When Buzz Williams was announced as the Hokies' new men's basketball coach on March 21, most of the work for next year's squad had already been done for him. For one, James Johnson had acquired three signees in the 2014 recruiting class, all highly-rated and guys that were gaining some notoriety late in the recruiting process. It was at the very least a solid class. And then he got fired. But it appears as of now that those recruits are all still committed, and based on comments by T.J. Lang about the hiring, he seems solid. Lang and Justin Bibbs have repeatedly suggested that it is likely that all three will be sort of a package deal, and there are very few teams with three openings at this point, let alone three openings on the wing. It would be highly unlikely that if they stick to that pact, they will be able to find another school. Jalen Hudson has not made public comments about his commitment since the firing/hiring, so you'd be best served reading about his status through those other guys in the links listed above.
Secondly, the Hokies went in to the 2013-2014 season with a full complement of scholarship players for the first time since...well, I don't know how to finish that sentence, but just know that it's been a REALLY long time. Granted, putting Will Johnston on scholarship because of Donte Clark's failure to qualify at Virginia Tech kind of skews that number, but the record will show 13 scholarships, the maximum number in Division I basketball, were given out.
Then, Marquis Rankin, expected to be a key contributor and one of only three remaining players from Seth Greenberg's now infamous 2011 recruiting class tabbed "the best in school history," decided to quit the team, freeing up a spot in the scholarship department. Add to that Trevor Thompson's quick decision to transfer upon the hiring of Williams (and/or maybe some other stuff too) and now the Hokies have two additional scholarships to work with in the 2014 class that they can/probably should use if they can lock down a player with the requisite level of talent at a position of need. The problem is, Williams doesn't even have his full coaching staff in place and has to make up for the perception that the Hokies' basketball program is not serious about basketball. He also has to atone for some serious bad Jim Weaver juju with how the Seth Greenberg firing was handled; and the way the Hokies played the last two years under Johnson. There is not much left out there this late in the recruiting process either, with the spring signing period so close. There's certainly a lot of work now to do for Williams and Co. (whoever that is) over the next few weeks/months.
What's important is to take stock of the remaining talent available, especially at positions the Hokies hold at a premium. The answer, as I said above, isn't much, but there are still SOME players of value left and some ways to get creative, which we'll explore below. Luckily, the Hokies have had some success rounding out recruiting classes by adding last-minute guys. Two names in particular that come to mind: the Hokies' young starting point guard, Devin Wilson, and their all-but-guaranteed starting center next year, Joey van Zegeren, both of which were nabbed late in the recruiting process. Wilson was added midway through April a year ago and van Zegeren was an early June addition to the aforementioned 2011 class. But, examining those additions more carefully might explain how the Hokies were able to add such quality players that late in the game.
Van Zegeren was an international recruit, who infrequently come to the United States to play college ball (though that number is increasing). As a result, most coaches do little more than keep tabs on players abroad and focus on homegrown talent. In fact, if it wasn't for Rob Ehsan, who was just coming over from six years under Gary Williams at Maryland, the Hokies would have never discovered JVZ. Wilson, by contrast, was a multi-sport recruit, and had the college basketball world convinced he was going to play college football. So by the time that he decided to take his talents to the hardwood, the number of major conference teams with scholarships available, and those with a gaping hole at point guard no less, were few and far between. Wilson, much like Thompson and Emelogu, represent diamonds that Johnson found on the recruiting circuit, where he did some very good work given the circumstances.
But short of landing an international prospect (usually a project, as those who have followed van Zegeren's career trajectory can attest) or lucking into another multi-sport athlete who decides in favor of basketball late, it is unlikely that the Hokies replicate those two recruiting coups in 2014. And since I admittedly know little to nothing about international players the ilk of those wanting to come over here to play college ball, let's just put that to bed right now and focus on what I/we DO know is out there.
First off, let's establish what the Hokies need. The need for AT LEAST one big is undeniable, and if available, the preference should be to take two bigs with the scholarships remaining, as there are only currently three scholarship bigs on the roster, and only two with experience: van Zegeren and C.J. Barksdale (the third being redshirt-freshman Maurice Kirby). The talent there is also in question, as van Zegeren and Barksdale should probably be a part of a rotation at their positions, and Kirby was the only member of the 2013 class that James Johnson chose to redshirt. Even when benching Cadarian Raines for large spells of the 2013 season, Johnson remained steadfast with the decision to redshirt Kirby (the right decision in my determination based on what I had seen out of Kirby), opting instead to give those minutes to Trevor Thompson and walk-ons Christian Beyer and Greg Donlon. That speaks volumes.
