Purdue Basketball 2017 Recruiting: WTF, man?
Time to distract everyone from the abysmal horror that is our football team, and talk basketball. Which is exciting! We have a top-20 team heading into the season (and that’s after losing one of the best big men in our program’s history), there’s loads of talent across all five positions, Caren Edwards is showing early signs that he might be the real deal...there’s a lot to be really excited about.
The one - I wouldn’t call it a ‘black mark’, but ok - on Purdue’s basketball landscape is our 2017 class. Or rather, what should be our 2017 recruiting class. Because we don’t have one. It’s October, signing day is next month, and we don’t have a single commitment. This is...suboptimal.
A typical recruiting cycle (if there is such a thing) would usually mean that we would have a commit or two in the bag, and then would wait on signing day (or the weeks prior) to hear from either top-shelf players with lots of options, or fast-rising seniors whose recruiting has only recently picked up and they’re a little late going through the process.
This year has not been as kind to Purdue, as Purdue has missed on nearly every major target so far. Of all of the recruits that Purdue was seriously pursuing this past Spring/Summer, only Nojel Eastern remains on the table. Let’s do a quick run-through of recruits past.
Paul Scruggs is borderline 5* who never really considered Purdue. Got an offer, but nothing was ever going to happen here. Happens sometimes. Ditto for Kris Wilkes. Purdue was in a really good position with Malik Williams until he visited - and committed to - Louisville, seemingly unexpectedly. Jaren Jackson was Purdue’s best chance at landing a blue chipper. Purdue made the final three, along with Maryland and Michigan State, and seemed to be the best fit (and they definitely recruited him the hardest), but ultimately he went to MSU, undoubtedly swayed by the allure of Final Fours and a National Championship (I can imagine during visits Tom Izzo just casually stretching his arms out, fingers heavy under the weight of all his rings. He makes me sick.) So goes the top tier of recruits.
Next up were the 4* ballers. Xavier Tillman would have been a great defender / rebounder in Purdue’s system, but he too went to Michigan State. Jeremiah Tilmon never really considered Purdue; he was pretty much an open-and-shut case for Illinois. Kyle Young was an interesting prospect, a 6’7’’ PF with plenty of all-around skills, but despite some positive back-and-forth with Purdue, he’ll be a Butler Bulldog in college. Another intriguing prospect that never really had a lot of Purdue momentum was Derek Culver, who’s going to West Virginia. Savion Flagg is small forward who is highly skilled - and thus sought after - and Purdue put a little attention there, but ultimately Texas A&M got his verbal.
That rounds out the 4* players, but it’s all good. Plenty of really solid 3* prospects in a very deep 2017 class. Unfortunately, Purdue has had some bad luck there as well. Terrell Brown - who visited in August - is headed to Pitt. Theo John is off the board to Marquette (credit them for an excellent job recruiting him.) Evan Battey would have been a nice pick-up, perhaps under-rated for his skills, but he’s going to Colorado. Chris Sodom is a 7’1’’ and raw as the day is long, but it’s going to be up to New Mexico to see if they can maximize his natural gifts (size, size, size).
So here we are, many misses on the board, but something has to break for Purdue soon, right? Let’s look at who’s left.
There’s Nojel Eastern, who is a nice, tall PG, a solid 4* and a long-time Purdue target. He has been for several months the guy most likely to pull the trigger for Purdue, except he hasn’t. That, combined with some indications that he might want to stretch out the process longer and longer, has made some Purdue fans justifiably anxious that he may be looking for greener pastures (in particular, Michigan State). Aaron Wheeler is a fast-rising senior who plays at Brewster Academy. He’s a 3* who’d be a nice addition on the wing, although he’d still be a development prospect. Jacob Epperson is playing at LaLumiere for his senior year. He’s Australian and tall. Talented but raw, he hasn’t been recruited much up until this point. I would expect him to take his recruitment into the Spring (given how little he’s been recruited, if I were him, I’d do the same.) Matt Haarms is another big man (7’2’’) project. He’s unranked by Rivals, and just like with Epperson, his recruiting process is just starting (he’s originally from the Netherlands.) Finally, Sterling Manley just announced Purdue made his final four, but with a UNC offer on the table, it will take some recruiting to get him to chose Purdue instead.
