Before coaches assemble wardrobes of logo-laden polos and track pants, before they pack into gyms, and before they shell out hundreds of dollars for roster packets, recruiting services throw together watch lists of recruits to keep tabs on during the July recruiting period.
Skimming over a current list, one name popped out consistently: Donovan Williams.
The 6-foot-5, 180-pound wing out of Fort Bend, Tex., started the spring with Houston Hoops near the rear of top-150 lists but had a meteoric rise when scouts updated their rankings in late June — jumping more than 50 spots in Rivals’ index.
Still, the list of programs in hot pursuit remained modest. SMU and Texas, which have both hosted Williams for unofficial visits, have been mainstays, but Arizona State, Miami and Kansas State were the only other high-majors programs to toss out offers.
A cluster of programs, however, have been in contact, monitoring Williams’ stock on the ticker.
One of them happened to be in Columbia.
“Me and coach [Cornell] Mann have been in touch since June,” Williams told Rock M Nation this week.
After five games of pool play at Peach Jam — the apex of Nike’s EYBL circuit — the Tigers, along with six other suitors, extended offers to the long, athletic, multi-dimensional wing.
While Houston Hoops didn’t reach bracket play, Williams put together his most consistent string of outings this summer, a difficult task at times considering he’s a rotational piece in a backcourt showcasing a trio of power-conference commits in Tyrese Maxey (Kentucky), De’Vion Harmon (Oklahoma) and Chris Harris (Texas A&M).
Donovan Williams — Peach Jam
Scouts have always noted that Williams possesses the length, aggressiveness and intuition to create offense for himself. It’s also how the wing casts his own game. “I would say my slashing ability and ability to a track the basket is really unmatched by many players in my class,” he said. Still, he took the floor in North Augusta, S.C., scouring for some consistency.
Over 16 regular season games in the EYBL, Williams only posted a 97.8 offensive rating, per Open Look Analytics. While he only averaged 19 minutes per game, his usage (20.8%) was among the leaders on Houston Hoops’ roster. What was the thumb pressing down on his productivity? Well, it doesn’t help when you connect on just 17 percent of your 3-point attempts and shoot 56 percent from the charity stripe.
Those numbers acted as a drag on a prospect who connected at a 58-percent clip inside the arc and posted a solid offensive rebound percentage to fill in the margins around Maxey, Harmon and Harris. His length also lends him offensive flexibility. “Being able to play (positions) 1 to 4 has also been a plus for me,” Williams said. “I can go inside and out, which makes me a threat to the defense at all times.”
While he projects as a wing at the college level, Houston Hoops deploys Williams a bit differently on the offensive end. “I start at the 4 position, so when teams zone us we play out of the high-low set, 3-out, 2-in,” Williams said. “I play off the elbow and short corner. Then we make rotations, and I’ll end up on the perimeter.”
And as the game moves toward a style where defensive switching is a way of life, Williams’ frame and lateral quickness allow him to guard four positions. It’s easy to see why Mizzou and other programs are intrigued. Assuming Williams can steady his perimeter shooting and reap the benefits of a college strength program, he has the all the attributes teams are seeking in modern wings.
“I think just my motor and my demeanor on the court stood out,” Williams said when asked what he think enticed Mizzou’s staff. “I always try to make the right plays and not play outside of myself, and I think coach Mann really appreciates that.”
What remains to be seen is what kind of traction MU can get moving forward.
SMU coach Tim Jankovich and assistant coach K.T. Turner have put in a lot of legwork with Williams. Meanwhile, Texas assistant coach Jai Lucas has a connection to Williams through his father and former NBA coach John Lucas, who has worked with Williams in Houston. That being said, Williams said he was still keeping the door open as programs like Mizzou, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Illinois enter the picture.
“For me, the recruiting process is just starting to heat up,” he told Rock M Nation. “There are no favorites with me right now. I’ll take my time with the process to make sure I’m making the right decision.”