The other need, if any, would be at point guard, where behind Devin Wilson, there is not truly another player that fits that bill on the roster, one of the reasons that he led the Hokies in minutes a year ago (34.9 per game) despite only being a freshman. But if some combination of Adam Smith, who spent most of the season out with an injury, Ben Emelogu and incoming recruit Jalen Hudson, who mentioned that he wants to play both guard spots in this article back at the time of his commitment, can spell Wilson by handling the ball and running the offense, that need will evaporate. Also remember Malik Mueller, who was declared ineligible last year just prior to the season, will get the chance to make his mark on the position this year, assuming he's eligible this fall. He is, however, more of a combo-guard, and was a project in the making at point under Johnson.
So, with that out of the way at long last, we can begin our hunt for eligible recruits. For the purposes of this search (as there are no indications who Williams has contacted/offered yet) I only have included uncommitted players inside of the four major sites' top-100-247 (depending on the site) ranking and players who the Hokies have had contact with, offered, have visited campus or appear interested in Virginia Tech. This means I am excluding the 22 uncommitted players (and one player who opted for the draft) who appear in that range that do not have a Tech OR Marquette offer, visit or any interest indicated as of now. Given Williams' hire and Thompson's transfer, that could put several of those prospects in play for the Hokies, at which point we will report on that. But for now, we stick to the formula established above, because, we're not the pipe dream manufacturers.
WHERE DO WE START WITH THE WISHLIST?
It's also worth noting that 7-foot power forward Michael Cekovsky, the No. 39 player nationally according to 247Sports (and No. 143 by their composite rankings) attends Canarias Basketball Academy in Spain, the same academy the Hokies poached JVZ from. I don't know if that will afford the Hokies any chance (especially as Louisville, which needs post players for next year assuming Montrezl Harrell declares for the draft, are considered his leaders), but I thought it was worth mentioning. Lastly, keep in mind that ESPN lists the top-100, Rivals the top-150, 247Sports the top-247 and since their composite ranking keep going, I stopped at 247 there as well, if for nothing else to prevent bias against their rankings and considering that Trevor Thompson was ranked No. 163 in their rankings a year ago and No. 189 in their composite rankings. And since getting a player of equal or greater value is kind of the point here after Williams let him go, I feel like going an extra 58-84 spots down the rankings is more than fair. The database below is the list of uncommitted players according to rank and which site(s) they appear on.
|Name||Pos.||Height||Weight||City/State||H.S.||ESPN||247Sports/Composite||Rivals||Tech offer||Marquette offer|
|Myles Turner||C||6'10"-7'0"||223-240 lbs.||Bedford, TX||Trinity H.S.||#2||#4/#5||#6||No||Yes*|
|Josh Cunningham||PF||6'6.5"-6'7"||180-195 lbs.||Chicago, IL||Morgan Park H.S.||#99||#120/#107||#80||Yes**||No|
|D'Angelo Allen||SF||6'6"-6'7"||185-190 lbs.||Dallas, TX||Kimball||NA||#201/#156||NA||No||Yes|
|Richard Lee||SG||6'1"-6'3"||165-200 lbs.||Fort Lauderdale, FL||Blanche Ely||NA||#182/#172||NA||Yes***||No|
|Patrick McCaw||SG||6'5"||180-190 lbs.||St. Louis, MO||Montrose Christian School||NA||#210/#225||NA||Yes****||No|
|Jeff Garrett||SF||6'7"||210 lbs.||Oldsmar, FL||Oldsmar||NA||#153/NA||NA||Yes*****||No|
*According to Rivals, Marquette offered Turner
**According to Rivals, Tech offered Cunningham
***According to Rivals and 247Sports, Tech offered Lee and he is considered "warm"
****According to ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports, Tech offered McCaw, and according to 247, he is considered "cool"
*****According to ESPN, Scout and 247Sports, Tech offered Lee, and according to 247, he is considered "cool"
Looking at the chart, it should be pretty clear that Myles Turner is not coming to Virginia Tech. Even if Williams made a connection in a BIG way at Marquette, the No. 4/5/6 prospect in the nation is coming to Virginia Tech to play basketball like I'm going to be drafted this year. So go ahead and mark him off your list.
