Nearly four years ago, head coach John Groce signed a long, skinny wing at Ohio who flew under the radar but had a natural ability to score.
His name is Caris LeVert, who is now known as one of the best players in the Big Ten and a sure-fire first-round pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Groce left for Illinois before LeVert arrived at Ohio, which allowed Michigan to pull him in when it was all said and done.
LeVert's story was certainly unique with the way he grew from a point guard to a lengthy wing in a short period. He played for the All-Ohio Black on the AAU circuit, and while he showed some promise, high-level programs either didn't get a look at him or didn't see what Groce saw.
LeVert was the definition of a late bloomer on the recruiting scene, and a similar story is brewing in Ohio once again. Beachwood (OH) wing Maishe Dailey has gone from a no-name to a very intriguing prospect on the radar as more schools get a look at what he has to offer.
Groce and Illini assistant Dustin Ford were the latest to check out Dailey on Thursday.
"Coach Groce and Coach Ford came to watch me at open gym. I feel like I played well in front of them," Dailey said. "Coach Groce was telling me about his track record, like his past history before Illinois and what he's doing at Illinois right now. He talked about his plan and how everything is moving in the upper direction. I liked it."
Dailey announced last month that he will reclass to 2017 and attended a prep school next fall. However, there are a wave of programs who are interested in adding him to their 2016 class, including four from the Big Ten: Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers and Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Clemson, Dayton and Michigan are pursuing Dailey for 2017.
Dailey said he is currently open to both options.
"I’m still open to 2016 and 2017. I’m open to something in 2016 if something was to come available and I really like the opportunity at the school and feel like I can’t pass on it," he said. "In 2017, that’s the whole decision to develop my body and my skill set before I go off to college."
It remains to be seen if Illinois can be that opportunity that influences Dailey to develop in a Big Ten program instead of at a prep school. The Illini of course need to extend an offer for that to happen. But for now, it's all about feeling the situation out, and Groce did a good job of making a strong first impression.
"After talking to him, I like him a lot," Dailey said. "We have the same intentions on what is important like player development, the right fit and loving basketball."
The whole change in the landscape has been an exciting one for Dailey, and it's one that he never would have expected.
"It feels really good because a few months ago before July started, it was just a couple schools—like really, really low D-1 schools," Dailey said. "Now a few months later, I’m talking to Big Ten schools. I couldn’t have imagined it back then but I really like it right now."
It all started with taking advantage of an opportunity in the all-important month of July. After being sidelined with a broken wrist during the spring, Dailey took off in a tournament at Myrtle Beach. All-Ohio Black head coach Carl Renier said that was the explosion that changed everything.
"I think what gave him immediate notoriety is when we went down to Myrtle Beach. He was averaging like 24 a game down there, and he had been hurt in April," Renier said. "He was just excited and hungry, and it showed. It didn’t matter who was guarding him. They were bumping him, holding him, double and triple-teaming him. It didn’t matter. He can shoot over guys. He can drive around guys. It was something to see."
How much did that change things?
"Myrtle Beach was a really big blowup for me," Dailey said. "I went from one or two schools talking to me before that to having 10 call me every night. It was exciting and got overwhelming really fast, but I still like it a lot."
Renier believes that is only the start of things to come for his breakout wing.
"The sky is limit for this guy really. He had a growth spurt, so he was a guard before, but now he is a (point) guard in a shooting guard’s body," he said. "That’s his mold and he can shift back and forth between a point guard and a two-guard."
Renier added that Dailey's best quality is his basketball IQ. As for his skill set, there isn't much that he can't do on the offensive end.
"He can handle it and he’s a lefty—that gives people tons of problems. He’s got a pull-up game. He can take it off the dribble," Renier said. "He can dribble right, crossover left and pull up. Dribble left, crossover right and go to the basket or pull up. He rebounds like a maniac. If he got a little more tenacity, he can be the real deal."
Dailey now stands at 6-foot-6, and he may not be done growing. His long frame, offensive excellence and development timeline are reminiscent of LeVert. Renier was part of the All-Ohio program when LeVert wore the jersey, and he sees almost a direct correlation between the two.
"It's almost an exact mold. Caris and Maishe were both undersized wings or two-guards as far as strength and thickness goes. So you get some of those high-majors or even mid-majors wondering if he can hold up," Renier said. "Then Caris goes to school and bulks up 15 or 20 pounds, and it puts all of that to bed."
According to his coach, Dailey may be ahead of LeVert in some aspects.
"I think Maishe is a little bit more ready now than Caris was," Renier said. "He’s a little bit bigger than Caris. He’s going to be a little bit taller than Caris. I think he’s more ready now than Caris, and it will be interesting to see once he gets there what he does with that weight and strength."
Dailey got a chance to talk with LeVert when he visited Michigan recently. He said he has heard the comparisons, although he admitted that he hasn't seen a lot of LeVert on the hardwood.
"I haven’t really watched his game a lot, but I’m hearing a lot of comparisons to how he blew up in college and how I’m blowing up now, and the potential in both of us," Dailey said. "Certain coaches were able to bring out his potential, and that’s what I’m looking for."
When talking about LeVert, Dailey mentioned Groce as someone he believes can bring out the best in him.
"I want to find coaches that can bring out my potential to the fullest. That was something I really liked about Coach Groce, because he is good at developing players like that," Dailey said.
The Illini hope they can use that to their benefit. A trip to Champaign would certainly help as well, and Dailey said that is on his mind.
"I would like to take more visits - a couple more unofficials in the near future. I'd like to go to a couple basketball games because I haven't been to any yet, and there's some campuses I'd like to visit," Dailey said. "Illinois is at the top of my list right now of places I'd like to visit."
Groce and his staff will have the chance to make their push. However, Renier was not shy about the All-Ohio program wanting Dailey to stick with his plans to play AAU again next summer and then find a landing spot in the 2017 class.
"When he plays in the EYBL this upcoming summer, the sky could be the limit," Renier said. "Now you're talking about exposure to North Carolina, Duke - I'm sure Ohio State has heard of him since he's right in their backyard. Now you're talking about some really high-majors, some tournament teams that go deep."
From Dailey's perspective, it's all about the right fit regardless of the timing.
"Right now, I'm just going to let it play out and go through my season," Dailey said. "But if something were to come up during the season, and I felt like it was the right fit and I couldn't pass on it, then I'd probably make the decision - whether that be stay 2016 or make it final that I am a 2017 recruit."
Illinois was thought to be done with wings in the 2016 class after missing on Xavier Sneed, but with the available spots and a shot at the potential LeVert 2.0, it looks like an opportunity they should jump at.