Stanford's recruiting just took an apparent turn this past weekend with the surprise commitment of point guard Derek Raivio to Gonzaga. A few months ago, the focused point guard attention in this junior class for Stanford was squarely on another son of Washington state - Ryan Appleby. Derek burst onto the scene with his April performance in Houston to possibly become a second viable pure point option in this class, though it was not exactly clear that Raivio had consistently showed to Stanford that he matched or eclipsed Appleby. That theoretical debate becomes a moot point, with Appleby again the star in the spotlight. The landscape may look no different than in March, but time has passed and that makes all recruiting dealings more critical. Ryan's recruitment is one to watch very closely right now.
I talked with Ryan in April in Vegas at the Pump Easter Classic, with some more general questions about his style of play and recruitment. This article is intended to follow up and update what he has done since then, as well as how his recruitment has evolved. I talked to Ryan this past week before the Raivio commitment. That is how the bulk of this article will be written. At the bottom, I will share comments from Ryan today in the wake of the news. I am separating the two to give a more precise description of his thinking and how it is changing.
The big event since then was Ryan's travel with his AAU squad, the Emerald City Pioneers, to Austria for a junior European tournament. Ryan really lit up when talking about the experience, which went far beyond basketball for him.
"It was great being exposed to those different cultures, and even the different types of kids. It was just amazing to be able to do that."
Emerald City shook up the Continent, winning the whole tournament including a memorable final against Lithuania, their toughest foe of the tourney. Ryan didn't have any stats from the event, but he sure did remember the very different styles he ran up against.
"The European guard really sought to control the game. They would slow it down, and all of them would shoot outside a lot. It was weird when you haven't played against something like that before."
When asked to compare the Euro guards with those he faces in high school and AAU competition, he noted less athleticism but "better skills." The answer for Ryan and Emerald City was to force the tempo on offense and press relentlessly on defense. It worked to the tune of a tournament title.
As for Ryan's recruitment, he says he has five favorite schools at this time: Florida, Gonzaga, Missouri, Stanford and NC State. His offers to date have come from the Zags and the Gators. The very curious omissions from his favorites list are Oregon and Washington. Curious doesn't even begin to describe that surprise, given that the prevailing logic and rumor was for a long time that Ryan would not be pulled away from one of those two schools, with maybe the Zags in the mix. He was a local lean for some time. Obviously the heavy involvement and offer from Florida took folks by surprise, but there seem to be some other undercurrents for how the primary local Pac-10 suspects are missing.
When asked, Ryan replied that he "want(s) to go away from home" and that he "want(s) a winner." Gonzaga with their offer has been in the hunt, and they don't meet that 'away' criterion, so something else is going on. Ryan specifically went on to say that Washington has been a very losing team for a while now, and though he likes Lorenzo Romar, he is too "brand new." Appleby further pontificated that had Romar come on board a year ago to get things rolling and show that he could win at U-Dub, it might be a different story. That will steam the Husky hoopaholics who wanted Bender banished some time ago.
The Oregon case is more curious. They won this year, but that might not be enough of a track record for Ryan. He specifically mentioned that they had a point guard ahead of him in Luke Ridnour, but Ridnour would be a senior when Ryan would be a freshman. That's hardly much overlap, and it is a rare school that would bring in a point guard with nobody on the depth chart at all ahead of him. Frankly, that looks like a smokescreen to me. There is something wrong with Oregon in Appleby's mind, or something they screwed up in recruiting him. But I was not going to push any further, given that a young man's private reasons can be left alone... and it's just not of great Bootleg interest to determine the nuances of where Oregon dropped off Ryan Appleby's radar.
The next issue of concern was the rampant rumor from the last week or two about Ryan being in the bag for a Florida commitment any day. Ryan laughed.
"I've heard that, too. I've heard another rumor about another school. Rumors are just rumors."
What helped spark this rumor was Ryan's visit to Gainesville in May. He said it was "cool" and "a nice place down there." He complimented the facilities and the conference, but I was surprised to not hear more glowing comments given the strength of the Florida commitment rumor. It's reasonable that Ryan just tells things in a matter of fact way, but he had a very similar tone when talking about his Gonzaga visit as well.
"They have a lot of similarities with Florida, but not as nice of facilities since they don't have the money. Also the weather is obviously different."
