On Wednesday, Dennis Gates flipped the switch on the No Vacancy sign outside Mizzou Arena.
Jordan Butler’s pledge filled three openings we know the Tigers will have as Tre Gomillion, D’Moi Hodge, and DeAndre Gholston exhaust their eligibility. It would be hard to fault MU if it stops with Butler, Anthony Robinson II, and Trent Pierce. That three-man class is among the top 15 nationally, but history tells us it may slip to the fringes of the top 25 as other programs wrap up the 2023 cycle. That’s not bad work considering the staff started behind the curve.
Butler’s commitment demanded patience and a measure of composure. By this time in the recruiting calendar, most top-150 prospects have reached a decision or cut down their list of suitors. Pivoting might have entailed waiting until spring and seeing what the JUCO or transfer market offered.
Ultimately, though, Charlton Young’s longstanding ties won out. The associate head coach helped coax and coach Butler’s older brother at Florida State. He’d spent two-plus years cultivating a similar relationship with Jordan. Meanwhile, the Seminoles didn’t get to host the younger Butler; the family canceled two planned official visits.
The bigger threat came from another new coach in a different Columbia. Since taking over, South Carolina coach Lamont Paris hasn’t shied away from saying he wants to wall off the Palmetto State. Flipping G.G. Jackson, a likely one-and-done talent, from his commitment to North Carolina, to join the Gamecocks this season certainly backed up the idea. Then Paris landed a pair of pledges from hometown prospects Collin Murray-Boyles and Arden Conyers.
Keeping Butler, a Greenville native, at home was also atop Paris’ to-do list – a task potentially helped by the fact the big man’s parents are both USC alums. The Gamecocks took their shot in late August. Still, it was Gates and Young who made the closing argument during Butler’s final official visit, which took place in mid-September.
Beating out another rebuilding SEC program might not sound impressive, but Butler’s the kind of piece MU’s needed for the past couple of seasons. You could argue coach Cuonzo Martin’s undoing began when he failed to line up an adequate successor to Jeremiah Tilmon, Jr. And while Gates has tried to fill the role with a by-committee approach, landing a long-term solution was vital in this class.
Then there’s Butler himself. Entering the spring, the 7-foot, 195-pound post player was a borderline top-50 talent. Yet he also decided to leave Team United, a Nike-backed grassroots program, to join Team 1 of 1 Elite, a Puma-sponsored start-up in its first year of operation. A newly assembled roster and playing in independent events didn’t always foster a seamless style of play, which might have eased some enthusiasm. But there’s also the fact that Butler’s relatively young for his class.
Even with those caveats, though, Butler didn’t completely tank. He’s still a borderline top-100 prospect. There’s an argument to be made that the Tigers are buying the dip because Butler’s skillset fits the modern conception of a five-man.
More of a technician than a bruiser inside, you’re taking Butler on because he can shoot off the catch, competently create off the dribble, and make timely reads as a stationary passer. He’s a movable piece on offense that doesn’t require sacrificing rim protection defensively.
How does Butler fit into the current projection?
As Sam Snelling has noted, the scholarship chart is a tad weird. Technically, Kobe Brown, Isiaih Mosley, and Nick Honor could take another lap in Columbia. Of course, assumptions always carry risks, but it seems likely that Mosley will set out on a pro career. Earlier in the summer, Anthony Robinson said part of the pitch on his official visit was spending a year learning the job from Honor. And Brown? To me, he’s a wildcard.
Translated: up to three more slots could open if all those vets leave. Finally, the chart shows one available place right now, which may be filled by Mabor Majak. We’ve been working under the idea that MU could fill three to four scholarships in the early signing period. You’d also think the staff has a keen sense of which trio members are likely to stay or bolt.
Slotting Butler isn’t a challenge. He’s a post player. Mohamed Diarra’s exact role and usage remains unclear, but scouts and Gates have gushed about his upside. But even if Diarra’s development lags a bit, most freshmen in Butler’s range of the composite don’t log hefty playing time. The Tigers also have Cleveland State transfer Mabor Majak around, and they can use Noah Carter as a small-ball five.
Butler said that MU’s staff made the best pitch to develop him as a pro prospect. Unlocking that potential will start with Sean Conaty and the program’s strength staff. The big man’s frame can accommodate more mass, but improving his agility might be just as important.
Butler already grasps how to wall up, use his length and create difficult finishing angles around the rim. However, improving his foot speed and lateral quickness are just as crucial if teams target him in space, whether sliding with a driver or recovering back after playing an aggressive ball-screen coverage.
Still, the staff won’t have to rush the process.
What’s left to do?
Well, it depends. If Gates thinks he has more openings to fill, there are two prospects with reported ties to the Tigers.
In early August, the chatter was Mizzou out in front for combo guard Kris Parker, the No. 92 prospect nationally. Hailing from Quincy, Fla., 30 minutes west of Tallahassee, the 6-6, 180-pound prospect saw his stock dip a bit over the summer over questions about shot selection and whether he might be a better positional fit as a wing. But Young has put in several years of leg work and has remained steadfast.
However, a couple of months have passed, and Parker has yet to make it northward for a visit. Meanwhile, he saw what Alabama and UCF have to offer. So maybe MU’s interest waned? Well, Young dropped by Crossroads Academy to check in at the end of last month on a swing through open gyms in the Sunshine State.
While we rightly focused on Gates’ work in the transfer portal to reshape this roster, his staff hasn’t neglected long-term planning. Since April, MU locked in four high-school prospects rated better than 120th in 247’s composite: Pierce (No. 97), Robinson (No. 111), Butler (No. 119), and Aidan Shaw (No. 59). The only hole? Combo guard.
Bringing Parker into the fold would yield Gates a quintet with an average composite rating of 0.9575 — equivalent to ranking 100th in the index. It would also surpass Martin’s run in 2017. But first, Parker needs to book a trip to Columbia.
Meanwhile, the Tigers are also reportedly a factor for wing Dennis Parker, a Virginia native and the No. 110 prospect nationally. Just how involved the Tigers remain is somewhat murky.
N.C. State, Georgetown, and Oklahoma State each spent at least 18 months prioritizing the 6-7, 165-pound prospect from Richmond. Of those three, the Wolfpack seemed well-positioned to lock up his services. Coach Kevin Keatts has connections in the state from coaching at Hargrave Military Academy. Parker’s grassroots program also plays on a circuit run by Adidas, which has an apparel contract with NC State. And in early September, Keatts’ staff hosted Parker for an official visit.
Instead of locking in Parker, Keatts’ program watched his interest expand.
Last week, one source told me that knowing who drives Parker’s recruitment is challenging. A couple of weeks ago, Parker hadn’t listed MU among his suitors. Then, suddenly, the Tigers were not only listed among his final five, but Parker told On3 he planned to visit Columbia. Now, it appears that trip never took place, while Parker talked up his long-time suitors last weekend and said he was on track to decide in November.
With Shaw on campus and Pierce committed, MU’s need at the three and four spots isn’t quite as pressing. However, it’s hard to argue if Parker wants to join the stockpile. Offensively, his handle and finishing craft are coming along, but, at worst, he’s a deft cutter and potent in transition. Parker’s a good team defender at the other end and shows signs of switching one through four.
It’s also worth keeping tabs on the JUCO market this season. Right now, four players hold offers from the Tigers, but adding any of them seems like a move that would come in spring.
Will the staff push to add more pieces to this class? Or were they covering their bases in the event Butler’s decision didn’t break their way? We’ll have to see.