It’s only been three weeks since Shaka Smart was handed the reins as the head coach of the Texas Longhorns, but he’s been anything but complacent in the early going of his tenure. Smart’s arrival on campus was necessary to bring a new energy and enthusiasm to the basketball program and a big component in this was to put the recruiting struggles of Rick Barnes’ late years behind them and begin working towards building a basketball brand that would make Texas a premier destination for the top recruits in the state, as well as across the nation. To this point, Smart hasn’t disappointed on the recruiting front, and that goes beyond simply presenting offers to potential newcomers, although, he’s been quite active in that regard too.
Convincing Isaiah Taylor To Stay
In the immediate aftermath of Barnes’ departure and Smart’s arrival at Texas, reports began to surface suggesting sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor was leaning towards declaring for the 2015 NBA Draft after people within Taylor’s circle felt he was ready for the next level. That, along with reports that the Longhorns’ disappointing 2014-15 campaign was affecting Taylor’s decision to return or jet to the NBA presented the impression that we had seen the last of the flashy 6’1" floor general in a Texas jersey.
But despite Taylor already having been a Longhorn for two seasons, the largest recruiting task facing Smart in his initial weeks comes with convincing a player he didn’t know three weeks ago and who was reportedly leaning towards declaring for the draft to put off any potential big bucks he could have made and return to Texas for a third season. After being able to talk with Taylor about how the system in place next season will be tapered to his style and how crucial Taylor would be to the Longhorns success in 2015-16, Horns Digest reports that Smart has swayed Taylor, as he’s reportedly now leaning towards a return to Texas.
Taylor is unquestionably the Longhorns’ best player and could improve upon that standing with an offseason to develop his game and continue to build chemistry with his teammates. The deadline to declare for the NBA Draft is Sunday and it’s quite possible we don’t get a final decision until that day, but that would be a huge boost to his young recruiting resume at Texas, as well as a focal point to build around in his first season in charge.
Keeping The Commits Committed
When Smart took over at Texas, one of the initial tasks was to keep the two ESPN 100 recruits who were set to become Longhorns in the fall right where they were. There was never really any concern about Kerwin Roach decommitting after he wasted no time showing support for Smart and assuring he was a Longhorn on Twitter, but shooting guard Eric Davis stayed quite for some time.
Davis ultimately opened up and discussed his brief relationship with Smart, his future teammates and his decision to remain committed to Texas, but based on the skill sets of Roach and Davis, as well as the style of Smart’s system, whether or not he could keep the two incoming guards en route for Austin was a question Smart wasted no time answering correctly.
Finding The Next Longhorns
Smart appears to have won over Taylor and was able to prevent the current commits from heading elsewhere. The third component for Smart is bringing in noteworthy talent for the future. This is an area where much criticism fell on Barnes’ shoulders after he all too often failed to bring in elite recruits, especially those in Texas, but based on his early recruiting efforts, this won’t be an issue for Smart.
With so much recruiting news and updates to keep track of, I separated the potential recruits by class for some clarification of who could be a Longhorn and when.
Smart was already set to walk into an impressive roster from a talent standpoint in his first season, but that hasn’t hindered his persistence to try and stockpile additional talent.
The main guy who watch for, as he’s likely to be in a Texas uniform next season is former VCU commit Tevin Mack. Smart recently met with his former commit at VCU and it's quite likely Mack, ESPN's No. 48 ranked recruit, becomes a Longhorn before too long. The last six Crystal Ball predictions for 247 Sports all have Mack to Texas, and considering Mack chose VCU because of Smart, there's little reason to doubt that will be the same reason he lands in Austin.
VCU signee Tevin Mack back on the market. Would not be shocked at all to see him end up with Shaka at Texas.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) April 14, 2015
With Texas only having one available scholarships if Taylor returns, another big name to watch for alongside Mack is the Washington Huskies transfer, point guard Nigel Williams-Goss. Williams-Goss averaged 15.6 points and 5.9 assists as a sophomore for Washington. The Longhorns are one of the few programs Williams-Goss is considering for transfer and he received an in-home visit from Smart on April 20. If Williams-Goss were to come to Texas, he would have to sit out for a season due to NCAA transfer rules, but that would all-but guarantee Texas would begin 2016 with an experienced, versatile point guard.
Texas still has on offer pending to four-star shooting guard Kobe Eubanks, but he's projected to land at Baylor. Smart also extended an offer to three-star Sound Doctrine product Shawntrez Davis on April 22. Davis is currently projected to end up at Boston College, but with Texas now throwing their name into the mix, things could change in the coming days.
Within hours of Smart’s hire, the 37-year-old coach had already extended an offer to 2016 four-star shooting guard Bruce Brown of Vermont Academy. Kevin Ollie and the UConn Huskies are still considered the favorite to land the 6’3" guard, but Smart has plenty on time to gain ground and convince Brown that Austin is the place for him. The day after being hired, Smart offered three-star power forward Javin Montgomery-DeLaurier. The 6'9" Montgomery-DeLaurier is currently favored to land at Vanderbilt, but Texas is still in the mix and has plenty of time to capitalize on bringing Montgomery-DeLaurier to Austin.
