The third year of the Shaka Smart era is now underway and if nothing else, the ‘Horns head coach has recruited tremendously well during his time on the Forty Acres.
Multiple McDonald’s All-Americans have made their way to Austin and a quartet of high-level talents are now set to don burnt orange in the very near future. To make this all possible, Smart has ensured the eyes of Texas can reach virtually every inch of the nation. For example, Kamaka Hepa, the Longhorns latest pledge, is a product of Barrow, Alaska — the northernmost city in the United States — and the headliner of Smart’s 2017 class, Mohamed Bamba, hails from Harlem, New York.
All the while, Smart has found his fair share of success recruiting the talent-rich hardwood courts found throughout Texas, which have seemingly become a breeding ground for one-and-dones as of late.
The challenge at a school like Texas in a state like Texas, though, is not only are some of the nation’s premier prospects each year homegrown, but the relatively endless resources and brand recognition that comes with coaching the Longhorns make recruiting on a national level a necessity, as well. Now having hauled in back-to-back No. 6-ranked classes and on pace for another top-10 finish in 2018, Smart is well aware of how essential it is to balance recruiting the state, while also utilizing what Texas offers to lure elite talent from across the country.
"We're trying to,” Smart said of the goal to balance recruiting Texas, while also gauging the market on out-of-state prospects. “We're fortunate to be in a state where there's a lot of really good players; there's a lot of really good coaches. There's a lot of passion so we certainly want to do a good job of trying to attract the best guys in the state of Texas.”
With that being said, I can't think of too many programs that you don't have to supplement that and add to that with guys from outside of the state,” Smart added. “We're going to continue to try to recruit nationally because the Texas brand is well thought of and well known around the country, but we also want to do a great job in the state."
To this point, it appears Smart has found that ideal balance.
Of the 14 recruits that have committed to Smart since his arrival in Austin — excluding transfers, as well as Eric Davis Jr. and Kerwin Roach II, who committed to Rick Barnes in 2015 — half are from Texas, while the other seven are from various areas around the country. As Smart noted during his Monday morning press conference, successful Texas teams over the years have enjoyed a similar balance. Kevin Durant arrived in Austin by way of Maryland. Washington native and Findlay Prep (Nev.) product Avery Bradley headlined Barnes’ No. 3-ranked 2009 class, while Tristan Thompson and Cory Joesph continued the Findlay Prep pipeline the following year after traveling south from Canada, just two name a few of the elite out-of-state talents to side with Texas.
Of course, each of the aforementioned remained in Austin for just one season before departing for the NBA.
Smart has since proven capable of landing a similar level of talent during his young tenure at Texas, as Jarrett Allen declared for the draft after his lone season and Bamba is expected to do the same next spring. But when asked if he’ll ever feel comfortable exclusively recruiting but one-and-dones, Smart simply replied, “No.”
"I don't think there's any particular number (of one-and-dones ideally added to each class),” Smart added. “If you look at the best teams in college basketball, there's always at least some level of experience, even with Kentucky's best teams.
The experience Smart mentioned as essential often doesn’t generate the headlines, though. Recruiting rankings, however, do.
More times that not, the praise is often pointed towards Durham or Lexington, considering Duke and Kentucky have owned the top two spots in each of the previous three classes and that remains true with the current 2018 crop.
But of course, not everyone can recruit at the elite level of a Duke or a Kentucky, and thus, shouldn’t exactly be evaluated in the same light.
"I think one of the things that happens in recruiting is everyone tends to evaluate programs based on one model and recruiting is very much about hierarchy,” Smart said. “I think it's dangerous to try to be exactly like them. At the same time, if you can recruit a Jarrett Allen or a Mo Bamba and you feel like they fit in with what you're tying to do and what you want to be about culturally, then obviously that's important."
Meanwhile, as the Blue Devils and Wildcats have produced NBA talent by the handful before virtually starting fresh each season, Smart has quietly built a stacked roster in Austin comprised of his recruits.
Of the eight Longhorns that Smart personally recruited to Texas directly out of high school — excluding the 2018 class — six arrived as four-star prospects, while Bamba and Andrew Jones each owned five-star labels. Factor in the depth and experience that also comes in the form of Roach and Davis, along with junior transfer Dylan Osetkowski, and Smart boasts arguably his most talented and versatile roster since arriving in Austin.
That’s the result of considerably impressive efforts on the recruiting trail by Smart and his staff, even if it doesn’t follow the increasingly popular formula that Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari have enjoyed so much success with.
Now that Smart’s Longhorns feature the kind of talent that’s even choosing Texas over Duke and Kentucky, as Bamba and Matt Coleman did in 2017, the next step is to assure his relentless recruiting efforts transition to the 2017-18 season.
So far, so good.