If you’d spent the last month closely following Aidan Shaw’s recruitment, you could begin to see momentum turning Missouri’s direction.
A scheduled official visit to Arkansas fell through. Oklahoma State took a commitment from another player at his position. Meanwhile, Iowa and Maryland — both of whom garnered official visits this summer — never truly gained traction with the top-60 talent.
As we already noted, this race boiled down to an ancient feud between MU and its rival to the west. Ultimately, the Tigers won out, with Shaw’s commitment giving coach Cuonzo Martin and much-needed victory on the recruiting trail. Moreover, the on-court impact of Shaw’s decision is as crystal clear as the off-court optics for the program.
State of Play
At the outset of this cycle, MU likely had four scholarships in play, three of which likely fell in the backcourt. But after this spring’s roster machinations with the transfer portal, the Tigers ultimately had just a pair vacancies: a ball-handler for depth and replacement for senior Javon Pickett.
In early July, the program activated stealth mode to land East St. Louis’ Christian Jones after he put together a stellar month with the Flyers at team camps. From that point on, attention shifted toward the likes of Shaw, who had been on campus for an official visit the third week of June.
Now, for all intents and purposes, MU could stand pat the rest of the fall. Exceptions exist, though. Five-star wing Mark Mitchell certainly qualifies. Last week, he announced another round official visits to his four finalists: Duke, Kansas, Missouri, and UCLA (His trip to Columbia is set for homecoming weekend). Recruitniks peg this as a two-team race between the Bruins and Blue Devils, with the program in Durham forecasted as the likely winner. For its part, MU thinks it’s deeper in the mix for Mitchell, who is set to make a decision in December, than most assume.
Should Mizzou prevail, taking Mitchell would mean over-signing, which Martin hasn’t done since taking the job. But if MU can add Shaw and Mitchell, it won’t blink.
There are also some other options on the market. Robert Jennings, a three-star prospect from the Dallas metroplex, used an official visit the first weekend of September. However, Jennings, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward, doesn’t seem to be working on an expedited timeline. He visited SMU last weekend and spent this one at Texas Tech. On Wednesday, Mizzou offered DeShawndre Washington, a 6-foot-7, 190-pound wing at Northwest Florida State, who was the NJCAA’s Division II Player of the Year last season.
Historically, though, Martin’s never over-signed during the fall period. So, he might content standing pat with Jones and Shaw. If any needs arise, the transfer market figures to be robust when spring arrives.
We joke that Martin’s trying to sign as many 6-foot-7 wings as possible, but there’s a kernel of truth in that quip.
Adding Shaw only makes the line between the wing and combo spots more opaque. Even a couple of years ago, Shaw would be a straight wing prospect who only dabbled occasionally as a combo forward. Now, it might be a larger portion of his portfolio — one shared with Kobe Brown, Sean Durugordon and Ronnie DeGray III.
It’s now a cliche, but your position is defined by who you can guard. Shaw’s defensive versatility allows him to slide down and check fours, but it’s his switchability that’s most enticing. A couple of years ago, MU’s defense was more gap-sound and positional. Yet Martin’s talked about being more assertive on the ball and pushing the pace.
Case in point: 28 percent of MU’s field-goal attempts came in transition last season and ranked 39th among Division I programs, according to Hoop Math. Where did the Tigers finish in 2019-2020? Try 292nd nationally. Juicing the throttle will likely require more turnovers, which hinges on steady ball pressure and athleticism in passing lanes. In short, it requires what Shaw can provide.
Playing for Matt McCall at UMass means DeGray’s background is well-versed in that approach. As for Brown and Durugordon, there might be a little more wait and see involved. But if Shaw settles in quickly, the Tigers will have a plug-and-play defender who can slide with point guards in pick-and-rolls, close down spot-up shooters off the ball, and has the length and bounce to turn people away at the rim.
At the offensive end, a lot hinges on Brown’s shooting stroke coming around. Over his first two seasons, he’s connected at just a 25 percent clip from behind the arc. (Granted, he made 34.4 percent of unguarded jumpers as a sophomore, per Synergy Sports data.) Assuming that happens, Brown could put a good foot forward over his next two seasons.
Yet Martin’s backstopped that position with Durugordon, who shot 40-plus percent from deep at the prep level. As for DeGray, he posted 0.992 points per possession, including 1.444 on spot-up jumpers, for UMass on moderate usage. So, there’s potentially some insurance.
When Shaw arrives, he’ll come with a proven ability to be a force in transition, a timely cutter, and an active presence on the offensive backboard. Two questions will greet him. First, how reliable is shooting stroke. At Blue Valley High School, he shot almost 36 percent a junior, and almost half his field-goal attempts came behind the arc. But a role change with MoKan Elite saw him go just 1 of 7 in 12 games during Peach Jam in July. The other task: self-creation off the bounce — a facet Shaw’s told interviewers he’s working to improve.
The stylistic evolution, though, is clear.
In the near term, Martin reached into the portal for veteran guards with diverse skillsets: Amari Davis’ mid-range game, Jarron Coleman’s versatility, and DaJuan Gordon’s defensive tenacity and downhill attacking. Yet all three have backgrounds with some experience playing fast and spacing the floor.
Meanwhile, the youth he’s added — Jones, Durugordon, Shaw, Yaya Keita and Trevon Brazile — have longer frames, are at ease switching defensively, and might be better suited to playing in transition. It’s easy to envision a lineup where Keita yanks down a rebound and fires an outlet pass to Jones, who has his head up surveying the following scene: Brazile sprinting to the rim, Shaw out wide on the wing and Brookshire running to a spot. All the while, Keita could hang bang back looking for a trailing 3-pointer.
As for the 2023 cycle, MU will need to end replacements for three transfers — Coleman, Davis, and Gordon — and a senior in Kobe Brown. Positionally, the Tigers probably need a pair of ball-handlers, a wing and a four-man. So far, the staff has reportedly been in contact with 19 prospects, extending five offers and hosting seven unofficial visitors.
Right now, coaches are out on the road this month during an evaluation period seeing prospects in open gyms. They’ll also host point guard Braelon Green, who looks like a top-50 recruit, for an official visit on Oct. 16. It’ll be worth monitoring whether Martin and his staff extend any new offers.