But the guy to watch in 2016 is the five-star combo guard from Katy, Texas named De'Aaron Fox.
ESPN ranked Fox as the No. 12 overall recruit, and the No, 2 recruit out of Texas, which makes Smart's goal of keeping Fox in-state that much more important. After next season, Smart will have the task of replacing Taylor (if he stays, since he will almost surely go next season), Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland on the perimeter. Fox would be a tremendous replacement in the backcourt and he's currently viewed as a Texas lean, per 247 Sports.
Enjoyed today's UT visit. Loved the new coaching staff and players are always cool. Also great to see the community welcoming Coach Smart— De'Aaron Fox (@Swipathefox5) April 18, 2015
Fox unofficially visited Texas April 18. This is a recruit Smart simply cannot let get away.
Jarrett Allen, a five-star power forward and Austin native is another guy to keep an eye on, as he's heavily favored to stay home and play for Smart next season.
Yet another in-state recruit Smart has set his sights on is the elite shooting guard out of Dallas, Terrance Ferguson.
Great in-home visits with Texas A&M, Texas, Baylor, Kansas, and Alabama over these last couple days.... Still open minded to all my school— ✨MAY 17 GLODAY✨ (@the2kferguson) April 22, 2015
Ferguson is currently ranked as ESPN's No. 9 overall recruit, and he's the one guy in Texas ranked above Fox. The Prime Prep product is an explosive guard with a silky shooting touch, which is something that goes hand-in-hand with Smart's offensive style. Bill Self and Kansas are currently the favorites to land Ferguson, but with more than a year before Ferguson has to make a choice, don't be surprised to see Smart really make his presence felt and try to keep Ferguson at home.
The first of the remaining 2016 recruits to receive an offer for Smart and Texas was Braxton Blackwell, a four-star small forward from Nashville. Smart offered Blackwell April 4, only days after becoming the new head coach at Texas. Blackwell got an in-home visit from Smart April 19, but as of now, Vanderbilt is the favorite for the well rounded Blackwell.
Marques Bolden, a 6'10 product out of Dallas, also recently received a visit and an offer from coach Smart.
2016 top 30 big man Marques Bolden says that he has been in touch with new #Texas coach Shaka Smart and that he has offered him.— Eric Bossi (@ebosshoops) April 11, 2015
Bolden is regarded as one of the top centers in the 2016 class. Texas has some serious ground to make up in hopes of landing Bolden, with Kansas currently favored for the ESPN 100 center, but with Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert all graduating after next season, I would be shocked if Smart doesn't heighten his interest in Bolden.
This leaves three-star Katy point guard Kameron McGusty and four-star floor general Devearl Ramsey of California on the board. McGusty was offered by Smart on April 14, but the more coveted recruit of the two is certainly Ramsey. Standing at only 5'11", Ramsey isn't the biggest prospect out there, but he's a knock-down shooter from deep and that's something that makes Smart's offensive gameplay flow smoothly. Smart visited and offered Ramsey April 20.
Something to keep in mind is how important the 2016 class will be for Smart. Not only will it be the first class with all of his own recruits at Texas, but with the Longhorns losing six seniors after next season and the possibility of Taylor turning pro after his junior season (should he return), Smart will be faced with replacing key contributors all over the court.
Matt Coleman was the first of the 2017 recruits to receive an offer from Texas after Smart offered the five-star point guard from Virginia on April 5.
Coleman is a must-have point guard in 2017 that brings electricity to the court, but whether Texas can emerge as a favorite over North Carolina in the coming years remains to be seen. Coleman currently sits at No. 21 in the ESPN 25 rankings.
D.J. Harvey, a five-star small forward, was offered by Texas April 22. Harvey is a do-it-all kind of small forward and that's an asset that can be plugged into nearly every offense. But with such talent, Smart and Texas will have to compete with powerhouses programs like Arizona and Kentucky for the Maryland natives services.
Smart's most recent offer came today, which was extended to four-star point guard Trae Young.
Very Blessed and Honored to receive an Offer from the University of Texas #HookEm— Trae Young (@TheTraeYoung) April 23, 2015
Young is a Norman, Oklahoma native, so as you can expect, this battle for Young will likely come down to the wire between Big 12 foes Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Yes, Shaka Smart offered a kid who is only a freshman is high school, but understandably so as Jaedon LeDee has shown signs of being a talent well above those around him.
Texas extended an offer to LeDee April 19. LeDee already has offers from six other schools, which include Kansas State, Texas Tech, Baylor and Texas A&M.
Shaka Smart Is Working
As you can see, Smart is letting his presence be felt with recruits all across the nation, and especially those in Texas. Whether or not he ultimately brings them to Austin is another situation, but Smart has a reputation of being loved by his players and being a guy recruits want to play for, which leads me to believe a more than a few of the guys I mentioned will be in burnt orange at some point. As for now...all we can do is sit and wait while the offers continue to pile up and Smart continues to make this Texas basketball program his own.