Shaka Smart’s four seasons on the Forty Acres haven’t always produced the desired on-court results, netting a 71-66 overall record with just two trips to the NCAA Tournament, but at the very least, the shortcomings haven’t been due to sub-par efforts on the recruiting trail.
In fact, Smart and his staff have been quite elite in their efforts to that end. Smart’s first full recruiting class in Austin in 2016 saw Texas sign the No. 6 class nationally and the best bunch in the Big 12, per the 247Sports Composite, before reaping the same ranking to cap the 2017 cycle. 2018, too, produced a top-10 crop, so by those standards, Texas’ three-man, No. 14-ranked 2019 class could be considered a bit underwhelming, yet even that group, one spearheaded by local five-star center Will Baker, headlines the Big 12.
The fruits of those labors will be the Longhorns fielding a veteran-laden squad next season in which each of Smart’s four full recruiting classes will be represented. While that serves as fairly ideal news entering such a crucial season for the Texas basketball program as a whole, it also means that save for any unforeseen attrition or early NBA departures, limited scholarships should see Smart’s 2020 class deviate from the norm, as the Horns could potentially have as few as one opening available, though two or even three is quite possible given that attrition does often occur. Not to mention, beyond navigating limited numbers, there is, of course, the additional challenge of recruiting amid the reality that Smart’s next class could be his last, as the Horns head coach will enter his fifth season on the Forty Acres sitting upon one of the hottest seats in college basketball.
Whether or not Smart is retained long enough to coach his 2020 class remains to be seen, but should that prove to be the case, what could his fifth recruiting crop look like?
If there’s a can’t-miss recruit in the 2020 class, especially considering the limited scholarship numbers Smart should have at his disposal, it’s five-star power forward Greg Brown Jr. The elite local product out of Vandegrift is unquestionably the top talent in the state of Texas in his class, and is now positioned among the top five nationally, per the 247Sports Composite.
Smart and his staff are recruiting Brown accordingly.
A Longhorns legacy, as Brown’s father, mother, and uncle each attended the University of Texas, Brown has had a Texas offer in hand since eighth grade and given his close proximity to the program, attending high school approximately 30 minutes from campus, Brown has been a frequent presence on the Forty Acres.
“I go up there a lot just talk to the guys and play with them,” Brown told Rivals’ Corey Evans . “I have a great relationship with Shaka (Smart) and all of the other coaches. They just say, ‘Stay home and help us win games.’”
This time of year, as Brown is active on the AAU circuit with the Texas Titans, it’s Smart and his staff setting time aside to visit their top overall target, and their activity and involvement has only intensified throughout the past month. Per Inside Texas’ Joe Cook, Smart made the short trek to visit Brown in-home on April 11. Weeks later, Smart was on hand for a star-studded AAU showdown between the Texas Titans and Drive Nation, and the following week, he stopped by Vandegrift to visit the nation’s No. 1 power forward, per Orangebloods’ Dustin McComas.
If it sounds as if Smart is prioritizing Brown, that’s because he is, and the hyper-athletic forward has taken notice. At this stage, Brown is down to 10 programs, but he told Rivals’ Corey Evans that of that bunch, four are standing out — Auburn, Memphis, North Carolina, and Texas. Of the teams noted, only Texas has received any Crystal Ball picks for the 6’9 forward. If that pair of picks prove correct, it would mark the third time Smart has kept an elite local talent at home, as Texas previously signed St. Stephen’s Episcopal product Jarrett Allen and the aforementioned Baker out of Austin Westlake.
The next step is simply surviving Brown’s next list cut, though Texas certainly seems in a safe spot there.
“I am going to narrow it down in June or July to about seven,” Brown told Rivals. “Before senior season, I want to decide.”
As far as the frontcourt is concerned, the most notable other name to know appears to be Prior Lake (Minn.) power forward Dawson Garcia. Of the 15 programs in pursuit of the nation’s No. 28 overall prospect, Texas was the first to put an offer on the table, per his 247Sports profile, doing so in April of 2018. Several months later, in mid-October, Smart and his staff welcomed Garcia for his first official visit, as he began that phase of his recruitment a bit early, also officially touring Baylor and Marquette on Nov. 3 and Feb. 19, respectively.
A product of AAU powerhouse D1 Minnesota, the same program that produced Longhorns junior center Jericho Sims, Garcia recently visited Iowa, as well, and is receiving interest from programs such as Indiana, Minnesota, and Ohio State.
