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2016 WF Basketball Recruiting Cycle: Breakdown, Analysis, and Summary

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How exactly did the 2016 recruiting cycle play out for the Wake Forest program?

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 early signing period is officially closed as of last week and whether you are satisfied or not, it appears Wake Forest’s recruiting cycle has ended as well. With all four verbal commits having signed their LOI and no information being released in the last few months about other targets, I would be stunned to see Danny Manning add anyone to this class barring a decommitment internally or externally from a high-caliber target. Most fans seem to be content with the 2016 class that features a little bit of everything: An all-around PG, a pure-shooting wing, a versatile forward with potential to grow, and an established big with post moves that seem ready for the next level.

Despite the fact that many pegged their hopes on a dream class that featured blue chips and a talented PF right from our own backyard, few can be critical of Danny Manning’s eye for talent so far. Given the hidden gems he has found in Hudson, Wilbekin, Dinos, and even Collins, I think most are willing to give DM the benefit of the doubt in terms of finding players who fit his system. But what exactly happened to all those recruits that could’ve been apart of this program but went elsewhere? How did the whole process play out for the dozens of other targets you may have followed over the last two years? That’s what this piece is all about, and if you are a fan of "What ifs," this has everything you’ll need for the 2016 class.

There were a total of 57 scholarship offers handed out in the 2016 cycle according to my research. These don’t necessarily mean all 57 guys had the option to commit to Wake Forest, however. Of course, many of these offers became "non-committable" as time wore on and it became evident that Wake no longer needed a player at a certain position or a prospect didn’t develop into the type of talent that the staff thought he would.

It is also important to note that a number of players that I have frequently mentioned in past recruiting articles (Bruno Fernando, Curtis Hollis, Matthew Freeman, etc) were never actually offered and are not apart of the 57. If I had to guess, I would say that Wake Forest made legitimate contact with 90+ prospects, with about 2/3 of this group receiving offers at some point over the last three years. Without further a do, let’s look at some statistics.

The first question you might be asking is which position was Wake after hardest based on scholarship offers. Now, this is always tricky to handle because often times SG/SF and PF/C can be interchangeable, but based on how most scouting sites refer to the player/where the player intends to play in college I came up with this breakdown:

SG was the leading position offered followed by PF in the 2016 cycle as you can see from the chart above. The high PF and C numbers aren’t surprising considering Wake was always going to need two bigs in this class following the departures of Devin Thomas and Andre Washington. This also would seem to be the group of recruits most interested in coming to play for Danny Manning given his pedigree as a big man coach. That being said, the mutual interest was likely highest in these positions compared to the other three. Overall, it’s a fairly balanced offer list by position considering Danny Manning really doesn’t see the 2 and the 3 that differently in his offense. But is there a difference in the quality of recruit at each position? Now that’s where we see some imbalance.

The average of the 5 positions all fall into traditional 4* range, but the difference between the caliber of C and the caliber of PG’s couldn’t be more different. Danny Manning was clearly feeling confident in targeting C’s in the 2016 class and anticipated that his experience developing big men could lead to a potentially massive commitment. Of the 10 centers offered, six of them were 4*’s and three were 5* recruits with the only exception being Iran Bennett, who was offered by Jeff Bzdelik. Of the 10 recruits, the 8th highest (Samuel Japhet-Mathias #90) was the one that eventually committed to the Demon Deacons, just in front of former target Rodney Miller (#98) and behind Gonzaga pledge Zach Collins (#64).

Before I begin to list each position and its coinciding offer list, I'd like to set up a quick key to the "Story" section you will see below. Each recruit fell into one of seven categories for me in Wake's recruitment of them. Their brief descriptions are as follows:

Demon Deac: He committed to Wake Forest. Pretty self-explantory.

Lost the Battle: Wake Forest was in the recruiting battle until the end, but ultimately didn't land the prospect.

Rose out of Range: A recruit Wake could've landed, but a massive soar in stock led to better options for the recruit.

Long Shot: A Blue Chip that had an offer extended, but was always an unlikely option.

Stayed Home: A recruit that went to their hometown school rather than other options.

Stopped Pursuit: A recruit that Wake could have landed, but seemingly stopped going after.

Never Got off the Ground: A prospect that was in Wake's range, but the recruitment stalled somewhat early on.

