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Let’s Talk About Darius Garland

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Why not? Everybody else is.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Tennessee vs Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

I wasn’t planning on writing about Darius Garland, and then Jersey Dore issued a challenge in the Fanposts, so here goes.

The main reason I haven’t written anything about this is that, if I’m being honest, about 90 percent of what I know about the situation comes from David Sisk, who’s pretty close to the situation and can fill you in on everything you need to know ($). But blowing paywall information from another outlet isn’t something I’m about to do, so I’d really prefer you read it there.

Here are a few things I can tell you. Garland is a five-star recruit, he plays just down the road at Brentwood Academy, and he’s good friends with Camron Johnson and Gavin Schoenwald — both of whom, by the way, are committed to playing football for Derek Mason next year. Garland also grew up in Gary, Indiana, before moving to Nashville a few years back, and he used to attend Bryce Drew’s basketball camps at Valparaiso.

He’d be easily the most important recruit in Vanderbilt basketball history, and I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that. But since we’re Vanderbilt fans, panic is kind of our default state when it comes to good things happening to us, so the usual sense of dread came over all of us when The Sporting News’s Mike DeCourcy had a little chat with Garland last Friday and Garland said:

“Some of us are trying to make a package deal, so we’re still waiting on that,” point guard Darius Garland (No. 8) of Nashville said during a break at the annual Nike EYBL Peach Jam tournament. “That’s pretty important. I just like to win. That’s my main focus: to win, and to get to the next level.

“We’re all just trying to win, so we’re trying to be with the best players that want to win with you and that we have a good connection together.”

And then, if that wasn’t enough to make you reach for the absinthe, Sunday came the news that Kentucky had dropped a scholarship offer on Garland, bringing back memories of Ron Mercer and Alex Poythress — local recruits who everybody thought were headed to the West End until Kentucky swooped in. Oh, and “package deals,” again:

There’s also the ties to Cameron Reddish, who Garland has talked a lot about playing in college with. Duke has been the presumed favorite to land both players, but now that Garland has an offer, that could change these recruitments.

I know. This is bad, right? But even Jason Marcum of our rival blog admits that:

All of these package deals are fun to talk about, but more often than not, they end up not coming to fruition. Ironically, one of the few major package deals that’s actually happened was when Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor went to Duke.

Tyus’ young brother, Tre Jones, is also trying to get a package deal done with Reddish and has even discussed playing with Garland at Duke. Both players feel that can complement each other’s games enough to be starting guards at the same school.

(As an aside, I thought “package deal” meant you had to take the guy’s two-star high school teammate, not “I won’t play for you unless I can play with these other two guys that every program in the country would kill to have!”)

But go back to DeCourcy’s article and read a little bit more closely. While Garland mentioned “package deal,” he never mentioned a specific school. The assumption in a lot of places seems to be that said school is Duke, but that’s often more revealing about the author’s own biases than it is about the recruit. If you read about recruiting on any of the major sports sites that only kinda-sorta cover recruiting — think ESPN, not Rivals or 247 -- you’re probably going to come away with the impression that literally every top prospect in the country is bound for Duke or Kentucky. That’s probably just myopia (there are a staggering number of talking heads who sincerely believe that going to one of those schools is in everybody’s best interest), but if you want to put on your tinfoil hat, ESPN probably would just prefer that their NBA minor league college hoops coverage not have to waste their time talking about a 19-14 team just because BEN SIMMONS plays for them.

What’s more, there are some other factors at play here. Rivals recruiting writer Krysten Peek told a Lexington news station that Kentucky’s offer to Garland might really be more about turning up the pressure on fellow point guard recruit Immanuel Quickly, who’s long thought to be a Kentucky lean. If Quickly commits, Kentucky probably wouldn’t have room for Garland, and in any case Garland’s been on the national radar for quite a while now and it should tell you something that Calipari just got around to offering him a scholarship. And while Duke currently leads in the 247 Sports Crystal Ball for Garland, you’ll notice that of the eight predictions that have Garland going to Duke, five of them are coming from a Duke blog and all but two of them came immediately after (or before) Duke offered Garland a scholarship last October. Toss out the Duke homers (and in fairness, we’ll toss out Jesse Johnson from Vanderbilt’s 247 site as well) and Vanderbilt leads, 4-3, and the four most recent predictions have him coming to the West End.

Darius Garland might come to Vanderbilt, or he might not. We won’t know until he decides. But in spite of the talk of “package deals” and him being a Duke lean, most of that assumption is coming from Duke homers and/or people who aren’t close to the situation and can’t actually believe that a top basketball recruit would actually pick Vanderbilt over Duke. But if you’re panicking right now, don’t. Your panic has to do with Kevin Stallings and Jan Van Breda Kolff, who are not on the current coaching staff last time I looked.