Depending upon whom you ask, the 6’11 Garcia could be classified as either a center or a power forward, and if he’s the former, he’s the only prospect at his position with an invitation to call Texas home. Nevertheless, the smooth lefty isn’t your traditional big man, as he’s a skilled shooter with the competency to handle the ball to flash some upside as another option capable of helping orchestrate the offense.
Garcia recently hosted Smart for an in-home on April 29, and days later, welcomed Indiana, per a report from Prep Hoops’ Ryan James. He’s aiming to announce his commitment in November and sign during the early signing period.
While Texas hasn’t been overly active in pursuing multiple big men this cycle, the same can’t be said for the efforts with wings, especially as of late.
Throughout the past two-plus weeks, Texas has jumped into the mix with a quartet of wing prospects, extending offers to Duncanville small forward Micah Peavy, Durham (N.C.) Moravian Prep small forward Josh Hall, Tulsa (Okla.) Booker T. Washington combo guard Bryce Thompson, and Nederland shooting guard Hayden Hefner.
The most highly-ranked of the bunch at No. 60 nationally, Peavy was the first of the four to earn a Texas offer, as the Longhorns jumped into the mix on April 27, just hours after Peavy took to Twitter to announce that he was re-opening his recruitment beyond his February top five of Houston, Texas Tech, LSU, TCU, and Michigan.
The Wolverines, which hosted Peavy for a mid-January official visit, were arguably the favorite as of late, though that door is now likely wide open with the news of long-time coach John Beilein’s departure for the Cleveland Cavaliers. LSU, another of Peavy’s previous top five programs, is the only team to receive a Crystal Ball pick for the four-star prospect, as two were placed just prior to his October official visit, but as evident by his Twitter update, Peavy’s recruitment is fairly wide open again.
This time around, getting Peavy to campus in the near future would work wonders for Texas to take advantage of this newfound opportunity with the second-best prospect in the state.
In terms of national rankings, Thompson is just one spot behind Peavy, currently slotted as the No. 61 player nationally, though he’s heralded as the top-ranked talent in Oklahoma. After monitoring the 6’5 combo guard throughout the spring, Texas finally put an offer on the table on April 29, but the Longhorns likely jumped into Thompson’s recruitment a bit too late.
In addition to a trio of unofficial trips to Kansas, where he has a key tie as Bill Self coached his father in college, Thompson has unofficially visited numerous programs including Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Iowa, and Arkansas. Furthermore, he’s utilized visits to Colorado last September, Texas A&M and Arkansas last October, and most recently, Michigan State and Oklahoma on May 9 and May 14, respectively.
In short, it would serve as a fairly significant surprise if Smart and the Horns can emerge as a real factor in Thompson’s recruitment.
Much of the same could be said of Hefner and Hall.
The latter, a four-star wing out of North Carolina, is an East Carolina legacy, as his father Quincy Hall played for the Pirates in the last 1990s. Originally a member of the 2019 class before reclassifying to 2020 last fall, Hall has become a rapid riser on the recruiting trail throughout the AAU circuit, seeing 10 of his 21 offers roll in since early April. Texas was among that bunch, offering on April 29, joining East Carolina, Kansas, Florida, Georgetown, Xavier, Miami, and Maryland among those in the mix.
Texas could perhaps put itself in position to at least host Hall for a visit should Smart and his staff elect to make a strong push, but given how his stock has exploded as of late, things appear fairly wide open with Hall. So the Longhorns will be required to out-recruit more prominent, and realistically speaking, more stable programs for much traction to amass between the two sides.
Hefner, on the other hand, is a homegrown prospect out of Nederland, and his Texas offer on May 6 became just his fifth, as the Horns joined Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Houston, and Rice in his recruitment. Others such as Texas Tech, Clemson, Iowa State, and Notre Dame have been in contact, as well, per 247Sports Evan Daniels, though the early signs point to the three-star shooting guard taking his talents across the Red River to Oklahoma.
The 6’5 guard has already officially visited the Sooners, which own each of his two Crystal Ball projections.
Though Texas just recently offered the aforementioned crop of wing recruits, Mount Pleasant (Utah) Wasatch Academy wing Caleb Lohner has been on the Longhorns radar since last summer, earning an offer on June 1. At the time, the four-star forward was located much closer to home in Flower Mound, which allowed him to unofficially visit Austin prior to adding his Texas offer.
Fast forward one year and the Longhorns are still in touch with Lohner, who’s now considered to be the No. 1 recruit in Utah. Unsurprisingly, BYU, where Lohner’s father played, is also in the mix, as are Big 12 programs such as Kansas, Texas Tech, and Baylor. Michigan State, which hosted Lohner for an unofficial visit in March, is an option, as well.
