If you’ve been paying attention over the last few weeks — or even months — Caleb Love’s decision on Tuesday shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Having whittled his list of suitors to Missouri and North Carolina, the five-star point guard officially committed to the Tar Heels in a ceremony at CBC, his high school in St. Louis. The decision is a blow to Cuonzo Martin, who doggedly pursued the Love for two-plus years. And while the Tigers pushed a blue-blood program to the brink, any solace is likely to wear off fast.
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i wanna thank God first for blessing me with this opportunity, i wanna thank my parents for pushing me and guiding me every step of the way, i wanna thank Coach Tatum, my trainers, and everyone else that has played a major part in my life. with that being said, i will be committing to...
Throughout this cycle, analysts consistently pegged Love as likely destined for Louisville or North Carolina, perhaps underrating the early legwork put in by Martin and his staff. A smashing official visit in early September recalibrated expectations — even if the sentiment of Love and his family didn’t radically shift.
And that’s where we’ve been for a month: people realizing MU’s odds were better than expected. But they weren’t so high as to make experts pause before forecasting UNC as Love’s landing spot.
Recruiting is a zero-sum game, and adding a prospect of Love’s caliber to a proven core could have potentially turned Martin’s proof of concept into reality. But much like Love’s ascent through the recruiting rankings the last few years, his stock and interest from stiffer competition soared, moving the prospect just out of reach of the Tigers coach.
Now, all eyes will turn to Josh Christopher, a top-10 talent with family ties to Columbia, in hopes he will forego playing at nearby UCLA or with his older brother at Arizona State. Christopher appears set to wait until the spring to announce his decision, but at this juncture analysts are skeptical he’ll leave the West Coast.
There will be questions about back-up options. However, the recruiting board has cleared out as decisions have come much earlier this cycle. For example, Chanse Robinson, who added an offer from the Tigers in June, picked Buffalo. And on the wing, a prospect like Scooby Johnson has already visited Butler, while DePaul and Northwestern emerged as players. The Tigers offered Ronnie DeGray III, who will do a prep year on the East Coast, but there hasn’t been a ton of obvious movement.
For now, the options on the table appear to be waiting out Christopher or seeing a new stealth candidate emerge.
While these developments might fray nerves in the fanbase, the recruiting cycle isn’t doomed to failure. Maybe hopes for inking a transformational class in 2020 have become modest out of necessity. The Tigers’ need is still along the front line, where they could see Reed Nikko, Axel Okongo and Jeremiah Tilmon exit this spring. Last weekend, MU took the first step to plugging a potential gap with the commitment of Jordan Wilmore.
It also doesn’t diminish the other restoration work that’s already been done. Skim the roster. Five players hail from the St. Louis area, including three four-star pieces in Jeremiah Tilmon, Mark Smith, and Torrence Watson. That’s not insignificant progress.
If that quintet pilots the program back to respectability, Martin will have the case he needs when sitting across from the next top-drawer prospect — Tarris Reed Jr., perhaps — and making a case for Columbia as home.