State of Play | Missouri’s Remaining 2019 Offers
|Last Name||First Name||Height||Weight||Position||City||State||HS/JUCO||AAU||Offered|
|Last Name||First Name||Height||Weight||Position||City||State||HS/JUCO||AAU||Offered|
|Liddell||E.J.||6'7"||220||Combo Forward||Belleville||IL||Belleville West||Bradley Beal Elite (Nike)||5/10/17|
|McKinney||Mario||6'2"||180||Combo Guard||St. Louis||MO||Vashon||Bradley Beal Elite (Nike)||6/18/17|
|Mosley||Isiaih||6'5"||185||Wing||Columbia||MO||Rock Bridge||MoKan Elite (Nike)||6/19/17|
|Beverly||Harlond||6'4"||170||Wing||Southfield||MI||Montverde (Fla.) Academy||Reach Legends (NY2LA)||10/21/17|
|Collum||Antavion||6'8"||215||Wing||Memphis||TN||Tennessee Prep||Team CP3 (Nike)||4/8/18|
|Thomas||Khalid||6'9"||202||Combo Forward||Portland||OR||College of Southern Idaho||NA||7/16/18|
|Braun||Christian||6'6"||180||Wing||Overland Park||KS||Blue Valley Northwest||MoKan Elite (Nike)||8/3/18|
Mizzou’s approach wing position also holds intrigue. East St. Louis wing Terrence Hargrove Jr. went off the board on on July 1 when he committed to Saint Louis, opting to play close to his family. Hargrove’s athleticism had never been in question, but a source with knowledge of his recruitment told Rock M Nation several weeks ago that the next step is cleaning up skill work.
Meanwhile, Rock Bridge wing Isiaih Mosley reportedly reached back to MU’s staff to reset a recruitment that, as of late April, appeared dormant. Over the EYBL campaign, Mosley, who added a Mississippi State offer late Thursday night, had been a primary perimeter threat for MoKan Elite roster that features fellow Mizzou target Malik Hall and and N’Faly Dante along its front line. During Peach Jam, his scoring dipped slightly to 8.6 points per game, but the Columbia native still shot nearly 59 percent from the floor. Coach Cuonzo Martin also trekked to Lawrence, Kan., for the Harwood Classic, where MoKan is part of the field this weekend.
How Williams potentially fits into the picture is worth monitoring. He said MU’s staff has expressed an interest that he make his way north for an official visit. Yet it remains to be seen if the logistics can be worked out. “It’s just a matter of finding the right time after July,” Williams said.
A new target at combo forward
Unlike Donovan Williams, E1T1 United combo forward C.J. Walker heard nary a word from Mizzou’s staff until last weekend.
A breakout weekend at the Peach Jam, though, piqued the Tigers’ interest and resulted in a scholarship offer last Sunday.
Walker found himself in the same position as Williams: a player with all the physical tools who ascended 50-plus spots in the rankings into the top 50 nationally. The 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward is explosive with elite length, sound feet and the ability to rebound, protect the rim and hit spot-up 3-pointers in transition.
When you scan his metrics, his game appears efficient with a 111.2 offensive rating and a 57.0 true-shooting percentage, according to Open Look data. Yet he needed to showcase consistency from the perimeter, and he was able to do that at Peach Jam, operating at the elbow and pick-and-pop situations on the wing. He averaged 23.2 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in the final three games of pool play.
C.J. Walker — Peach Jam
Asked what he thinks sold Mizzou and the six other programs who made new offers, Walker didn’t hesitate to point out his perimeter prowess.
“The ability to make shots consistently and show that my handles are improving,” he told Rock M Nation. “My wing game is improving. I’m just playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
On tape, it’s evident Walker thrives in transition, whether it’s pushing the ball down the flank or sprinting ahead on a rim run. He’s also adept at working in the short corner, finding space and showing and making a big target for passers. He can also attack closeouts or slice into a gap if a rotation is late. The question is his jumper, which is mechanically sound and consistent. What’s helped Walker this summer is embracing the role of playing as a combo forward.
