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Starting Five: Big time battle for five-star E.J. Montgomery

E.J. Montgomery
Jeffrey Lee/AuburnSports.com

The battle for unsigned five-star senior E.J. Montgomery is heating up and he's planning some visits in February. There's a surprising coach of the year candidate in the Pac 12, senior wing Ochai Agbaji's stock continues to soar and more in Eric Bossi's Starting Five.


Not surprisingly, things have really picked up for the nation's top unsigned big man, senior E.J. Montgomery.

The five-star power forward at Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler who initially committed to Auburn has become the the center of attention for many of the nation's top programs. Currently considering Clemson, Duke, Georgetown, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, UCLA, USC, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest, Montgomery is setting up visits.

Next week, Montgomery will make a swing through Tobacco Road where he will see both North Carolina -- whose head coach Roy Williams watched twice in the last week and offered a scholarship -- and Duke.

The visits are expected to be unofficial and early talk behind the scenes is that UNC and Duke have positioned themselves well. Along with the two ACC powers, Kentucky is expected to play a prominent role in Montgomery's ultimate decision.


Just a little under two weeks ago I went out to see unsigned senior Ochai Agbaji and interviewed him about his soon-to-take-off recruitment. As much as I expected it to take off, I didn't expect it to happen this quickly.

Entering his senior season with some low- and mid-major options, Agbaji took a winter visit to Colorado State. Since then, things have totally taken off for him. Scheduled to visit Oregon State officially this weekend, Agbaji has now added offers Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Texas A&M and Wisconsin. Saturday, Agbaji took an unofficial visit to Kansas -- where he also visited during January -- and after the game Bill Self offered a scholarship.

Agbaji said that he's not yet planned any additional visits, but he'll be looking to cut things down soon. As he enters the next phase, there are some interesting ties to the schools involved. Kansas is the local program, Oregon State has the visit scheduled, Oregon assistant Mike Mennenga played junior college basketball with Agbaji's father and the three-star shooting guard grew up in Wisconsin before moving to Kansas City.


A sleeper point guard prospect will come off the board Monday night.

Three-star senior Xavier Pinson will announce his college choice at six p.m. central during a ceremony at Chicago (Ill.) Simeon.

Formerly committed to Kent State, Pinson is down to a final three of Georgetown, Missouri and Wisconsin. Over the weekend, he took a visit to Mizzou and headed into decision day, the Tigers appear to be the favorites.

A big-time athlete with an explosive first step, Pinson will need to get stronger before he's a contributor at a high major but he has exceptional body control, great instincts, a body to grow into and big upside once he adds the needed strength.


Four-star point guard Tyger Campbell was supposed to be off the board by now.

The senior at La Porte (Ind.) La Lumiere was supposed to announce his decision last Thursday, but the announcement never came.

Technically, Campbell is still down to DePaul, Maryland, Purdue and UCLA. However, from the sounds of things, it's really more about DePaul and UCLA as Campbell tries to reach a decision.

Campbell hasn't spoken publicly since passing up his decision day, so all we can do is speculate. But, this looks to be a case where a player and those around him look to be on different pages. On decision day, the general thought was that Campbell himself preferred DePaul -- where he was formerly committed and where his former high school coach Shane Heirman is an assistant coach -- while some close to him may have thought UCLA was the best fit.

Whatever the reason for the delay in an announcement is, there has yet to be any word about when a decision could be made, so the drama isn't over.


Mike Hopkins
Rich Barnes/Getty Images

If somebody other than Mike Hopkins' wife or immediate family told me they saw this coming, I would call them a liar. Because Hopkins should be the clear cut choice for Pac-12 Coach of the Year and deserves to be in the National Coach of the Year discussion at this point.

What Hopkins is doing during his first season at Washington is quietly one of the single best stories in college basketball. After replacing Lorenzo Romar -- who was incredibly well liked during his time in Seattle but couldn't survive a six-year stretch of missing the NCAA Tournament -- after years as an assistant at Syracuse, Hopkins wasn't expected to have much of a first season.

Romar's firing wrecked a strong 2017 recruiting class and there couldn't be too much optimism after a 9-22 season (2-16 in Pac 12 play) in 2016-17. Some early misses on local talent couldn't have helped either, but after home wins against Arizona and Arizona State in the last week, the Huskies are 17-6 overall, 7-3 in Pac-12 play and are looking primed to end their NCAA drought.

The surprising success has come a little too late to help with the 2018 recruiting class where the Huskies landed a pretty solid looking player in Rivals150 wing Jamal Bey and three-star prospects Nate Roberts, Elijah Hardy and Edward Chang. But, I'm betting it starts to build some momentum with the 2019 class and beyond and based on what Hopkins has done coaching up his current players, there could be some surprises with how his 2018 class ultimately performs.