Low Priority: "Low priority" goes to recruits that Wake A) Offered early on but somewhat stalled in development or B) We're heavily prioritized over in the process.

2016 PG Offer List

Point Guard was clearly the position with the widest range in this class and a mean rank that was nearly 25 spots higher than any other position. The leader of the group was dream target #6 Dennis Smith, who as you already know eventually chose the heavy-favorite NC State Wolfpack after a long pursuit by Danny Manning. Markelle Fultz is the second highest on this list at #9, but that recruitment seemed to end early when it was clear Wake Forest was far behind in the race for his services shortly after his offer was extended last December.

The ironic thing about the PG list is the sheer number of guys who have a diverse set of reputations according to scouting services. Quinton Rose is Unranked in the 247sports composite, yet ESPN tabs him as a 4* in 2016. Howard Washington is #150 in the 247sports composite (182 on 247sports alone) yet ESPN again has him as a 4* prospect.

Maybe you see this as sheer coincidence or possibly as ESPN recruiting incompetency (Likely the latter), but it certainly goes to show that PG is one of the toughest positions to rank in how it translates to the next level. Former Deacon commit Shelton Mitchell was a solid 4* prospect even after his knee injury heading into college and now who would take him over 2* Mitchell Wilbekin if they got to pick? Brandon Childress is one of the lowest ranked kids on the list (#228) and I have a really good feeling he will outperform most of those ranked above him when he finally dawns the Black and Gold.

Overall, the reason the PG average rank is so high is not because I think Manning was targeting inferior recruits, it’s because the ranking system for the position is generally a crapshoot anyway, and I trust our head coach has an eye for talent in finding the type of player he wants.

Of the PG group, there were only two guys that Wake Forest really went hard after and failed to get: Dennis Smith and Koby McEwen. One chose his childhood favorite team and the other decided to play college ball close to his current HS in Utah. When it comes to decisions like those where all other schools are in an uphill battle, I don’t think you can really blame the staff for not being able to land either of them.

2016 SG Offer List

To be frank, SG was a position I felt this staff took a lot of shots in the dark with. Multiple guys who were offered were recruits it seemed like Danny Manning simply extended a fishing line out in the hope that something big might catch. Jayson Tatum, Terrance Ferguson, Bruce Brown, Trent Forrest, Josh Langford, and Rawle Alkins all never really showed any interest in attending Wake Forest or even considering the school. A few talked about WF in interviews as having had contact with the staff, but there was never really anything substantial there. #83 Curtis Jones could be considered in this group as well but the fact that Wake Forest had been on him for so long (He was offered by Bzdelik in fall of ’13) allowed for the Deacs to hang around a bit longer than a few might have expected.

The real disappointment in this group is Kwe Parker, who was a top 50 recruit and seemingly destined to be a Deac last fall before a foot injury kept him sidelined for the second half of his senior season and all spring. The injury and an apparent miscommunication between Danny Manning and Parker in the summer over a meeting pretty much sealed the fate that Kwe wasn’t coming to Wake Forest. He then began to tumble and tumble hard in most scouting sites’ rankings, where he is generally considered a mid-level 3* prospect by almost everyone except 247sports. Wake definitely had an opportunity to land Parker in July when the SG stated he was looking to take an official visit to campus at some point before he made his decision, but that visit never came to fruition on the Wake Forest side of things.

Maybe Kwe was overhyped all along or maybe the foot injury was more of a setback than we thought, but the clear fact is that Wake had their local 4* SG pretty much in the bag before an unfortunate set of circumstances occurred. If Kwe Parker had committed last fall right after Brandon Childress did (Both were Top 90, 4*’s at the time) maybe Wake could have used the momentum into having recruiting success at some other positions. For better or worse, that is not the way it ultimately went down.

There are only 4 SG’s who were offered in 2015 out of the 15 overall: Rawle Alkins, Richard Washington, Zach Norvell, and Kam McGusty. McGusty and Alkins took the offer in stride and never really looked back, while Norvell and Washington gave the Deacs a little bit more consideration than the majority on the list. Washington’s recruitment came out of nowhere when it was announced in a June Rivals article that Wake Forest was talking to him nearly every single day. At this point in time, Washington was a low 3* prospect (No 247sports profile to his name) and only holding offers from Low-Major D1 schools such as William and Mary and ODU.

