It's the middle of the summer, but college basketball recruiting is heating up. July’s first live evaluation period begins at 5 p.m. today and runs through Sunday at 5 p.m. For fifteen days this month, college basketball coaches will be scouring the country, watching countless games searching for the future of their programs. It is a big month for Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell and his staff, as they are now on a level playing field in recruiting players from the class of 2017 and beyond, after starting so far behind in the past recruiting cycle.
With the incoming class of Candido Sa, Issa Thiam, and Matt Bullock officially on campus, it appears the staff will have just 10 scholarship players on next season's roster. While they will certainly keep the possibility open for a player emerging very late in the process, Pikiell has stressed the importance of not taking a band aid approach in acquiring scholarship players for next season. With three open scholarships to now work with for the class of 2017, the staff can approach this recruiting cycle with a clear plan of attack. Let's breakdown what the live recruiting period will look like in July, and what we should look for from the Rutgers coaching staff.
What Is It?
For three separate five day periods in July, the NCAA allows for college basketball coaches to actively evaluate recruits. This is done through the AAU circuit, with many featured events and tournaments to take place during these three live recruiting periods. These events must be sanctioned by the NCAA. April and July are the only two months a year that college coaches can evaluate recruits through the AAU circuit. All other evaluation periods take place during the normal recruiting periods throughout the year during the high school and JUCO seasons.
When Is It?
July 6th- 10th; July 13th - 17th; July 20th - 24th
This week, the two premier events taking place are Nike’s Peach Jam in North Augusta, South Carolina and the Adidas Uprising Gauntlet Finale in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Many of the best players in the country will be playing at one of these two tournaments. The Peach Jam is the championship event for the Nike EYBL circuit, which holds events for AAU teams all over the country. From ESPN's list of the top 100 recruits for the class of 2017, 71 players are from the EYBL, a staggering amount. For a full list of tournaments and events this July during the live recruiting period, check out this link.
What To Expect
Coach Pikiell was still assembling his staff this past April, during the previous live evaluation period. There was little time to construct an organized plan, although the staff did put out a remarkable amount of offers under the circumstances during that cycle. The crunching in April has put the staff in a good position to focus on narrowing down their top targets, as Rutgers already has approximately two dozen offers out to players from the class of 2017. The staff is firing on all cylinders, with the team deep into summer workouts and several recruits having already visited campus the past month. Assistant coaches Karl Hobbs, Jay Young, and Brandin Knight will likely break off from one another to cover as much ground as possible, with Pikiell likely to be at the Peach Jam this week with one of them.
Which players the staff watches will give us a better idea of who their top targets are for the classes of 2017 and 2018. While it's possible they could identify new targets and make offers this month, the staff is in a far different position than last summer. Eddie Jordan and staff made about a dozen offers last July, with little momentum heading into the live recruiting period. The difference this year is Pikiell and his staff have already laid the groundwork by having made so many offers leading up to this point. The goal now is to hone in on their top targets and get them on campus in August and September.
While they have offers out to elite recruits like 5-star point guard Trevon Duval, 5-star center Nick Richards from the Patrick School in Elizabeth, New Jersey, 4-star forward Kimani Lawrence, and 4-star forward Lance Thomas, the competition for them is fierce. Richards and Lawrence are teammates on the AAU team Expressions Elite and will be playing at the Peach Jam. Expect Rutgers to kick the tires on both, but at this point it would be a major surprise for either prospect to seriously consider the program as of now. The staff will likely focus on players a tier below, who are legitimate building blocks in their own right. It is imperative Rutgers lands quality recruits this cycle and show progress on the court next season, in hopes of being in a better position to land a top recruit in the class of 2018.
One thing that should be expected is for Rutgers to track some of the local elite AAU programs this month, like the PSA Cardinals, NY Rens, and NJ Playaz. Steve Pikiell has talked at length about the importance of building relationships with New Jersey high school coaches and players. With that being said, it's clear he also values the importance of building relationships with some of the best local AAU teams, all of which will be in action during the live recruiting period this month. The reality of college basketball recruiting these days is that AAU programs have gained major power in the game, even more so than in the past. Making inroads with these top local programs is imperative to the future success in recruiting for Pikiell at Rutgers. The lack of success in recruiting players from these programs in the past is one of several reasons why Rutgers hasn't had a winning season in a decade now.
The PSA Cardinals are expected to draw massive crowds this month and kick off the period at the Peach Jam. They are loaded with Division I prospects and feature 5-star center Mohamed Bamba, who is being recruited by essentially every top program in the country. Rutgers will surely be a part of the mob of coaches tracking this team, as one of their targets plays for the Cardinals. 3-star forward Hasahn French recently took unofficial visits to Temple, St. John's and St. Louis, according to 247 sports. French told Adam Zagoria back in June that he also planned to visit Rutgers before the live recruiting period began, but it doesn't appear to have happened. Pikiell will try and get French on campus as soon as possible after the live evaluation period, as French stated in the same article he intends to cut down his list of potential schools in August. He is an athletic wing who fits Pikiell's preferred style of play.
The NY Rens feature point guard Jose Alvarado, who plays high school ball at Christ The King in New York City. Alvarado recently visited Rutgers and is thought to be a top target of Pikiell and the staff. The Rens also have 3-star forward Jordan Nwora and center Chris Efretuei on their roster, both of whom Rutgers offered back in April. While it will be a battle for any of their services, Rutgers has a chance to be in the mix for all three of them. The NY Rens will be at the Peach Jam as well this weekend.
The NJ Playaz will also be at the Peach Jam and are a key program for Rutgers to build a solid relationship with. Their program Director is Jimmy Salmon, a longtime AAU presence in the state. They currently have two players from the class of 2017 that Rutgers is currently considering in point guard Leondre Washington and The Patrick School's Bul Ajang. Washington visited campus in June, but it doesn't appear the Roselle Catholic guard has received an offer yet. That could change this month once the staff has more time to evaluate him. The staff did offer Ajang back in April, according to 247 sports. He has the potential to be a defensive force in the future and was mentioned by NJ high school reporter Jeremy Schneider as a recruit Rutgers has a real chance with during his Q&A with our Dave White.
It will be a very interesting month for sure, as Pikiell and staff must build some momentum during the live evaluation period. Getting their top targets on campus in August and September will be key, and who the staff track this month will be an indication of who that might be. While there are three open scholarships for the class of 2017, the staff will likely try and lock down at least one commitment in the fall. The sooner they land the first commit, the better it will be to sell other recruits on their vision. There is also a clear eye pointed towards the future, as Rutgers wants to build great relationships with the AAU powerhouse programs we discussed. It will be a busy month ahead and an exciting one, as coach Pikiell targets which players he wants to rebuild the program with. It starts now!