Ernie Kent didn’t land his first high-profile recruit as soon as we expected, nor did it happen the way we expected, but the signing of Roberto Gittens today is a godsend for us WSU basketball fans who still care about the program.
It’s been a while since we’ve truly had something to get excited about with regards to the future of Coug basketball. Between the losses, the forgettable recruiting and the incessant roster turnover, it was incredibly easy after the first few years of Kent’s tenure to assume that it was only a matter of time before the Good Ship Ernesto finally ran aground and we moved on to the next guy.
That might still be where this ends up. After all, Gittens is just one guy, and despite the “first four-star recruit since Klay Thompson” proclamations, he’s really not Klay Thompson. Gittens is ranked No. 132 in the 2017 class by Scout, No. 143 by 247Sports and he’s not ranked at all in the Rivals 150; conversely, Klay finished No. 58 in the Recruiting Services Consensus Index. Klay was thought of much, much more highly as a recruit, so it’s really not fair to compare the two.
(For context, Garfield’s Jaylen Nowell — who signed with Washington and has decided to stick with his commitment after the coaching change — was the No. 60 RSCI recruit last summer. Gittens doesn’t really compare to Nowell. For now.)
However, one of the things we’ve complained loudest about around here over the past few years is that Kent was supposed to be a noted recruiter, and not only was he not landing any top 100 or even fringe top 100 kids, he wasn’t even getting in the room with them.
This finally changes that, and it’s awesome. However, I’m undecided as to how much we can read into it going forward.
The circumstances of Gittens’ recruitment are unique. He originally committed to Boise State in October, only to back off that commitment in a seeming effort to seek out better offers. Beyond WSU (and the pessimists among us would say WSU isn’t really a better offer than Boise State these days, outside of conference affiliation), Gittens didn’t get a lot of traction, perhaps because of academic issues. By the time that all got (presumably) worked out, and as Gittens continued to wait and wait and wait for something to pop, the musical chairs had stopped at most high major schools, and Gittens was still standing without a seat ... except at WSU.
That said, I don’t think that should take away from the hustle Kent and his staff showed in continuing to stay on Gittens, whom they had actively recruited up until his commitment to Boise State, and whom they obviously continued to recruit even after that. Gittens certainly could have chosen to go to prep school and try to up his stock, but he felt comfortable enough with the situation in Pullman to join Kent and his staff. That’s a really good thing.
We’ve talked a lot about WSU being a school that needs to figure out a way to exploit recruiting market inefficiencies, and this is the second year in a row that Kent and his staff have been able to land a kid who sort of fell through the cracks for whatever reason (Malachi Flynn, also from Tacoma, being the other). You can’t build an entire Pac-12 program this way, but like Tony Bennett and his international recruits, you certainly can supplement a roster by just sort of hanging around and snagging these guys who are good enough to play at other programs.
The next step, of course, is getting landing these kinds of guys before they don’t really have any other power five options. The most natural fit seems to be guys from Tacoma, where WSU has done extraordinarily well over the last seven years, from DaVonté Lacy to Flynn to Gittens. However, the only guy on recruiting radars at the moment from that area is Emmitt Matthews Jr. from Wilson. He’s a long and lanky wing-type who is 6-7 and 185 pounds, and fits what Kent is looking for:
The big prize, of course, would be J’Raan Brooks, a top 100 power forward from Garfield. Who knows if WSU actually has a shot, but you can bet that with the addition of former Garfield coach Ed Haskins to Kent’s staff, the Cougs will at least get into that living room for a visit. And Kent can talk an awfully good game if given the chance.
And that’s where landing Gittens helps. These guys all know each other, and once you get a guy in the program, hopefully he can talk to other guys about the viability of what’s going on. You hope that it starts to snowball.
But this point, it’s still mostly hope. However, it’s more hope than we’ve had in a while.
Here’s how the scholarship situation stands: Kent’s still got two scholarships to hand out if he wants. But with zero seniors on next year’s roster and so many young players already, he appears content to wait it out for guys who can truly provide an impact, perhaps including hanging onto a scholarship until 2018.
As someone who was highly critical of Kent’s ham-handed handling of his scholarships the first few years — in which he seemed to just be bringing guys in on the off chance they could play before finding out they couldn’t and sending them on their way — I fully endorse this strategy.
Oh, and one more thing: Have you noticed that nobody has transferred since Derrien King left midseason? That’s another first for Kent. Time will tell, but maybe he’s really starting to figure this Pullman thing out.