When Aaron Nesmith announced his commitment to Vanderbilt back in September, he was the highest-rated recruit (per Rivals) that Vanderbilt had landed since Dai-Jon Parker (RIP) back in 2011.
When Darius Garland signed his Letter of Intent in November, he was the highest-rated signee that Vanderbilt had ever landed since recruiting rankings became a thing. And that distinction lasted for about a week, until Simi Shittu announced that he, too, had signed with Vanderbilt.
And Shittu may not even keep that distinction for very long. Romeo Langford, the number six recruit in the country, is mulling offers from Vanderbilt, Indiana, and Kansas, and will decide later this month.
To state that this is a banner recruiting class for Vanderbilt basketball is the understatement of the year. This would be a banner recruiting class for just about any program not named Duke or Kentucky. Vanderbilt’s 2018 recruiting class is currently ranked eighth in the country by Rivals, a spot ahead of traditional powerhouse North Carolina, two spots ahead of the national runners-up from Michigan, and four spots ahead of the national champs from Villanova. Adding Langford to the fold might bump Vanderbilt up as high as number three, and would give the Commodores more five-star recruits than any program not named Duke.
So we have to ask: is this level of recruiting going to be a common thing for Bryce Drew? That’s a good question, and the answer is... well, probably not. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Drew will recruit poorly. In fact, we can almost be certain that Drew’s recruiting will continue to blow Kevin Stallings’ out of the water.
That’s because, well, there’s a reason Vanderbilt had never signed a McDonald’s All-American prior to 2018 (we’re not counting Billy McCaffrey, who was a transfer), and had only signed one five-star recruit in the history of Rivals’ recruiting rankings, which go back to 2002 (John Jenkins, who signed in 2009 and was not regarded as a five-star until after he averaged over 40 points per game as a high school senior.) Landing top recruits is hard. Landing top recruits when you’re not a top-shelf college basketball program is even harder.
Vanderbilt was able to land Darius Garland because (a) he has a relationship with the Drew family going back to his childhood in Gary, Indiana, when he attended Drew’s basketball camps at Valpo; (b) he lives in the Nashville area and his mother works at Vanderbilt; and (c) two of his best friends from high school (Camron Johnson and Gavin Schoenwald) had already committed to play for the Commodore football team. Those three things, by themselves, certainly weren’t enough to land Garland: after all, previous area superstar recruits like Alex Poythress and David Harrison had shunned the Commodores (or, like Ron Mercer, allegedly had their application for admission rejected by the university.)
And, needless to say, Simi Shittu might not have chosen Vanderbilt — and Romeo Langford definitely wouldn’t be considering Vanderbilt — if not for Garland. The Garland factor probably isn’t going to repeat itself, and even if it does, there’s no guarantee that Vanderbilt will actually land the recruit. After all, recruiting five-stars is hard.
But we’ll go back to Aaron Nesmith for our prognosis of Drew’s future recruiting. Nesmith is currently ranked #68 in the Rivals150; to put that in perspective, from 2003-16, Kevin Stallings signed just four players rated higher than Nesmith (if you’re wondering: AJ Ogilvy, Jeffrey Taylor, John Jenkins, and Dai-Jon Parker.) He’s from South Carolina and chose the Commodores over in-state schools South Carolina and Clemson.
In spite of the perennial hype over one-and-dones, there have been just four national champions that featured a freshman who would only be in college for a year: Syracuse in 2003 (Carmelo Anthony), North Carolina in 2005 (Marvin Williams, who came off the bench for the Tar Heels), Kentucky in 2012, and Duke in 2015. The more tried-and-true method of building a national champion is to load up on guys who are really good, but not quite good enough to draw the attention of the NBA for two or three (or even four!) years.
If Villanova’s two national championships have taught us anything, it’s that it’s entirely possible to build a championship team with players the caliber of Saben Lee and Aaron Nesmith. Yes, you do need to land some big-time recruits — Jalen Brunson, after all, was a five-star recruit -- but recruiting like John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski isn’t really necessary.
Now, let’s talk about the 2019 recruiting class for a minute. We haven’t spent much time on it, largely because Vanderbilt is still trying to fill out its roster for next season — if Romeo Langford goes elsewhere, look for Drew to hit the transfer market hard, whether graduate transfers or traditional transfers who will sit out a year. But also, there may not be many spots available. As of now, Joe Toye will be the only senior on next year’s team (adding a graduate transfer or two would change that), and while Darius Garland and Simi Shittu are frequently thought to be one-and-done, that isn’t a given — particularly for Garland, though Shittu’s ACL injury may also slow his path to the NBA.
And while there may be, of course, players leaving the program after next season, with Stallings’ recruits mostly out of the program (Toye, Djery Baptiste, and Clevon Brown are now the only Stallings recruits remaining), there aren’t going to be any obvious candidates to leave. It’s possible that Vanderbilt may only have one scholarship available in the 2019 class — maybe two or three, particularly if Langford comes — and that’s going to mean a light year on the recruiting trail.