Norvell had a little bit more of a reputation when he was offered as a top player at Chicago HS powerhouse Simeon. Considering Wake Forest wasn’t really spending a lot of time watching Norvell play for Mac Irvin Fire on the Nike EYBL circuit this summer it came as a surprise when the SG stated to College Basketball Talk that he wished to take an Official Visit to Wake after the July live period. The visit evidently never happened, but that may be due to the fact that Washington committed on August 1 on his OV before Norvell ever got the chance.

Eli Wright, who postponed his official visit only to commit to Mississippi State before his trip to Winston-Salem ever could occur, looks to be the main "Guy that got away" in this class as his performances in summer showcases and his senior year so far have been nothing short of outstanding.

2016 SF Offer List

In terms of Small Forwards offered, there were only 8 who had a scholarship extended in the entire cycle. Jon Isaac was the initial priority and it looked like Wake had a legitimate shot at the IMG Academy product after he announced his Final 12 in early June. Wake being in the final 12 for a 5* product might not sound like news worth mentioning, but it was reported soon after that the Deacs were one of his top choices in that group and would have a legitimate shot at actually landing the SF. Isaac then chose to stay close to home and play for Leonard Hamilton at FSU and it began to look like no Small Forward would be joining the 2016 class at all.

Mario Kegler was a prospect with enough scholarship offers from P5 schools he probably needed to buy a new mailbox for his front yard. De’Riante Jenkins was offered in the early summer after a reclassification to 2016, but rarely talked about Wake in interviews on the AAU circuit before choosing VCU. Braxton Key and Matthew Moyer were recruiting pursuits that very literally never got an inch off the ground, and by the time Josh Hall was back on the market after decommitting from Rice Wake had already moved on.

I do wish the high-flying Jalen Johnson was recruited harder by the staff given his unbelievable athleticism and potential to grow, but apart from an offer and some initial interest the whole recruitment seemed rather minimal over the last twelve months.

Donovan Mitchell had been a name vaguely thrown around recruiting circles for a couple months as an option at PF, but due to his lack of youtube highlights and recruiting information nobody really took the interest that seriously. That was until an early September official visit and coinciding commitment made Mitchell a Deac when most had never even heard of his name.

I list Mitchell here as a SF, but really he can play anywhere from the 2-4. He currently plays PG for his HS program in California and has good handles for a kid his size. The package he brings I think translates more to the 3 than the 4 at the moment, but after a few months with Danny Manning who knows the type of post player he could be at the next level.

Mitchell is a high-potential pickup whose lack of a reputation on the AAU circuit and in Twitter talk has made a few hesitant in their judgment so far. Of course, no one ever really knows how a player will translate to the next level, but the fact that Mitchell could be a PF with guard like skills certainly is an intriguing notion.

2016 PF Offer List

The Power Forward target list was headlined by Harry Giles, but there’s not much I can say about that recruitment you don’t already know. A weird aspect of this group was the fact that Wake Forest was in a good position to land Canadian big man Eddie Ekiyor before he was involved in a hit and run incident with an officer back in August. I would guess that any and all interest Danny Manning had in the target was immediately erased, as there was never any news again referencing the two sides as a potential match post-incident.

This position had the most 5* recruits offered, but none of them except for Giles were ever close to becoming Demon Deacons. Gabriel saw a meteoric rise in his stock on the July AAU circuit only a few weeks after his offer from WF. DeLaurier and Sacha Killeya-Jones had similar rises though a little more gradual over the course of a couple months.

The real question I would love to ask the staff is why it chose to not pursue 4* Australian big man Harry Froling after Giles decided to go to Duke. Froling is one of the top young talents in the NBL right now playing for his hometown Townsville Crocs and stated over the summer he was looking forward to taking an official visit to Wake Forest at some point this fall. That official visit evidently never happened and a player who outperformed a number of top 100 players at the Adidas Nations tournament this past summer was all of a sudden off the big board. While many of the other schools that had offered Froling chose to send a representative to Australia for an in-home visit, Wake Forest decided against this option and that virtually signified the end of his recruitment.

I do think Wake is in good shape next year without Froling at the helm, but it is curious as to why one of the best foreign prospects in the 2016 class never got the chance to visit when the mutual interest was strong only a few months ago.

2016 C Offer List

The Center crop has the most players undecided currently and as I said before has the highest overall ranking of the five positions. Bam Adebayo and Marques Bolden were pipe dreams, and even though Wake was labeled as one of their top schools in the last few months, the truth is neither of them were coming here without a package deal in the works.

