The Vanderbilt Commodores put a bow on the 2017 recruiting class on Wednesday with the commitment of St. Mary’s transfer Yanni Wetzell. That gives us a good jumping off point to the 2018 recruiting class.
First, the updated scholarship chart. Please don’t quibble with the listed positions, as it’s mostly for organizational purposes.
|PG||Larry Austin Jr.||Saben Lee||2|
|SG||Riley LaChance||Payton Willis||Max Evans||3|
|SF||Matthew Fisher-Davis||Joe Toye||Matt Ryan||3|
|PF||Jeff Roberson||Clevon Brown, Yanni Wetzell||3|
|C||Djery Baptiste||Ejike Obinna||2|
The most salient fact about Vanderbilt’s roster for 2018-19, as of right now, is that the Commodores will have six players on the roster who are 6’7” or taller even if they sign no one in the 2018 class. Two of those are wings Joe Toye and Matt Ryan, but even if you’re not sold on any of the four big men (Djery Baptiste, Clevon Brown, Yanni Wetzell, and Ejike Obinna) individually, there is strength in numbers inside. I would bet a decent amount of money that at least one or two of those will be a productive player for Vanderbilt in 2018-19 (if not before that), even if I can’t tell you exactly which one of them it will be.
But then there just aren’t a ton of pressing needs in general. Even with Riley LaChance, Jeff Roberson, and Matthew Fisher-Davis graduating after next season, there simply aren’t any obvious, gaping holes that need to be addressed like there were in the 2017 class (when Vanderbilt absolutely had to add a point guard, and also had needs up front.) To be sure, the Commodores could stand to add another shooter — unless you’re completely sold on Payton Willis’s jump shot, the only guy on the roster beyond next year who I’d call a shooter is Matt Ryan, and there are questions about whether he’ll play enough defense to get extended minutes. But it’s also not a gaping hole the way that point guard was in the most recent recruiting class.
So with three scholarships available in the class, and no obvious needs, it seems pretty likely that Vanderbilt will take a “best player available” approach and look to upgrade the talent on the roster. And right now, the best player available is Darius Garland.
We’ve mentioned Garland before. Garland is, per 247 Sports, the top-ranked point guard and #6 overall player in the Class of 2018. He also plays down the road at Brentwood Academy. He also grew up in Gary, Indiana, before that, which is close to Valparaiso, and reportedly went to Bryce Drew’s basketball camps at Valpo as a kid. Do I need to spell this out for you? Garland is at the top of Vanderbilt’s board and it really isn’t even close. There’s also a sense of going for the brass ring here: Kevin Stallings could never manage to keep the most talented players in the area to stay home, even when they were good students to boot (hi, Alex Poythress), and Drew could send the message that there’s a new sheriff in town by convincing one to stay home.
That said, as tends to happen with players of his caliber, Vanderbilt will have to fight off the big boys to land Garland. He has an offer from Duke, and that means Vanderbilt doesn’t even get to play the “but academics!” card here. My gut tells me Vanderbilt has a legitimate shot here, but since we’re Vanderbilt, always be prepared to be disappointed.
And if you think Vanderbilt has never recruited Nashville well, there’s Memphis. By my count, Vanderbilt has signed exactly one high school player from the city down I-40 since C.M. Newton, and that was Billy Richmond, who... let’s just not go there. (Derrick Byars was also from Memphis, of course, but he was a transfer.) Vanderbilt extended offers to the entire backcourt at Memphis East last month — PG Alex Lomax and SG T.J. Moss, both of whom are four-star recruits per 247 Sports — and while the allure of the hometown team always seems to be strong for prospects out of Memphis, that program is kind of a hot mess at the moment and it could provide an opening for Vanderbilt.
Another intriguing recent offer is Miller Kopp, a 6’7” wing from Houston Christian and the younger brother of Vanderbilt offensive lineman Braden Kopp. The younger Kopp also plays on the same travel team as incoming freshman Max Evans.
I get the feeling that the 2018 recruiting class will give us a sense of the basketball program’s upside with Bryce Drew at the helm. The 2017 class was hamstrung a bit by the fact that Drew got a late start, as he really only had a few months between taking the job in April and the early signing period to put together a class. With over a year to put this one together, Drew could do a lot better here. The targets list at 247 should give you a better idea of who we’re going after; in addition to the new-ish names here, Vanderbilt is still in play for longtime targets like SG Tim Finke (Champaign, IL); combo guard Dwayne Cohill (Cleveland, OH); SF Musa Jallow (Bloomington, IN); PF Trey Jemison (Birmingham, AL); and SF Ignas Brazdeikis (Canada.) I had kind of guessed earlier that the staff’s heavy connections in the Midwest (assistant coach Roger Powell Jr. played at Illinois; assistant Jake Diebler is from Ohio and played at Valpo) would lead to Vanderbilt recruiting that area of the country a lot and that seems to be what’s happening, though they’re not ignoring the home front, either. Right now the prognosis for 2018 is cautious optimism: Vanderbilt is pursuing enough highly-rated players that there’s a good chance they’ll land some, and you’re also starting to see the staff make a serious effort to pursue fallback options who are pretty decent as well.