Not only will the 2018 recruiting class be the largest in Gregg Marshall’s tenure at Wichita State, it could also be his most important.
The Shockers must replace six seniors — all key contributors — and also face the possibility of Landry Shamet and/or Markis McDuffie leaving for the NBA. That means Marshall and his staff could possibly be replacing more than half of the roster in a single recruiting class.
Just how rare is that? I asked Corey Evans, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.
“Outside of your typical Kentuckys, Dukes, and KUs, who are doing the one-and-done type of stuff, it doesn’t happen very often,” Evans said. “Trying to replace six guys in a class is tough, then you throw in the fact that they’re sliding up a scale to the American Athletic and it becomes even more difficult.”
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Throw in the fact that two of Marshall’s top assistants left during the thick of recruiting season in the spring and the task becomes even more daunting. But the hiring of Donnie Jones and the experience he brings, having recruited the South, has been a welcomed addition to go along side assistants Kyle Lindsted and Isaac Brown.
Jones said the transition has been a smooth one.
“The biggest thing for me was learning to recruit what fits our system,” Jones said. “I’ve been here a few months now and I see what it takes to play for coach (Marshall) and what it takes to be a Shocker.”
The staff has already received four verbal commitments from Morris Udeze, Isaiah Chandler, Erik Stevenson, and junior-college transfer Jaime Echenique. It’s a class that Evans says is already shaping up to be Marshall’s highest-regarded recruiting class at WSU.
Evans thinks all four can contribute immediately with Stevenson filling the absence of Conor Frankamp as the team’s long-range shooter, and Echenique and Chandler adding depth to the front court. But Evans was most excited about Udeze, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward who he sees as a mixture of Rashard Kelly and Shaquille Morris.
“I think Morris (Udeze) is pretty much the ideal ‘Play Angry’ big man that Gregg Marshall has come to love,” Evans said. “He’s a big guy with a 7-1 wingspan and he plays hard and is going to be a strong rebounding force. I think he’s going to be a Day 1 producer for them.”
But how the staff fills the final two slots in the recruiting class will be crucial. The early signing period this year for basketball recruits begins Nov. 8 and ends a week later. The next signing period won’t be until April 11, 2018.
Alex Lomax is a 6-foot point guard from Memphis who is rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and considered a top-150 prospect by Rivals. Wichita State is reportedly the front-runner for Lomax, who would continue Marshall’s recent string of highly-rated recruits following Fred Van Vleet, McDuffie, and Shamet.
“You never know what’s going to happen with Landry Shamet, so Lomax is priority 1, 2, and 3 for them,” Evans said. “They definitely need a point guard, there’s no doubt about that. Getting a guy like him would be a giant boon for the program. It’s about the demographics of getting the top one or two kid from the city of Memphis, a city they’re now playing out of in the American. It would be huge if they can go in there and get a top kid like that from an affiliated city.”
The final slot seems to be more up in the air.
Wichita State could try to add one more post. Udeze, Chandler, and Echenique all play the position and will join Asbjorn Midtgaard next season. The Shockers could also use some depth on the wing, where only McDuffie and Rod Brown return. Stevenson fills a spot, but the Shockers might try to add more depth.
Some potential targets: Chance Moore (6-9, 200) is a three-star wing prospect from Louisville, Neftali Alvarez (6-1, 175) is a three-star point guard from Miami, Keyshawn Bryant (6-6, 165) is one of the better athletes in the country out of Florida, and Bryan Penn-Johnson (7-0, 215) is a four-star center in Utah who Evans believes the Shockers are still in play for.
“We’re recruiting about five or six guys for these last two spots,” Isaac Brown told me. “We’re in the mix for some really, really good players, so we’re just going to try to finish it up and get two of them.”
Does Wichita State have a preference to bring in another junior-college transfer to break up the recruiting class some, so the staff isn’t faced with the same problem down the line?
“It would be nice if it worked out that way, but the goal is to bring in players who can help us win a national championship,” Lindsted said. “You’ve got to go get the best player you can and a guy who’s going to fit our culture and fit what we need. In a perfect world, yeah, you would like to break it up if you could though.”
Wichita State’s staff says it has already noticed a benefit with the move to the American, as higher-rated recruits are now more willing to consider the Shockers.
Receiving more interest from four-star prospects is nice, but that hasn’t changed how the staff evaluates prospects.
“You always try to bring in talented players, but then there are talented players who are able to connect the dots when they move to the next level,” Lindsted said. “We always try to figure out the guys who are going to connect the dots. I like the guys we have coming in, but they’re going to be young. We’re going to have to coach them up.”
Conner Frankamp was the repeat winner of the three-point contest and C.J. Keyser ran away from the competition in the dunk contest. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)