The Rodney Miller commitment to Miami caught most people off-guard when it happened, but that might have been due to the lack of recruiting updates the fan base had over the summer on him. Due to the fact Miller opted not to play on the AAU circuit, there was virtually no news on the Oak Hill C for three months prior to him randomly announcing one day he would be a Hurricane (Note: That sounds really weird when you type it out, I realize).

Fortunately Manning had a trick up his sleeve and locked up English C Samuel Japhet-Mathias who I believe brings a more complete package to the court and will be able to contribute day 1 here in Winston-Salem. It might have all been a little secretive and under the radar, but pleasant surprises don’t come often as a Wake fan, so when they do it’s time to celebrate and appreciate them for what they are.

Now that we’ve taken a look at each position offered, let’s look at when these offers went out. Some offers were confirmed to be handed out, but it’s unclear exactly when. They have not been including in the tally.

The two most active periods were in Q2 of 2014 and 2015, with a number of these offers coming in June before the July evaluation periods. This makes sense as coaches often offer before Summer AAU tournaments so that when they do show up at a recruit’s game the player has some connection beforehand. Q2 2014 and Q2 2015 made up 63% (32 of 51) of the scholarship offer dates available. The next highest time period was Q3 of 2014, though not a single one of these recruits ended up committing to Wake Forest. In fact, the only recruit that even came close to taking an Official Visit was Mississippi State commit Eli Wright.

The most interesting part of analyzing the offer dates of the 2016 cycle is the fact that even though only 27% of all offers extended were in 2015, 75% of the 2016 Demon Deacon class received their offer this year. The only commit for 2016 that was offered in 2014 was Brandon Childress and he was obviously always on the Deacons’ radar based on the fact that his father is a coach in the program. The last two offers extended this cycle also happened to be to recruits who accepted them (Donovan Mitchell and Sam Japhet-Mathias).

To put it into perspective, the first 79% of all offers yielded 1 commit, and the final 21% yielded 3 commits. I would guess that most schools have their commits come from offers late in the cycle simply because a lot of offers early on are to A) 5* recruits that are worth a shot but unlikely or B) Prospects you were initially interested in but stopped recruiting. Regardless, it is still interesting to see that a lot of the guys we were following intensely throughout the cycle ended up elsewhere.

One could see it as desperation, but considering our highest ranked commit (SJM) was our last and that Manning was high on Richard Washington all along, I see that argument being relatively forced. You could deem the Donovan Mitchell commitment as that, but then realize that Danny Manning accepted the commitment while still recruiting 4*’s Bruno Fernando and Harry Froling. Donovan Mitchell is a high-potential type of prospect given his recent newfound focus on basketball and his versatility and I’m willing to trust Danny Manning with that addition.

If you are wondering what states Wake has been targeting heavily over the last two years you likely won’t be surprised at the results.

Virginia was the state that held the most offered recruits by Wake Forest in the 2016 cycle, but it is important to note that these states simply are where players are in HS now. For example, Harry Giles is originally from NC, but now plays at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, VA. Iran Bennett is another example of a player whose state has been changed due to a recent transfer to Hargrave Military Academy in VA.

Overall, I think it’s safe to say that VA and NC are the primary states Danny Manning has been recruiting from since he joined the program, with Texas and Florida as comfortable secondary options. Funnily, 50% of the 2016 class comes from VA/NC and 50% come from states/areas where Wake only extended one offer in the 2016 cycle: California (Mitchell) and England (Japhet-Mathias).

After all of this talk about 5*'s you might be asking what the total percentage of offered recruits fall into this category. The answer is 28% (16 of 57) and you can see the total distribution of ratings below.

Finally, just for fun, let’s look at where most of the recruits that Wake pursued throughout the last two years ended up. Did the Deacs lose recruiting battles to rivals or random schools? How many of the prospects ended up at "Blue Bloods?"

Unsurprisingly, most targets that have committed so far have ended up at ACC schools. Given the fact that Wake recruits heavily in VA, NC, and FL (where 8 ACC schools are located) it’s understandable that there would be a lot of overlap when it comes to targeted prospects. The schools that Wake lost out to the most were Miami (3), Duke (3), UK (3), and Mississippi State (3). Of these twelve, the prospects that Wake was recruiting heavily until the very end were Harry Giles, Rodney Miller, and Eli Wright.

