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Basketball Recruiting Update: Out of State, Out of Mind?

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A top 2021 point guard target is moving out of state

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 11 Pac-12 Tournament - Washington v Arizona Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It has been a long time since the last basketball recruiting update and there’s a very good reason for that. Normally this would be the prime time of the basketball recruiting calendar. AAU events such as the Nike EYBL would be happening giving recruits the chance to talk to recruiting sites about the goings on as well as chances to showcase their talent. In the last two years former unknowns such as RaeQuan Battle and Cole Bajema were in relative obscurity from smaller towns in Washington before rising over single weekends to 4-star status. Battle of course signed with UW and Bajema transferred this spring to join him after originally committing to Michigan.

This year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve had none of that. Players have been able to have virtual visits and report offers on Twitter or Instagram but there hasn’t been a whole lot of activity to pass along.

Until now, although that’s likely not a good thing.

Nolan Hickman

Point Guard; 6’2, 185 lbs; 4 stars, #51 overall; Wasatch Academy, UT

Other Schools in the mix: Kansas, Arizona, UCLA

Hickman has been one of the priority recruits in this class for the last year plus. Point guard is a clear area of need for the Huskies long-term with the status of Quade Green relatively uncertain, Nate Pryor still an unknown at the D-1 level, and Marcus Tsohonis at his best last year when more of a scoring guard than a distributor.

Washington has offered only two point guards in the class of 2021: Nolan Hickman and Zaon Collins. Collins attends Bishop Gorman in Nevada and since assistant coach Dave Rice’s brother is the head coach there it seemed the Huskies might be able to tap into that pipeline. They got Jamal Bey to Seattle but missed out on a pair of top-150 prospects in the 2020 class and Collins didn’t include Washington in his final 8 schools while 4-star teammate Will McClendon committed to UCLA.

That left Hickman as the top priority at the guard spot. However, Hickman announced on Saturday night that he would be leaving local Eastside Catholic and moving to Utah to attend Wasatch Academy for his senior season (if that name looks familiar, former Husky Bryan Penn-Johnson attended Wasatch for his senior year). Wasatch is a basketball boarding school that players attend to essentially play for an AAU team during their high school careers. There are 3 possible reasons that would seem to explain the move in no particular order.

  1. Hickman feels that going to Wasatch will bring him more exposure/a higher level of competition.
  2. Grades are an issue and going to a prep school will allow him to get them where they need to be.
  3. He feels Washington’s basketball season is unlikely to happen and that Wasatch will provide a better opportunity to grow in the next year.

In the article linked to above with Prep Hoops, Hickman states that “With the summer being taken away I felt like it was the best move for me, especially with the national schedule they have”. That points to a combination of reasons 1 and 3. Hickman hasn’t gotten to play against national competition in over a year and if he were to stay at Eastside Catholic it would be over 2 years by the time he got to college.

Washington hasn’t had great success lately with players making moves out of the area. Point guard P.J Fuller was viewed as a heavy Husky lean for years before he moved out of state before his senior year (he ultimately moved back but still committed to TCU for college). Top-50 wing MarJon Beauchamp moved to a prep school in Arizona before deciding to skip college all together and just train for the NBA draft. That decision may not backfire on him if we don’t have an NCAA season in 2020. If a player is planning to stay home long-term they usually don’t move away for a year just to move back. The exception is a case like Isaiah Thomas where the issue was all about getting the grades up high enough to get into UW.

That sentiment is further backed up in that article with Prep Hoops. Hickman says that he’s nearing a college decision and the article cites that Kansas, Arizona, and UCLA are the schools he’s hearing from most frequently. That’s not an exact quote but it would be an incredible form of bias on the author’s part if Hickman had also said Washington and then it was left out of the article. I very much doubt that’s the case.

The combination of Hickman leaving UW out of the schools recruiting him the hardest right now and the move out of state seems to be a virtual nail in the coffin for him staying here for college barring a miraculous turn of events.

Last year it looked like Washington had broken in and formed a strong bond within the Seattle Rotary AAU team. Former Dawg Jamaal Williams is their head coach. Marcus Tsohonis, RaeQuan Battle, and Jaden McDaniels all were part of Washington’s 2019 class. Nolan Hickman, Shane Nowell, and Paolo Banchero in the 2021 class were also members of that team. The hopes of adding another 5-star, 4-star, and 3-star combo from Rotary for the second time in three years is almost dead. We’ll never know if a year of all of them playing together on the circuit this summer would’ve increased the bond and resulted in a better outcome for UW but it seems destined to become a prominent “if only”.

Paolo Banchero

Power Forward; 6’10, 235 lbs; 5 stars, #4 overall; O’Dea High School, Seattle, WA

Other Schools in the mix: Kentucky, Duke, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Arizona

The less than stellar vibes just continue to mount when it comes to the recruitment of Paolo Banchero. Despite Banchero’s numerous ties to Washington (his mom is one of the women’s basketball program’s all-time stars and his dad played football here) it appears he’s going to be truly pragmatic with his decision for after high school. Banchero named a final 6 with Washington and the 5 programs listed above but there’s not a ton of optimism he’ll stay in Seattle.

Corey Evans at Rivals recently put in his attempt at ranking the contenders for Banchero and had the West Coast schools in slots #4-6. Kentucky and Duke are the national recruiting powers and they appear to be exerting heavy influence on Banchero. There’s also been plenty of rumors of Paolo and 5-star PG Kennedy Chandler forming a package deal and both heading to Tennessee or Duke although package deal situations rarely end up happening in the world of recruiting when push comes to shove.

It also would surprise absolutely no one depending on how the next year goes if Banchero follows several recent 5-stars and decides to just start his pro career early by going the G-league route. If this year’s 5-stars like Jalen Green and Daishen Nix go in the lottery of the 2021 draft it seems like the practical decision to make a cool 500k without having to hide the money through an uncle or something as you might to get a similar paycheck from a college booster and without having to pretend to care about attending one semester of classes.

Putting the Puzzle Together

So what happens if the Huskies do miss out on both Hickman and Banchero (not guaranteed to happen but the likely scenario at this point)?

Let’s start with a refresher of the current scholarship situation. Naz Carter and Hameir Wright are both seniors. Bryan Penn-Johnson recently entered the transfer portal. Before that the Huskies were at the maximum limit of 13 scholarships with the assumption that former walk-on Riley Sorn will be transitioning onto scholarship this year. That gives Washington 3 open spots with which to work.

The first one is already spoken for in PF/C Jackson Grant. The big man from Olympia is a consensus top-100 prospect and #56 overall in the 247 Sports Composite. He will need to put on some weight when he gets to campus but he’s got the height/length to play center in Washington’s zone and has a legitimate shooting stroke from distance. Grant is likely a more offensively minded direct replacement for Hameir Wright.

There are realistically only 3 other players that the Huskies are serious players for at this point. 5-star Peyton Watson is a small forward on defense but has said in interviews that he views himself as able to play point guard. If he were to end up at Washington he could potentially give the Huskies supreme defensive versatility if he can in fact play point guard at 6’7 (I have a few doubts). He has soared up the recruiting rankings over the last year and is up to #17 in the 247 Sports Composite (FWIW, the player comparison on 247’s website is former Husky Justin Holiday who wasn’t much of a point guard but has a long, lean similar body type).

247’s basketball recruiting experts have said as recently as this weekend that Watson has gone virtually silent and no one is really sure where he stands. He could decide to wait and see if on-campus visits are allowed or just decide to commit if it looks like those are delayed even into the Spring. If Washington is able to secure a premium class it is likely because they’ve gotten Watson’s signature. UCLA, Arizona, and USC seem to be the primary competition with Duke and Kentucky getting involved late.

The other two realistic prospects are a pair of local shooting guards. Shane Nowell is the more highly rated of the two as the younger brother of Husky star Jaylen and now former high school teammate of Nolan Hickman at Eastside Catholic. The dream of the two deciding to both play together in college as well is fading but Washington still has to be considered the favorite for Nowell given their ties to the family. Shane is viewed in the 75-125 overall range as a prospect but has his brother’s size at 6’5. It would not be a bad consolation prize in the slightest to bring him on board. Oklahoma and Washington State are the only other power conference schools known to have offered at this point.

The final option is O’Dea’s (and Paolo’s high school teammate) John Christofilis. He was viewed as a top-100 player for a while but has suffered through injuries that have limited his national exposure the past two years. Still, he’s listed at 6’4 and has the reputation as a knockdown shooter which is something Washington can always use. In the Huskies’ zone defense length is as if not more important than lateral agility so a lack of athleticism isn’t as much of an issue. He’s the kind of player really hurt by losing an evaluation period and potentially a high school basketball season to regain his standing.

It’s still possible for the Huskies to wind up with a class of Peyton Watson, Jackson Grant, and Shane Nowell. Those are 3 players in the top-85 of the 247 Sports Composite and using the class calculator feature on 247 would have been good for the 16th rated class in the country in 2020. It would suck to miss out on Banchero and Hickman but that’s about as good as you could hope for considering.

Let’s say it’s the more likely scenario of Grant plus just Shane Nowell and keeping that last spot open for a transfer. The 2021 team under ideal circumstances would have Quade Green, Erik Stevenson, Jamal Bey, Nate Pryor, Marcus Tsohonis, RaeQuan Battle, J’Raan Brooks, Nate Roberts, Cole Bajema and Riley Sorn all as upperclassmen or redshirt sophomores. The odds are at least one of those players transfers out between now and then in the current college basketball world.

If spun the right way with that roster it could convince a one and done that he’d put a ready to compete roster over the top for national title contention. If spun the wrong way it shows there’s no chance to step in and immediately compete for playing time.

THE 2021 RECRUITING LIST (in approximate order of coming to UW)

Committed

Jackson Grant- PF/C, 4*, #56 overall

Looking Good

Shane Nowell- SG, 4*, #82 overall

Still A Chance

Peyton Watson- SF, 5*, #17 overall

John Christofilis- SG, 3*, #192 overall

Trending Down

Paolo Banchero- PF, 5*, #4 overall

Nolan Hickman- PG, 4*, #51 overall

Jusaun Holt- SF, 3*, #118 overall

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