Starting Five: Vols rolling in all phases, five-star Brooks sets decision
Rick Barnes and Tennessee had a big weekend on the floor and in recruiting, landing Top 30 junior Corey Walker Jr.. Five-star senior Keion Brooks has set his decision date, mid major coaches deserving of praise and more in this week's Starting Five.
RIVALS ROUNDTABLE: Coaches who need to make the NCAA tourney, more
1. VOLS SUCCESS TRANSLATING TO RECRUITING TRAIL
It was a big win over the weekend for Rick Barnes and Tennessee, knocking off Kentucky. It was also big in that the weekend also produced immediate results with one of a handful of high-level prospects who were on campus to see it. Sunday afternoon, top 30 junior wing Corey Walker Jr. committed to the Vols.
Walker Jr., is part of the ongoing evolution of Vols recruitment. Their current team is built on the strength of guys who were relatively unheralded in high school like Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone and as talented as they are, they have set a culture and expectation of how to compete in Knoxville. Also, their success is allowing the Vols to go out and land higher level prospects who are going to be good fits.
A major part of why Josiah James picked Tennessee was his fit there. The five-star senior thought the playing style suited him, but the locker room, the day to day and all of that matched up to his personality.
Walker Jr. fits that mold as well. He's not a show boater or attention seeker and plays a very mature and versatile game. He's got strength, he is skilled and he's able to get his without being selfish. He's the type of guy that you want on your team and he's the type of kid that other high level talents will want to play with.
Look, I don't think we are going to see Barnes go all Coach K or Coach Cal and start looking to sign as many five-stars as possible. Don't get me wrong he will take talent, but his best teams at Texas were a blend of system guys that he developed and upper-tier talents. That's what he's got going at Tennessee now and that's how he is recruiting.
Certainly, things are looking up and with Walker in the fold a year after landing James, they are flexing some recruiting muscle. I'm expecting that they'll add more high-end talent to go with Walker before they are done with 2020.
2. ANNOUNCEMENT DATE SET FOR KEION BROOKS
It seems that for most of the last few months, we've been on Keion Brooks commitment watch. Now, we can stop speculating about when it will go down because Brooks has set a date.
On Sunday, Brooks tweeted that he will be making his commitment on March 15 at 8 p.m. at St. Paul's Lutheran School in his hometown of Ft. Wayne, Ind.
Basically down to Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan State and North Carolina, Brooks really got tongues to wagging after a recent unofficial visit to Kentucky and I don't know if anybody has a great gauge for this one yet.
For a while now, I have favored Indiana, but there has been lots of credible talk that said not to rule out Kentucky or Michigan State and that North Carolina is likely going to be just a bit too far away from home. Since that last visit to Kentucky, the majority of the talk has shifted to the Wildcats and Hoosiers.
As best I can tell, I still lean to the Hoosiers on this one, but I would like to see what other information is out there before logging my official FutureCast prediction.
3. CHECKING IN ON 2021 FIVE-STAR AMINU MOHAMMED
For his sophomore season, five-star wing Aminu Mohammed moved from the Washington D.C. area to Southwest Missouri. At class 2A Springfield (Mo.) Greenwood, Mohammed has been putting up video game-like numbers all season long. Saturday, I had the opportunity to see him play in person as he led Greenwood to the semifinal round of the State Tournament.
Mohammed didn't have a 40-point game, but 20 points and 16 rebounds isn't shabby either. The question about Mohammed this winter has been about the level of competition he's facing and physically, he looked to be on a playing field all of his own. But the pressure of a packed and loud high school gymnasium and the knowledge that you can't have an off game if your team wants to advance is legit and I thought Mohammed passed those with flying colors.
He was just as poised and patient as he was athletic and he's definitely got some burst going to the rim. His jump shot looked pretty good and if anything I thought most of the mistakes he made were a result of trying to be too unselfish when nobody could have blamed him for forcing the issue a little.
