The walls inside Brentwood Academy know Jake Diebler well.
He frequently traversed the hallways of the high school in Nashville, Tennessee, not too long ago in pursuit of Darius Garland. Then a five-star point guard, Garland attracted the attention of college programs throughout the country, earning offers from the likes of Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA and Ohio State. The blue-blood attention didn’t deter Diebler, then an assistant coach at Vanderbilt. He invested years of effort pursuing the well-regarded prospect who was attending a high school just 11 miles south of the Commodores’ campus.
“(Diebler) came out every time he could,” Brentwood Academy coach Hubie Smith told Eleven Warriors. “Came to legally every game he could. Made calls when he could. We were on the phone a lot because he recruited him so hard and did a great job winning him over.”
It paid off.
In front of hundreds of onlookers in the gymnasium at Brentwood Academy on Nov. 13, 2017, Garland announced his decision, taking off his grey sweatshirt to reveal a Vanderbilt t-shirt. For five games, he proved to be what evaluators imagined, averaging 16.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. A knee injury unexpectedly cut his season short, though, throwing disarray into the Commodores’ plans. They spiraled, finishing with a 9-23 record and going 0-18 in the SEC. Head coach Bryce Drew and his assistants, including Diebler, were fired shortly after the season.
One month later, Chris Holtmann hired Diebler as an assistant coach to replace Mike Schrage, and two months after that, Diebler was back at Brentwood Academy.
Enter, Randy Brady.
He’s not a new commodity to the Diebler, Holtmann or anybody else heavily integrated in the high school basketball scene. At 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, Brady is the No. 46 overall prospect and eighth-ranked shooting guard in the class of 2021. He’s the second-rated recruit in Tennessee, behind Kennedy Chandler, a recent Ohio State offer recipient.
“Jake knew about him, and when he got the job at Ohio State, he told me, 'I'm going to be watching that kid,’” Smith said. “So apparently he watched him in the spring. I don't know if I should say this, but I know he's one of Jake's favorite kids he watches play. I know that. Because he loves how he carries himself. He loves how he conducts himself. He's a first-class kid all the way, and he's really smart. He's like a 3.8 student.”
Brady, who has never been to Columbus, earned an offer from Ohio State last weekend.
Unlike many other 2021 prospects, he completely forgot colleges could directly contact players in his class beginning at 12:01 a.m. last Saturday. All he had on his mind was his 7:30 a.m. workout scheduled for the next morning. So he fell asleep before midnight, before he even had the chance to field interest from coaches.
Brady awoke to more than a few unread texts and missed calls. Wanting to wait until he had enough time to hear full pitches, he first completed his workout, then began responding to all of the coaches.
Shortly after midnight, Diebler had accidentally texted Brady’s father – also named Randy – instead of Brady, but he soon corrected the mixup and sent his message to the intended recipient. They got on the phone following Brady’s workout, and after the talk, Holtmann called the four-star guard. They had what Brady described as a “great conversation,” which featured a scholarship offer.
“It was about mainly how he's been watching me, and he likes how I could fit in,” Brady told Eleven Warriors. “He thinks I could fit in perfectly with the team. He likes what type of player I am.”
So, what type of player is he?
“I would say I'm more of a playmaker, and I'm best in open court,” Brady said. “But I would say the foundation of my game would be defense. Lockdown defender.”
Naturally, given his proclivity for defense, Brady called Luther Muhammad one of his favorite players, saying he often watched him play in high school. He appreciates the energy – in other words, the relentless activity and intensity – that Muhammad exudes on the court.
Smith sees his potential on that side of the ball, too, mentioning he thinks Brady can become an “elite level college defender” without any prompt.
“He is an outstanding athlete,” Smith said. “Very smart basketball player. He gets to the rim about as well as any high school player I've ever seen. He really attacks the rim, and he's a good passer. He's a really good passer. His shot is improved drastically in the last year, and I would say that would be the knock, is people would question how well does he shoot it. because he's close to 6-4. He can guard. Defensively, he could be one of the great defenders. He's long. He understands. He's smart.”
Ima make sure that THE REAL prevail pic.twitter.com/fuRy7cWzbx— Randy Brady (@ShowTime34_) January 26, 2019
Smith realized the type of player Brady both was and could become when his Brentwood Academy team faced Brady’s Baylor team in the state title game in 2018. Even as a freshman, Smith said, Brady was “really good.”
The eventual addition of Brady, who transferred to Brentwood Academy after completing his first year of high school, proved as fruitful for Smith’s team as anyone could have imagined. As a sophomore, he averaged 19 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and two steals per game while shooting 53 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc.
Smith, noting he has coached for 36 years, called Brady “one of the truest, best teammates” he has ever been around. He compared Brady’s basketball IQ to Garland’s. Suffice to say, Smith enjoys coaching the rising junior.
Diebler and Holtmann want the next opportunity to spend a few years with Brady, and there’s mutual intrigue.
Brady said he likes Diebler’s “vibe,” noting “he believed in me from the start, basically.” He plans to take an official visit to Ohio State soon.
“I like the pace of their game, like how they play,” Brady said. “I know D'Angelo Russell, and that's one of my favorite players in the NBA right now.”
Smith certainly wouldn’t mind the pairing of Brady and Ohio State, either. He loves Diebler. Absolutely loves him.
“(Diebler is) a young man. I've got a son older than him. I'm old. I'm 58,” Smith said. “I think he and I just really bonded and connected because I have so much respect for him. I just like him, genuinely like him and think he's a terrific young man, a terrific coach. And he's going to be an outstanding head coach one day soon. He's going to be outstanding. Mark my words on that.”
He has a prior relationship with Holtmann, too, even though they lost contact a while ago.
When Smith was an assistant coach at Lipscomb in the mid-2000s, Holtmann worked as an assistant coach at Gardner-Webb. They crossed paths on the recruiting trail a number of times and became “pretty good friends” because they coached in the same conference. Smith remembers Holtmann visiting him at his house for two or three hours during one day.
“I think he's an awesome coach and a great guy,” Smith said.
No one quite knows how those preexisting relationships will affect Brady’s recruitment, and he already has a host of options. Florida State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, LSU, Mississippi and Middle Tennessee State have offered him scholarships. Kentucky Texas A&M, Louisville, Auburn and Purdue contacted him last weekend.
Smith was heavily involved in Garland’s recruitment, which ended with him signing with Diebler and the Commodores. But he had known Garland since eighth grade, and their relationship led to his parents wanting him to play a large role in his recruitment. They were tight enough for Garland to invite him to the NBA draft on Thursday. Conversely, Smith has only coached Brady for one year, and Brady’s father has handled his son’s recruitment thus far. Therefore, Smith hasn’t sat down with his star guard to discuss dream schools or how to proceed.
All Smith wants, he said, is for Brady to find a program filled with people that will take care of him.
“Will Ohio State be one of his favorite schools? I have no idea,” Smith said. “Here's what I know: on the night he got the offer, he texted me immediately and told me he got offered by Ohio State. And I said, 'That is awesome. Congratulations.' So I know he's pumped about it. He's a young man, he's a young kid. Ohio State's a big-name school. Any way you list it, they're a top-20 program. So getting an offer from a top-20 program from Ohio State, as prestigious as it is, is a huge thing for a kid. So I told him and his dad Chris Holtmann would be a great guy to play for.
“Now whether that's one of his finalists, I don't have any idea. But I would think right now, they're definitely in consideration. He hasn't told me that. I'm just guessing. I don't know why they wouldn't be. Class program, class coaches, class young man. It's a good fit. We'll see what happens.”