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Recruiting is sometimes complicated

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The headline isn’t great, but I wanted to talk about this a little.

Missouri v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Two days ago, Mizzou legacy Kellen Thames committed to SLU.

If you follow me on Twitter, I dispelled pretty quickly the likelihood the pick would be Missouri. In fact, here’s the tweet(s):

It’s a simple premise. So I’ll start with this— I really like Kellen Thames as a prospect. He’s not a great athlete, but he’s got terrific size for his position, possesses a really high basketball IQ, and plays the game with a savvy which should spell a good amount of success in college. If he would have ended up at Mizzou, perhaps the early returns might’ve been decent, but I look at his as a similar prospect to Kobe Brown or Javon Pickett. Maybe the ceiling is limited, but a really useful foundational piece which can help any college program.

But once Christian Jones committed, the likelihood of Thames landing in Columbia was remote, to say the least. Because Jones was the developmental prospect, Cuonzo Martin was comfortable taking in a smaller, more specific class.

The 2022 class isn’t likely to be a big one. There are 12 scholarships currently taken up, and only one senior (Pickett) is graduating... which means currently the Tigers have two spots available. There are four juniors, two sophomores and five freshmen... not everyone can play so the potential for a transfer or two after this season, like any other season, is pretty high. But I don’t envision Martin looking to sign more than three players this fall, tops.

In our most recent roster math post, we talked about the recruiting picture and what Martin was looking for to finish the class. A wing, and another ball handler. The top two targets would appear to be Aidan Shaw and Chandler Jackson. But with the way college recruiting works, Mizzou could very easily sign Jones in the fall and go into the spring looking for the rest of their roster spots. Surely they’d like to have both Shaw and Jackson in the mix, but it’s not a requirement, thanks to the flexibility of the transfer portal and the approved 1 transfer rule. After all, this past spring Martin signed four transfers which infused the roster with experience.

If you understand the math, and get Martin and his recruiting... it was easy to diagnose the destination. Thames could commit to Missouri if he wanted, but it wouldn’t make sense for him to. Jones was signed up at his spot, there were recent additions to the Mizzou roster at his spot and playing time would be a bit crowded. Plus, Mizzou was still pursuing Jackson (among other ball handlers)... Thames was never going to make the decision to join Mizzou.

But it still didn’t stop some Mizzou fans from taking advantage of the situation to just be s***** on twitter: “Please don’t start the 2022 basketball class with two zero stars, six months before signing day. Thanks“ - some random Mizzou “fan” twitter account.

Mizzou fans and college sports fans are obsessed with recruiting rankings. And it’s mostly folly. Landing a Michael Porter, Jr is fantastic and an instant infusion into any roster. It stinks he wasn’t healthy, but that kind of player can really help the image of your program. You can look at what Cade Cunningham did for Oklahoma State this past year and see what could have been.

Outside of the top players — which in some years it’s 20 players, some years it’s 60, but most years it’s somewhere in the middle — the bulk of the rankings beyond those guys is questionable at best. There’s a level of projection which impacts high school rankings and doesn’t always translate to the college game. Is player ‘X’ an NBA talent? Is he prepared physically and mentally to play in college? I respect guys like Eric Bossi, who have to do yeomans work to rank anyone outside of those top players. Because once you get outside the top guys, it’s really a guessing game.

HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: JUN 08 Pangos All-American Camp Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Aidan Shaw is a top 100 player. He has NBA ability, but he’s not there yet. His offensive skill set hasn’t taken the next step and he’s remained mostly static in the rankings. Still he’s regarded as a kind of must-get for Martin and his staff.

I would love for Shaw to land at Mizzou. I love his skillset overall, his shooting motion looks cater-made to end up canning corner 3s all while playing elite level defense. His athleticism is elite so it’s easy to imagine him catching lobs off of a back door cut and infusing energy into the game. He’s also the kind of recruit Martin and his staff haven’t landed in multiple cycles. But he’s not a must get, only because of the fluidity of modern rosters and the transfer portal. His freshman production is replaceable through the portal.

But the ceiling?

This is where the discussion eventually leads... If you replace missing on a player like Shaw with an up transfer for a mid major, you can get someone who will likely be better than Aidan as a freshman, but that’s a junior or a senior being better than a freshman. The development of Shaw, you hope, is that he takes another step as a sophomore, and can potentially be an all-league level player as a junior. Because it ends up being about growth.

And growth is not linear for anyone.

As much as I like Shaw and his ability, I see a lot of the same traits in a few players currently on the roster. Trevon Brazile, in my opinion, has NBA level potential. His length and lateral mobility, coupled with incredible timing, make him a menace defensively. He’s still growing into his body a bit and his shot mechanics are sound enough he should be able to develop as a shooter. Will he? Who knows.

Why some people are excited about this roster more than the last few years is there’s more potential behind the players; the ceiling is higher even if the glass still isn’t quite full.

This gets back to my original point of wanting to call out this “zero star” nonsense. Christian Jones is a really intriguing player. I’ve watched him play on film and there’s a lot to like. He’s still growing as a player, and could still be growing as a human also. His shot mechanics are quick to load and there’s little wasted motion, which is a sign of someone who can become a reliable shooter. But at 6’6, he’s slick with the ball in his hands and is already able to defend at a high level. I don’t know where he’ll end up ranked, but he will be ranked. He’s currently unranked because this year was weird and he hasn’t been in front of enough people to be on the list yet. But give it time, he’ll get there.

And the same with Kellen, I think Thames is likely a better fit in the A-10 than the SEC, but I think he’s going to be a really good college player.

I have more to say, but I’ll probably save a little of it for tomorrow. But I want to end with this: Rock M Nation gets some flack from certain corners of the vocal minority for not being critical of the program. Frankly, anyone who says that isn’t very well read of this site, as we are often very critical of the program. But Mizzou’s overall lack of success has almost nothing to do with Cuonzo Martin. He plays a small part, but in general he’s been successful given the entire data set. And the entire data set includes Mizzou’s administration, but also its fan base, and the lack of interest in investing into the program to a level with which big returns can be expected.

I place blame for a mediocre hoops program on fans who don’t show up, meaning coaches can’t bring in players for visits during the season lest they see an empty Mizzou Arena. I place blame on an Administration who has failed for decades to make hoops a priority. Until fans and the AD step up and show me basketball is indeed a priority, I’m going to be giving the head coach running it a little bit more of a break as to why he may not be landing the most elite talent available.

Happy Saturday, everyone!