While Josh Cunningham would be a HUGE get for the Hokies right now given his position and national rank, he was apparently an offer from the old staff (Ramon Williams was his recruiter), and while his interest level, which was considered "medium," along with 17 other schools, four of which he took visits to last fall, may have risen with the Buzz Williams hire, I think the Hokies have some pretty long odds to win his services. And while I presume the offer is still good, there is no guarantee that prospects keep offers when staffs change.
D'Angelo Allen has a Marquette offer, or did (again with the staff change), but there is no indication if Williams plans to offer him at Tech, and given what you're about to read, it would seem unlikely. He is a small forward, a position at which the Hokies have several bodies (Marshall Wood, incoming recruits T.J. Lang and Justin Bibbs/sophomore Ben Emelogu probably have the ability to play up) and don't need to waste a scholarship on right now unless they get top-line talent. Allen may qualify for that, as I have not yet watched his tape, but given that he has yet to be offered by Tech and that there are more pressing needs, I don't think he'll be coming to Blacksburg unless Tech gets in a pinch.
Richard Lee is another talented shooting guard, a position where the Hokies boast their largest numbers and likely their most talent. Additionally, if the Hokies were to seriously pursue Lee, despite his being listed as "warm" by 247, they would have to duke it out with the likes of Florida and Miami for him, a fight I don't see the Hokies being able to win for several reasons (geography, program prestige/current success, playing time, you name it). And there is no indication as to when Lee was offered, so he may not still even hold this scholarship or perhaps isn't being pursued as aggressively by Williams.
Patrick McCaw is another shooting guard (although again, one who could possibly play up to small forward) that the previous staff offered and was being recruited by Ramon Williams. There is no indication if the offer still stands, but according to 247, McCaw is "cool" on the Hokies.
ENOUGH WITH THE SPECULATION, WHAT DO WE KNOW FOR SURE?
Now to the interesting stuff. Jeff Garrett is a NEW offer, as in, an offer made by Buzz Williams on March 25. While Garrett recently named his top-5 (South Alabama, Oregon State, Louisiana Tech, Murray State and Alabama in no particular order), I don't see any of those schools being a particular impediment that would keep the Hokies from being on an even playing field for them, especially with the addition of Williams and the chance to play in the ACC vs., well, the SEC, PAC-whatever they are now and I'm not even going to dignify the rest. His coach says he profiles as a small forward, but can and has played up to the 4, which again, would be a HUGE plus for the Hokies. He'll obviously be one of the big guys to keep an eye on in the next few weeks.
And then there's a prospect who is not listed on the 2014 high school rankings the Williams has offered. That player: JUCO power forward Willie Atwood, who was offered by Williams March 22, the day which Thompson was given his release. Atwood, who is listed as a small forward on other sites, is rated as a 4-star player by 247 and ranked as the No. 6 overall JUCO player in the nation and the No. 3 JUCO power forward nationally. Atwood has just begun to schedule visits, and has dates lined up for Florida State and Iowa, considered the two favorites for him as of now. But the Hokies have apparently vaulted themselves into his top-5 with the offer and it would stand to reason that they will be pursuing him harder than anyone else at this point given their need and almost empty board. He is certainly another one to watch.
Then there is of course the most-mentioned player when it comes to the Buzz Williams connection: Malek Harris, the lone unsigned 2014 Marquette commitment. While according to the four major recruiting sites, the Hokies have yet to offer Harris (which could be political to avoid Marquette flipping out), the 247Sports Crystal Ball has the Hokies at an even 50-50 to land Harris' services. And given his recent past, something that might have Marquette and/or Williams souring on him before coming to Tech, he may be the Hokies' for the taking if Williams can stomach coaching what now appears to be a problem player.
If the Hokies were to land one or more of these players and have them sign a National Letter of Intent (NLI), they would be required to sign during the regular signing period, which runs from April 16-May 21 this year. However, it is entirely possible to join a team on scholarship without signing an NLI. It's simply a good idea for both the player's rights and the team's protection against the student transferring. But at this point, I wouldn't think that if the Hokies found a prospect worth grabbing, that they would be averse to adding him if he were unable to sign a NLI.
While there are other recruits that are supposedly on the Hokies' horizon (via the prospects tab on Scout or the Scout Look group in the targets tab on 247), at this moment, this grouping of prospects is far too lengthy and counter-productive to post. Plus, if you trust Scout (and I no longer trust Scout), they have listed several Hokie "prospects" who have long been committed to other schools. So it's important to consult as many different of the four major recruiting services as you can when in doubt. I encourage you to take a look for yourself. In the mean time, we'll be sure to let you know if and when anything breaks in the recruiting arena. Be sure to check back in with us here at Gobbler Country.