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Wake Forest Recruiting Mailbag: The 2019 Class, Key Targets, and Building Momentum

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After a new 2019 commit this week, there’s plenty to talk about with Wake Forest Basketball Recruiting at the moment.

Kansas State v Wake Forest Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It’s been a busy week for Wake Forest Basketball Recruiting as the Deacs picked up a commitment from Woodstock Academy PF Ody Oguama on Monday night following an Official Visit. Oguama joined 4* SF Ismael Massoud in the 2019 class as the staff is looking to build off a strong 2018 cycle where WF finished in the Top 25 nationally. Given the recent updates, I decided to look to Twitter to gather a few questions from Deacon fans related to WF Basketball Recruiting for a Mailbag Q&A. See below for a couple thoughts on Cole Anthony’s recruitment, the 2019 cycle outlook, and positions of need going forward.

Wake Forest: Sustaining Recruiting Momentum?

This was essentially an iteration of the biggest question I had this past spring/summer: How can Wake maintain momentum in recruiting with the pitch of “We continue to improve on each season” seemingly off the table? Whether at Wake or any other High Major program, after a coaching change there is usually a fairly noticeable “new era” bump that can be seen on the recruiting trail, mainly because the incoming staff can use the theme of rebuilding as a way to sway recruits on the program’s potential.

It’s a #TrustTheProcess mindset that generally works because at that point no one really knows what the ceiling of the program is with the new staff, and so the mystique of the situation can be used as a positive, particularly when recruits view their class as the one that can singlehandedly change it.

However, after a couple of years into the new tenure, the program has either 1) Been able to rise to new heights, and thus continued recruiting at a high level 2) Stayed stagnant with their situation, and the recruiting pitch has subsequently become more dry over time or 3) Risen temporarily, but had a setback.

Evidently, that’s what happened to Wake Forest this past year. It leads to a tricky situation where you can’t point to the past season as a “Look! we’re progressing forward!” and instead have to frame it as “That was an anomaly, we’ll bounce back”. There’s plenty of other ways to spin the latter pitch, particularly when you have other factors (Location, personal connections, academics, etc) that appeal to certain individual recruits in your target range. But for recruits that you didn’t have an “in” with off the bat, you probably get crossed off their list a little earlier than before, and that means the pool you are ultimately able to fish from is that much smaller. Towards the end of the cycle, there’s just a lot less room for error on your realistic targets if you want to put together a decent class.

All of that was just a really long way of saying if we want to put together a good class for 2020, we’re going to have to have a pretty successful year on the court. Last season was a disappointment and certainly hasn’t made our ability to recruit any easier, but at this point you can still utilize a halo effect of John Collins’ rapid ascension, an NCAA Tourny appearance, and upcoming new facilities to your advantage. Another year in the cellar of the ACC doesn’t make these things less true, it just dilutes their value on the recruiting trail. At the end of the day, 5 seasons with just 1 NCAA Tourny Appearance just doesn’t stack up well against programs riding a wave of recent success or programs with a “new era” pitch in their back pocket.

The Recruitment of Cole Anthony: Where does Wake stand?

I thought I’d take Dan and Ted’s questions in tandem here since they both touched on the recent news of Wake Forest making 5* PG Cole Anthony’s Top 6 on Monday night. Anthony, ranked #2 in the 247sports 2019 Player Rankings, is one of the best PG prospects of the last 5 years and was highly sought after by nearly every High Major program in the nation. He’s explosive, has an elite basketball IQ, and can score from pretty much anywhere on the court. It’s not hyperbole to say he would change this program overnight, both from a national attention perspective and on-court talent.

He also comes from the same AAU program (PSA Cardinals) as Isaiah Mucius and 2019 commit Ismael Massoud. The staff has become quite familiar with PSA over the last couple of years not just with these two, but also during the recruitments of Mo Bamba and Brandon Randolph, who chose to head to Texas and Arizona respectively.

While there’s certainly a connection to players in Wake’s program, his closeness to UNC commit Armando Bacot is probably the one most worth keeping an eye on. The two have talked openly about playing together at the next level for the better part of a year now and even took an OV the same weekend to Chapel Hill. If there’s a connection that pushes him over the top to a school, it’s probably that one rather than anything else.

