The next NCAA basketball signing period begins on Apr. 15 and continues through May 20. Owing to the departure of Randy Onwuasor and Alex Foster, Tubby Smith and Texas Tech have three scholarships available.
Lettermen returning next season are point guard Keenan Evans, shooting guards Toddrick Gotcher, Stan Mays and Davaugntah Williams, small forward Justin Gray, center/power forwards Isaiah Manderson and Norense Odiase, and power forwards Aaron Ross and Zach Smith. Incoming signees are shooting guard Jordan Jackson and small forward C.J. Williamson. Point guard Devon Thomas has committed to Tech and is expected to sign in the upcoming period.
Two questions are uppermost as Smith and his staff round out the current recruiting class. First, which positions will Tech target for the remaining two scholarships? And second, which prospects are most likely to become Red Raiders?
The conventional wisdom—which I believe to be mostly correct—is that Texas Tech will seek bulk with the two available scholarships.
Thomas’ commitment, combined with the return of sophomore Evans, stands the Red Raiders in good shape at the point. Evans, like most true freshmen, was inconsistent in his first collegiate season. In some games he simply disappeared, and in others displayed worrisome lapses in ball security. Nevertheless, when at his best, Evans exhibited an unusually good jump shot for a point guard, the ability to penetrate aggressively and effectively, and good floor vision. Evans needs to gain strength through weight training in order to shrug off physical defenders, but shows promise of developing into a fine point guard.
Thomas, however, is hardly fated to be Evans’ backup. He has elite quickness and burst, combined with great vision, and sound judgment in the floor game. The Red Raiders may well have a point guard competition if not a controversy. Thus, point guard is not a position of need.
Neither is shooting guard. With Devaugntah Williams and Toddrick Gotcher, Tech has a solid one-two punch at the position. Indeed, toward the end of last season, Williams developed as a scorer, and Gotcher improved as a pure shooter. Throw in true freshman Jordan Jackson, and this should be a position of strength.
At small forward the situation is a bit dicier, which leaves open the possibility that Coach Smith could use one of his scholarships on this position. Were it not for Justin Gray’s tendinitis, there would be no concern. After all, Gray flashed the ability to be an excellent performer, and incoming freshman C.J. Williamson looks remarkably like Gray. What’s more, if the Red Raiders develop strength and depth at power forward and center, it is hardly out of the question that extremely promising Zach Smith could wind up at small forward, which might be his most natural position.
But Gray’s tendinitis puts the three position in flux. Hopefully, Gray responds favorably to treatment and we never hear about this malady again. The reality, however, is that knee tendinitis can be a recurring problem that never completely disappears, and that inhibits athletes from reaching their fullest potential. In a worst-case scenario, Tech could effectively be left with only true freshman Williamson at small forward. For this reason, another small forward wouldn’t go entirely amiss.
But power forward and center are the most obvious needs.
In Zach Smith, Odiase, and Manderson, Tech has three very talented sophs who can flat out get it done up front. But three players covering two positions is not enough. Failure to sign at least one more “big” would leave the Red Raiders extremely vulnerable in the case of foul trouble and/or injury. Tech must sign at least one more big man with the remaining scholarships.
The obvious pickins among the bigs during this signing period are, however, seemingly slim.
The two names most prominently mentioned in connection with Tech are junior college forwards Cullen Russo and Chris Boucher. Russo, a 6-foot-9 prospect originally from Bloomington, Minnesota and most recently of New Mexico Junior College, has been on Tubby Smith’s radar since his tenure at the University of Minnesota. What’s more, he has already visited the Tech campus. One gets the sense that Russo is Tech’s for the taking, but no offer has yet been extended. Bowling Green, CSU-Bakersfield, St. Bonaventure and Drake have already made a space available for him. The fact that Tech has yet to offer a schollie suggests the Red Raiders have other fish on the line.
One of which is 6-foot-10 Montreal native Chris Boucher. The NJCAA Player of the Year is a mobile big man who can do a great many things on the court, and would provide Tech with a potentially decisive piece to the puzzle. He has stated his intention to visit Tech, but the date of the visit is unknown, perhaps because it has yet to be solidified. Minnesota, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State and TCU are also reported to be in the running for Boucher’s services.
Outside of Russo and Boucher, the picture is murky. Other possibilities at PF/C include Owensboro, Kentucky’s Aric Holman, Antonio Vrankovic of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and Shawntrez Davis of East Point, Georgia.
Holman, who stands 6-foot-9, holds a Tech offer, but is reportedly leaning toward staying close to home at Western Kentucky. Vrankovic, the son of former NBA player Stojko Vrankovic, is a 6-foot-10 prospect whose stock is skyrocketing. So much so that he has taken an unofficial visit to Duke, his “dream school.” If Coach K makes an offer, Vrankovic will sign before the words are out of the Duke boss’ mouth. But if not, it isn’t out of the question that he could wind up on the South Plains.
Davis (6-9) is a player whose recruitment and intentions are enigmatic. He holds a sheaf of offers from SEC and ACC schools, as well as Purdue, Xavier, Boston College, SMU, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. It is not, however, absolutely clear that Tech has made an offer, although there are rumors to that effect.
Should Tech decide to push hard for a small forward, the most likely target would seem to be Marrero, Louisiana’s Melvin Frazier, a 6-foot-7 player who has several offers from Texas schools (including Tech), along with LSU, Oklahoma and Arkansas. His AAU team was based in Arkansas, which could give the Razorbacks an advantage.
The players mentioned in this article are merely the names that have come to light. It is entirely possible—even likely—that Tubby Smith and his staff are on to other players hitherto unknown, and that we all may be in for a surprise or two in the coming five weeks.
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