- Antonio Williams, Basketball Recruiting
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As the number of ESPN 150 prospects yet to declare their college intentions dwindles, the news regarding these commits has followed a similar path. College coaches and their fans now all wait anxiously as the early signing period beings next week. Schools that have enjoyed success in the early recruiting period will work diligently until they have the signatures of their prized recruits, while other programs (some very prominent) that have not finalized their recruiting plans will turn their attention collecting talent with the idea of signing these players during the spring signing period next year.
This week, however, a top-10 prospect announced his college plans while other programs still managed to gain pledges from other talented recruits.
Prominent In-State Programs Sing Carolina Blues
This week started with fireworks in the ESPN 150, leaving three in-state, major programs feeling blue… as in Carolina Blue, when Indiana native and top-10 prospect 6-11 PF Tyler Zeller (Washington, Ind.) turned down Notre Dame, Indiana and Purdue in favor of national powerhouse North Carolina.
All three of the Indiana schools, in addition to proximity to home, offered attractive elements that could have lured the talented big man to each campus. Tyler's brother Luke plays both power forward and center at Notre Dame, while two of his Indiana Elite AAU teammates, guards Matt Roth and Lewis Jackson, committed to Indiana and Purdue, respectively. In the end, Zeller opted for Tobacco Road and the Dean Dome, allowing for North Carolina coach Roy Williams to have significant influence in Zeller's future development as a player.
Williams has played a major role in the development of some pretty decent college big men such as Raef LaFrentz at Kansas and current Tar Heel All-American and another Tyler, power forward Tyler Hansbrough. Both players benefited greatly from Williams' vast knowledge and passion for the game. In the case of LaFrentz, the Denver Nuggets selected him third overall in the 1998 NBA Draft, and he appeared to have a very bright future until knee injuries derailed his early on-court success as well as hampering the rest of his career to this day.
Complementing his aggressive approach, Hansbrough's skill level has increased exponentially while under Williams' tutelage at North Carolina. Zeller has the untapped potential as well as the correct disposition that allows him to accept coaching; therefore, he should have a very successful career at UNC.
Zeller may run the floor better than any big man in the Class of 2008, which makes him a perfect match for the up-tempo attack the North Carolina employs. He has the agility to get out on the break, run and finish in transition. He has a decent face-up game in the mid-post area, which will allow him to penetrate past bigger, slower defenders. Zeller also exerts maximum effort on the defensive end, using his length to block or alter shots without jumping wildly at every shot attempt. Williams will make sure that Zeller develops his low-post game and adds strength to his frame, which will make Zeller a very effective big man in the ACC.
After what many prematurely perceived as a slow start in recruiting, the Tar Heels have answered in emphatic fashion. Zeller becomes the third ESPN 150 prospect for UNC's 2008 recruiting class, joining 6-8 PF Ed Davis (Richmond, Va.) and 6-0 PG Larry Drew (Woodland Hills, Calif.), a very skilled floor leader. The Zeller-Davis tandem should work very well for North Carolina, with both players possessing the ability to run the court effectively, which they will need for the constant fast breaks under Williams. They both will excel at the defensive end with their shot-blocking ability and provide an interior security blanket, which will allow the UNC guards to apply even more pressure on the perimeter.
Zeller and Davis both could see action early on with the very real possibility that Tyler Hansbrough could declare for the NBA Draft after this season. The Tar Heels may also rely on Drew early on for point guard depth if gifted sophomore Ty Lawson also bolts for the NBA.
Golden Eagles Soaring Deep in the Heart of Texas
Marquette coach Tom Crean apparently has an affinity for Texas, at least an appreciation for the state's talented basketball players, as he has gained a pledge from 6-10 C Chris Otule (Fort Bend, Texas), beating out in-state programs Baylor and Rice.
Crean has successfully targeted under-the-radar recruits, developing them into good college players, and he hopes for the same success with Otule, who should provide a solid interior presence. Otule becomes the third player from the Lone Star State to commit to braving the Wisconsin winters and join the Golden Eagles in the last three weeks, with fellow 2008 recruit and junior-college transfer 6-7 SF Joseph Fulce (Tyler, Texas) and 2009 prospect 6-7 PF Erik Williams (Katy, Texas) having previously delivered a pledge to Marquette.
Crean continues to build a national power at Marquette and may have established a pipeline in talent-laden Texas that may pay huge dividends in recruiting in the very near future.
Coming to America
Three natives of the African country of Chad enrolled at Bethel High School in Hampton, Va., for this season have delivered verbal pledges to programs this week. 6-foot-7 swingman Mbai Goto Oliver committed to Clemson, while his fellow countrymen, 6-9 C David Keyba Baroum and 6-9 C Ali Abdou Djim, committed to LaSalle and Duquesne, respectively. Both interior players combine excellent athleticism to accompany their considerable size, while Oliver has the ability to shoot from the perimeter as well as drive to the rack and finish with authority. All three players have an immense amount of upside and should develop as they continue to face top-notch talent in the States.
Florida State, after receiving a commitment from ESPN 150 prospect 6-10 C Xavier Gibson (Dothan, Ala.) last week, continue to roll in recruiting, this time gaining a pledge from 6-3 SG Deividas Dulkys, a native of Lithuania playing his prep ball in Henderson, Nev. The sharpshooter becomes the third member of Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton's recruiting haul along with Gibson and PG 6-4 Luke Loucks (Clearwater, Fla.).
Dulkys should see plenty of open shots with Loucks creating opportunities with his excellent vision and passing ability, while Gibson should provide extra scoring chances with his offensive rebounding. With the recent success of the program and the development of current Los Angeles Clipper Al Thornton gaining the attention of talented recruits, Florida State took a logical step toward securing its bright future by rewarding Hamilton with a contract extension, ensuring that he will continue to lead the Seminoles rebuilding process for the foreseeable future.
• Wichita State Gregg Marshall, entering his first season as the Shockers' coach, picked up a commitment from 7-0 C Garrett Stutz (North Kansas City, Mo.). Stutz provides Wichita State with a rapidly-developing post presence with ample room for improvement. Stutz adeptly finishes around the basket with either hand, has solid footwork and knows how to use angles to his advantage when he attempts to score in the post. He also blocks or alters shots very well.
Stutz becomes the third member of Marshall's 2008 recruiting class, joining 6-3 SG Toure Murry (Houston, Texas) and junior-college transfer 6-0 PG Clevin Hannah (Marianna, Fla.). With only two players from Kansas and none from the state of Missouri on his current roster, Marshall convincing Stutz to stay close to home could assist Wichita State in recruiting talented prospects from Kansas and Missouri, with both states having a good supply of quality players.
• After losing out on Zeller, Notre Dame did not receive all bad news this week, picking up a verbal pledge from solid 2009 prospect 6-5 SG Joey Brooks (Houston, Texas). Brooks has adequate athletic ability and good scoring ability. He has the ability to shoot from the perimeter or slash to the basket. Brooks becomes the first member of the 2008 or 2009 class for Norte Dame coach Mike Brey.
The Fighting Irish appear poised to make a concerted effort in the 2009 class, with interest from top 2009 big men 6-9 PF Stephen Van Treese (Indianapolis, Ind.), 6-9 PF Erik Murphy (Southborough, Ma.), 6-8 Jordan Morgan (Detroit, Mich.) and 6-9 PF Jordan Prosser (Eureka, Ill.). Brooks' perimeter skills would greatly complement any of these talented and highly-coveted interior players.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc.