Sunday, November 23, 2014

Men's basketball lands trio of top recruits | The Commonwealth Times

Paris Carter
Contributing Writer

One year removed from the best recruiting class in school history, Shaka Smart and his coaching staff continue to raise the bar for the program. On Nov. 12, widely known as “National Signing Day,” VCU’s job was all but finished, and they officially landed three of the country’s finest players the next day to further cement an already promising future.

Coming into the day, one member of the talented trio, Kenny Williams, signed his letter of intent back in August. The 6-foot-3 combo guard has been regarded by most recruiting services as one of the top-five high school basketball players in the state of Virginia. As a junior at Lloyd C. Bird High School, Williams totaled 21 points and six rebounds a night. Although well-established within the state as an elite player, Williams playing his AAU ball for regional powerhouse Boo Williams led to exposure on a national level.

By the close of his junior year, Williams garnered offers from top schools like Indiana University, Georgetown University and the University of North Carolina. The senior admitted that he was initially clueless about what direction to take, even after getting a call from Carolina Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams.

“It gave me something to think about,” Williams said after making his committment. “It was really hard to turn that down.”

With point guard Briante Weber graduating after this season, expect Kenny Williams to add his name to a three-way logjam with JeQuan Lewis and Jonathan Williams for the starting job next fall.

Unlike Williams, fellow signees Tevin Mack and Jordan Murphy kept Ram Nation waiting on their heels until the first day of the official signing period.

Mack, the No. 2 ranked player in the state of South Carolina, was the highest rated player from this year’s signing class. Landing the 6-foot-7 swingman was by no means an easy task for the Rams’ coaching staff. Among the many teams who competed for Mack’s commitment were the national champion University of Connecticut Huskies, who many experts pegged the favorite to sign Mack as late as a week before the decision.

Recruiters all over were put on notice in April at Pitt Jam Fest, an annual AAU showcase that features some of the best travel teams in the entire nation. Coming into the three-day invitational, all the hype surrounded Mack’s teammate and YouTube sensation Seventh Woods, who will likely be a McDonald’s All-American next season. The precocious scorer responded by averaging 36 points a game over the weekend, creating a strong buzz of his own. With just one more season at the prep level remaining and his future solidified, Mack spoke about how he’s glad that the circus surrounding him is finally done.

“I could’ve waited until next week, but that was just going to cloud my mind even more,” Mack said after making his announcement. “I feel relieved that I can focus on high school basketball now.”

Within hours of Mack declaring himself a Ram, another outstanding recruit fell into the program’s lap. Jordan Murphy rounded out the now-complete signing class, breaking the news in front of classmates in his school gymnasium along with six other athletes from William J. Brennan High School in San Antonio, Texas.

The 6-foot-7, 225 lb. Texan is projected as a hybrid power forward for Smart’s “Havoc” defense, predicated more on speed and quickness than size. Murphy averaged a double-double last season as a junior, bringing in 23 points and 10 rebounds a game leading Brennan to a district title.

Needless to say, VCU will be in good hands for the forseeable future. After landing a top-25 recruit for the second consecutive year, the program received high praise from basketball experts as well as prominent Ram supporters everywhere.

Among those who approved of the successful recruiting campaign was NBA point guard and VCU alum Eric Maynor, who welcomed all three players to the Ram family via his Twitter account.

With all the remaining players from 2011 Final Four team graduating this past season, this year marks a new era in VCU basketball. Match the freshmen class of Terry Larrier, Jonathan Williams, Justin Tillman and Mike Gilmore with the current seniors and there’s a reason expectations are so high in Richmond. The Rams have enough talent on the roster right now to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, regardless of how this season plays out. It’s clear that the best may be yet to come.


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