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Jerry Stackhouse’s early recruiting returns don’t necessarily reflect on his long-term potential

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It kills me to have to write this, but it needs to be said.

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When Bryce Drew took Vanderbilt’s head coaching job in April 2016, Vanderbilt was coming off a 19-14 season that ended in the NCAA Tournament (if barely.) More importantly, though, his first Vanderbilt team would have a rotation with two seniors and three juniors, all of whom had played significant minutes for the Commodores in 2015-16. Vanderbilt also had four freshmen on the 2015-16 team who all appeared to be returning for the next season. (That one would transfer in late May and another would leave in the middle of the 2016-17 season were unknown at the time.) About the most recruiting that Drew needed to do in April 2016 was to retain Kevin Stallings’ two signees from the fall, which never really seemed to be in doubt.

That’s nothing like the situation that Jerry Stackhouse inherited when he took the reins a month ago. Darius Garland had declared for the NBA Draft in February, and Simi Shittu would join him shortly after the season ended. And after Drew’s dismissal, fall signee Austin Crowley asked for and was granted a release from his Letter of Intent, and never appeared to consider Vanderbilt again before signing with Ole Miss. In addition, rising seniors Yanni Wetzell and Matt Ryan entered their names in the transfer portal. When all was said and done, Stackhouse’s first team would return just six players from last season’s 9-23 outfit, one of whom redshirted, and just two of whom averaged more than 16.5 minutes per game. Even assuming that the two remaining recruits, Dylan Disu and Scotty Pippen, remained in the fold (both did), Vanderbilt would be going into the 2019-20 season with just eight players on scholarship, and only two of those are proven SEC-caliber players.

Jerry Stackhouse might ultimately be a good recruiter, or he might not. But when comments like this are made:

The trio of Pippen, Wright, and Martin all rate below A.J. Astroth and Djery Baptiste in recruiting rankings. Disu was already committed when Stackhouse got here, while Crowley was as well and left for Ole Miss. With the losses of Wetzell, Ryan, Shittu, and Toye, and no other additions, this looks like another 20-loss team and possible 14th in the SEC again.

I feel compelled to respond, because it’s missing the point entirely.

It’s true. Three of Vanderbilt’s four incoming freshmen for next season rank outside of the top 200 nationally — Scotty Pippen is #201, Kenyon Martin #228, and Jordan Wright #318. Pippen’s best scholarship offer, aside from Vanderbilt, was Washington State; Wright’s was Tulane. And yeah, Disu was signed by Drew and at least from an outsider’s perspective, was going to come unless the new coach just didn’t want him to come.

With that said, trying to draw any broad conclusions about Stackhouse’s ability to recruit based on the rankings of Martin and Wright (and, to a lesser extent, Pippen) is a fool’s errand. As documented above, Stackhouse absolutely had to add a couple of players within a month of taking the job, if only because of the necessity of having enough players to field a team in his first season. Teams have certainly gotten by with eight (or fewer) players, but it’s hardly ideal, and anyway when only two of those players are proven SEC rotation players you have zero margin for error.

The point really isn’t to knock the ability or long-term potential of Jordan Wright or Kenyon Martin Jr. — neither of whom is rated particularly highly by the people who cover recruiting, but both of whom, at least to a non-basketball coach like myself, appear to have some upside — but to point out that when you’re in a situation where you go into April absolutely needing to add players who you know will be eligible to play basketball next season, players like Jordan Wright and Kenyon Martin Jr. are what’s available. Most of the better prospects have long been off the market, and aside from a few players who were granted a release from a Letter of Intent, the prospects who are still available narrowed their lists a long time ago. Which is to say that this is not at all comparable to Kevin Stallings settling on players like AJ Astroth and Djery Baptiste in the early signing period. (I’m intentionally sidestepping the issue of transfers, who might well be better players, but also can’t be assumed eligible to play next season.)

There’s reason to be concerned about recruiting, because there’s always reason to be concerned about recruiting. But it’s not because Jerry Stackhouse, in an effort to fill out the roster for next season, has signed two recruits outside the top 200 in his first few weeks on the job. If next year’s recruiting class looks like this? Yeah, cause for concern. For now, though, finding guys who might have been overlooked is about the best you can hope for.