The rarest trick in recruiting is to out-perform conference affiliation.
Wichita State men’s basketball reached that level in recent seasons, piling up talent that outranks the Missouri Valley Conference. Now Shocker coaches are back on the recruiting trail selling membership in the American Athletic Conference.
“They did something that most can’t do,” Hutchinson Community College coach Steve Eck said. “They got kids to look past the conference.”
The immediate consensus from athletes and coaches: American membership makes a good situation better. While it might not dramatically change Wichita State’s recruiting — say into five-star, one-and-done territory — that edge won’t go to waste.
Conference affiliation matters. Opponents matter. ESPN matters. Big cities matter. The American offers more of all those things than the MVC.
Those things matter to players such as Denver East guard Daylen Kountz, a senior-to-be who liked WSU as an MVC member. He said the move to the American increases his interest in WSU’s scholarship offer for all those reasons.
“That’s a big move, a lot more competition,” he said. “That’s very important.”
His father agrees. Daryl Kountz grew up in Kansas City, Kan., and played basketball for Wyandotte High. Sending his son to Wichita State is appealing for the same reasons he wears his Chiefs gear in Broncos territory.
“We try to make sure to represent where we’re from,” he said.
Representing the American is also appealing.
Daylen Kountz (6-foot-4) also has offers from Colorado and Wyoming. When he looks at a schedule and sees Colorado vs. UCLA or Wyoming vs. San Diego State, Wichita State can compete with games against 2014 NCAA champion Connecticut, Cincinnati, SMU and Memphis.
“UConn, Memphis — those are big-time programs,” Daryl Kountz said. “For Wichita State to be one of those schools, it’s marking their name on the map.”
The Shockers will have six seniors on the 2017-18 roster, which makes this spring and summer crucial to fill those roster spots for the 2018-19 season. Coaches are busy in April with a recruiting period (during which coaches visit athletes and talk to them) and two three-day evaluation periods during which coaches cover the country to watch AAU tournaments. After this weekend, the next evaluation periods are in July.
Marshall and assistant coach Kyle Lindsted recently visited Grundy, Va., to recruit center Flo Thamba, a senior-to-be, of Mountain Mission School.
“The American is right there knocking on the door of the Power 5,” said Mountain Mission associate head coach Jared Miller. “It will draw the attention of probably a higher-level player. The kids we work with pay attention to that, because they become the best they can be by going against the best.”
Thamba (6-10, 230 pounds) also has offers from Pittsburgh and Charlotte.
“Flo is the type that if he comes to Wichita, with the track record of development their coaches have, in a year or so he’s going to be a steal,” Miller said. “High-major are going to say, ‘How did we miss on him?’ ”
The Master’s Academy guard Jose Placer (6-2), a senior-to-be at the Florida school, visited Wichita State recently and is waiting on a scholarship offer from the Shockers.
“Wichita State, regardless of the conference, has been a successful program,” he said. “I want a competitive conference where every game you have to play hard.”
Sacred Heart (Ala.) coach Ralpheal Graves works in the heart of the SEC, where he coaches guard Diante Wood, a two-time Alabama Class 1A Player of the Year. Graves regards the American as a conference where basketball rules.
“The American is more marketable for basketball players,” he said. “Where we are, football is first, and most of the time, only.”
Wood (6-5) is ranked a four-star prospect by ESPN.com and three by Rivals.com. Graves said Auburn, Alabama, UAB, Georgia, Dayton and others are also interested. WSU assistant coach Isaac Brown visited earlier this month.
“They told (Wood) they needed a high-major shooting guard to come in,” Graves said. “The name of the school has more weight than the conference. But having a conference behind a name really helps with recruits. They can say, ‘We play UConn and we play schools like that.’ Now they can fight for kids, really good kids.”
Membership in the American won’t overshadow the traditionally strong pitches from Shocker coaches.
They will show videos of the Koch Arena crowd and brag about fan support. They will tell the stories of how players such as Toure Murry, Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet developed into NBA players. They can stand next to American programs UConn, SMU and Cincinnati and promise the NCAA Tournament spotlight.
“Coach Marshall isn’t going to recruit much differently,” Eck said. “He’s going to recruit heart. He’ll have more to choose from, but he’s not going to change his recruiting style.”
Around the AAC
What level of athlete commits to American Athletic Conference schools? It varies greatly from UConn at the top to schools such as South Florida and Tulane scrambling to build rosters during coaching turnover. From the Rivals.com top 150, athletes headed to AAC schools:
Class of 2017
- No. 106, Jamal Johnson (Hoover, Ala.), Memphis
- No. 113, Tyler Polley (Weston, Fla.), UConn
- No. 124, Keith Williams (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Cincinnati
- No. 145, Josh Carlton (Hyattsville, Md.), UConn
- No. 146, Nate Pierre-Louis (Jersey City, N.J.), Temple