But on the other hand, Wake wouldn’t be listed in his Top 6 if he wasn’t at least intrigued by the opportunity to be a Deac. Wake beat out schools like UK, Duke, and Kansas to land in Anthony’s Final 6, and other programs such as Georgetown and Miami subsequently made the cut as well. If anything, it shows that he’s not just simply looking for the program with the most prestige or hype around it, but the best fit possible for him overall. It’s easy to appreciate that from a neutral standpoint, and easy to get excited by that if you’re a Wake fan.

That being said, getting an Official Visit from Anthony is an absolute must if the Deacs have any shot at somehow finishing on top of this recruiting battle. Anthony has already taken OVs to ND, UNC, and Oregon, the latter two being the schools that everyone seemingly thinks are in the lead. He last took an unofficial to Winston-Salem back in August and my guess is the staff is looking to bring him on campus at some point midseason to ensure he gets a feel for what what an ACC atmosphere in the Joel is like.

With a spring decision most likely and a few of the programs he’s considering at least somewhat implicated in the NCAA scandal, anything is possible for the Deacs to make a final push. At the moment, we appear to be on the outside looking in, but that’s a whole lot better than 99% of the other programs who reached out over the last few years. Let’s see what happens.

Does making the Top 5 for a Blue Chip prospect mean anything?

I’ve gone back and forth on this one over the years, originally starting back in the summer of 2015 during the “Harry Giles Saga.” To refresh your memory, at the time Wake was a serious contender for Winston-Salem native and #1 overall prospect Harry Giles as he got closer to making his final decision. The fact that Wake Forest was consistently listed by HG in his updates seemed to have some sort of impact on fellow 5*s Dennis Smith Jr and Marques Bolden; Two recruits that in a normal cycle probably wouldn’t have kept Wake on their list as long as they did.

Wake missed on Giles, Smith followed the Adidas Yellow Brick Road to State (aka never coming to WF), and Bolden didn’t advance the Deacs past his “Top 8” from early August. Did Wake being in the mix with a 5* help in getting on a few extra Final Lists? Definitely. But once the allure of playing with HG was supposedly gone near the end of the summer, Wake’s chances at the other Blue Chip prospects disappeared fairly quickly as well.

Wake has made a number of Final Lists for top prospects over the last few years, though I don’t think simply making the list is enough to lead to any real successes on other targets. Guys might be more willing to keep you listed for an extra round or two if they see some other high caliber prospects doing the same, but it’s not until you go out and land one of them that anything changes. In that sense, you have to make the most of the opportunities you do have with 5*s (Ex: Hoard - Local school, Connection to Sarr, Early Offer), seal the deal, and hope momentum breeds momentum from that point forward.

Biggest Positions of Need for the 2019 and 2020 Classes?

I mentioned in last week’s article that I wouldn’t be surprised if Ody Oguama was the next member of the 2019 class shortly after hearing his Official Visit was scheduled. It all made too much sense; Wake was clearly in the market for a high-upside, athletic big and Oguama was interested and fit the mold for what the staff was looking for. On paper there’s only one spot left in the class, but we all know that if you are recruiting just enough guys to fill the open slots you’re probably going to be left scrambling late.

My guess is the staff is looking to fill at least two more spots in the form of a PG/CG and a best available. Canadian Combo Guard Jahcobi Neath has gotten off to a really strong start to his Senior campaign and is the main target I’m keeping an eye on over the next couple of months. High Major Interest has picked up dramatically for him after being sidelined for most of the last year with an injury, and he has all the tools to be a contributor at the ACC level from everything I’ve seen. After that, the 4th commit is really a wild card, whether it’s another wing like Tyrese Samuel/Brice Williams, a big like Josaphat Bilau, or a guy not currently on our radar. You could also save this spot for a grad transfer if you wanted to add a little bit of experience to a team that will be predominantly underclassmen.

Looking forward to the 2020 class, the team should have a need for a premier big man considering A) Jaylen Hoard very well could be gone for the draft by then and B) The team is already light on bigs, and we may not end up adding another in 2019. I’m a fan of the whole shift to “small ball”, but for the 2020-21 season we can potentially count on Olivier Sarr, Ody Oguama, and Sunday Okeke as the three bigs we currently know of that are still on the roster. We’re going to need to add a few post players.

I could end up listing a few 2020 PF/C targets as guys to keep an eye on below, and we’d probably look back on it in 12 months and none of the names would be relevant to Wake Forest Basketball at all. That’s just the nature of where we are in the cycle. Instead, I’ll leave you with a video of Jaylen Hoard doing Jaylen Hoard-like things on the basketball court. Go Deacs and see you all at the Joel on Friday.