The next question was about Stanford's level of involvement with him, and he perceives them. His first response was that he liked them as evidenced by their place in his top five list. He went on to note that Coach Montgomery was one of the first calls on the morning the NCAA allowed calls - June 21. Said they have been talking with him a lot, and sending a lot of mail. Just as it was hard to get a great read from him on how strongly he feels toward Florida, he didn't show his cards on Stanford. He isn't that dissimilar from David Padgett, who has been playing his cards close to the vest all spring and summer.
The critical step for Ryan with Stanford is the application, which he was quick to point out he had received "a long time ago." He still has to fill it out, though, which is a terrible sign for Stanford targets. Even if he had it all ready to go, the killer for Stanford is that Ryan has yet to take the SAT. With June gone, his next opportunity will come in September. That's quite a bit of time to wait for him and for Stanford to get rolling with admissions. For what it is worth, Ryan says his cumulative GPA is currently a 3.2, with his last semester at school bringing a strong 3.45.
But here is the death knell: both Florida and Gonzaga are telling Ryan that they want July answers from him. Gonzaga says they need to know after July, and have added a lot of pressure by disclosing that they have "three point guards picked out," and the first to commit gets the scholie. Florida doesn't have that same kind of competitive pressure, but they have told Ryan they want an answer after the upcoming Nike Camp. Add that news to the SAT temporal problem for Stanford above, and you get apocalyptic trouble.
I pointedly asked Ryan with these facts how Stanford could survive through his recruitment. He said he could conceivably say no to both Florida and Gonzaga, but I think he's being courteous to Stanford with that statement. It is very improbable for a recruit to turn down all standing offers to wait to take a test for the chance at a Stanford offer. If he gave indications of truly hot and heavy interest in Stanford, I could see him taking a stand against other schools, but it doesn't add up to me in this case. I say Stanford's goose is cooked... or at least cooking.
Appleby does maintain that he wants to make an analytical decision of the best place for him, predicated on "facts, not feelings." His four areas of primary concern are:
- style of play
- playing as a frosh
- getting along with coaches and players
- campus and overall school
The second part is a matter of degree, with some point surely ahead of Ryan at just about every school. Perhaps the level of competition presented by that point guard is more the issue. Stanford would provide two scholarship lead guards in the two preceding classes, and style of play is at least a likely perception problem for someone like Ryan who plays much more like White Chocolate than anybody at Stanford since Brevin.
Ryan would like to take visits, but he can't take officials until September. There is the possibility he could take unofficials in August after he finishes his busy July schedule, but that is a wait-and-see right now. Speaking of his schedule, Ryan has the Nike Camp in a week, then the Big Time and Best of Summer to wrap up July. Ryan won't be heading to Bloomington with the Emerald City Pioneers as originally thought since the Austria trip ate up so much money. Budgets are a fact of life, even when you're a free-wheeling high school star.
Now with the Raivio commitment to Gonzaga, things really get turned on their head. There was a plausible scenario by which Ryan could play Florida and Gonzaga off each other, extending his recruitment past this tense July pressure. Now Ryan plainly says that Gonzaga is out, which is a logical conclusion though he has yet to talk with Mark Few or the Zags staff since the Raivio news.
That leaves just one offer on the table - from the Gators. It's darned hard to see Appleby's recruitment extending past the next couple of weeks if Florida follows through with its promise to demand an answer after the Nike Camp (July 6-10).
"I've got a big decision to make. If they ask that, then I either have to say yes or no. Those are the only two answers."
That leaves open the possibility that Ryan could say 'no' to Florida, but it hardly seems probable without another offer on the table. I followed up to ask him more specifically if he could turn down Florida without other schools stepping up.
"If no other school comes forward, then I have to take what's there."
I stick with my prior evaluation that Stanford is in a heap of trouble with Ryan Appleby if something doesn't jump up and extend his recruitment. Passively, Stanford almost has to hope that another school takes the plunge and makes Ryan rethink things. But even then, Florida would appear to either be out of the picture or his verbal commitment. If they bolt, then Ryan still has just one school and would likely jump on them. Proactively, Stanford's best chance is to extend a very earnest conditional offer. Put their cards on the table and tell Ryan that they really want him, with the caveat that they can only shake hands if he can get admitted to Stanford.
Even then, it's a tough sell to get someone to wait until after the summer period to find out if they can make their offer to you full and unconditional. I'm taking a long time to say this, because I want to show the different angles, but I don't see a plausible scenario by which Stanford can get Appleby to wait long enough. And that doesn't even yet address whether he would get admitted, and if Stanford would meet his criteria. Keep him on your radar, but I'm penciling in Ryan Appleby somewhere else today. And the betting money is heavily on Florida.