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Rutgers men’s basketball recruiting update 3.0

Several high profile players took official visits this past week that could figure into next season and the future.

St Bonaventure v Xavier
Kyle Lofton drives to the basket during the NIT semifinals.
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Rutgers men’s basketball coaching staff have been busy in constructing the roster for the future as well as continuing to pursue additions for next season. Over the past week, the program has hosted two 4-star prospects in the class of 2023 as well as impact transfer guard Kyle Lofton. These visits are both intriguing and raise questions about the roster moving forward.

Last weekend, Rutgers hosted 4-star prospect Gavin Griffiths, a consensus top 40 recruit in the class of 2023. It was the first of three scheduled official visits as Griffiths is planning to travel to Virginia Tech and Michigan in June per Andrew Slater. Griffiths already took an official visit to Iowa last fall.

The 6’7” Griffiths is from West Hartford, Connecticut and attends Kingswood-Oxford School. He has the versatility to play the 2 or 3 spot. His national rankings by major recruiting services includes No. 15 by On3, No. 26 by ESPN, No. 29 by Rivals and No. 61 by 247 Sports. His composite rankings for the class of 2023 are No. 37 by 247 Sports and No. 39 by On3.

He is one of the best shooters in the 2023 class and his stock continues to rise. Rutgers was the first high major to offer Griffiths last June, but the interest level in him continues to grow. He performed at a high level last summer at the Peach Jam, which raised his recruiting profile. He then won NEPSAC Player of the Year this past season after averaging 24 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Griffiths holds offers from other Big Ten schools Michigan, Iowa and Penn State while other high major offers include Providence, Xavier, Creighton, UConn, Pitt, Alabama, LSU, Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Kansas State.

Getting Griffiths on campus at this stage was critical in having a real chance to ultimately land his commitment. He would be a tremendous addition to the program as he is a dynamic offensive player who can score in multiple ways and is an excellent passer with good court vision.

His body control and ability to use his length to get to the rim is impressive at this stage of his development. He has a quick release on his jump shot and has range. Adding muscle to his athletic frame will help him hold up in a physical conference like the Big Ten.

Griffiths recruiting grade of 0.9852 would make him the second highest rated recruit for the program if he ultimately decides to come to Rutgers. His rating is just below former McDonald’s All-American Mike Rosario’s grade of 0.9855.

Another reason he is so desired by Pikiell is that Griffiths fits the program’s culture and his desire to have “gym rats” throughout the roster.

Griffith’s high school coach Brad Seaman stated, “His greatest strength is his attention to detail and work ethic. He is that definition of hard work pays off. He’s in the gym in the summer and it’s 100 degrees in the morning and he’s working out before camp starts, then he’s doing yoga during the day and then he’s playing at night. That’s just his summer workout regimen.”

There is no timeline that Griffiths has announced in regard to making his decision and he could add more visits as well. Hopefully Rutgers made a big impression on him and that their sustained interest carries weight. Being in on Griffiths since the beginning adds value and Griffiths did have his entire family on this visit. Michigan appears to be in a good spot as well in being his last visit.

Here are pictures of his visit that Griffiths posted to his Instagram account.

Here are highlights of Griffiths from last summer.

In addition, 4-star big man Papa Kante took an official visit as well this past weekend and was in a couple of the pictures that Griffiths posted. The visit was first reported by Adam Zagoria, who indicated that Kante has additional visits scheduled with Maryland and Michigan next. Kante has over a dozen high major offers, including Kansas, Iowa, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, Miami, Pitt, Syracuse, Tennessee, and TCU. Rutgers along with Pitt were the first schools to offer Kante in June 2021.

The South Kent Prep star is a very good two-way player that plays with energy and is physical. He can finish through contact on the offensive end but is fundamentally sound in being able to block and alter shots on the defensive end without fouling. Kante is a high level dunker and has a baby hook shot in his arsenal. However, he can also shoot outside of ten feet, making him an intriguing big man as he has the potential to become a dynamic offensive player at the high major level. He has a good basketball IQ and due to his versatility, doesn’t seem to force shots and adjusts to what the defense gives him.

Michigan appears to be the favorite to land Kante and he visits them next month at the same time as Griffiths.

Here are two scouting services takes on Kante plus video highlights of his game.

Gus Yalden is a 4-star big man that took official visits to Wisconsin, Nebraska and Rutgers last October. The North Carolina native has received 20 high major offers and Rutgers was the second to extend an offer back in June 2020. Yalden then took a second official visit to Wisconsin last week and then set his announcement date for May 17. While Rutgers is included in his final four schools, momentum is clearly on the side of the Badgers.

In regard to next season, Rutgers continues to explore the transfer portal and had a high profile player on campus earlier this week. St. Bonaventure point guard Kyle Lofton visited the program on Monday per Adam Zagoria, which is an intriguing and surprising development. Lofton is a four-year starter for the Bonnies who has averaged 38.1 minutes per game in 116 contests. He’s been incredibly consistent and averages 13.9 points, 5.2 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.6 steals over four years playing in the Atlantic-10.

