VCU will host a pair of highly rated recruits this weekend, as 6’9 3-star center, Mike Gilmore, and 4-star consensus top-100 wing (No.38th ranked nationally by Rivals.com), Terry Larrier, head to the capital city. Both could potentially join class of 2014 commits, Jonathan Williams, a 5’11 explosive point guard and Richmond native, and Justin Tillman, a high-motor 6’8 power forward out of the motor city (both ESPN 4-stars), in what would become one of VCU’s best recruiting classes ever, with Larrier becoming the Ram’s highest rated recruit since McDonald’s All-American (and VCU legend) Kendrick Warren committed in 1990. This continues a trend of an elevated recruiting level under fifth-year head coach Shaka Smart.
Smart took over with the departure of Anthony Grant in March of 2007, then quickly found two diamonds in the rough late in the recruiting period, grabbing recent graduates, Troy Daniels and Darius Theus to join eventual transfer Isaiah Grayson in his first class. Theus flew well under the radar and was even passed up by hometown team, ODU, but went on to shine for VCU while becoming one of the best defensive guards in the country. Daniels, a Rivals 3-star, had a quiet start to his career in a reserve role to a loaded backcourt that led VCU to their first ever Final 4, but went on to set a VCU single-season record for 3-pointers which would earn him a trip to the 2013 college 3-point championship where he became the 2013 king of the deep ball. Grayson transferred to Cal State Bakersfield.
Smart followed that class with a gang of Rivals 3-star athletes that included 2014 projected NBA first-rounder, Juvonte Reddic, as well as rising senior Rob Brandenberg, who averaged 10.4 points for the black and gold this past season. His next class may not have come in with the buzz one might have expected following a Final 4 appearance the previous season, but in landing Treveon Graham (ESPN 2-star) and Briante Weber (ESPN 2-star) to go along with recent transfer (and the highest rated recruit at the time), Teddy Okereafor, as well as VCU big, Jared Guest, Smart picked up two guards who have become national names in college despite lacking the same level of recognition out of high school. Graham represented USA Basketball in this summer’s World University games, is being projected as a second rounder in the 2015 NBA Draft, and was invited along with Weber to Chris Paul’s Elite Guard Camp this summer. Weber has earned a reputation as one of the best defenders in the country, due mostly in part to his leading the nation in steals percentage this past season, and impressed NBA scouts at the aforementioned Chris Paul camp, causing SLAM Online to write, “A guy who I admittedly did not know much about coming in, Weber was the best defender at the camp, combining max effort with length and athleticism. Once the live action started, Briante finished with both hands at the cup, hit a few mid-range Js, and shut down the dunk contest with his bounce windmill. There may not have been a player who helped himself more in the eyes of NBA scouts in Winston-Salem than Weber.”
The 2012 class came with the star power one might expect from a rising program coming off a recent Final 4. VCU legacy, Jordan Burgess, become the second in his family to wear the black and gold, but coming in with two extra stars besides his name and an ESPN top-100 rating. He joined Miami decommit and fellow ESPN top-100 athlete, Melvin Johnson, as the highest rated duo to join the Rams since Calvin Duncan and Rolando Lamb three decades prior.
This season’s batch of freshman all chose VCU over a slew of BCS programs, point guard JeQuan Lewis being the highest rated player of the bunch (ESPN 4-star), while even the Rams lowest rated player, Antravious Simmons (ESPN 2-star), chose VCU over offers from the likes of Memphis, Miami, Temple, Alabama, Kansas State and a number of other “power conference” programs.
Shaka Smart has become one of the biggest coaching names in college basketball, and with a fun and gun fast paced style of play, has begun to compete for top-100 players nationally. The Rams remain in the running for Larrier as well as top-100 recruit Makinde London, and just missed on top-100 wing, Vic Law, who reportedly chose Northwestern over VCU because, according to his father, “Shaka really wanted Vic at VCU, but we didn’t think he needed him, because he already had so many pieces there.”
What’s more, Smart has had an ability to maximize the talent level out of recruits who have had what it takes to make it through VCU’s uptempo program. Anthony Grant recruit, Larry Sanders, was well on his way, but officially left the program under Smart to become VCU’s first underclassman to be selected in the NBA Draft, going to the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2010 draft with the 15th overall pick. Sanders recently signed a contract extension for roughly $44 million.
The following season Smart graduated Joey Rodriguez, Ed Nixon, Brandon Rozzell and Jamie Skeen, all of which either played, or had opportunities to play professionally here or overseas, with Skeen finding the most on-court success, working out for a number of NBA teams and seeing Summer League action.
A year after Skeen, NCAA ironman, Bradford Burgess, went from 2-star recruit to NBA Summer Leaguer with a shot at the league via the Orlando Magic. The elder Burgess was followed up this season by Daniels, originally ranked just the 58th best shooting guard in his class by ESPN, who went undrafted but signed a free agent contract to compete for a roster spot with the Charlotte Bobcats (coincidentally reunited there with Skeen) during the 2013 NBA Summer League.
With Reddic projected as a 2014 draftee, potentially even Weber and Graham the following season (despite coming to VCU virtually unknown), and a stable full of talented young underclassmen after them, VCU’s talent level is at an all-time high while at the same time just beginning to scratch the surface.