There’s plenty of hype, both locally and nationally, around this year’s Texas Longhorns men’s basketball team. But where does the future of Texas basketball stand? As of today, UT has two solid commitments, slotting them as the nation’s 22nd best recruiting class, according to 247Sports.
Sitting at the No. 22 class among the country isn’t too impressive by Shaka Smart’s standards — being that Smart brought in two successive top-five recruiting classes in his first two years as the head coach of the Longhorns. However, that number is currently quite misleading as there is still plenty of time for Smart and his staff to beef up their incoming class with several targets spread throughout the nation.
Let’s take a look at some of the top targets for the ‘Horns, and see how they’d fit within the current basketball program.
To start, let’s look over UT’s top current commit, Gerald Liddell. Coming into Austin as a top-40 recruit can hold a lot of pressure. Over the past three recruiting cycles, Texas has only had three top 40 recruits commit to the Longhorns program: Jarrett Allen, who is currently playing for the Brooklyn Nets after only one year on the Forty Acres, Andrew Jones, who is expected to lead much of the Longhorns offensive production this year and potentially enter the NBA draft after this season, and Mohamed Bamba, who is the highest-ranked player to come to Texas since Kevin Durant in 2005.
Liddell is a long wing player who can stretch the court, finish at the rim, and do all the little things well. He seems to fit well into the style of play that the Longhorns run with under Smart, looking to run and spread the court whenever possible. Liddell stands at 6’6 and has plenty of length, which is also something that we continue to see becoming a priority for Smart in order to run his preferred system. Liddell’s commitment seems to be quite firm with plenty of early playing time waiting for him to arrive in Austin.
Next, UT’s other current commit is a local product who’s wanted to play for the ‘Horns his whole life. With a recruitment that began to heat up towards the end, Brock Cunningham committed to Texas on August 4th and seems pretty eager to join the Longhorn family. Coming from Westlake High School in Austin, Cunningham helped lead his team to a 29-7 record last season, which put them at the No. 8 ranked team in Texas. He’s is a four-star recruit who will likely require a little time for development overall, but could impact the program immediately as a hard-working glue guy. Another wing-type player who slashes to the paint, Cunningham can also shoot from the perimeter, and is very fundamentally sound. We’re excited to see the Austin kid suit up for the ‘Horns in 2018.
Keldon Johnson is Texas’ highest-ranked uncommitted target. The nation’s No. 16 recruit and a consensus five-star prospect, Johnson is also considering programs like Kentucky and Maryland, with Duke recently extending an offer.
Smart seems to be developing a good relationship with players throughout the Boo Williams AAU program along with guys from the national powerhouse, Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. In 2017’s class, Smart got his point guard in Matt Coleman, and now he’s recruiting Johnson, with whom he is quite close. Johnson is a hard-nosed playmaker who can handle pressure on the arc, but can also get into the paint and brawl with the big boys down low. Johnson officially visited UT on September 1, while also taking official visits to Maryland, NC State, and Kentucky.
Johnson would add true superstar talent to the class and fill a need at the off guard position with Andrew Jones expected to jump to the NBA. With Coleman in his ear and Smart and assistant Mike Morrell having recruited Johnson for years, the ‘Horns may be the slight favorite in his recruitment.
Quentin Grimes is another five-star recruit the Longhorns are targeting. A point guard from The Woodlands, Grimes is the state’s top-ranked prospect and is being heavily recruited by all of the blue-chip programs. Why should Grimes stay in state and play for his home-state’s flagship university?
Grimes can come into Austin and become a contributing guard for a highly competitive Big 12 team very early. At 6’4, he is capable of playing both guard positions, and could play with Coleman and take over primary ball-handling duties when the smaller spark plug departs.
Grimes’ finalists are Kentucky, Kansas, Marquette, and, of course, Texas. Quentin has said that he’s interested in the Longhorns because he likes the idea of playing with many of his hometown guys from the Houston area, and he likes Smart’s style of coaching. Grimes is set to officially visit the Forty Acres this weekend. However, Kansas is considered the leader.
Finally, the ‘Horns are heavily pursuing a hot recruit out of Portland, Ore. in Kamaka Hepa, another top-50 recruit, and another long wing player. He’s capable of shooting the three, being crafty around the rim, and has a special skill in finding open teammates. He’s a stretch four who would be able to open up driving lanes for the guards and other wing players.
Hepa would also fit Texas’ style of play well as he’s a long athlete who runs in transition. He’d likely see playing time at both forward positions and would have a chance to play immediately.
Smart has made Hepa a priority and seems to be competing with Mark Few from Gonzaga, but 247Sports has five of their six Crystal Ball predictions on Hepa coming to Texas. He hasn’t set a commitment date, but we’re excited to continue following Kamaka Hepa’s recruitment, and hope that he ends up a Longhorn.
With pressure increasing to win this season, Smart is laying a solid foundation across the country for the 2018 class, and how well the Longhorns head coach can close in this group will have a major impact on the program’s future.
In addition to the current two commitments of the 2018 class, Johnson, Grimes, and Hepa are all serious candidates to land in Austin, and that would definitely be one of the premier recruiting classes anywhere. Landing all three is extremely unlikely, but the ‘Horns are well-positioned to secure a four-man class of Liddell, Cunningham, Johnson, and Hepa.
If Smart can pull that off, Texas will have the pieces to become a contender once again.