guards good enough to start in the Big 12, but maybe not quite good enough to go pro after a year.
  3. Stretch-fours are highly valued.
  4. Athletic wings with ability to get to the rim are welcome.
  5. Very bouncy, raw bigs will find a home if they’re up for a multi-year improvement arc.

If this is the pattern they follow in subsequent classes, I’m on board. Players that fall into these five categories can be very versatile and allow for interesting offensive and defensive wrinkles. Versatility is the name of the game with the classic basketball positions becoming increasingly meaningless in favor of rangy players who can defend multiple positions and run a coherent PnR.

Projecting the Texas Roster

2019-2020 Projected Roster

Class Players
Class Players
Seniors (2019-2020) Elijah Long (G)
Juniors (2019-2020) Matt Coleman (G); Jase Febres (G/F); Royce Hamm (F); Jericho Sims (F)
Sophomores(2019-2020) Brock Cunningham (F); Jaxson Hayes (F); Kamaka Hepa (F); Gerald Liddell (F); Courtney Ramey (G)
Freshmen (2019-2020) Donovan Williams (G/F); Kai Jones (F); the rest of the 2019 class

Lo and behold, the first roster with zero Rick Barnes players. Kerwin Roach II is the last remaining Barnes recruit, and with him gone the 2019-2020 team is now 100% the creation of Shaka Smart’s staff.

Who Texas is Recruiting

Donovan Williams (6-5 Guard/Forward; Fort Bend, TX)

Donovan Williams committed to Texas on September 12th, spurning offers from the likes of Miami, Georgia, Texas A&M, and a handful of Big 12 schools. A 4-star shooting guard out of Fort Bend, Williams is currently ranked #51 in the Rivals 150. Williams is coming onto a squad that is likely without Andrew Jones but is otherwise has a number of options at the two or three, so Williams will have to earn his minutes when he gets to the 40 Acres.

PROJECTS TO: Ninurta, the Mesopotamian warrior god.

Kai Jones (6-10 Forward; Wolfeboro, NH)

I’m not sure why Shaka Smart is recruiting a 10-year-old skier. I mean, he definitely shreds, maybe that translates to the court somehow.

Hang on, that may not be who they’re recruiting. It would explain why he doesn’t look nearly 6-10. The other Kai Jones is an extremely long 6-10 center with a wingspan more resembling a Whooper Swan than a teenager. Most of his highlight videos feature what you’d expect from a 6-10 center: lots of dunks. He’s shown some signs of a mid-range game, but whether he can turn into something more than a dunker at the next level remains to be seen. Jones committed to Texas on October 15th.

PROJECTS TO: Sethlans, Etruscan god of fire and the forge.

Will Baker (7-0 Center; Austin, TX)

If you live in Austin, you’ve probably heard of Will Baker. He’s a 5-star (6-11 or 7-0, depending on who you ask) big at Westlake currently ranked #15 in the Rivals 150 and he has offers from pretty much every school you’d imagine. With Jericho Sims & Jaxson Hayes on campus and potentially Kai Jones and Jaden McDaniels in the same class, it might seem like a crowded roster for a big, but Baker doesn’t look to be the type who stays near the basket. He has a soft touch near the rim and his outside shot is developing nicely (he hit 40.6% from three on 64 attempts in AAU play this summer) so he could end up the stretchiest of stretch-fours in what could possibly be his only season at Texas. He has trimmed his list to a final four of Texas, UCLA, Georgetown, and Stanford, and many predictions have him picking the Longhorns. At this point it’s probably safe to say Texas is the favorite.

PROJECTS TO: Torngasoak, Inuit sky god

Patrick Williams (6-7 Guard/Wing; Charlotte, NC)

Patrick Williams is the #38 recruit in the Rivals 150, has a ton of high-major offers, and has trimmed his schools to a final ten of Texas, Arizona, Ohio State, Louisville, Florida State, Clemson, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Maryland, and NC State. He committed to Florida State for a bit, but reopened his recruiting not long after. He falls into category four, but he’s working on his long-range shooting. If the 39% from three he showed in AAU ball this summer becomes the norm, his top-40 ranking could get even higher.

PROJECTS TO: Resheph, Canaanite god of plague and healing

Jaden McDaniels (6-11 Forward; Federal Way, WA)

Will Baker is a high-level recruit, but Jaden McDaniels would be the crown jewel of the class if he comes to Texas. He’s the #4 recruit in Rivals 150 and Texas is fighting the likes of Kentucky, UCLA, Washington, and San Diego State. Wait, San Diego State? Is McDaniels a big fan of Anchorman or something? Maybe he wants to hang out in the locker room Kawhi Leonard was in for a few years. OK actually it’s mostly because his older brother Jalen McDaniels plays there. Still, it seems unlikely McDaniels end up in San Diego. Him making it to Austin is more likely than San Diego, but the roster situation at Texas if Will Baker commits makes landing McDaniels a tougher sell. If McDaniels does want to come to Texas, Shaka Smart’s staff will find a way to make it work.

PROJECTS TO: Ehecatl, Aztec god of wind

Malik Hall (6-7 Wing; Sunrise, IL, or Bel Aire, KS, or Wichita, KS, also maybe Mars)

Malik Hall is #49 in the Rivals 150, and his recruitment is a bit hard to decipher because he doesn’t really talk much about it. Purdue has been hard after him and leads for him to the best of anyone’s understanding, but Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Oregon all have official visits scheduled. Texas doesn’t have one yet, but they’re pushing for his fifth and final OV. Hall looks to be a bit raw at this point, but he’s strong and tall so he could play at the 3 or 4 depending on the lineup on the floor. Chances are his first year on campus would be backing up Kamaka Hepa, with the chance to do more as his Texas tenure progresses. UPDATE: Malik Hall trimmed his list to three and Texas was not on the list.

PROJECTS TO: Ryujin, Japanese dragon and god of the sea

Looking Forward

Aside from the understanding that Jeff Haley clearly put more effort into these chapters than any of us realized, the main takeaway is that Texas is finally in a position where they can build for depth rather than plugging holes each year. They’re going for a mix of multi-year players and potential one-year rentals with the understanding they’re likely to land more of the former than the latter. Texas might finally be out of the reactive and into the proactive, which is where they need to be (and stay) if they have designs on becoming nationally relevant on a consistent basis.