Shaka Smart’s first full recruiting cycle in Austin is nearing its conclusion and once the 2016 Texas Longhorns class is signed, sealed and delivered to the 40 Acres, college basketball may collectively realize the potential of Smart’s recruiting prowess as he attempts to add several key pieces to a group that currently includes two signees and one commitment.
In just shy of a year at the helm, Smart's first full class is already impressive, currently consisting of four-star point guard Jacob Young, four-star center James Banks, and the headliner of the group, McDonald’s All-American five-star combo guard Andrew Jones.
As it stands, Smart’s debut recruiting class ranks No. 13 nationally and No. 1 in the Big 12, and the Horns look to be anything but content down the stretch.
Obviously, the eyes of the Burnt Orange Nation are feasted upon the looming decision from Austin native and five-star McDonald’s All-American big man Jarrett Allen. With Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert now out of eligibility, Smart and the Longhorns have some colossal questions down low and Allen appears to be the answer.
The 6-foot-9, 210-pound multi-dimensional St. Stephen’s Episcopal product averaged 13.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.8 blocks as a senior, displaying a versatile skillset and limitless potential. With Texas already set to feature loads of perimeter talent, Allen could be the missing link to what becomes one of the most talented rosters in college basketball.
For this to come to fruition, Smart has to convince Allen of one thing beyond all else.
"I’m just trying to find the right fit," Allen told 247Sports. "The biggest factors are big development and comfort."
Allen noted these Texas stood out in in such areas, referencing the unforeseen development Smart and Darrin Horn coaxed from Prince Ibeh, whose enhanced confidence, comfort and minutes have elevated Ibeh to a near lock in the NBA Draft. And living only about 15 minutes from campus, Allen touched on the comfort he’s found at Texas, evident in his numerous unofficial visits throughout January and February.
"He really brought them together," Allen told 247Sports. "Going there you talk to them after the game, you talk to the players and the coaches. You develop a good bond."
More recently, as Allen discusses in an interview with Evan Daniels, he sat down with Smart to discuss the prospect of continuing his basketball career in his hometown.
"We [Smart and I] sat down for about an hour or two talking about how the program would help me and how I could fit into the program," Allen told Scout.com. "It was a good sit down."
Allen, who currently has a top six of Texas, Houston, Kansas, Kentucky, Notre Dame and North Carolina, said he’ll start focusing on a decision following the Nike Hoop Summit game on April 9. Although it appeared to be a two-horse race for quite some time, the momentum has appeared to swing dramatically in favor of the Longhorns with a decision looming in the coming weeks.
While the growing expectation now suggests Allen will be a Longhorn before long, Texas' 2016 class could add yet another highly-touted recruit, as a four-star wing may be on his way to Austin.
Tyson Jolly, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound shooting guard from Oklahoma City (Okla.) Putnam City West, was long expected to be joining Cuonzo Martin at California next season, but is now exploring options after recently decommitting.
Given the uncertainty at Cal, I have decided 2 ask out of my LOI and re-open my recruitment. This was not an easy decision, but the right 1.— 〽️AJOR (@Tysonjolly) March 20, 2016
Jolly, ranked as Oklahoma’s No. 1 player, the No. 16 shooting guard and No. 112 player nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings decommitted due to ‘uncertainty’ in the program following assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel being fired.
"He was the coach I was real close to in the program," Jolly told Scout.com. "He worked hard for me to stay into the school. There’s a lot going on there."
As expected, Jolly's release from his LOI immediately prompted a slew of interest from programs around the country, including Texas, Florida, Ohio State, Xavier and Marquette, among others. But following Jolly's decommittment, the tables appeared to turn in Texas' favor, per 247Sports.
Additionally, judging by Jolly's remarks about his desire to play closer to home, the Longhorns appear to have the geographical advantage over others pursuing him.
"I might be looking to go closer back to home or in the Big 12 area," Jolly told Scout.com. "A few schools have been calling coach Lenny Bert too."
Jolly, who played a post-graduate season for ELEV|8 Sports Institute, will have only weeks to find a new home for his college career, and many expect him to settle in Austin. Although Texas' backcourt already looks to have its perimeter rotation in place for the 2016-17 season, which will consist of Kerwin Roach Jr., Eric Davis Jr., Kendal Yancy, Tevin Mack, Jones, Young and potentially Isaiah Taylor, Jolly could provide further depth with Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland graduating.
If Smart and the Longhorns were to land both Allen and Jolly, as the experts now predict, Smart's first complete recruiting effort at Texas would result in the nation's No. 4-ranked class, trailing only John Calipari and Kentucky, Mike Krzyzewski and Duke, and Tom Izzo and Michigan State. That's certainly some noteworthy company.
On the other hand, some recent buzz following Terrance Ferguson's decommittment from Alabama now appears to have Texas on the outside looking in, which isn't much of a surprise.
Ex-Alabama commit Terrance Ferguson said he's considering Arizona, Kansas, Baylor, Maryland, NC State. Visited Arizona; could decide soon.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 28, 2016
Baylor initially gained all the momentum in hopes of keeping the Dallas-area sharpshooting McDonald's All-American close to home, but the current expectation is that Arizona will pull Ferguson away from Baylor and Kansas, which are the only two other schools with realistic aspirations of landing Ferguson at this point.
"My main focus is probably on Arizona, Kansas; definitely, and Baylor," Ferguson told Scout.com. Ferguson took an official visit to Arizona March 24, which he said was "unbelievable," and his commitment "really can happen whenever."
As far as Texas' hopes of luring one of the NJCAA's most dominant forces away from the northwest, Smart and his staff are tasked with swaying a potentially critical addition whose eyes are feasted elsewhere.
Kavell Bigby-Williams, a 6'10, 223-pound force in the paint, was a handful-and-a-half for JUCO competition at Gillette College, where he averaged 16.8 points, 13.6 boards, and 5.9 blocks per game.
Even if Texas lands Allen, depth may still be a considerable concern, along with inexperience, two voids Bigby-Williams would fill from the jump. Bigby-Williams is currently considering Texas, Oregon, San Diego State and Colorado, but his mind is all but made up in favor of the Ducks.
"Out of all the schools Oregon is the my No. 1 choice on my list," Bigby-Williams tells Oregonlive.com. "I'm pretty close to my decision, as I kind of know where I want to go, but other schools are still coming into the mix and contacting me, so I'm (going to) sit down with my people in the next couple of weeks and see where I'm at."
Bigby-Williams credited how impactful Chris Boucher was for Oregon this season and the similarities in their playing styles. 247Sports' Chris Hummer recently broke down Bigby-Williams' game, which would seemingly provide a smooth transition to Smart's typical coaching style.
"I think he needs to play at a place that allows him to use his abilities, where he can run and get out and go," Shawn Neary, Bigby-Williams' head coach at Gillette, told 247Sports. "He needs to play that way. I think he's looking for those things."
While such qualities align with what Smart has implemented over the years, they also pair hand-in-hand with what Oregon had far more success with than Texas this season. Smart's proven he can attract elite talent to Austin in short order, but can the appeal of immediate and significant playing time bring Bigby-Williams south? It would be a stretch to assume so.
If all goes as expected in the coming weeks, the additions of Allen and Jolly will provide Smart and Texas with an elite recruiting class following the departures of Ridley, Lammert, Ibeh, Felix and Holland. Such a class would place Texas' roster among the deepest and most talented in the nation, especially if Taylor returns for a senior season. Can Smart mimic Charlie Strong's closing ability on the recruiting trail, or will the recent buzz and hype prove to be nothing more than simply buzz and hype?