Full Court Press: Roddy Gayle Jr. Views Ohio State As One Of “Top Schools,” Trey James Loves “Everything About” Buckeyes, Micawber Etienne's Development

By Colin Hass-Hill on April 30, 2020 at 8:35 am
Roddy Gayle

Welcome to the Full Court Press, your destination for Ohio State basketball recruiting updates.

In-person evaluations, especially during grassroots spring and summer, matter a great deal to college basketball coaches. Without them, Roddy Gayle Jr. understands, they can’t evaluate players against top-flight competition.

So when the four-star 2022 shooting guard got back into the car to take the five-hour return drive to Youngstown, New York, he recognized why Ohio State hadn’t extended him a scholarship. Chris Holtmann and assistant coach Jake Diebler had told him they wanted to watch him play on the circuit before making that move.

Then, in March, the situation changed.

Since the Nike, Adidas and Under Armour circuits are at a standstill due to concerns about the coronavirus, college basketball coaches can’t get in-person evaluations done on targets. Instead, they have to rely on film, like what his high school coach at Lewiston-Porter sent Diebler. It impressed Ohio State’s coaches to such a degree that they got in contact and decided to extend an offer last Wednesday.

“That's when they gave me the news that they were going to offer me and they were going to try to build a relationship through the recruiting process,” Gayle told Eleven Warriors the day after receiving the offer.

Had the coronavirus scare reached the point where nobody knows when games will be played, Ohio State’s staff likely would have wanted to see Gayle play in-person before offering. But the pandemic has begun to alter recruiting timelines.

“I'm just thankful to get the offer because a school so close and as good as it is is definitely one of my top schools that I would like to attend,” Gayle said.

Gayle, a 2022 prospect ranked 42nd overall nationally and No. 1 in New York, also might not have picked up an offer had he not visited a couple of months ago. Even that trip nearly got canceled at the last minute once his high school team got knocked out of the playoffs the day before he was set to leave.

He decided it was still worth it to make the visit, though, and saw Ohio State beat Michigan at the Schottenstein Center on March 1.

“During the game is when it got really rowdy,” Gayle said. “That's the atmosphere I want to play for, so I kind of found it interesting just the cooperation with everybody and how into it people were. The fan section, the student section, the parent section, adults, the kids, everybody was kind of into the game.”

Not knowing much about Ohio State beyond its basketball program before visiting, Gayle got the lay of the land from Diebler. The assistant coach took him around the facilities, showing him the locker room and practice gym along with the campus before the game tipped off.

For Gayle, it’s still early in the process. As a New York native who’s already also visited Rutgers, Syracuse and Wake Forest and has offers from Connecticut, Xavier, Georgetown, Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma and Alabama, it won’t be easy by any means for the Buckeyes to land him.

But Ohio State’s targeting 6-foot-4, 160-pounder early in the 2022 cycle with an idea of what it'd be getting if he eventually ended up in Columbus.

“They say they like my size, length at the one, two spot,” Gayle said. “So they want me to come in and fit right into the role and be the scorer that I am and I can be. That's basically what I want to do, so it's like hearing what I wanted to hear.”

Back On The Market

Trey James thought he had it all figured out on Jan. 26.

Three months after Wake Forest became his first – and, to this date, only – high-major offer, he committed to Danny Manning’s program. To the three-star center, both the location in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the coaching staff felt like a fit. But on Saturday, Wake Forest opted to move on from Manning, firing the head coach after he completed his sixth season.

A day later, James decommitted.

“We heard the rumors and everything that they were trying to get rid of him,” James told Eleven Warriors on Tuesday. “It wasn't super surprising.”

Within an hour, Georgia contacted the 6-foot-10, 230-pound big man from Inez, Kentucky. Tom Crean’s Bulldogs weren’t alone. In the past few days, James has also heard from Ohio State, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, Missouri, Miami, Butler, Iowa, Iona, Marquette, Eastern Kentucky, Loyola (Chicago) and Georgia Southern. 

Among those schools, only Eastern Kentucky has offered him a scholarship. Typically, James would have a chance to extend his offer sheet on the grassroots circuit at this point in the year. But because the coronavirus pandemic has halted the Nike EYBL season, teams will have to evaluate him from afar for the foreseeable future. 

The Buckeyes, like the majority of the schools that reached out since the decommitment, haven’t offered James, who’s the No. 165 overall prospect and 25th-ranked center in 2021. But assistant coach Ryan Pedon contacted James’ coach at Martin County High School on Sunday, James said, and has been texting with him “quite a bit” the past couple days.

“He has seen me play several times and likes my game,” James said. “He thinks I will be a good fit for the Ohio State University.”

He said Pedon has told him he likes both his physicality and toughness.

James, who lives about a three-hour drive away from Columbus, already has a feel for what the Buckeyes offer. Before committing to Wake Forest, he took an unofficial visit to see Ohio State clobber Purdue Fort Wayne on Nov. 22. He stuck around to see the Buckeyes’ football team top Penn State the next day. 

His overwhelmingly positive thoughts about that visit still stick with him.

“Coach Pedon has really shown an interest,” James said. “He gave us a tour of the facilities that are very impressive. We sat with him at the football game, which was an awesome atmosphere. We went to a basketball game also and the excitement in the arena and the crowd was impressive for a non-conference team. I love everything about the Ohio State University.”

