Summer 2018 Strategy and Expectations
Previously: Part 2 - Roster Needs
Welcome to the concluding entry in our short series kicking off the summer 2018 recruiting session. In the first entry, we laid out our foundational philosophy on ideal roster construction; namely, aiming to have up to 4 ball-handling guards, three big scoring wings, and 4 athletic posts eligible and ACC-ready in any given season, being okay if we fall a body short due to late attrition. In the second entry, we looked at the projected depth chart for the upcoming three seasons to see what, and when, the staff would need to fill scholarships to get close to the target roster.
Today, the focus narrows down to what goals we think the staff is going to be trying to achieve over the next 6 months. For reference, we've created the Summer Recruiting Calendar page <link> on our site, to track the various NCAA recruiting periods and the AAU showcase events. We're going to continually update that page throughout the Spring and Summer to effectively serve as a running chronology of Virginia's recruiting activity... where the staff is traveling to, which recruits are visiting Charlottesville, what names are coming off the board, etc. As we move through the following recruiting phases, continue to track that and our Big Board <link> to stay up to date with all the activity.
Phase 1: Final 2018 Additions
April & May
The first thing the staff is focusing on is rounding out the roster for the 2018-19 season. In Part 2 we identified the need for at least 1 more guard/wing for next season, which provides quality depth behind Kyle and Ty, allows Kihei to come along slowly, and let's Tony slide Hunter to the small ball 4 role for extended periods. The staff is going to attempt to meet this need through one of two avenues:
Graduate Transfer - Similar to the staff's take of Nigel Johnson last summer. We expect the staff to look hard at this option, but at the same time be very strict about taking a good fit, one who requires minimal "fixing" of fundamentals (i.e. - no one who's spent time incubating under bad coaching, á lá Nigel under Rutgers' Steve Pikiell). Additionally, most grad transfers are looking to start, so with our starting backcourt firmly established, expect the pool of prospects to be a small one. Someone who was a proven 6th man at a P5 school may be the best option, as they'll be more likely to accept that same role on our contending squad.
2018 Freshman - This could be either a late bloomer (such as our 2014 pursuit of Devonte Graham) or a kid who decommits from another program (such as our 2014 snag of Marial Shayok). It could also be a 2019 target that reclassifies at the last minute.
Either way we go, the preference will be for a guard/wing with the chops to get to the rim, with a slight tilt towards a bigger wing who fits more with long term needs (in other words, won't overlap with the 2019 commitment of Casey Morsell), and that's a skill set desperately needed to balance Kyle and Ty's shooting. Of course any prospect has to at least be competent from 3. Neither option is a sure thing to happen; the pools of both categories who will fit with our program and needs are small ones.
There's also a tiny chance the staff takes a late addition big man, if they feel desperate enough to get an offensive upgrade over Salt, but put that likelihood at under 5% for now. The merits of such a move make for an interesting debate, but frankly at the end of it all it just doesn't feel like something the staff would do.
Names of specific targets, either graduate transfers or incoming freshman, at this point are slim pickings, and those names will come out of nowhere on short notice then be closed out a week later, so keep an eye on our Twitter (@HoosPlace) and the HOOS Place Big Board for the latest status of any individual players. For right now, only grad transfer South Dakota guard Matt Mooney has been linked to Virginia, though there's little indication Virginia is going to be a heavy hitter in this one.
Phase 2: Current 2019 Targets and Traditional Transfers
April through June
This is the meat of Virginia's activity over the next couple of months. As we laid out in Part 2, Virginia has a need to bring in at least 3 players as part of the 2019 class, and most of them will be stepping into immediate playing roles.
To some degree, what the staff does here may depend upon what they can get out of Phase 1. As taking a late-available class of 2018 freshman is on the table (vice a graduate transfer), it's possible one of our 2019-2020 needs is met through a 2018 commitment. But if not - and it's likely it's not - the staff has numerous offers out at every position group, and will spend the early weeks of the recruiting cycle trying to get relatively early commitments out of them. Even if commitments don't come, the staff will try to spend the next two months determining whether it's a recruitment worth sticking with for the long haul, or whether it's time to find new targets.
