WESTFIELD, Ind. — John Hugley’s reply when asked how trimming nearly 100 pounds from his frame was blunt.
“Jump,” he answered.
The scribes who encircled the now 6-foot-8, 240-pound center chortled, but Hugley didn’t crack a smile. For the Lyndhurst, Ohio, product, a svelte figure was a necessity but also the byproduct of three years of discipline and sweat equity. As the reading on the scale shrank, Hugley found himself ascending recruiting rankings, with scouts noting how he didn’t shed strength as his mobility and stamina improved.
This past season, he averaged roughly 17 points and 12 rebounds for Brush High School, which reached a district title game before dropping a four-point loss. While Hugley is rated as a three-star talent, he’s reached No. 155 in 247 Sports’ composite index, climbing 84 spots since last September.
EYBL Profile | John Hugley IV, Post, 6-foot-8, 220 pounds
Obviously, college staffs have also noticed. Since the end of April, and the spring’s lone evaluation period, Hugley’s picked up eight new offers, including Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Florida, Iowa and Iowa State. Missouri was also among those suitors who extended an offer, but the Tigers — assistant coach Cornell Mann, specifically — have been keeping tabs on the big man since last fall.
Looming in the background, though, is another question: Will Ohio State enter the mix?
For now, the Buckeyes have held off, even if Hugley’s profile is reminiscent of Kaleb Wesson. Meanwhile, Hugley hasn’t revealed whether any visits are in the works. During the most recent session of the Elite Youth Basketball League, he was equally frank in addressing the prospect of Cuonzo Martin and his staff welcoming him to Columbia.
“Whenever he asks me, ‘Do you want to come down?’” Hugley said. “Whenever I tell him I’m ready to come down, I’ll come down.”
Over the past three weeks, MU’s taken to steps to address a potential void that could form in its frontcourt next season. Reed Nikko is on track to graduate, while Jeremiah Tilmon, who saw his attempt to get feedback on his pro stock foiled by paperwork snafu, could depart after his junior season. At worst, using one spot in the Class of 2020 to obtain a post prospect as a prudent hedge.
Making sense of a preference order is likely conjecture right now. The Tigers’ pursuit of Trinity Catholic post Ryan Kalkbrenner picked up momentum in March. Meanwhile, Davion Bradford sounds like a man enamored with what the Tigers’ have to offer, but he hasn’t lined up a visit, either.
To get a sense of where Hugley’s game fits into that trio, we reached out to Chet Mason, who coaches Hugley at Brush. Picking his brain makes sense, too. After starring at Miami (Ohio), Mason logged time in the NBA’s D-League before heading abroad. When he returned home, he took over the Arcs. He’s moved in enough circles to know the potential Hugley offers.
Here’s my chat about the prospect he found and how he’s gone about sculpting Hugley into a high-major talent.
Note: These responses have edited for length and clarity.
Matthew Harris: I’ve read a lot about the work you and John have done over the past couple of years to improve his body. Can you take me back to his freshman year and where he started?
Chet Mason: When John got here, he was about 6-6, 300 pounds. And you know, he was big, but he still had good feet and good hands. John is only 17, so he’s still young. We had to drop a lot of weight. Now he’s done to 240, 250 at the most.
MH: You mentioned his feet and his hands. That pops out on film. He seems like he moves well and has good spatial awareness. But how did you evaluate and project that when a kid is only 14 or 15 years old?
CM: It’s like Play-Doh. You’ve just got to mold it. Our whole thing is we say, Trust the process. With John and several other kids we’ve got who are getting Division I offers, they did that. You know, we threw him into the fire as freshmen, knowing he wasn’t quite ready. But I believe experience is the best teacher.
MH: So aside from game action, what were some other regimens you and your staff used with him?
CM: In high school, you can have a workout and run right in front of you, but he’s still got to go home at the end of the day. He’s going to eat whatever he wants and do whatever he wants to do. So the kid has to buy in.
After that first year, John started buying into what we were telling him. He stopped drinking pop. He started watching what he was putting in his body. John doesn’t eat as much as he used to. He was really conservative about what went in his body, and he’s seen over time that it pays off for him.
His muscles are getting toned, he’s getting stronger. He’s lifting 300 pounds in front of college coaches. So he’s feeling good about himself.
MH: How much time could you give him total, and how long could he go on the floor?