So how exactly did the 2016 cycle play out for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons? After all the talk about the importance for 2016 to be a stand-out recruiting year, one might look at the rankings and initially be disappointed in the overall results. That’s a fine opinion to have, but it’s also important to understand how we got there and not simply just critique without basis and move on.

The cycle began with the staff extending a plethora of offers to high-profile, potentially out-of-our-league recruits, which is relatively standard for comparable D1 programs in today’s game. There’s no shame in offering Top 25 guys and the ensuing recruitment never really going anywhere. At worst, you wasted a phone call and maybe a couple hours of your time. At best, you land a program-changing recruit who will transform your roster into an immediate ACC contender overnight. I have no problem with Danny Manning’s tendency to reach high and hope for the best. It costs the staff nearly nothing and the reward is exceptional.

The real prize of the 2016 class was of course Harry Giles and after hours and hours of hard work on the recruiting trail, ultimately the Winston-Salem native decided to take his talents to Durham and represent the Blue Devils at the next level. I’ve seen some fans, after the fact might I add, talk about how Wake should’ve spent more time on realistic 4*’s than the immense amount of time it did on HG. I have two responses to this: 1) HG would’ve done wonders to this program and you have to take the risk and go all out in recruiting him with that in mind and 2) It didn’t really hinder our chances at 4* guys at all.

The argument above talks about other 4*’s as if we had multiple in the bag and let them slip away. Most of the 4*’s we really missed out on you would be hard-pressed to tell me that we did because we didn’t put the time in. Rodney Miller was a recruit Wake Forest talked to nearly every single day and still couldn’t pull away from Miami in the end. Koby McEwen chose Utah State after the staff rolled out the red carpet on his official visit and he met Tim Duncan and Chris Paul in the same weekend. Eli Wright is the only recruit you could really make a case for this happening, but even still I think Wake was #3 or #4 on his final list and not just a few more extra hours of recruiting pitches away. Missing out on Giles was tough to swallow for sure, but I don’t think the disappointment extends beyond him not coming here.

In terms of only ending up with one 4* in the class I’d like to point out a couple of things. I’ve already mentioned the fact that Brandon Childress and Kwe Parker were both solid 4* prospects at this point last year and seemingly locks for the program. I do think B Chill is a great prospect and will surprise plenty of people when he finally gets on campus, but it is disappointing that his fall in rankings has made some people underestimate his ability.

There were also a number of 4* prospects Wake was in a good position for that simply took on drastic rises to the point where the Deacs simply couldn’t compete in the more intense climate. Javin DeLaurier, Wenyen Gabriel, and Sacha Killeya-Jones were all low-level 4*’s when Wake Forest started recruiting them and all rose to Top 40 status by the end of this past summer. DeLaurier committed to Duke and Gabriel and Killeya-Jones to UK, but if they had stayed in the 80-100 range there's a good chance the Deacs could have competed until the very end for all three.

There were also a number of 4* recruits that Wake simply chose 3*’s over. Donovan Mitchell’s commitment ceased the recruitment of 4*’s Harry Froling and Bruno Fernando. Richard Washington’s commitment seemingly ended Manning’s Zach Norvell pursuit. Highly rated 3* recruits Josh Hall (formerly a Top 100 guy), Eddie Ekiyor (formerly a Top 100 guy), and Jalen Johnson all were great options that the staff simply prioritized others over them.

We’re 5 games into the second season of the Danny Manning era and we have already seen the eye for talent the man brings to this program through recruiting. Wilbekin and Hudson were 2* recruits with no P5 offers to their name and both were huge parts of the offense last season. Dinos Mitoglou came out of nowhere to be one of the best shooting bigs in the country last year and most hadn’t even heard of his name when he first stepped on campus. Bryant Crawford and John Collins have been playing remarkably well so far this year given the little time they have had to adjust to the college game and being thrust into a significant role by default due to injuries and suspensions.

At some point you have to be willing to give Manning the benefit of the doubt that he knows exactly what he’s doing. I truly believe this class is going to be a very valuable piece of the puzzle as the staff continues to revamp this program. Needless to say if you weren’t on-board already, there is still some room and time left, though I guarantee it will be much more satisfying hopping on now than in a few years when we’re already back to where we belong.

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