You can't discuss Stanford Basketball recruiting without first diving into the story of Canadian power forward recruit Ryan Wright. The 6'9" athlete from Mississauga (Ont.) is a great leaper with a rapidly developing set of skills. With a disadvantaged instructional and competition level in Canada, he is also a player just scratching the surface of his abilities. College coaches around the country agreed this summer when they jumped on his bandwagon. Stanford is one of three fortunate schools to still be in the race for this student-athlete's services, but Cardinal fans have been distraught by the repeated reports charging that Wright is not seriously considering The Farm. Reportedly, UCLA and Michigan State are alone in contention.
The Wright family has been dealing with college coaches and recruiting services calling their Ontario home for several months now, and they are a little weary of the phone calls. Father Michael Wright would prefer to decline speaking with the media for the next few final weeks of this recruiting drama, but he did want to put an end to the rumors that Stanford is not a consideration for his son. He told The Bootleg Sunday night that he has purchased a round trip ticket, out of his own pocket, to travel with his son in two weeks to the Bay Area for Ryan's Stanford official visit. He also passed along that the Loyola Catholic senior is working on the Stanford admissions application and will soon have it completed.
Where Ryan Wright will commit is anybody's guess right now. One group contends that Michigan State may lead with the advantages of distance and established coaching reputation. Another says that UCLA and Stanford may be ahead because of the positive impressions made when father and son saw both campuses unofficially this summer. The weather, cultural diversity and education are compelling for the Pac-10 suitors. I think at this point, anybody who thinks they are leading this race is probably pulling that information out of thin air. All three programs are in serious contention, and if they weren't, Wright would have eliminated them by now. He already showed his willingness to slash schools when a month ago he surprised by cutting Georgia Tech and Wisconsin soon after he announced a final five.
The only news you want to watch in the final weeks of the Ryan Wright Sweepstakes is his application progress and his official visit. Michael Wright was rather firm in declaring the family's intent on completing both tasks, but recruiting is often a funny thing. Stanford's failed recruits are often those who failed to apply and/or visit. You can count on one hand the number of recruits Stanford lost the last few years who were admitted and officially visited. Wright is scheduled to take his second official trip this weekend, to UCLA, and he will then return to the West Coast to see The Farm the following weekend (October 9).
The next question on Cardinalmaniacs' minds is what the Cardinal coaching staff will do with their remaining scholarships this year and next. The one certainty is that Stanford has nine rides to give in the combined 2005 and 2006 classes. Three are already spoken for by Lawrence Hill, Anthony Goods and Mitch Johnson. The Card could give as many as five scholarships to this current senior class, which would leave four for the current junior crop. Given the candidates remaining in those two pools, it is difficult to see Stanford giving all five away this fall/spring. I say that because the depth of talent available in the 2006 class is just too rich to short change.
At the forefront of that class are fab Fresno (Calif.) frontcourt phenoms Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez, who have justifiably earned national acclaim after a wider audience watched them this summer. Hoopaholics on the West Coast knew how big the Lopez Twins were, but limited national exposure kept the 6'11" frontcourt duo a little under the public radar before July. Now not only are their names plastered all over top prospect lists for the 2006 class, but the secret is well out in the open how strong their lean is to Stanford. Beyond mere words, the twins are following through with actions. They both took the SAT and ACT exams in the spring, just to get a feel for their standardized formats in preparation of more successful fall retakes, which are also on track. The Lopez Twins are not only the most high profile underclass recruiting story to have blown up for years at Stanford, but they are also likely to be the earliest commits we have seen in the program's history. It is the feel-good story of Cardinal recruiting for the last decade, but there are some unpleasant wrinkles.
The first of which is the unprecedented threat of the twins jumping to the NBA. Any and every game they played this summer had pro scouts in the stands, and while there are mixed reviews currently if they are at the level to make that jump straight out of high school, the fact that scouts are paying so much attention is telling. More scary is the fact that these rapidly improving big men have almost two more years to improve before the 2006 Draft. Recognizing that fact, Trent Johnson absolutely cannot let his foot off the gas pedal in post player recruitment in '06. The cupboard is looking rather bare right now for the program that has built its lofty reputation on big men, so I would assume that Stanford needs to sign a minimum of three posts and probably four in these two classes.
If you count the Lopez twins as two of those big bodies, then the outlook for the rest of the 2006 forward/center recruits depends in no small part on what happens with Ryan Wright. Ironically, there is a reverse relationship coming into play today in the Wright recruitment, which is the second "wrinkle." The Card's competitors are hammering the Mississauga man with the twins as a reason not to matriculate to The Farm. "Why go to Stanford when they've already recruited over you and will start the Lopez Twins your sophomore year?"