In order to earn a scholarship offer from Ohio State, James believes he’ll have to work on his quickness and continue to stretch out the range on his shot to the 3-point line. The Buckeyes have also been recruiting a number of higher-ranked big men in the 2021 cycle, so he might need timing to work on his side, too.

But what makes James attractive to college programs, as his recruitment opens back up, is his physicality and size from the center position. With his senior year remaining, he already holds Kentucky’s state records for most blocks in a career (more than 700), season (258) and game (17). 

How Etienne Developed

At this point, scholarship offers have begun to drip in every so often for four-star center Micawber Etienne, a native of New York. Kansas and Louisville were the most recent schools to make the move, following Ohio State which extended an offer on March 29.

It wasn’t always that way.

Matthew Fava, the head coach of Connecticut’s Suffield Academy, remembers the beginning of last summer when Etienne only had a Stony Brook offer. At the time, Etienne was a bit unnerved since one of his friends – fellow four-star center Franck Kepnang – was consistently pulling in offers from major-conference programs.

Be patient, Fava preached. He saw Etienne as a high-major talent, and so did PSA Cardinals director Munch Williams.

“At the end of the day, there just aren't many 6-10 guys who can move like him just from a pure numbers standpoint,” Fava told Eleven Warriors. “He has the size and he's mobile. He's capable of playing really hard. I think those three things are just unique. I think we knew he was going to be high-major because of those things.”

Time proved Fava correct.

Etienne picked up three offers on June 15. Then between July 13 and Aug. 8, beginning with Pittsburgh and ending with UCLA, he earned 11 more scholarships from a variety of programs. Garnering such interest, he told Rivals he has visited St. John’s, Providence, UConn, Seton Hall, Rutgers, and Syracuse unofficially and Marquette and Illinois officially.

With the Buckeyes having offered while in-person visits aren’t allowed, they’re playing from behind.

“I have had more direct contact with other programs than I have with Ohio State,” Fava said a couple of weeks ago. “But that's normal. Some of them go through me. Some of them go through Munch. Some of them go directly to Mac and his mom. I don't make anything of that, but I don't have a lot of information on how that relationship developed, so I can't speak to that a lot. I think he's a logical fit there, but I don't have a lot of contact as to how that developed.”

Fava does, though, know what Etienne wants in a college program. He has four main criteria.

  1. Which schools develop their big men best for the NBA?
  2. How do coaches use the big men in their schemes and how will he fit?
  3. Which guards will he be playing with at the college level?
  4. What opportunities will he have to play early in his career?

Ultimately, those factors will settle where Etienne ends up playing college hoops, whether in Columbus or elsewhere.

Race For Reid Heats Up

Efton Reid, a five-star center, has long been one of Ohio State’s top big man targets in the 2021 cycle.

Recently, though, he’s seen an uptick in interest from blue-blood programs. Kentucky reached out to him last week about the possibility of reclassifying him to the 2020 class, which Reid has said he’s open to in the past. Kansas also offered him a scholarship last week.

It’s no surprise that Reid has garnered such interest. The skilled Steward School (Va.) 6-foot-11, 225-pounder is ranked No. 20 overall and is the third-rated center in 2021. He has a host of offers, including Ohio State, Virginia, Georgetown, Maryland and Louisville, with many others being unreported since he’s not someone who has publicized his recruitment.

Relationships matter to Reid and his family, and the Buckeyes have done well to build a bond with him. But whenever programs like Kentucky and Kansas express interest, it’s always important to keep an eye on them.

It’s Not Happening

A familiar face is once again available.

Jeremiah Francis, a Pickerington Central graduate, put his name into the transfer portal last week after one season at North Carolina.

With a full roster of 13 scholarship players, Ohio State does not plan to pursue Francis as a transfer.

Growing up in central Ohio with his father having played basketball for the Buckeyes, he was a major Ohio State target in high school. At the time when he picked the Tar Heels as the No. 1 ranked 2019 prospect in Ohio, it stung for those who hoped he’d follow in his dad’s footsteps as a Buckeye.

Since then, his career has gone sideways due to circumstances outside of his control. Francis missed the final two years of high school with left knee injuries. He dropped to a three-star recruit who was ranked No. 179 overall. While continuing to rehab, he sat out North Carolina’s first eight games last season, then played 22.9 minutes per game over eight mid-season games before playing sparingly in February and March.

Francis deserves a bit of luck to go his way, but it won’t come at Ohio State. He has heard from BYU, TCU, New Mexico, Ohio, Miami (Ohio), Northwestern and California, per Stockrisers’ Jake Weingarten.

Entering The Border

Hello, Archie Miller.

The Indiana head coach both landed a top-five 2021 Ohioan and offered a top-five 2022 Ohioan in succession a few weeks ago.

Four-star center Logan Duncomb committed to play for the Hoosiers on April 7. The 6-foot-9, 235-pound Archbishop Moeller center is the No. 106 overall prospect and fourth-ranked Ohioan in the 2021 cycle. Ohio State, which was Duncomb’s second offer and first high-major offer, will now likely have to continue its search for a 2021 big man outside of Ohio.

A day after Duncomb pulled the trigger, Indiana extended an offer to Shawn Phillips, a four-star 2022 center. He plays for Belmont High School in Dayton. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound big man is the No. 46 overall prospect and third-ranked Ohioan in his class. The Buckeyes offered Phillips a scholarship in October.

Roddy Gayle photo courtesy of @roddy_gayle on Twitter

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