It's been a while since we've talked basketball here on GC, but there's been some recent recruiting noise that Buzz Williams and his staff are making. With Satchel Pierce and Jalen Hudson seeking to pursue their college basketball careers elsewhere, along with Devin Wilson playing his games in Lane this fall, there were a few roster spots open for the upcoming seasons.
One of those spots will be filled by Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who announced that he will be playing his college ball at Virginia Tech in 2017.
Alexander-Walker is a talented 4-star prospect who is an excellent pickup for Buzz Williams' squad. Originally from Canada, Alexander-Walker moved south and played his high school ball at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in St. Louis. He had an official visit just this past weekend.
Now for a quick scouting report. At 6-5, he brings some length to the backcourt, similar to what Jalen Hudson brought to the team. His 24/7 profile lists him as a SG, but his handles and vision are good enough to where he can be a combo-guard at the next level, so he'll bring plus versatility in case someone gets hurt. While not the biggest guy or most explosive athlete - only listed at 175 pounds - Walker is a silky smooth athlete who freezes defenders on his way to the rack. His balance and control is phenomenal for a junior in high school. A lot of high school players abuse their athletic ability and don't develop their off-hand well enough until they get to the next level. However, Walker shows the ability to be able to switch hands with ease.
The main thing he has to improve on is his strength. Being 175 pounds in college with that skinny of a frame means he'll be physically bullied once he gets to college. Obviously he still has a year to improve on that. Increasing his lower body strength specifically will improve his vertical explosiveness which he'll need when he drives to the rim to avoid shot blockers. Alexander-Walker has good shot mechanics as well but improving on his consistency in that area will make Buzz Williams a very happy man once he arrives in Blacksburg. Here's a mixtape if you're interested.
Other than Alexander-Walker, there's a few other names to keep an eye on. Markell Johnson is one of them (link to 24/7 profile ).
Reclassified 2016 G Markell Johnson said Virginia Tech making strongest push. West Va, Florida, Louisville, Ohio St, NC State, Xavier in mix— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) May 5, 2016
As you can see, Johnson is a popular prospect that has been linked to several schools. Interestingly, Johnson was regarded as a 2017 prospect, but decided to skip a grade and reclassify, which made him eligible to play this fall/winter. The Hokies likely ramped up their recruiting efforts to nab Johnson after they found out Hudson was transferring to keep their depth in the backcourt. A 4-star PG from Cleveland East Technical in Ohio (we seem to have a great Ohio connection), Johnson visited Blacksburg in February which stands as his only visit to any school. Right now, 80% of 24/7's Crystal Ball predictions have him going to Louisville, but that's nowhere close to a done deal. With Justin Robinson and Seth Allen already at the PG spot, I'm not sure whether or not Johnson will find a niche early in his career as a Hokie if he indeed decides to come here.
As a player, Johnson is an explosive and twitchy athletic beast at the PG position. He's a guy that can just hang in the air and seemingly float there while he finishes. The problem with him being so dang athletic is that it's hard to judge his technical ability because he can just outclass people with his physical abilities. For example, the first half of the video below is him dunking. Aside from his athleticism, I see a player full of confidence, whether that's taking it to the hole or pulling up from behind the arc. He won't be able to rely on solely on his athleticism at the next level and I think there's still some question marks about his handles for a PG. With a little bit of seasoning, I think Johnson could be a force in the backcourt. He's got the ability to contribute defensively in his freshman year while he develops his offensive game.
If/when he commits, we'll have more on Johnson. He is supposed to announce his commitment "soon", but in the world of recruiting, it's sometimes tough to tell what soon really means. If I had to guess, however, I would expect something in the next week.
The third guy is Evan Maxwell, a Center who is a transfer from Liberty. The Hokies are in his top-three.
Liberty 6-11 sophomore transfer Evan Maxwell told ESPN he has narrowed list to Baylor, Virginia Tech and BC. Plans to visit VT and Baylor.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) April 14, 2016
Physically, Maxwell is what you want in a big man. At 6-11, 245 pounds he's got enough bulk to not get outmuscled in the paint. In his sophomore season for Liberty, Maxwell posted some solid stats. He scored 10 points per game, shooting 63.7% from the field and also tallied about five rebounds per game in about 20 minutes per contest. He greatly improved his offensive game from his freshman campaign, increasing his Offensive Win Shares from 0.1 to 1.2 and his Offensive Rating jumped up to 106.5. The Hokies could still use bigs that can score in an "iso" situation. LeDay won't be here in two years and he's one of the few bigs on the roster that can create for himself, so Maxwell would be a welcome addition. However, Maxwell isn't an elite defender. He's not an effective shot blocker with a 1.1% Block Rate this past year, which is much lower than you would expect given his size and playing in the Big South.
I'm not too keen on transfers who didn't absolutely dominate at a lower level of competition - for example, Johnny Hamilton averaged 10 points and 9 rebounds at Jacksonville College and hasn't been much of a factor here. There's no set decision date for Maxwell, and he probably won't be in a rush because he won't be eligible to play this fall regardless.