"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Take a Breath, Marquette...

In the past two days, we reported out the commitments of Emarion Ellis and David Joplin to join Shaka Smith at Marquette. Before the digital ink dried on the Joplin article, it was reported that Keeyan Itejere (ee-TEEZ-your-ray, from what we are told) had also committed to Marquette. Those three additions joining already affirmed Stevie Mitchell and Kameron Jones rocketed Marquette's class from #52 nationally all the way up to #17 per 247 Sports, as of this writing.

Before Marquette fans could finish celebrating their good fortune, we learned that Atlantic-10 Freshman of the Year Tyler Kolek was also going to be joining Marquette as a transfer from George Mason. That was followed early this morning by the addition of Clemson freshman transfer Olivier Maxence-Prosper. With immediate eligibility passing, this is what Marquette's roster looks like:

Freshmen: Emarion Ellis, Keeyan Itejere, Kameron Jones, David Joplin, Stevie Mitchell

Sophomores: Dexter Akanno, Dawson Garcia, Osasere Ighodaro, Tyler Kolek, Justin Lewis, Olivier Maxence-Prosper

Juniors: D.J. Carton

Seniors: Greg Elliott, Jose Perez

So what are Marquette fans going to see with these players coming in? Let's go in chronological order of commitment and get a bit of a breakdown on the three newcomers.

Keeyan Itejere

Itejere is a 6'9", 190-pound forward from Raleigh, North Carolina. His stock shot up in the past few months, from #265 in the 247 Sports composite in November, 2020 all the way to #156 currently. At this point, he still looks fairly raw and will likely need to add weight. Itejere could be described as bouncy, with the athleticism to both dunk and block shots. He also runs the floor well and looks like a forward that will be comfortable in transition. According to MaxPreps, he averaged 9.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game in 2020-21 for GRACE Christian High School. Itejere is probably more of a long-term prospect but his high school coach raved about his NBA athleticism and that he has only been playing basketball seriously for the past four years, which could indicate a higher ceiling as he is still just scratching his potential.

Tyler Kolek

Kolek first came up as a target shortly after Smart was hired. Kolek was an unranked player coming out of high school in Rhode Island. Despite that, his shooting helped him quickly move into the starting lineup at George Mason. Kolek ended up leading the team in minutes while averaging 10.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. He was named Atlantic-10 Freshman of the Year and had a number of high major options, including Providence, Oklahoma, and Penn State. Perhaps the most impressive from Marquette's perspective is that he chose Milwaukee despite having grown up with season tickets to the Dunkin' Donuts Center, home of the Big East rival Friars.

In terms of his game, Kolek loves to shoot threes, with over 74% of his FGA coming from beyond the arc. Not only that, but looking at his highlights, it's clear he has Andrew Rowsey type range. On a team in need of shooting, Kolek and his 51 made threes will be very welcome as the most prolific long range shooter in terms of makes is DJ Carton with 33. Kolek can also score through traffic, doing well to use his body to shield off defenders. He is a reliable ball-handler as well who can create for others. The video below shows off those specific skills, and bear in mind, it's against A-10 competition, which may not be the Big East, but is a much better method of comparison than high school or AAU teams.

In discussions behind the scenes, the staff used words like "toughness" and "balls" to describe his style of play while also comparing his level of competitiveness favorably to Marquette and TBT legend Travis Diener. It is no coincidence that Shaka Smart tweeted the gif of Travis' TBT Championship winning shot right after Kolek made his announcement. While those are lofty comparisons, the staff at least seems to believe Kolek is the kind of player you want with the ball in his hands in the closing minutes of a tight game. Here's a look at his freshman year highlights:

Olivier Maxence-Prosper

Looking at his statline from Clemson, it could be understood why some fans might not get overly excited about this transfer. O-Max, as he's nicknamed, averaged 2.5 points and 1.9 rebounds per game playing 9.7 minutes per contest. While he didn't light up the ACC the way Kolek did in the A-10, there are reasons to be optimistic about the long-terms prospects here, not the least of which is that he came to college after his junior year in high school, so he's young for his class.

Maxence-Prosper was also a freshman who came in more highly lauded, checking in at #106 in the final 247 Composite after spending most of the year just inside the top-100. He is listed at 6'8", 216 pounds, so more filled out than Itejere and likely more ready to contribute from day one. He has adjectives like "NBA athleticism" mentioned with him as well, though that clearly didn't pave the way to minutes at Clemson. That said, the Tigers did have three 6'8" or taller upperclassmen in front of him while playing a slow-down style that likely didn't fit his game particularly well. There are legitimate reasons to believe he will fit better in Smart's system than he did in Brad Brownell's.

The following (lengthy) video shows his highlights from Clemson and gives clues as to why he was a highly regarded recruit and also why Marquette was after him:

What's to Come?

It should first be noted that Marquette is still actively pursuing a number of players. Tamar Bates is the most prolific high school player, ranked #56 by the 247 Sports Composite. The 6'4" combo guard has excellent athleticism and can score both inside and out. Bates originally committed to Smart at Texas though he is being heavily recruited currently, with Missouri and Oklahoma State among the perceived leaders as well. Were he to commit, Marquette would move into the top-10 in 247 Sports recruiting rankings. Marquette has also been associated with transfer guard Darryl Morsell of Maryland. Morsell is widely regarded as one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. While he won the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year, Marquette fans might remember him from the Orlando Invitational Championship Game in 2019, when he was the primary defender on Markus Howard. After scoring 91 points in the first two games of the tournament, Howard was held to 6 points on 1/12 shooting with Morsell as his primary defender.

Those that can do math can also see Marquette is currently one over the scholarship limit as they continue to recruit. There is some speculation that seniors like Greg Elliott could be allowed to stay over the limit based on a COVID loophole, but barring that, it would seem that at least 1-2 players could be transferring if nothing else changes. There's nothing abnormal about that in a coaching change, but don't be surprised to see some departures before all the dust settles.

Finally, there is the matter of the last Assistant Coach spot. As we reported earlier this week, Cody Hatt and Neill Berry have followed Smart from Texas to take spots on his bench, but his other assistant, K.T. Turner, has taken a position at Oklahoma with Porter Moser. There are many rumors swirling on Twitter and message boards. We will address this in two ways without pointing to any specific coaches. First, there has been a lot of talk that Smart is looking for a big hire with the final assistant position. Whether that is a sitting head coach or a high-major assistant, we can't say for certain, but his past three associate head coaches at Texas were KT Turner (hired from SMU), Luke Yaklich (hired from Michigan), and Darren Horn (former high-major head coach). Don't be surprised if one of the big rumors out there proves to be true. Second, prominent assistant hires often come with relationships to recruits already developed. Look at how quickly Jonas Aidoo committed to Tennessee after former Marquette assistant and lead Aidoo recruiter Justin Gainey joined Rick Barnes' staff. Don't be surprised if the final assistant has a relationship with a recruit that ends up in Marquette colors as well.

It's been a whirlwind 48 hours. 5 new players and according to Shaka Smart, they aren't done yet. So take a breath, and as you exhale, say "We Are...Marquette!"

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