Note: next week, I will publish the other half of Omar's story - what he has done and who he is that makes him a must-have recruit for Stanford...
He has been on the most public of recruiting radars seemingly since the beginning of time, or at least imprinted on your consciousness for as long as you can remember. But after two years of pining for Omar Wilkes and his Stanford recruitment, Cardinalmaniacs™ are about to see this race come to the finish line. Omar is leaving today for Berzerkeley, the first of his three visits over the next few weeks. He will be on Cal's campus with Ben Braun this weekend, then have next weekend off before hitting the local option of UCLA on September 21st. Omar's final official visit will bring him to Stanford on September 28th. His fourth school, Kansas, already gave Wilkes an official trip in the spring, when he checked out Lawrence with his buddy and elite big man David Padgett. The young shooting guard says that he has solidly narrowed down his list to these four schools, and is not entertaining other suitors at this time.
In addition to these officials, Omar will be receiving in-home visits by the head coaches of these four programs during the month of September. A final decision from Omar Wilkes should come in early October after he has completed this whirlwind of meets and greets. And he is certainly looking forward to reaching that end point.
"I want to get it over with," says Wilkes of his recruitment. "I really am looking forward to having a normal senior year with my friends, focusing on school and basketball."
Between now and that final decision, though, Omar has a lot of phone calls, visits and reflection ahead of him. Academics and the strength of the basketball programs loom large, but when I talk with Omar, I get a sense that there is a 'gut feeling' and comfort factor that may ultimately determine his future university plans. To that end, the three California schools are battling Kansas, who stepped up to the plate and hit a home run with Omar's heart and soul when he visited there this spring.
"I think I will use Kansas as a barometer," says Wilkes of how he will look at his three visits this month. "It is just a great fit for me."
When I asked Omar to elaborate on the "great fit," he outlined three areas that impressed him: 1) strong basketball; 2) Lawrence as a transition away from big city life, where he can "get away from distractions" and "get [his] game to the top of [his] abilities;" and 3) just a "strong gut feeling."
To help reinforce his good vibes on Roy Williams and Kansas, Omar's parents recently took a trip to Lawrence with David Padgett's parents. The returns were positive for the Jayhawks.
"The enjoyed themselves a lot," says Omar of his mom and dad. "They liked Roy Williams, the community and what they had to say about academics."
Ostensibly, Kansas would be Wilkes' leader right now, but he also is careful to note that with no other visits yet under his belt, he has nothing to give Stanford, UCLA or Cal a straight-up comparison.
When you ask Omar about his four schools, he is always sure to note positives on each one, and it is not easy to extract an ordered list. This is a very intelligent and thoughtful young man who does not want to publicly profess favorites. Though I asked if Omar is privately sorting out who he most favors in this group - are there some more equal than others?
"It changes day by day. One day I think about how great a school can be for me, then later I remember some things that could make a great fit at another. But I would say that Stanford and Kansas are the two schools most often at the top for me," says Wilkes.
That's great news for Stanford basketball, to be in such a strong position despite their disadvantage against Kansas at this moment without an official visit under their belts. Omar Wilkes had taken an unofficial visit to the Farm, when he watched the Cardinal football squad stun UCLA last fall at Stanford Stadium, a fateful game that sent the Bruins in a tailspin. But he is looking forward to the Stanford official visit, where he will have more intimate experiences with the staff and players.
The big question right now for Stanford and Omar, though, is where does his application for admission stand? He says he thinks the staff cannot give him an official offer until he has been accepted by Stanford admissions, which is indeed the case. Unlike the football staff, who is eager to pronounce conditional offers to their top recruits, the basketball staff does not like to give any offers until someone is accepted. The merits and demerits of the two approaches are debatable, but that is just how Monty operates.
Back to the application, Omar has been working on it since August, when he returned from his very busy summer of basketball and its travels. He has all of his teacher recommendations in hand, currently, and says that he should have the whole application complete and in the mail by the end of next week. His final tasks are tidying up his essays and getting his English teacher to give them a look-see. With a September 28 official visit on his schedule to the Farm, the timing will be tight, but an application finished by next week could have an admissions response by the time he heads up to Stanford. Certainly the staff has to hope they can have that done, and be able to personally verbalize their offer to him when he sets foot in Mike Montgomery's office.
With or without that offer, Omar says he has the message on where Stanford stands with him. According to the young Loyola star, the coaches have been communicating to him clearly that he is their number one wing or guard in this class.
Coaches are allowed to make one phone call to a prospective student-athlete per week at this time in the recruiting cycle, and the topic of the Stanford application has come up each time the staff has talked with Omar. At first he felt like they were "rushing" him, but it since has become clearer that they want his admission over and done with so they can get the offer in his hands. Now he is more understanding, and recognizes that their anticipation for his application really underscores their desire for him.
So what else transpires with these weekly calls? It is tough for coaches to continue to rehash how much they love a recruit like Omar, or what their selling points may be. He has been at this long enough with these suitors that he has received those messages loud and clear. In the case of Mike Montgomery, the phone call may spend more time just talking about this and that. This is a time for relationship building, which gets to the point of Omar wanting to find the place with the best fit and feel for him. So when Monty called recently during his travels coaching the USA National Team, they talked back and forth about some of the players he is coaching right now. The conversation was more personal than professional, whereby Montgomery is trying to give glimpses into the type of player-coach relationship they could have if Omar were to come to Stanford - the types of talks they could have in his office after practices. Roy Williams and Ben Braun can both do a fantastic job of establishing personal connections with recruits, as well, so this is a tough battle.
One other question hanging over Wilkes' recruitment has been the talents that have already committed to the various schools. Kansas, Cal and Stanford all have at least one guard already verbally committed, which might affect Omar's outlook on the progra