Where he'll shake out in the rankings will have a lot to do with how he performs on the national circuit, but I certainly thought that Mohammed looked like a legitimate five-star prospect at this point in his development. His older brother plays at Missouri State and he's got offers from Florida and Seton Hall, but I'm surprised there aren't more. I know Springfield, Mo., isn't the easiest place to get to, but it's not that hard either and for a guy as talented as Mohammed, it's worth putting in a little extra work.
4. FIVE-STAR BANCHERO STANDS OUT IN WASHINGTON
This time of year I spend a lot of time watching games online and really focusing in on various state tournament action. Over the weekend I watched a lot of Washington's 3 and 4A events and there was a lot of talent headlined by top five sophomore Paolo Banchero of Seattle (Wash.) O'Dea. Skilled, strong, tough and capable of playing any style, Banchero was the best player I watched over the weekend and backed up his reputation leading his team to a championship. His mom (hoops) and dad (football) were both athletes at Washington and it's going to be interesting to see what programs are willing to square up with the Huskies for the legacy recruit. He's looking real elite right now.
Speaking of Washington, I was very impressed by what I saw from signed four-star shooting guard RaeQuan Battle. Battle has very deep range on his shot, a seriously quick release and he's extra bouncy in transition. His size is very good and he can put the ball on the floor. He does need strength and to work on defensive awareness at times, He's risen to No. 88 nationally since first cracking the bottom end of the Rivals150 as a junior and I only see him going up more from here.
Five-star junior wing Marjon Beauchamp was impressive for Seattle (Wash.) Rainier Beach. Slender and quick, he's got very good ball skills, can create off the dribble and has a smooth shot. Once he really locks in on his consistency with the jumper and adds a little strength, he could be pretty scary.
Some others who stood out to me were sophomore guard Shane Nowell, senior guard Noah Williams and forward Kendall Munson.The younger brother of Washington's Jaylen Nowell, Shane is a tough two guard who can get it off the bounce and from the mid-range. Currently an unranked four-star, Nowell is a lock for the next 2021 rankings update. A teammate of Banchero's, Williams is a long and versatile combo guard who has excellent upside on both ends of the floor. Upper end mid-majors to maybe even some high majors should be pushing him hard right now. Finally, keep an eye out for Munson as a 2020 sleeper capable of pushing for a spot in the national rankings this spring. He's 6-foot-8'ish, bouncy around the rim, runs the floor well and has some offense too. He picked up offers from Washington and Washington State over the weekend.
5. MAJOR TURNAROUNDS AT DRAKE AND UTAH STATE
It's normally the guys we see regularly on television playing for the big name conferences that get the most love, but I wanted to point out terrific coaching jobs this year by two guys in places where not a lot could have been expected. Both Craig Smith at Utah State and Darian DeVries at Drake have done wonders this year.
I'll start with Smith since he's gotten some national attention lately. I've been watching Utah State pretty closely over the past three or four weeks because they are fun to watch, have a lot of talent and I thought they looked like a legit Tournament team. Also, from running across Smith on the recruiting trail, he seems like a pretty energetic guy who I wanted to watch coach. He's something else and in his first season he has Utah State in first place at 14-3 in the Mountain West. After some pretty lean years in Logan, the Aggies look like a legitimate NCAA Tournament team. At 24-6 so far, their having their best season in some time and Smith's looking like one of the West's top rising coaches.
As for DeVries, he's actually one of the very first coaches I met nearly 20 years ago when he was a young assistant at Creighton. He's finally gotten his chance as a head coach this season at Drake and he led them to an improbable share of the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title during his first year in Des Moines. After the Bulldogs have posted single digit win totals in three of the last four seasons, they are 23-8, which is pretty miraculous. DeVries has got to be a lock for coach of the year in the MVC and he along with Smith looks like a guy that programs in bigger conferences are going to start keeping an eye on.