Elsewhere on the wing, Texas is still pushing for five-star Montverde Academy (Fla.) small forward Cade Cunningham, who stars alongside Greg Brown with the Texas Titans, but the Longhorns are a long shot there, as the nation’s No. 7 prospect is likely to land at Duke or Kentucky.
If Texas misses on each of its priority prospects on the wing, such as Peavy and Lohner, the Longhorns could offer and more actively pursue Phoenix (Ari.) Hillcrest Hoops small forward Dalen Terry. Texas recently visited him in-home in late April, per Stockrisers’ Jake Weingarten.
As far as floor generals are concerned, it appears Texas is actively involved with four prospects.
The only of the four from Texas is Katy Morton Ranch product LJ Cryer, a top-10 point guard trailing only Brown and Peavy in the state’s rankings. Long before adding his Texas offer last May, Cryer unofficially visited Austin in October of 2017, and later returned to join Brown on campus last September, when the two took in the Texas-USC game as part of a major recruiting weekend on the Forty Acres.
The four-star point guard has since officially visited LSU last October, and the Tigers own two of his four Crystal Ball picks, with the other two favoring Baylor, where he unofficially visited twice in January before utilizing his second official visit on a Feb. 1 trip to Purdue. Smart visited Cryer just weeks later in mid-February, and that’s been the theme surrounding his recruitment as of late, as he’s hosted Baylor, Houston Purdue, Texas, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M for in-home visits in recent weeks.
University of Texas in home visit.. pic.twitter.com/RKEfMtQcqY— Lionel Cryer Sr. (@crossover2020) April 23, 2019
Texas is, of course, firmly in the mix and actively involved with Cryer, but getting him back to campus for one of his three remaining official visits could go a long way towards Smart not only landing an elite in-state prospect, but finding a potential successor for Matt Coleman, who will be a senior by the time Cryer steps foot on a college campus.
Speaking of replacing guards, current Longhorns combo guard Courtney Ramey boasts legitimate NBA upside, and Texas is making its push for a fellow Saint Louis (Mo.) product in the form of Saint Louis Christian Brothers star Caleb Love. Dubbed as the nation’s No. 5 point guard and as the best prospect in Missouri, per the 247Sports Composite, Love hosted Smart for an in-home visit just weeks ago, and shortly after that April 19 visit, he told The Athletic’s Jeff Greer that Texas is among those most actively involved right now, alongside Missouri, Louisville, Virginia, and Indiana.
Smart and his staff will, of course, face stiff competition for Love’s services, as Love is as elite of a prospect as any on Texas’ big board not named Greg Brown.
The Longhorns are also among the teams pushing for Chicago (Ill.) Whitney Young combo guard DJ Young, alongside Louisville, Illinois, DePaul, and Northwestern, per IlliniScoop.com’s Aarman Sethi. The four-star talent picked up his Texas offer on Jan. 10 after a Texas staff member watched him in action on Jan. 9 in an 82-54 win over Chicago Crane Medical.
Smart and a member of his staff have since made the lengthy cross-country trek to conduct an in-home visit with Steward on April 13, per Jake Weingarten.
Beyond that trio Texas is prioritizing, the Longhorns also recently offered Vanier College point guard Karim Mane on April 28. The 6’5 floor general saw his stock explode at the Under Armour Association in Kansas City, and suddenly, he owns 18 offers with invitations stemming from Maryland, Kansas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Florida, Oregon, and Xavier, just to name a few. Given his late rise onto the national recruiting scene, Mane’s recruitment is wide open at this point, though the Terrapins have quickly made him a priority.
Texas could push here, but expect prospects like Cryer and Love to remain the priorities at the point guard position.
Given the limited scholarship numbers, as noted, Texas’ 2020 class could ultimately end as a one-man band. That said, just as Texas has experienced the previous two years with James Banks, Jacob Young, and Eric Davis Jr. each departing from the program following the 2017-18 season, and the Elijah Mitrou-Long doing the same weeks ago, it’s common for unforeseen attrition to arise.
If attrition does, in fact, arise again as Smart constructs his 2020 class, it could potentially open the door for Texas to add yet another tremendously notable group, though the Longhorns will need to look for quality over quantity, even if the numbers did ultimately work out in Texas’ favor. Ideally, in addition to Brown, Texas adding a point guard such as Cryer or Love to succeed Coleman or Ramey would go a long way towards replenishing the backcourt, while Peavy or Lohner would do much of the same for a perimeter that will need to replace both Andrew Jones and Jase Febres in the coming seasons.