At guard, Virginia struck early with the commitment of WCAC/Team Takeover (TTO) combo Casey Morsell. The 4-star, 6'2" guard out of DC checks a variety of Tony's boxes, and should arrive in Charlottesville as an excellent fit into both the depth chart and the locker room. He's incredibly well rounded, and will spend his freshman year platooning with a sophomore Kihei Clark as backups to Ty and Kyle before he would be ready to step into a starting job as a sophomore. After Morsell, Virginia also has offers out to his AAU teammate Justin Moore, South Carolina guard Josiah James, Pennsylvania guard Maceo Austin, and Florida guard Jahmius Ramsey. There isn't much heat on any of these players at the moment, so Virginia will spend a few weeks feeling them out to see if they can become a contender, or they'll move on. As to how these players fit with Morsell, most of these players are too talented not to take, having frames and/or skillsets that would earn them plenty of time alongside Casey, especially by their sophomore year once Ty and Kyle graduate, giving Tony his back-court of the future to build around.
At wing, (and some of these players may be considered 'tweeners with guard) Virginia doesn't have a ton of activity going on at the moment. Early offers went out to the trio of guard/forwards Drake London (California), Isaac Okoro (Georgia), and Josh Green (Australia, prepping in FL). None have visited, and similar to many of the guards above, the staff will try to see if they stand a real shot over the coming weeks. The newest offer goes to a bigger forward type, 6'8" Jae'lyn Withers. Given the success of De'Andre Hunter, and the apparent certainty he goes pro no later than next summer, the staff is going to be looking hard and heavy in this class for another 6'8"-ish wing forward with the versatility to defend the 4-spot, and Withers is a perfect fit. HOO Friends can view the first Withers Scouting Video to see why we think he is such a perfect fit (and look out for more videos soon).
At post, the staff identified a number of top targets early and has been working hard to see if any could be the answer. As we said in Part 2, there's a real need for a banger with some offensive touch out of this position to take Jack Salt's place. The names to watch are Pennsylvania's Oscar Tshiebwe (teammate of Maceo Austin) and Eric Dixon, New York's Aidan Igiehon, South Carolina's DJ Burns, Texas's DJ Thorpe and Will Baker, and Kansas's Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Frankie Badocchi's HS teammate). I purposefully left off Blue-Blood-bound Armando Bacot, who we don't see ever ending up at UVA. Tshiebwe and Dixon both visited for games this season. The immediate two names to watch will be Dixon and Burns, both of whom have indicated they want to decide this spring, though neither has UVA in front (Burns recently visited Tennessee and reportedly loved it though no announcement date is set; Dixon is largely predicted to pick Villanova on April 17th).
At the same time the staff will spend April and May evaluating the traditional transfer market. The ideal transfer is a sit-one-play-three type (a freshman who, after a redshirt year, would have three eligibile years remaining, like Anthony Gill), who would come eligible at the same time as the 2019 freshmen; while having one fewer year of eligibility, they would have an edge in proven experience. This player would slot into a projected 2022 graduation year, along with Clark and Badocchi, irmproving class balance. A sit-one-play-two could also be considered, who'd slot with Huff and Marco Anthony in the 2021 graduation year. If I had to guess on a position that'll be targeted for transfer, I'd say wing position, though due to a lack of names at this point, it's pure speculation. The only traditional transfer name linked to Virginia so far is former UVA decommit Sacha Killeya-Jones, leaving Kentucky, though I'd personally be shocked if Virginia is the destination.
The staff will really hope to have one of the above names committed by Memorial Day, in addition to the one they've already won with Morsell. Most of the rest, if they aren't close to pledging to Virginia by the time June starts, Virginia will start to shift their focus to players that emerge in...
Phase 3: Identify New 2019 Targets
May through July
While the staff is trying to close out on offers already extended, they'll start looking for the next hidden gem on the AAU circuits. These months bring a host of grassroots events, from the traveling pool play events for Adidas, Nike, and Under Armour, their championship and all-star events, to some smaller unaffiliated events (such as the NY2LA series). Our staff will be jet-setting all over the country putting eyes on hundreds of prospects.
Some of these will be to check in on the progress of current evaluees who don't yet have offers. There are a lot of rising seniors the staff has liked in workouts or on their local HS teams, but the staff wants to see them put it all together in high level competition before formally extending an offer. Some names to watch here are:
Guards Deuce Dean (SC), Mike Green (SC), Kira Lews (AL), DJ Carton (IA), Kyle Strurdivant (GA), and Tyler Bertram (VT)
Wings Jaiden Ledaire (CT), Seth Lundy (PA), Quinn Slazinski (WV), Greg Gantt (NC), Max Agbonkpolo (CA), Ismael Massoud (NY), Aundre Hyatt (VA), and Michael Christmas (VA)
Posts Mahamadou Diawara (WV), Tariq Balgoun (VA), Malcolm Wilson (SC), Tre Mitchell (PA), and Qudus Wahab (VA)
They'll also be keeping their eyes peeled for any new players who pop out, and if so will reach out through their HS/AAU coaches to see if there's any reciprocated interest. Virginia has found some excellent players at this stage of the game, such as Malcolm Brogdon and De'Andre Hunter. At this point the staff usually won't start pushing with any of these kids - their schedules are incredibly full in these months, and organizing a campus visit is difficult, but instead be in relationship-building mode.
