Virginia got another dose of good news this week with the verbal pledge of 2020 SG/SF Jabri Abdur-Rahim. The New Jersey product is the highest rated recruit Bennett has secured in four years, since the vaunted 2016 class was finalized. So what does this commitment mean for the program?
Jabri comes with almost too-perfect a profile. 6'-6" with a near 6'-10" wingspan, he perfectly fits the mold of "big guard" that both high major clubs and the NBA covet these days. He'll have the versatility to play on- or off-ball in the backcourt and the ability to defend the 1-3 right out of the gate; 1-4 with a full offseason in Curtis' strength program.
He's the son of former NBA all-star Shareef Abdur-Rahim, but Shareef is not your ordinary former NBA star. While he starred on the court, he also prioritized his academics and his post-playing career, returning to Cal-Berkeley to finish his degree years after being drafted, and rocketing through the NBA front office heirarchy since his retirement to hold first an assistant VP position with the league before becoming commissioner of the G-League. He also prioritizes philanthropy, and there's every reason to believe Jabri will arrive with the same incredible high-character fit.
Jabri has been a star on the rise since he entered high school, being a national recruit in California and New Jersey before an injury sidelined him during last summer's AAU circuit and his profile declined. But once he returned to the hardwood last fall for Blair Academy (also the former home to Mike Tobey and Marial Shayok) he quickly reminded national scouts why he'd been a Top 50 recruit as an underclassman.
He's firmly back in the national rankings across all the scouting services (28th at ESPN, 41st at Rivals, 61st at 247) after pouring it in on the Nike EYBL circuit in the spring. But his final coming out party may have occurred on the hardwood of his future home.
He shined at the NBPA Top 100 Camp held in June at JPJ. He led the event in per-game scoring, doing it with lethality at every level amongst some of the best competition in grassroots high school ball, and while every top coaching staff in D-1 was watching. Here are some glowing reviews from national press after his performance:
Eric Bossi at Rivals (link): Why he was one of my best: Abdur-Rahim put up big numbers during the spring. He also shot the ball a ton and his team wasn't the most successful. At camp, Abdur-Rahim was still a big scorer at 15.8 points per game but his efficiency (47.6% from three) and overall game were much improved.
Corey Evans at Rivals (link): MOST POLISHED: A giant half-court orchestrator that boasts a supreme feel and pace for the game, Abdur-Rahim has a skill set that should translate seamlessly to the college game and beyond. One of the top scorers on the Nike EYBL circuit this spring, Abdur-Rahim picked up right where he left off. His three-level scoring abilities were on point which is why his recruitment has taken off.
Justin Young at HoopSeen (link): He was one of the best shooters in the camp, drilling shots from all three levels. His spot and pop, pull-up jumper was clicking on opening night. Abdur-Rahim was consistent and productive from three. Abdur-Rahim was one of the best shooters in the camp, drilling 10-21 from three over the course of four games. He was confident throughout the camp and didn’t shy away from taking and making tough shots. Perhaps his best trait is his confidence. He was locked in and didn’t let up.
Ronnie Flores at Ball Is Life (link): The son of former NBA standout Shareef Abdur-Rahim is one of the most talented wing scorers in attendance at the NBPA Top 100 camp and has impressed with his ability to score at all three levels. He is not the swiftest or most athletic, but Abdur-Rahim knows how to break down defenders and change direction. He also uses change of speed to lull defenders to sleep or keep them off-balance, and is one of the camps leading scorers (15.8 ppg). He’s also had the long range shot falling (10-of-21 from 3-point range through Friday) and has displayed marked improvement in his overall game in the past calendar year.
Jabri is a scorer. Don't get me wrong, he'll be a complete, well-rounded player for Bennett. He'll set teammates up. He'll defend. He'll rebound. But at the end of the day, he's coming to Charlottesville to be the next great alpha wing scorer in the mold of Joe Harris, Justin Anderson, Marial Shayok, and DeAndre Hunter (all of whom went on to be all-conference players and be drafted by the NBA). He can do it at all three levels: attacking the rim, pulling up mid-range, and firing away from 3-point range. Over the full weekend of scrimmages at the NBPA Camp, he reportedly hit 14-of-28 from three, 50% on high volume! The ability to space the floor is only becoming more important with the deepened 3-point line, and he'll be another great weapon that opponents hate having to defend.
So without further ado, let's watch some highlights:
The Roster Impact
Before anyone asks, no, he's not a reclassification option. He just turned 17 a few months ago and will finish out his high school career at Blair this upcoming season, matriculating next summer. He'll join the 2020 class and be as nearly immediately ready as most any Bennett recruit prior.
We're tagging him as a small forward due to his length as well as the ample depth at guard already in place, though really he can play smaller as necessary.
His freshman year, we will conservatively project him to come off the bench at the outset. The 2020-21 starting lineup will very likely be Clark (Jr) - Morsell (So) - Woldetensae (Sr) - Hauser (RS Sr) - Huff (RS Sr), which would be among the nation's most impressive on its own. But Jabri's presence will mirror what Justin Anderson brought as the 6th man in 2013-14 and what Hunter did as the 6th man in 2017-18; he'll provide an elite scoring boost off the bench and work his way towards starter-equivalent minutes as the year progresses.
Our second unit that year will be deep and talented (JAR, with fellow four-star rookies Beekman and McCorkle, could join veteran reserves Stattmann, McKoy, Badocchi, Shedrick, and Caffaro) and there's no reason not to see it as a Top 10 team and national title contender that year.
