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Editorial Bored: How will the 2020 Hoops Class shake out?

Our weekly feature dives into the basketball recruiting realm with escalating recruiting battles.

HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: JAN 19 Spalding Hoophall Classic Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to Editorial Bored, a weekly Rock M Nation roundtable getting you through the desert of summer by looking ahead to the coming year in Mizzou Sports.

While it may not be the end of the summer basketball circuit, the EYBL Peach Jam is usually the highlight of the summer for basketball recruiting junkies. Did any Mizzou targets stand out to you during this year’s session?

Sam Snelling, Site Manager: Well, considering most of the top Tiger targets were playing out of the spotlight of in a more minor role there wasn’t a lot of news for Mizzou coming out of the tournament.

The clear top two of Caleb Love and Cam’Ron Fletcher didn’t have the successful season one usually associates with the Bradley Beal Elite. Still their reputation required viewing from a lot of top coaches, including Cuonzo Martin. Meanwhile, Davion Bradford played more of a reserve role behind N’Faly Dante — arguably the best player at Peach Jam this weekend — in helping MoKan win it all.

The standout — if there was one — was probably Josh Christopher. For a five-star player, Christopher hasn’t reeled in a lot of top offers. Most of the blue bloods had with held recruiting, or at least offering the Mizzou target. It’s left the door open for schools like Missouri and Arizona State to work on the relationship in hopes to hold off any of the elite schools. That changed a bit for Christopher as he reeled in Kentucky, Kansas, Arizona and UCLA have all hopped on board in the last few months. It’s been a good run for the (now-confirmed) blue-chipper.

Matt Harris, Basketball Editor: When the grassroots circuit kicked off, three players were atop the board for 2020: Love, Fletcher and Christopher. Nearly three months later, no one mounted an insurgency to break into that tier. Maybe that’s a function of the staff knowing its up against heavyweights for those prospects. An overhauled recruiting calendar and tweaked periods to evaluate talent could also play role. Whatever confluence of factors are involved, the situation remained static.

Obviously, Ryan Kalkbrenner, who went from off the grid to No. 77 in 247’s composite index, is noteworthy. The Trinity Catholic post should be in the discussion with Dante, Moussa Cisse and Isaiah Jackson as the best rim protector on the circuit. Sure, his offensive package is a work in progress and he needs to find a weight room, but I’m not sure how many players made as big of a jump. Seriously, look at the company the big man is keeping these days.

But I’m still enamored with Scooby Johnson, a top-125 talent out of Michigan whose run with The Family Detroit was undermined by injuries. After missing the latter half of the EYBL regular season, Johnson flexed his versatility at Peach Jam, putting up 15.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game.

With a sturdy 6-foot-6, 210-pound frame, he can play as a small-ball four or move to the wing. He’s switchable as a defender and doesn’t need to be the primary focus of an action to make a dent offensively. He can thrive as a secondary creator, off-ball cutter and evolving catch-and-shoot option. And his activity level on the glass is a boon.

Instead of pushing his way into the top-100 prospects nationally, Johnson slipped 16 spots, landing at No. 121 in 247Sports’ composite. It won’t make Michigan, Michigan State or Butler — all of whom have been long time suitors — any less bullish, but the way Johnson’s run unfolded may have kept new programs from entering the fray.

Josh Matejka, Editor: With BBE left out of the peachy fun, it was the revised big three of Josh Christopher, Ryan Kalkbrenner and Davion Bradford who were on display last weekend. Obviously, Christopher probably did the best for himself, as Sam pointed out above.

The EYBL doesn’t do a great job of getting all the box scores in, so it’s hard to get a full gauge on how everyone did from a statistical standpoint. However, just from observing several lines, it looks like Bradford played a mostly minor role for the champions, MoKan. It should be noted, though, that he had his highest scoring game in the final — again, from what we can see based on the EYBL’s website.

Maybe you wouldn’t call it a standout, but Kalkbrenner’s consistency was damn impressive. On a team that mostly spent the weekend getting housed, the big man was a picture of production. Here are his box scores laid out:

  • Vs. Nightrydas Elite: 2 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, 24 minutes
  • Vs. IndyHeat: 12 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 27 minutes
  • Vs. Vegas Elite: 7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, 26 minutes
  • Vs. All Ohio Red: 10 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks, 25 minutes
  • Vs. Team WhyNot: 10 points, 6 rebounds, 7 blocks (!!), 30 minutes

That’s not exactly star-level, but those are numbers you can use, especially considering that he still hasn’t tapped into the potential of his offensive game. Depending on how things keep trending, Kalkbrenner may become one of the must-get players in the 2020 class.

Most of our focus in the 2020 class has been on the Big 3 of Christopher, Love and Fletcher. However, there are quite a few players outside of that group who could become Tigers. Which realistic targets in this class do you have a close eye on?

Sam Snelling: I’m not sure how big of a class the Tigers need, but Missouri probably has its best shot with Bradford. He’s at a position of need in the class, and they’ve done a good job recruiting him. The threat may come from Kansas State, who is recruiting him along with his good friend Luke Kasubke, with whom Missouri has sort of fallen off.

I’m more curious as to where the true backups come from. One guy I’m sort of curious about is Chanse Robinson. Missouri offered him towards the beginning of June and, in the most Missouri way possible, there’s been nothing said since. He’s an intriguing prospect to me because he’s got decent size and great athleticism at the point guard spot. I’m not sure how serious Missouri is on him right now, and he’s obviously a backup to Caleb Love, but Robinson could come front and center soon.

Matt Harris: What happens if the Tigers go bust with their Big 3? I’m sure the staff has fallback plans, but given how quietly they operate, those options aren’t readily known. To me, they could do way worse than landing Johnson. While Johnson has said his recruitment is wide open, it’s still a heavy lift to pry one of the top players in Michigan out of the Mitten.

