Other than the teams playing in this weekend’s Final Four, the offseason is in full swing for the rest of college basketball. For Rutgers, it began last week with Corey Sanders declaring for the NBA Draft and Nigel Johnson announcing he was transferring out of the program. While the hope is Sanders will ultimately return, there is at least one scholarship open for now. We reviewed potential transfer targets a few days ago here. However, we learned late Tuesday that Rutgers is also actively pursuing two intriguing and highly rated players in the 2017 recruiting class. Both signed with Washington in the PAC-12 back in November, but they requested and received their release once head coach Lorenzo Romar was fired earlier this month.
Blake Harris is a 4-star point guard from North Carolina, who had plenty of offers to choose from during his initial recruitment and is being courted heavily this time around as well. While Rutgers didn’t pursue Harris last summer, when NYC point guard Jose Alvarado was their top target, they are firmly in the mix now. Head coach Steve Pikiell and assistant Brandin Knight visited him yesterday, as well as Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and his staff. Although Izzo being involved shows how steep the competition is for Harris, it’s nice to see Rutgers going head to head with a program as prestigious as the Spartans.
4 PG @blizzyblake55_ hosted Michigan St's Tom Izzo & Rutgers' Steve Pikiell at an open gym today https://t.co/P1KCZleEHJ pic.twitter.com/ReRmhm4uS7— Andrew Slater (@ASlater247) March 28, 2017
Harris visited N.C. State last week as well, who just hired Kevin Keatts as head coach earlier this month. Although the competition is fierce for the talented floor leader, Harris indicated that Rutgers is a finalist and he plans to visit campus soon.
2017 4⭐️ PG Blake Harris tells @RHoopsRecruits he's considering Rutgers, Missouri, Michigan State and N.C. State. Wants to visit all four.— RHoops247 (@RHoopsRecruits) March 28, 2017
The fourth school, Missouri, is where the top recruit in the country, Michael Porter Jr., just landed after receiving his release from Washington as well. His father, Michael Porter Sr, was just hired by new Mizzou head coach Cuonzo Martin and soon after received the dynamic Porter Jr’s commitment. It makes sense that Harris is now being recruited by them too.
Rutgers being in the mix for the 6’3” Harris is encouraging news. If they were able to land him, it would be a HUGE win for Pikiell and his staff. The rebuilding process would be accelerated by his arrival, as Pikiell would finally have his point guard of the future. Of course, this is a big what if! The fact that the Rutgers staff is composed of three former high major point guards (Pikiell, Knight & Karl Hobbs) has to be a big selling point for Harris. It was reported last week that Harris was down to N.C. State and Missouri, so the fact that he is now including Rutgers is a big positive. Hopefully, they get him on campus very soon after the NCAA approved visiting period opens on April 7th.
UPDATE: Harris set visits, UConn included, likely due to former Washington assistant Raphael Chillious joining the staff in Storrs.
Recruiting news: Blake Harris tells ESPN his official visit schedule..Mizzou April 8-9, MSU April 13-14, Uconn April 18-19 Rutgers 21-22.— Paul Biancardi (@PaulBiancardi) March 30, 2017
Final Five (no order)— Blake Harris (@blizzyblake55_) March 30, 2017
It was also reported by Andrew Slater of 247 Sports on Tuesday that Rutgers reached out to Mamoudou Diarra, the 3-star forward, who like Harris, had previously signed with Washington back in November. Now that he also received his release, his suitors are growing by the day. In addition to Rutgers, other schools in pursuit include two of the same programs they are competing against for Harris, as well as some familiar local rivals.
Mamoudou Diarra heard from Mizzou, NC St, Kansas St, Rutgers, SMU, Cincinnati, Miss St, Wichita St,UConn & St.John's https://t.co/WZFfQPPdx2 pic.twitter.com/BYWOPYRrym— Andrew Slater (@ASlater247) March 28, 2017
Slater tweeted later on that Seton Hall also reached out to Diarra. The 6’9” wing and Mali native would also be a huge late addition to the 2017 recruiting class for Rutgers. Slater wrote about his commitment to Washington last fall and this is what Diarra’s his AAU head coach, Scott Schroepfer, said about him:
"His strengths are his motor and his versatility. He can play the wing. He played the three and the four for us. He's got great lateral quickness, a 7'2" wingspan, and he's athletic. His areas for improvement are his perimeter shooting, which is getting better. His passing is getting better. His defensive motor has gone from a two to a twelve. The lights come on and he's just ready to play both ends of the floor."
UConn is likely the favorite for Diarra, as former Washington associate head coach Raphael Chillious was just hired yesterday by Huskies head coach Kevin Ollie. Chillious was the lead recruiter for Diarra at Washington, he will likely consider the AAC school this time around. Still, it’s great to see Rutgers making a play for the versatile and athletic player.
In terms of the 2017 class for Rutgers at this moment, combo guard Geo Baker signed back in November, while JUCO point guard Souf Mensah hasn’t yet made it official. For now, it’s fair to expect him next season, leaving Rutgers with just one open scholarship, based on the assumption Sanders will eventually return to the program in May after the NBA Draft evaluation period concludes. It would be a good problem for Rutgers to have if they do have the opportunity to land both Harris and Diarra. Hopefully, they can get Diarra on campus, and it could be even better if it was at the same time as Harris. Perhaps the two players would want to still play together at the next level, like they were slated to do at Washington.
For now, credit Pikiell and the Rutgers staff for being aggressive on the recruiting trail and seemingly pursuing all options in working to upgrade next season’s roster. One positive takeaway is that a recruit of Harris’ caliber is seriously considering Rutgers this late in the process. It could be easy for Harris to say thanks, but no thanks right off the bat, especially after not being involved with Rutgers the first go around in his recruitment. The fact that he is interested and considers them a finalist is a step forward for Pikiell in changing the perception of Rutgers on the recruiting trail. Ultimately landing Harris would be a monster achievement and really turn heads in recruiting circles. Time will tell, but regardless, this offseason just got even more interesting for Rutgers basketball.