Undoubtedly there are other prospects being recruited (Sasha Stefanovic, the 3* shooter from Crown Point, comes to mind) but that’s the current state of recruiting as I know it.
Ideally, Purdue would have liked to take a C, a PF, a PG, and a pair of wings. Now, some compromises might be in order.
Where does that leave Purdue? Frankly, not in a great place. As the weeks go by and more and more prospects jump at offers at other schools, the ceiling on this year’s class gets lower and lower. Early indications were that this class had the potential to be Matt Painter’s best class yet, even surpassing his 2007 mega-class. With Purdue being held in high regard by two 5* prospects (Jackson and Williams), landing just one of them - along with some nice complementary pieces - would be a great step forward for Purdue recruiting. Even with the 5* recruits having passed Purdue by, there was still a chance to put together a very respectable multiple-4* class. Now, that possibility had faded as well, with only one 4* left on Purdue’s board, as well as only a handful 3*s, and a bunch of unknown prospects.
(Quick aside - I hate to rely upon the star rating too much, but it does provide a general, agreed-upon tiered system for recruiting. Yes, some time guys will outperform or underperform their rankings, and yes, you can’t really judge how good a class is until it has matriculated in its entirety through a program. But unless you don’t want to talk about recruiting at all (fair), it’s the best we got so it’s what we’ll go with.)
So while the sky isn’t falling, the ceiling has lowered, and Purdue fans would be justified in bracing themselves for the worst-case scenario. Recent recruiting classes have proven that when you miss on your ‘A’ targets and start making reaches, bad things can happen.
In 2008, Matt Painter went all-in on Tyler Zeller, damn near landing the top-10 recruit. Unfortunately, Zeller ended up at UNC, and Painter did not sign a big in that class. That would prove problematic, as Purdue struggled to reach prominence on the national stage. A big who wasn’t afraid to throw his body around, defend the rim and grab rebounds would have been a huge benefit to a Purdue team that primarily featured a wiry JaJuan Johnson at the ‘5’ and who struggled for years to field a good rebounding team.
In 2011, Painter again went all-in on a big (this time, a PF) with game-changing talent. He could not have been in a better position with Branden Dawson until the very end, when MSU (who had been doggedly pursuing the All-American as well) landed the burger boy. Painter was thus left holding the bag. Desperate to fill the 2011 class, he ended up signing a class of two: Donnie Hale and Jacob Lawson. Neither showed much in their limited time at Purdue, and both washed out before graduating. That class was devastatingly bad for Purdue, its effects stretching out for the next four years.
2012 was a good class when the ink dried on signing day, but could have been great had Purdue managed to sign the son of two former Boilers (including one of its best women’s players of all time), Gary Harris. Harris picked MSU (damnit), and left Purdue without that dynamic presence on the wing, the type of player who you could just give the ball to and have him get you a bucket (a role that hasn’t been filled since E'Twaun Moore.)
There will always be hits and misses in recruiting. But when you miss on an entire year (2011), or fail to get that last piece to bring you over the edge (2008, 2012), the effects can be felt for many years to come.
There’s no way to judge Purdue’s 2017 yet, as it doesn’t exist. But there is valid reason to worry. There are plenty of good players left on the board. And Painter did a good job of spreading his attention across a variety of guys (while still maintaining a close connection with those he offered.) This isn’t a 2008 or 2011 scenario where he put all his eggs in one basket. He was properly diverse, worked his ass off, but has nothing as of yet to show for it. And when you have to redo your recruiting board in October, other problems pop up. How do you identify the good targets out of who’s available? How do you evaluate a new player with the AAU season behind you? How do you build the relationship when other schools have presumably been involved much longer? Can you make sure the player is the right character / style fit in a limited amount of time?
Purdue did not lack for spots this year, and the 2017 class as a whole looks to be rather strong. National Signing Day is just over a month away (November 9th). Will Purdue have a commit by then? Hopefully, although nothing appear imminent. We’ll revisit this in the Spring if Purdue is forced to become an active player on the JUCO / transfer market. But what was once a promising class, looking to build upon the last couple years of recruiting and on-court success, now feels a little deflated.