CM: I started him. That’s how much I believed in his potential to be really good for us. I love [player] development more than I love winning. That might sound crazy, but I’ve in my career before I started coaching. I’m willing to sacrifice some wins now to develop my players.
So John started for us, but he wasn’t playing heavy minutes. It was just about getting him out there, getting him in the flow. We just wanted him to gain experience. And you look at John now, and I believe our system works.
MH: So, what was the next step in his development between his freshman and sophomore years?
CM: We have a little time off after our [high school] season here. It’s something like 30 days. So we take that, but we’re still doing stuff with them in the weight room every day. We work. I try to treat it like a college program.
MH: When I watch him, he has a sense of how to use his size. He can lean on guys, but he’s also got some finesse and some touch. He’s a guy who will bury a smaller defender in the paint, can still pin a guy and get a lob from the high post. Where have you seen him grow and find that balance?
CM: He’s definitely more comfortable posting up. But John’s big thing now, I mean, he just shot the piss out the ball. Colleges didn’t know he could shoot that well. He definitely can pick-and-pop and make 3s at a high volume. He’s getting more comfortable. In college, you’re going to seeing him stretching the floor and posting up.
He’s always had that ability in the post. He’s strong, and it’s hard to stop him from getting where he wants to go. But that’s still part of his development because he’s not always consistent with it. He’s getting better and better at it.
With John’s size and strength, he can duck in [to the lane] on just about anybody in the country, especially high-school kids.
MH: I noticed you guys aren’t afraid to move him and use him as a wrinkle. I saw a play where a guard sets a pin down for him from the wing, he pops out, and then he cuts from the strong to the weak side.
CM: I played for a little bit in the Lakers [G League] system, and picked up a bit of the Triangle offense. We low cut, high cut, and try to give him space to work. He’s such a phenomenal passer, too, out of the post. We can trust him to make the right read and right play.
MH: Yep. And you guys will flash a guard to the nail, hit him and have him look to dump the ball down with a weak-side screening action to spring a guard. So he can look to score or kick out. At worst, he can go get a miss for a putback. But it all comes back to burying a smaller dude in the post.
CM: Yeah. And once he gets more comfortable doing that, he’s going to destroy people with it. That’s what college is for, too. With us, we’ve got classes and this and that. There’s only so much time we get. But college? It’s just school and ball.
MH: How advanced is his footwork on the block? I saw he can reverse pivot to face-up jumper and use a drop step as a counter.
CM: He has all the tools. It’s just using them consistently. He’s learning how to use his body, too. John’s got a lot of stuff in his bag. It’s just figuring out to use all of it.
MH: You guys, from what I was able to see, didn’t use him a ton in as a screener or roller, but how does he hold up when asked to play in the two-man game?
CM: I think the ability to screen and pop is going to be big for him. Or catching the ball at 18 feet, facing up, reading a defender and making a move — almost like he’s pulling and taking a good shot from the mid-range.
We’re in a new era of basketball. People use to say a guy like John is a traditional center. It’s my job to develop him to where he can shoot the ball a little bit, he can put the ball on the floor and get to the hole — on top of him being a traditional center.
MH: On tape and in person, his shooting mechanics look pretty clean, and he shoots a decent percentage from the free-throw line. You mentioned extending his range. How has that process unfolded for John?
CM: We just got done with a workout, and he shot the piss out of the ball. I’m not just talking about 3s. I’m talking about long 3s, and the college coaches that have seen that are like, “We didn’t know he could do that.” Once he starts getting comfortable with it and plays with a team that’s going to use him in pick-and-pops, he’s going to destroy people.
MH: Obviously, Mizzou’s been in and offered him. What have Cuonzo Martin and Cornell Mann passed along in terms of how they envision using him or how he might fit their scheme?
CM: They mentioned a little bit, but the thing about them is they’re still using a big like [Jeremiah] Tilmon. They’ve had Jontay Porter. They can take a guy who people think is a center and add stuff to their game.
MH: As a coach, what stands out to you — at least from what you’ve heard — about their approach to developing guys at that position?
CM: They’ve seen him shoot. They know he can pop out. They’ve seen him set screens. They know he can catch it on the low post and go to work. But three or four months ago, his body was totally different, so three or four months from now, his game will probably be different. He’s going to keep better, but they’re only going off of what they see right now.
MH: Obviously, his recruiting has picked up, and people are going to start asking about visits and trimming lists. Where do you think he’s at in that process right now?
CM: Right now, his recruitment is wide open. He’s just wanting to see what’s best for him and his family.