Highlands HS (Fort Thomas, KY)
Ht: 6-8 Wt: 230
Ross Neltner is a post player who Stanford has been watching and recruiting for the better part of this year, yet there is a good chance you did not hear much about him until just recently. The talk on the Internet since last summer has been all about the West Coast forwards and centers, like David Padgett, Sean Phaler and Harrison Schaen. And understandably so. Those players have been geographically much closer to Stanford, and thus have taken some visits to The Farm and certainly have been seen and reported on this site and on PrepWestHoops with great regularity.
Further recognize that the above trio has seen Padgett as high as a top ten player in the country, and the other two with various appearances at various times on top 100 recruit rankings. Neltner, on the other hand, has only popped up in one top hundred list that I have seen. The young man from Kentucky has not grabbed the attention of many recruiting services, given that he is filling out a big frame and excels in areas different from most of the top athletic forwards in the country.
Neltner has also seen some hit-and-miss games in the closely watched AAU tournaments. When I watched him in Vegas this summer, for example, he scored 16 points in his first game and looked awfully good. He showed range on his jump shot, good passing, a high on-court intelligence and good post position. Then the next game I saw him, he had zero points. The assets I saw on display in the first game were not illusions, but he showed in the second game that he can be a passive part of the offense. Well, in contrast to some of the 6'8" phenoms seen on the AAU circuit today, it is understandable why Ross Neltner can slip below the radar.
Though he may not present the most attractive package to recruitniks, Neltner has the body, fundamentals and improving skills that forecast a very attractive upside. And the most clear measurement of that upside can be seen in his recruitment today. He has a final list of four schools, all of which have ostensibly offered: Virginia, Utah, LSU and Stanford. The Cardinal cannot give an offer until a recruit is accepted by Stanford's admissions office, but I believe both that Ross will be accepted and that the Stanford staff will follow immediately with a scholarship offer.
On the admissions side, Ross Neltner provides a 3.9 GPA at Highlands High School, arguably the top public school in the state of Kentucky. He has also posted a 27 ACT and 1160 SAT score. Maybe even more importantly, the young man has put a lot of serious time into his application. When I talked with him after a game this summer at the Adidas Big Time in Las Vegas, he shared that he had spent his flight from the East Coast out to Vegas working on his Stanford application. Then when he returned home in August, he continued his work on his essays and his teacher recommendations. "More than anything else, this required a lot of planning," says Neltner. "I had to coordinate all of the teacher recommendations, while also spending enough time on the essays. But it was really worth it."
Ross handed his completed application to Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, when he visited Neltner for an in-home visit earlier in September. I would in fact have expected a positive response from the Stanford admissions office by now if not for one detail: Neltner was slow to send in the admissions processing fee required of all Stanford applications. That was being Fed-Ex'ed this past week, which should allow for review and a decision any day now.
I have two reasons to believe that Neltner will get the ensuing offer from Coach Montgomery. First, Stanford needs to land three solid big men between this class and the next recruiting class (2004 - juniors). The staff likes to have five post players on the roster at any given time, yet they have only reeled in two bigs in the last two recruiting classes: Rob Little and Matt Haryasz. There is a great need for the size and skills that Neltner can provide, and he looks to me like someone that Stanford can coach and develop into a good Pac-10 player. Second, the 6'8" 230-pound senior shared with me a recent message he received loud and clear from Stanford assistant coach Tony Fuller, when Fuller expressed that Stanford wants and badly needs Ross. The account sounded similar to the message I heard also delivered by Fuller to Matt Haryasz about this time last year, when he was their number one big man target.
Neltner is currently in the thick of the final stretch of his recruitment, taking four official visits to his final four schools. If you are wondering why he is not taking the full complement of five visits this fall, note that he took one official trip to Northwestern back in April, though they are "not in it anymore" according to him. Ross and his father have made the conscious decision not to publicize on the Internet when he is taking his visits to all four schools, since they fear that places too much public scrutiny on his private visits and their timing. But it was published in recent days by Dave Telep of TheInsidersHoops.com that Neltner was taking his first of the officials to Virginia this past weekend. And Ross shared with me that he is taking his trip to Stanford this coming weekend, October 4-5. The timing and order of his remaining visits to LSU and Utah are unknown at this time.
Of the four schools, Neltner sees several attractive options. "It certainly is a diverse group - I can go a lot of different ways with these choices. Every school is a good place," he says. "Though it all starts with the coach. I want to position myself with people I can respect and get along with. Coach Montgomery at Stanford is a real professional while at the same time a real down-to-earth guy. He has coached the USA National Team, and Stanford basketball of course is so highly regarded all over the country. Coach Gillen at Virginia says that he is making a spot just for me, and there is nobody on the roster who can do the things I can do - a 'four who can shoot.' Coach Majerus at Utah is a very highly regarded coach, and he has sent guys to the NBA. And Coach Brady at LSU is a really good guy, as well as a great offensive mind."
Beyond those positives about the programs and their coaching staffs, it is difficult to pry much out of Neltner. The downside in talking to these intelligent kids is that they know how to hold the cards close to their vest, especially when they are cognizant of the visibility of their comments on the Internet. Still, Ross has some comments to offer up on Stanford.
"The in-home with Coach Montgomery was great. I wanted to better my understanding of how the school and program operate. One thing I learned about Stanford was the housing - there is no dorm or hall for basketball players or athletes. I like that; it's different from other schools. At Stanford, you're not just labelled as a basketball player. There, you are just like all the other students. I also have heard that the campus is just great, and I'm looking forward to seeing it on my visit."
Is Stanford then the school atop Neltner's list? "Some may be ahead of others," Ross answers, "but not enough to commit. Stanford is really high on my list, and there is strong mutua