Jabri's sophomore year will be his true chance to break out. With Woldetensae and Hauser graduated, the starting position will be his to cement. He's the most natural fit to be the lead scoring option on a team with a variety of threats. Though that season is still 2+ years away and hard to predict with any certainty, there's still up to a potential 10 returners that year, from which a dangerous Top 7/8 can be drawn. Attrition may occur in that interim, but so too will Tony have two offseasons to backfill any losses with transfers or stud 2021 recruits.
Just like the year prior, Virginia will hope to be a title contender again in this season, and it will be Jabri's turn to be the star of that team with the similarly all-ACC worthy Casey Morsell the Brogdon to his Harris/Anderson.
Yes, this commitment will hopefully be that final piece that dials in Virginia as a Final Four threat for a couple more years to come.
After that, things get murky, as Abdur-Rahim has very real two-and-done potential. As he values education, I won't come out and say he'll be in a hurry to get to the NBA. But if we see Bennett develop him as expertely as every previous four-star guard to arrive in Charlottesville, then after two years the NBA may be offering too good a draft slot to turn down.
The Recruiting Impact
Before we dive into what this means for recruiting going forward, can we pause for a second and talk about how this caps an incredible run by Bennett over the last 16 months?
As the calendar flipped to April of 2018, Bennett was enduring a bit of a cold stretch. Over the previous 24+ months, he'd suffered on-court disappointments including the Syracuse Elite Eight collapse, the Nichols dismissal, the Florida R32 blowout, and of course UMBC (acknowledging also the successes of 2018's #1 ranking and ACC championships). But the recruiting over that span had been icy. Following the September 2015 pledge by De'Andre Hunter, Bennett had gone two full recruiting cycles without a single Top 150 recruit committing to Virginia.
But Tony has found a new groove of late, starting last April when four star combo guard Casey Morsell committed. He was followed that offseason by the commitments of four star 2018 center Francisco Caffaro, former four-star transfer Braxton Key, and four star 2019 center Kadin Shedrick. Last fall Virginia got an early pledge from Carson McCorkle, consensus Top 150 and a four star by ESPN. After winning the title this spring, Bennett went on another recruiting roll, beating out UNC, NC State, and Tennessee for Justin McKoy (we're going to look back at this 3-star rating one day and laugh), a number of other high-majors for JuCo 1st Team All-American Tomas Woldetensae, grabbing former 4-star transfer Sam Hauser, and consensus four star PG Reece Beekman.
So after a 24+ month span where Tony received only five commitments, none Top 150, the new reality is that over the last 16 months Tony has received 10 pledges, 8 of whom are or were 4-star recruits, and the other two being highly-recruited late bloomers. Tony is on a roll. The national title and the NBA Draft success has taken our coach to a new level on the recruiting trail, and there's no reason to think it will slow down.
Looking forward, Abdur-Rahim's commitment effectively hits pause on 2020 recruiting. It puts Virginia tentatively at 13 scholarship players for the 2020-21 season, which is the NCAA-mandated maximum. Attrition is an unfortunate reality, and it's hard to bet that it won't happen sometime in the next 12 months, but it's the sort of thing where Tony will likely deal with it when/if it occurs. Until then Virginia may still keep tabs on some 2020 kids, maybe keep open some lines of communication where relationships are already built, but they won't be "on the hunt" for that class at the moment.
That means that Virginia gets to get an early jump on its 2021 class while most of the ACC hasn't even begun building their 2020 class yet (only 6 of 15 ACC teams have any 2020 pledges yet, only Duke and UVA have multiple). Virginia will turn its attention to showing love to priority rising juniors and, if lucky, can get a major head start on the class.
The 2021 class currently projects to three open spots, those vacated by the graduations of Jay Huff, Sam Hauser, and Tomas Woldetensae. The initial priorities for those scholarships will mirror the positions being vacated: a big man to join the 5-spot rotation with Caffaro and Shedrick, a combo forward to join the 3/4 depth chart with Badocchi and McKoy, and a guard/wing 2/3 to compete with Stattmann and Abdur-Rahim. This last spot, the 2/3, may be the most pressing if Abdur-Rahim does truly have 2-and-done potential, and Tony will want to have JAR's replacement in the pipeline ASAP.
All of these needs could also be addressed with a late-cycle 2020 target should attrition occur over the next year. So while it's a safe bet to think of all these needs in terms of the 2021 class, don't be at all surprised if, come April/May, one of them gets accelerated into a 2020 accession. We'll be happy either way.
2021 true guards may be the closest thing to a "luxury take" in the 2021 class at the moment. The quartet of Clark, Morsell, Beekman, and McCorkle could have the 1/2 spots pretty well locked down in the 2021-22 season, and the need for more help there may be deferred to the 2022 class. With that said, if an extra scholarship opens up and the right guard wants to come, Tony should be thrilled to take him. Clark will graduate that year, and Morsell will be in that "early NBA declaration" window, so having a successor in the pipeline as early as possible will be preferable.
This is a really, really exciting pledge for coach Bennett. It checks so many boxes, both in terms of roster fit and locker room fit, that Tony really couldn't have expected this cycle to go much better. To have the November signing class effectively sewn up by mid-July, by all 4-stars no less, is the envy of most D-1 coaches. Welcome to the new reality of Virginia basketball; top prospects jumping on the wagon to play for Bennett. I could get used to it.