There is some historically amusing irony in this ploy, of course. The last time Stanford brought a pair of McDonald's All-American twin towers from Southern California to The Farm, they had a highly sought after power forward matriculate in the preceding class - a big man who UCLA coveted but lost to the Card, in fact. That forward didn't fare too badly in Palo Alto, twice earning First Team All Pac-10 honors and earning five All-America honors his junior and senior seasons. He was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, has won two pro World Championship titles and is still pulling down a fat paycheck in his fifth year in the Association.
Mark Madsen didn't appear to noticeably suffer playing with Jarron Collins and Jason Collins. He started 93% of the games in the three years he overlapped with the Collins Twins, and the three together pushed Stanford Basketball to previously unchartered waters.
Year One: first Final Four
Year Two: first Pac-10 Championship
Year Three: first #1 national ranking
Getting back on subject, it suffices to say there are a number of implications of how Ryan Wright will impact the remaining recruiting picture for Stanford targets. Not only in the 2006 class, but also in those few remaining viable options among the current high school seniors. The obvious man to watch, relative to Wright's outcome, is power forward Cameron Lewis. Lewis has been very clearly told by the Stanford staff that he is behind Wright in the power forward pecking order. That's a hard thing to do as a coach - tell a kid he's not your top priority. I think it is a commendable and also a wise strategy. Lewis has accepted that reality and thus far has continued to wait patiently for Stanford. Should Wright either not get admitted or choose another school, the Cardinal will have to take a hard and long look at Lewis.
In the 2005-2006 season, Stanford will no longer have the services of Rob Little and Nick Robinson in the frontcourt. They will be left with a senior Matt Haryasz and a sophomore Peter Prowitt as true post players. I think likely that is your starting frontcourt, if you lose out on Wright. Your only other two scholarship bodies over 6'5" would be sophomore Taj Finger and freshman Lawrence Hill, both of whom are best described as combo forwards. Neither have so much as conducted a Stanford practice yet, so it is a big shot in the dark to say how well they could play as "big" forwards. After watching Finger play some pickup games this summer with the other Stanford players, I'm inclined to tentatively label him a small forward given his ballhandling/skills, his proclivity to play on the perimeter and his current ability to score or defend near the basket. He is physically immature (190 pounds) and a year young for his grade, so I by no means am closing the book on his post play development. But that's my snapshot today. Hill is yet to play his high school senior season and is tougher to project, though I think his ability to rebound and defend in the paint give him a more balanced profile as a forward.
Trent Johnson has yet to work a minute with Finger, and he is a year away from getting Hill into Maples Pavilion practices. His job in estimating the future frontcourt is tough, though it will get better after the next few weeks that he can at least work hands-on with Finger. That evaluation may go a long way toward how he views the outlook of this program's personnel. If we assume that Wright's recruitment will wrap up in the next three to four weeks, perhaps the Cardinal head coach will by then have a feel for Finger such that he can make the call on Cameron Lewis. If it is his sense that Finger is more of a wing forward, and Stanford cannot afford to go without another frontcourt addition in this 2005 class, then Lewis would make sense. While he is not as explosive, I draw some parallels for Lewis to Justin Davis. Both came out of high school with exceedingly raw offensive skills, but both great rebounders and defenders with leaping ability. Someone else has suggested a Solomon Hughes parallel, which is probably closer in athleticism.
If you miss on Ryan Wright but have reasons not to bite on Cameron Lewis, you do not immediately close the book on this '05 class. That would mean you are carrying six scholarship to the 2006 class, which would be a crazy challenge. Considering the fact that Stanford is starting their fourth straight season under the scholarship limit, and the Card coaching staff look likely to fail to fill their available scholarships for the third straight year. Filling six with that recent track record and with Stanford's admissions requirements is bordering on insanity. So if you lose Wright and pass on Lewis, then you should think hard about your roster needs for a fourth scholarship. I know where my eyes are focused, and have been for some time.