Inside, Bradford might be the name to watch. He’s been open about his fondness for the Mizzou staff and wanting to get down to Columbia for a visit, and over the course of the grassroots season with MoKan Elite, he showed the kind of motor and consistency we were waiting to see.

Admittedly, a class anchored by Bradford and Johnson might not have casual fans overjoyed. In practical terms, however, both would fill needs in this class and still have a measure of upside.

Josh Matejka: I’m halfway regretting putting this question in here — we make a lot of jokes about stealth mode Cuonzo, but trying to predict his board is an exercise in eternal futility. We’re left to roll our stone up the hill of 247 offer boards, only to watch it roll down at the last minute when Axel Okongo signs out of the blue.

However, I must say I’m intrigued by the name Ebenezer Dowuona, who currently holds an offer from Mizzou. Searching him on YouTube conjures a spattering of highlight reels, the most recent of which is 33 seconds long. However, if you squint hard enough in that half a minute, you can see shades of a more athletic Reed Nikko with softer touch around the basket. And with the staff clearly prioritizing big men, Dowuona could be somewhere down the line after Kalkbrenner and Bradford.

Dowuona’s recruitment hasn’t really taken off, as he’s likely a backup on most recruiting boards. He does hold offers from Auburn and Mississippi State though, and is drawing interest from Ohio State. Maybe that’s an indicator that he’s not exactly what Cuonzo Martin is looking for in a big man, or maybe there are several coaches who see something in the Ghanaian transplant.

Predicting decisions is like meteorology: You can be an expert and still be wrong a lot of the time. That being said, let’s do some predictions. Does Mizzou get any of the Big 3 and if not, where do you see them landing?

Sam Snelling: I say yes they land at least one of them. I think Martin and his staff have focused too heavily on their top targets to miss out on all three. Maybe that’s myopic, but I do think they get one, and my guess right now is Fletcher. If Fletcher doesn’t land at Missouri, I think Kentucky probably holds a slight edge over MSU right now.

Caleb Love is a guy I’ve always felt would be a tough to keep home, but I think Missouri is right in the mix and have as good of a shot as anyone still hanging around. I tend to think the toughest school to beat for Love will be North Carolina, but Louisville and Indiana have been on Love for a while so that wouldn’t surprise me either. I tend to think Love might be the hardest to read.

Last, I think Missouri might be the destination for Christopher if anyone can get him east of the Rockies. The only other school I could see him bouncing to might be Kentucky, but ultimately I think he lands out west.

Matt Harris: Late this week, a couple of potentially disheartening tidbits landed. First, Evan Daniels, a reliable and reasonable analyst for 247Sports, inputted his prediction for Cam’Ron Fletcher’s landing spot: Kentucky. Then on Friday, it was reported the Vashon wing will use his first official visit for a return trip to Lexington on Aug. 1. So if you want to say events are trending away from MU, I won’t fight you.

But as we’ve said countless times: this is life when you’re a high-major program with a decade of inconsistent results.

No doubt, Martin’s credibility matters in St. Louis, but the program isn’t at a point where MU can reasonably be expected to land top-30 talent—especially when swimming in deep water with three blue bloods. We’ll see what happens with Fletcher after he returns from Kentucky, though.

As for Love, he’s been receptive and respectful toward Missouri’s approach. But he’s a player who’s aspired to and groomed his game to reach a program like North Carolina. To me, the question is whether Love or Bryce Thompson wind up in Chapel Hill. And if the CBC guard doesn’t, Kansas, Louisville, Texas and Indiana would gladly take him. When I saw him in Indianapolis in late May, Love said MU’s pitch entailed making him a focal point of the program. That’s certainly alluring, but is it Love’s ambition?

Then there’s Christopher, whose recruitment is fascinating. He’s a top-10 prospect, but the California native who’s drawn interest from Pac-12 mainstays in Arizona and Oregon but no offers. And while Kansas offered last summer, we haven’t seen other blue bloods like Duke or North Carolina move in. The wing made it no secret that he coveted an offer from Kentucky, but one didn’t arrive until this week. Finally, he’s only taken a pair of official visits, and to programs where his older brother is committed (Arizona State) and a cousin is the strength coach (Mizzou).

Josh Matejka: Call me pessimistic, but I’m going to say no. It seems like nothing has really trended Missouri’s way lately and, even though things can always swing in recruiting, the safest thing to do is go where the winds take you.

While Missouri had the early in with Josh Christopher, it’s all felt downhill since his brother committed to Arizona State. Combine that with the influx of blue blood offers of late, and it feels like Missouri will have too much competition to fight off. Maybe if they had one of Fletcher or Love in hand already it wouldn’t be as much of an issue. However, with three guys you’re looking to lock down, it becomes hard to put the full-court press on just one, especially one who comes from out of state. Never say die, but the Tigers seem to be fairly short of breath here.

As for the two local boys: things have never felt positive with Caleb Love. He seems to value the historical pedigree — a completely valid reason to pick a school — which would mean schools like Indiana, Louisville and North Caroline are likely the front-runners. The only way I could see him choosing Columbia would be the classic, “be the guy who builds the program,” sell from Cuonzo Martin. And let’s be honest... how often does that really work?

Fletcher, for what it’s worth, has always felt like the most likely future Tiger. All the little birds say he values proximity to his hometown, and Columbia offers him the geography and the familiarity. However, when Kentucky comes calling, all bets are off. It’s not quite as close to home, but the all-encompassing basketball nirvana that is Lexington is hard to beat.

That’s not to say I think the Wildcats are more likely to land Fletcher, but it does mean things are harder for Missouri this week than they were last. The tides are always changing — now we just wait to see where they roll next.