WKU's 2014 fall signing class ready for CUSA

WKU head coach Ray Harper and his staff signed quality targets looking for immediate Conference USA impact.

It's the perfect recruiting class to kick-start a new era for Western Kentucky basketball.

Perry County Central Justin Johnson, ELEV|8 Prep Academy's Derrick Clayton, and Wheeler Avery Patterson all signed National Letters-of-Intent with the Toppers in the 2014 fall signing period.

According to experts, the Toppers recruiting efforts have them driving from great starting position as they transition from the Sun Belt to Conference USA, beginning in 2014-15'.

"This is definitely a solid class for (Ray) Harper," Scout.com national analyst Evan Daniels said. "I like what he's done with it.

"Johnson and Patterson are both quality players that can contribute early at WKU. This certainly gives them a nice base heading into Conference USA."

A three-star forward who collected over 25 different Division 1 scholarships during his recruiting process, Johnson chose WKU over a final five offer list of Auburn, Boston College, Providence, and Miami (Ohio).

"I think Justin Johnson was a significant pick up for Ray Harper," Daniels said. "He spent a lot of time recruiting the in-state product and made him a priority.

"Historically WKU has had a lot of success with undersized four-men and I think Johnson can be productive for the Toppers early one.

"What sticks out about Johnson is his toughness and rebounding. He plays physical in the paint, goes after every rebound and also has some scoring ability as well."

On the EYBL tour over the summer AAU circuit, Johnson helped lead the Kentucky Travelers to wins over forward Stanley Johnson and the Oakland Soldiers (79-76), forward Abdul-Malik Abu and Expressions Elite (68-59), and several other major victories.

In a 72-61 win over a Mac Irvin Fire squad featuring Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander, he held his own against some of the nation's top frontcourt prospects, playing 25 minutes and contributing 10 points, 6 rebounds, and a blocked shot.

During media availability on Thursday, Harper called Johnson a "big-time player."

"He was recruited in the SEC and ACC for a reason," Harper said. "He's the whole package.

"He's 6-7, he's 235 pounds, he's as good of an athlete as you will find at that size. He's got a big heart. He loves to compete, he loves to play, he's not gonna shy away from anyone. If we run into anyone in the next four years, he'll be up to the challenge."

Patterson, a senior leader for a Wheeler HS team ranked in the top 10 in the nation this year, picked WKU over earlier offers from Butler, Boston College, Kansas State, Central Florida and more.

A combo guard with a national reputation for his physical, bulldog defense and on-the-court leadership, the three-star Topper signee brings much sought-after backcourt depth to WKU's roster.

"WKU is getting a strongly built two guard that can fill it up," Daniels said. "While his long-range shot has been inconsistent when I've watched, he's a capable scorer from mid-range game.

"He's also a good driver that uses his strength to score through contact. While I don't consider him a lead (point) guard, Patterson does have good ball skills and could be used as a secondary handler.

"This is a nice get for WKU, as I think he can give them a nice scoring punch from the perimeter."

The three-star guard is talented enough to compete for playing time as soon as he steps foot on the Hill.

"Avery (Patterson) is someone we have loved from the first time we had the opportunity to see him," Harper said. "He is incredibly tough and can play the one or the two, and he brings a competitive spirit and a winning spirit that we are excited about.

"He is another guy we think will compete for playing time from day one."

Daniels hasn't evaluated WKU's wing pickup, Derrick Clayton, but Scout analyst Rob Harrington watched him at the NTF Workout in Florida.

"Clayton is a great pickup for WKU," Harrington said. "I loved his shooting stroke at the NTF Workout, and think he will step right in and hit shots. He strikes me as the kind of guy who was under recruited due to his crosscountry transfer.

"I think he's a top 200-type guy nationally. Maybe top 150 if we went that far. He boasts a quick release in addition to his impressive accuracy, and he's also a reasonably quick athlete."

Harper said he thinks Clayton can be a special player at WKU.

"D.J. (Derrick Clayton) is a guy that came along a little later in the process," the head coach said. "Tremendous upside, big-time athlete, shoots the ball well.

"He gives us that guy that can really put it on the floor and get to the basket – he's got a chance to be special."

Overall, the recruiting class looks to plug some of the holes that exist on the Toppers current roster.

"We weren't going to just recruit guys just because they were good players," Harper said. "If they didn't fill a need, we moved on to the next one. These were guys that fill needs.

"We don't have an athlete like (Clayton) that shoots the basketball and has his perimeter skills.

"We don't have a guy like Avery who can play the 1 or 2 as tough as he is. The best comparison I can give to Avery would be Trency Jackson, with Trency being a little bit better of an athlete, Avery being a little bit better shooter.

"We feel like that's what we needed for next season and going forward and our staff did a great job of identifying some guys and being able to finish the deal."

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