“For a while, I wanted to be a 3, but then I realized I’m very successful being a combo,” he said. “Coach uses me everywhere. He challenged me in the beginning of the season that I would be the only player who will have to know three positions. He puts me in spots that showcase my skill set.”
Discerning where Walker ultimately fits in a group of versatile bigs that includes Hall, E.J. Liddell and Tray Jackson may be merely a matter of time. Right now, he plans to cut his list after the July recruiting period ends and make a decision by early November and ahead of the early signing period.
When July arrived, Tennessee, Florida, Louisville, Arkansas and LSU all seemed safely entrenched as favorites. However, Mizzou doesn’t just throw out offers left and right. Before offering Walker and Williams, the staff had only extended 25 of them in the class of 2019 and only one — to Jackson after his unofficial visit during the first week of June — in the past three months.
Meantime, Martin reached out this week to chat with Walker’s father and his mentor, Marcus Robinson. The Tigers also dispatched an assistant to watch Walker this week at the Super 6 Showcase in Atlanta. “I want to develop a relationship with Coach Martin first,” Walker said when asked about Mizzou’s early efforts.
- Combo guard Rocket Watts released his list of eight finalists on Sunday night: UConn, Florida State, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Oregon and Xavier. The Tigers’ presence wasn’t all that surprising. We’d heard from multiple sources with knowledge of Watts recruitment that Mizzou was likely to survive the cut. Whether it can snag the top-50 prospect and Detroit native, though, is another matter. A source said last week that Watts is wide open and comfortable with leaving the Mitten, which explains the presence of the Huskies and Seminoles. However, Michigan, which was long considered a prohibitive favorite, might make a renewed push after point guard D.J. Carton — a top target on the Wolverines’ board — pledged to Ohio State.
- Antavion Collum, a top-100 prospect and wing from Tennessee, told assembled scribes it’s likely Mizzou scores an official visit. The Tigers had already appeared in Collum’s top seven, which he released in mid-June. In all honesty, I don’t have a good feel for the situation. I’ve reached out to Collum multiple times to chat about his recruitment and been met by silence. So we’ll have to take him at his word.
- Combo forward Tray Jackson also told media on hand that MU is also on track to receive an official visit. Altogether, the news isn’t surprising. As we documented last month, Mizzou’s been in touch for a while, and Cornell Mann knows Jackson well from scouting him as an assistant at Oakland. When I chatted with Jackson last week, he said Mizzou was still squarely in the mix, but he wanted to get through July before doling out visits. C’est la vie. At the moment, four programs seem well positioned to land Jackson: Xavier, Missouri, Oklahoma and Minnesota.
- We’ve long assumed the pursuit of E.J. Liddell would leave knuckles white. A lingering question was whether bluebloods would start sniffing around. Last week, they arrived. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski’s and North Carolina’s Roy Williams took in Liddell’s play at Peach Jam, and the Belleville (Ill.) West product told reporters that Duke has touched base with him on several occasions. Now, I’ll agree with the observation made Alex Schiffer of The Kansas City Star: freaking out might be premature. The Blue Devils haven’t extended an offer yet. Liddell is a top-50 prospect. It makes sense that elite programs would inquire. The bigger threat might actually be in Columbus. Ohio State hosted Liddell on an unofficial visit in June, and he announced last week that the Buckeyes would receive his first official visit.
- Combo guard Mario McKinney created tremors when told assembled media that he and Liddell, who are childhood friends, could be a package deal. On top of that, he also said it’s unlikely he takes an official visit to Mizzou. (McKinney’s made multiple trips for unofficial visits.) On the court, though, McKinney put together his best session of the season for Brad Beal Elite, joining Williams on the All-Breakout Team at Peach Jam. Carving out a niche has been tough at times on a loaded roster. Yuri Collins commands the point position, and a glut of guards in Hargrove, rising junior Moses Moody and rising sophomore Zion Harmon vying for minutes. Moody, though, was nicked up with a foot injury, creating an opening for McKinney to get extended minutes.