It’s the time of year that tests nerves: cutdown season.
Each summer, the nation’s top prospects begin trimming their list of suitors once Peach Jam wraps ups. On Tuesday night, arguably the top prospect on Missouri’s board cut his. Cam’Ron Fletcher, a Vashon wing and the No. 37 recruit, has been a prime target for Mizzou head coach Cuonzo Martin since he took over the job in April 2017.
Pretty quickly, Martin singled out the top prospects in St. Louis for the 2020 class: Fletcher and CBC guard Caleb Love. Both players were among the first to pick up offers last April, behind only five-star wing Josh Christopher and four-star big man Xavier Foster. Since then, the Tigers’ full-court press on Fletcher hasn’t eased up.
The first leg of the race has passed as Fletcher announced a final five, with Missouri squarely in the middle — literally.
Top 5 pic.twitter.com/5g2FZvwPmO— 21 (@CamRonFletcher1) July 17, 2019
So it makes sense to reset and look at the contenders still in the running. Keep in mind that none of these programs are starting from scratch, and in a long race, MU’s early toehold does matter.
Coach Nate Oats hasn’t been on the job long in Tuscaloosa, but his early returns have been positive. After arriving from Buffalo, he persuaded Kira Lewis Jr. and John Petty to pull their names out of the transfer portal. He imported a veteran shooter and ball-handler in James Bolden. Finally, Oats landed Lewis’ heir apparent when Jahvon Quinerly, a former top-50 recruit, left Villanova. So while it is surprising to see the Tide here, it’s also understandable given Oats charisma and assertiveness.
With that said, I’m not sure how deep of relationship has formed between Cam and Alabama. Oats only took over this spring, and Bama’s profile is similar to Mizzou’s. I was a little surprised to see them on the final list and not surprised to see the other four. So take that as you will.
My estimation: 7% chance
Ah, the perks of being a blue blood.
UNC didn’t enter the mix until relatively recently, but the Tar Heels’ interest shows the ever-present risk when you’re recruiting top-50 players. Schools like UNC and Duke and Kansas can bide their time, lurk on the edges, hop in late and snag a recruit.
Fletcher’s mother noted there’d been little indication the Tar Heels were interested. They’d barely heard from coach Roy Williams and his staff before they extended an offer on June 17. (It came shortly after Fletcher took part in the NBPA Top 100 camp.) However, getting an offer from North Carolina makes you take notice.
Anytime North Carolina gets involved, you should be worried about them. The environment at Chapel Hill is hard to match. If there’s a reason for Mizzou fans to take heart, it’s where Fletcher potentially sits on the Heels’ recruiting board, and that’s behind a couple of other targets like Zaire Williams. Ultimately, I’d be surprised if Fletcher landed in Chapel Hill.
My estimation: 13% chance
We’ve reached the portion of the piece where you can start to feel worried. UNC has the same amount of prestige, but Kentucky has been in the mix longer. They’re also more involved.
While Fletcher sits just outside the Wildcats’ normal recruiting range, an unusual twist explains their interest. Typically, coach John Calipari is a bonafide closer, but this cycle has come with a bit of turbulence. UK doesn’t toss out scores of offers, evidenced by the three they extended to wings in the Class of 2020. One of those prospects, Jalen Johnson, already pledged to Duke. The other is Scottie Barnes, who has crystal ball picks for Syracuse and Oregon.
If Barnes’ recruitment doesn’t break Kentucky’s way, there’s a spot in need of filling in Lexington. It’s a lot harder to say no to Kentucky than you think.
My estimation: 27% chance
For the longest time, the pursuit of Fletcher looked like a two-team race between Missouri and Michigan State. Kentucky entering the picture made it more complicated, but the Spartans and Tom Izzo have focused on Fletcher since last fall.
In March, Cam visited East Lansing, watching up close as the Spartans toppled Michigan for a Big Ten title — a win that also came on Senior Day. A couple of months later, he gushed to Rock M Nation about the familial culture and brotherhood among players who have suited up for Izzo. He also mentioned his desire to get back for another look. Now the question is whether time and the Wildcats’ interest have caused those feelings to fade.
Still, I’m not sure you can count out Izzo and the Spartans, because they’ve built the kind of program culture a player like Fletcher can really fit into.
My estimation: 26% chance
The home school, the one that’s been there from the beginning. Still, most national analysts consider Missouri an outsider in the race because they don’t have the same cache and reputation as North Carolina, Kentucky or Michigan State. No doubt, Martin and his staff have their work cut out, but they’ve also been diligent.
Missouri is deep in the mix here. They’ve got the longevity, and they’ve got the hometown touch. Five members of the current roster hail from the St. Louis area, including freshman Mario McKinney Jr., who is Fletcher’s former teammate at Vashon and a close friend. (Not to mention, but football’s recent recruiting run could help, since most basketball players know the prospects that coach Barry Odom’s reeled in.) Longevity and regional momentum might be enough for the Tigers to overcome the sport’s upper crust.
My estimation: 27% chance
Remember: Don’t Freak Out
I don’t know where Cam’Ron Fletcher is going to end up. I also realize Mizzou, Kentucky, and Michigan State stand on equal ground. I’m not confident in saying this, but if I had to pick right now, I think Missouri lands their guy.
It’s a daunting task when you recruit a guy for more than two years and having to fend off the schools Mizzou faces moving forward. The lure of Lexington, Chapel Hill, and East Lansing is real, as are the track records of coaches like Calipari, Williams and Izzo. There’s a reason why they win recruiting battles.
This is why you hired Cuonzo Martin. Missouri wanted a guy who could win those battles, and this is the first time Martin is genuinely being challenged. Fletcher is the more of telltale sign than Caleb Love, because the connections with Fletcher are obvious.
But it’s a lot to overcome.