Lofton can attack the rim off the dribble and create both his own shot while also finding teammates open in space. He isn’t an elite shooter and relies on volume and getting to the foul line. His career marks are 42.1% shooting from the floor, 30.3% from three-point range and 82.0% on free throws. From an analytics standpoint, Lofton was 97th nationally with a 28.4% assist rate and 156th with a 3.1% steal rate.

You may remember Lofton from Rutgers’ loss to St. Bonaventure on November 16, 2019 when he scored 17 points, dished out 8 assists and swiped 2 steals.

Potentially adding Lofton would change the dynamic of the Rutgers offense. The 6’3” floor general would give Pikiell a true weapon that can push the pace and attack the rim off the bounce. It was an area that Jacob Young thrived in and was missing last season. Lofton’s assist numbers highlight his ability to balance looking for his own shot while also being unselfish in creating scoring opportunities for his teammates. He also is a good on ball defender and would add a ton of experience.

Lofton recently visited Florida last week prior to Rutgers after entering the transfer portal at the end of April. While the Hillside, New Jersey native could be tempted to return home for his final season of college ball, there will be plenty of options for him. He also visited Florida with former teammate Osun Osunniyi and the two players could ultimately choose to go a new program together.

UPDATE: Kyle Lofton committed to Florida on Friday.

The bigger question is how the roster would look overall if Lofton was added.

Here is the current roster for Rutgers with three available scholarships remaining, although Aidan Terry was elevated from walk-on to scholarship player last season. He could continue that way next season which would mean only two scholarships would still be open.

Backcourt: Paul Mulcahy (2), Cam Spencer (2), Jalen Miller (3), Derek Simpson (4)

Wings: Aundre Hyatt (2), Mawot Mag (3), Oskar Palmquist (3)

Frontcourt: Cliff Omoruyi (3), Dean Reiber (3), Antwone Woolfork (4)

Declared for NBA: Ron Harper Jr. (1), Caleb McConnell (1), Jaden Jones (3)

Note: All three remain eligible to return until the June 1 withdrawal date.

With Paul Mulcahy, Jalen Miller and incoming freshman Derek Simpson already on the roster, Lofton would bring the number of point guards on the team to four. The staff is high on Simpson and it’s expected he can contribute next season. If Lofton did join the program, would Miller redshirt? Is Lofton an insurance plan only if Caleb McConnell does not return? Is it possible Mulcahy would shift off the ball more into a point forward role? Or is Pikiell simply pursuing the best players available and will make it work based on how the offseason progresses?

As I said, landing Lofton would be a major get and it won’t be easy. Regardless, credit Pikiell and the staff for getting such a quality transfer candidate on campus soon after he entered the portal.

So what will the roster look like for next season?

I think the most likely outcome is that Caleb McConnell, who wasn’t invited to either the NBA Draft Combine or G League combine, ultimately returns. His options are either to explore a pro contract overseas or return for his fifth season at Rutgers in hopes of improving his stock. He has until June 1 to withdraw from the NBA Draft and while that wouldn’t automatically guarantee his return, he potentially could announce it together.

If McConnell does return, that would give Rutgers a strong backcourt core of Mulcahy, Spencer, McConnell with Simpson and Miller as potential contributors. Cliff Omoruyi will be featured in the paint while Aundre Hyatt and Mawot Mag will be competing at the 4. Dean Reiber will be a factor in the frontcourt as well. How much newcomer Antoine Woolfork can be a factor remains to be seen, but he could be on a longer term development track.

The x-factor for the roster as currently constructed, whether McConnell returns or not, is Oskar Palmquist. The 6’8” wing has played sparingly in his first two seasons but could break through with more opportunity with Ron Harper Jr. expected to remain in the NBA Draft. If he develops enough to figure into the rotation next season, it would improve this team’s depth and likely give them another shooter. The key for Palmquist is being capable on the defensive end.

If Lofton doesn’t come to Rutgers, how will the staff proceed? Pursuing a big man, especially if McConnell does announce his return soon, makes the most sense. There are still over 1,400 players in the portal and while it’s been mostly quiet in Rutgers being linked to any transfers, the staff is certainly evaluating options and determining their next move.

Getting on the board with the 2023 recruiting class before the start of next season with a high end prospect like Griffiths or Kante would be huge as well. Griffiths in particular, would generate a ton of buzz and also give the program a significant piece to build around for the future. I think of any of the visitors this past week, Rutgers is in best position with Griffiths. It won’t be easy beating out Michigan for him, but I think there is a legitimate chance they do.

The last takeaway is that Pikiell is showing a shift in his thinking this offseason. He is evolving in targeting specific transfer targets that possess a versatile skill set that are also offensive minded. The pursuit of Lofton highlights Pikiell’s willingness to be flexible in how the makeup of both the roster and offense could operate. Both Spencer and Lofton are good defenders with efficient steal rates, but the bulk of their value is on the offensive end. Last season, Rutgers had two dominant scorers in Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker. Pikiell is showing urgency this offseason in finding high end replacements for their production. This above anything else is most encouraging and while Pikiell will always be a defensive first coach, the idea he doesn’t care about offense is nothing more than a message board folktale.

Stay tuned as the roster for both next season and the future continues to be shaped.

Previous Offseason Recruiting Coverage

Cam Spencer commits to Rutgers

Recruiting Update 2.0

Recruiting Update 1.0