The Cardinal's last commitment came at the point guard position with Mitch Johnson, and the Seattle floor general engendered much deserved celebration in Stanford circles. He was a prized target of Trent Johnson (no relation), has a lot of ability to execute his position and dramatically improve the other players on the floor. But - and I say this with no disrespect to Mitch - that commitment immediately caused me concern. Stanford was at various levels recruiting a handful of point guards to that point. I had it in my mind that the Card probably needed to pull in two of them, and I will explain why in a moment. Mitch Johnson is such a recognized talent and playmaker, though, that his commitment predictably scared the rest of the fish back out to sea. There are a number of ways you can combine post players on the floor, or integrate a pair of wings in an offense, but there is just one basketball allowed in current NCAA rules and that leaves one point guard to handle it. Rare is the circumstance that two high level point guards want to sign together in the same year at the same school because there is a very direct and often inflexible competition that must follow.
Why would you want another point guard to join Johnson in the 2005 class? Because when Chris Hernandez and Jason Haas both finish their college careers in just 18 months, the position will be dramatically thinned. If no other point were to join Johnson in this signing class, then he would be starting his sophomore year with a very uncertain backup. At best, you would sign a point guard in the 2006 class who can play at the Pac-10 level; at worst you might fail like Stanford did in 2003 and 2004. Even if you find that '06 point and sign him, he will be a freshman when Johnson is a sophomore. What happens when Johnson breaks his foot or sprains his ankle? Are you comfortable with the idea that the only point guard on your roster is a true freshman?
If you could identify a high-major floor general talent in that 2006 class and make yourself reasonably confident that he can get admitted and will sign with Stanford, perhaps you can stomach that rocky ravine. But the truth is that when you take a look at the early landscape of Stanford's academically recruitable prospects in the high school junior ranks - who have that high-major elite talent - they tend to be taller fellows. The guard prospects are frightfully thin at this admittedly early vantage, at least in comparison to the forwards and centers. So you might become more nervous about putting your future PG eggs into the '06 basket.
This is why I have supported a strategy of recruiting and trying to sign another point guard in this 2005 senior class. Sean McCurdy was an academic (990 SAT) and geographic long shot, but any chance to keep him interested and push for an SAT retake was lost when Johnson committed. McCurdy has pledged to Arkansas since. Bryan Mullins has committed to Southern Illinois. Steffan Johnson is still out there, but he has indicated that he would rather be the skipper of a smaller ship than second mate, even at Stanford.
So we come to the case of Drew Shiller, who happens to fall in Stanford's backyard: Burlingame. He has popped up a number of times in the news recently, with his profile rising since some strong showings in July. Most notably, he shot lights out at games at the Reebok Big Time in Las Vegas. I watched him there and was witness to some of the hottest shooting I saw all summer. He has a nice stroke and he knows how to use it. I have been tempted to call Shiller an undersized shooting guard, which certainly looked to be the case with how he played with his AAU team the Oakland Soldiers. He handled the ball coming up the floor, but he was much more a scorer than an orchestrator of the offense. However, I also watched him at Stanford's High Potential Camp and have seen him better lead when he is not under orders to "shoot, shoot, shoot." He's a smart kid and a good athlete. Don't mistake "athlete" in this case to mean explosive, for that is not Shiller. He is athletic in the sense that he can do a number of things you ask of him. My one overriding concern is his ability to defend, especially against the caliber (read: quickness) of point guards in the Pac-10.
But I think there is a very reasonable niche for Shiller as Stanford's second point guard in this class. He gives you greater comfort in your depth at that position starting in the fall of 2006, and he also gives you a very good shooter. The Cardinal program has a troubling paucity of shooters on the perimeter these days, and I would not undervalue that skill in this case.
I don't think it's a slam dunk that you move on Shiller, however. If you get Ryan Wright and give Shiller the fifth scholarship, then you leave yourself just four for the ultra talented 2006 group - two of which are ostensibly "full" for the Lopez Twins. But when Shiller's name has come up recently in the news, too many Cardinalmaniacs have dismissed him out of hand as too low a level of recruit for the Stanford program. I merely want to present the sensible case of need at his position, and the role he could fill for the program. His recruitment is certainly not below the level of Jason Haas three years ago, and you cannot tell me that you would feel safe subtracting Haas from the Stanford roster this year or the two preceding years. In fact, I think there are a striking number of parallels you can draw between Shiller and Haas, in both ability and role.
That should be a deep enough dive into Stanford Basketball recruiting for now. There are endless stories to explore with exciting 2006 recruits like Brian Zoubek, Spencer Hawes, James Keefe, Isaiah Dahlman and Daniel Deane - to name just a few. But as we've seen, there needs to be some resolution with this '05 class before we can understand the numbers and needs Stanford has for the juniors. I honestly thought a few months ago that the Card would have completed or nearly closed that senior tome, but there are still a few more chapters to be written. I'll be diving into the wild world of the 2006 soon enough. Stay tuned.
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