Moreso, around this same time, Kihei Clark and Kody Stattmann (injury recovery permitting) will be arriving on Grounds, and will start summer workouts with the rest of their teammates. The team taking the floor together with the newcomers, plus former bench players like Marco, Huff (injury recovery permitting), and Badocchi getting more run out of the shadows of Devon and Wilkins, will let the staff really make some better-informed decisions about what they have with the current players and more importantly what they don't. This will reshape their recruiting strategy over the back half of the summer, once they can better answer questions like a) how soon does it look like Kody will be ready to contribute? b) is Marco developing the ball skills to be a big point in the Devon mold? or c) what kind of stretch/perimeter game has Badocchi developed? Answers to these questions, coupled with any commitments achieved in Phases 1 and 2, will help focus the staff on which players identifed in Phase 3 are at positions of need. Then they'll enter...
Phase 4: Close 2019 Recruiting / Pivot to 2020
August & September
This is hopefully when the staff, armed with only one or two spots left to recruit for, and an improved understanding of where the more important needs are, prioritize a handful of remaining targets and work their butts off to get them onto Grounds. August and September are the big commitment months... AAU season is over for 95% of the kids (a few all-star events really all that remain), and this is when they're finally free to start road-tripping with their families to all the colleges that have made their short lists. Virginia will be working hard to close on their Plan A recruits in August, and moving on quickly to their Plan B's and even C's if they must, all before the end of September.
And at this point, this staff will pivot their mindsets to 2020; knowing who they've gotten through the 2018 and the meat of the 2019 recruiting cycles, they'll be able to pinpoint needs for the 2020 class (spoiler alert, a lot, with projeted graduations of Guy, Jerome, and Diakite) and try to recapture some of that fall/winter 2014 magic when the staff got three early public commitments for their big 2016 class (Jerome, Guy, and Sacha Killeya-Jones). The staff already is thinking 2020, and has given a few kids scholarship offers at this point (we're tracking 4, but there may be others we're unaware of). The staff of course isn't pushing at this point, and won't start until September when they've drafted their initial 2020 needs list and had the benefit of watching these already identified kids, plus any new ones met over the summer, in the AAU environment. 2020 names to nominally track this summer include guards Jeremy Roach (DC), Dwon Odom (GA), Lynn Greer III (PA), and Norance Berry (NC), wings Henry Coleman (VA) and Shemar Morrow (AZ), and posts Isaiah Todd (VA), Mark Williams (VA), Mason Hooks (CA), and Hunter Dickinson (DC).
We said back in our recruiting Crossroads series in January that this recruiting cycle is an absolutely critical one for the staff. This may be the last season it can count on its full core of high-upside 2016-recruit talents, as Hunter garners pro interest and Kyle, Ty, and Mamadi enter the back half of their college careers. The staff must bring in the right players to ultimately replace them in a year or two if the program hopes to remain atop the ACC landscape. Frankly, the months of April and May will tell us a ton. The goal was strike quick, either with high schoolers or transfers, to get two well-regarded, Plan A targets committed before Memorial Day, allowing Virginia to recapture a degree of momentum and buzz on the recruiting trail that it hasn't had in almost 3 years. They've gotten one in Morsell, and it's a massive victory on a number of fronts, one that creates much-needed positive buzz around the program. That buzz will enable the staff to build on success with more success, great players wanting to play with other great players (remember, Hunter committed while on a C'Ville visit with Jerome, Guy, and Huff). With Morsell on board, the staff has one Plan A recruit taken care of; now it's time to go find two more.
And a reminder that to keep up with all the new names that will cycle through our consciousness over the next 6 months, you can always reference our Recruiting Big Board <link>, which is kept up to date with recruiting targets and players of interest, along with relevant links to articles on those players and information about visits, etc., as well as our Spring/Summer 2018 Recruiting Calendar <link>.