Making the Case: E.J. Liddell
BOSSI'S BEST: Class of 2019 providing plenty of twists and turns
Top-50 forward E.J. Liddell, one of the Midwest's premier prospects in the class of 2019, is nearing his college decision and should be off the board by early next week.
After a weekend visit to home state Illinois, the 6-foot-7 senior at Belleville (Ill.) West has now seen the Illini plus his other two finalists Missouri and Ohio State officially. In anticipation of his decision we take a look at his game, his options and make a prediction about his college destination.
Liddell's game is all about finding mismatches and exploiting them.
No, he doesn't have ideal height for a power forward, but he's got plenty of ways to make up for that. He's got long arms, he is extremely quick off the floor and most importantly, he's a smart, aggressive, skilled and versatile offensive player who is just as comfortable with his back to the basket on the low block as he is facing up and shooting jump shots out to beyond the three-point line.
Because Liddell is so quick off the floor and has great hands, he's an outstanding shot blocker and one of the most sure-handed rebounders in the country. A Big Ten-level prospect as a football player before he focused completely on basketball, Liddell takes football toughness onto the court with him and is strong enough to hold his own with bigger players.
Liddell is the type of player who can make an instant impact, start for multiple years and perhaps compete for All-Conference type honors before his career is over.
THE CASE FOR ILLINOIS
The home state school, Illinois is currently in the process of being reshaped in the vision of second-year head coach Brad Underwood. Underwood wants versatile, skilled, tough and athletic dudes and Liddell certainly fits that mold.
Relative proximity to home is certainly a plus and there's no doubt that he would be warmly received by fans in his home state if he were to pick the Illini. Assistant coach Jamall Walker has likely invested more time in recruiting and developing a relationship with Liddell than any other coach.
While the Illini have some interior size and true post players that they are developing, they simply don't have anybody on their roster like Liddell and he would likely be the cornerstone of their 2019 recruiting class.
THE CASE FOR MISSOURI
Just like Illinois, Missouri offers Liddell the opportunity to play pretty close to home and the Tigers are also in a rebuild under a second-year head coach, Cuonzo Martin.
Much of the allure for the Tigers has to do with Martin and his deep ties in the greater St. Louis area, especially the East (Illinois) side of the region. He's well-known and well-liked in the area Liddell's family surely knows a lot about him.
In Columbia, there's a good chance that Liddell could earn starter minutes from the moment he steps on campus. Sophomore big man Jontay Porter is likely off to the NBA after this year and Kevin Puryear will graduate. There's simply not another big or combo forward type currently on the Tigers who has the type of skill and offensive versatility that Liddell could provide from day one.
THE CASE FOR OHIO STATE
Quietly, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann has built a strong relationship with Liddell. Coincidentally he's also in his second year at the helm of his program like Underwood and Martin.
Whereas Liddell could be the star of Illinois or Missouri's class, Ohio State has already put together a strong class with five-star point guard D.J. Carton and fellow top-50 combo forward Alonzo Gaffney in the fold. So the Buckeyes' pitch is that he'll have to compete for playing time, but they have a combo forward-friendly offense and there won't be pressure on him to be the man from day one.
While not as close to home as either Illinois or Missouri is, 400 miles or so isn't an otherworldly haul and he'd play several games a year within reasonable driving distance.
There are strong cases to be made for each of the programs involved with Liddell and while he's likely locking in on one over the others in his mind, he's not yet announced so there could still be some time to sway him.
That being said, we've got to pick one school or another and at this point we give the edge to Ohio State. The Buckeyes don't have the local connections and haven't recruited him the longest, but they've done a great job of going from a program that wasn't expected to be much of a threat to land Liddell to one that Rivals.com currently sees as the favorite.