Just a few weeks ago, we put out a feature piece on Liberty Heights primarily detailing the trials and tribulations of Coach Mike Wright, his staff, and the incredibly talented collection of players throughout his tenure. In pivoting, their current roster is arguably more impressive than any previous group—yet their individual recruitments don’t echo this notion. Sure, college coaches are going to push back and place blame on the aftermath of covid (leading to transfers, an additional year of eligibility, and the general logjam going on at various programs), but that line of reasoning doesn’t make anyone feel better. Admitting that you’d rather have a finished product in, say, his fifth year as opposed to a young, blossoming prospect who is rearing to be sculpted seems very self-serving. Is winning a few additional games worth the revolving door that has been created in college basketball? Simply, no. Now, let’s look at the pieces within Liberty Heights National and try to understanding the overall lack of recruitment…
It would be difficult to start a discussion about the Cardinals’ roster without first mentioning 6’3 ’22 Elijah Jamison. Not only is he the lone returning piece from last year’s squad, but Jamison’s blend of IQ, poise, toughness, and confidence makes him an ideal floor general. Though he was already among the top point guards and players in the state, he’s only gotten better since decommitting from East Carolina. In terms of his on-court identity, Jamison has steadily transitioned into an all-around point guard and doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses within his skillset. He’s also shown a willingness to improve his deficiencies, specifically by becoming a reliable, consistent threat from distance after being tabbed as a so-so shooter for most of his career. Jamison still prefers to get downhill, where he’s as efficient as anyone when finishing or applying pressure in the midrange, but can now also torch opponents from beyond the arc. He’s a crafty passer, rugged defender, and strong rebounder with a college-ready frame. It’s perplexing how anyone could watch Jamison and make sense of his zero offers. The two-way floor general should be coveted by an actual slew of Division I programs.
There was no shortage of excitement upon hearing about 6’8 ’22 Ezra Ausar and his decision to join Liberty Heights earlier this season. Previously at IMG Academy, his reputation immediately made him as notable as anyone. After watching him, it’s easy to understand why. Ausar is a long, powerful, overwhelming athlete with the mentality, physical tools, and unique collection of attributes to dominate a game. It seems like folks want him to chase high scoring totals to prove his status as an elite-level prospect, but that simply doesn’t align with his identity—nor should it. The appeal with someone like Ausar should be obvious. He’s extremely tough and unselfish with great rebounding instincts, defensive versatility, and (above all else) the understanding of how to embrace being an interior player—rather than trying to prove himself as a wing. Additionally, Ausar does possess skill and shouldn’t be regarded as just an athlete. He poses matchup problems for most traditional big men, especially along the perimeter, and regularly sets up others in scoring positions. Add in his rebounding sense and overall activity level, and Ausar should certainly hold more than five offers.
Between guys like 6’4 ’23 Silas Demary Jr. and 6’5 ’22 Ryan Prather Jr., there are far less issues within their respective recruitments. Despite only being a junior, Demary has more offers (seven) than anyone on the roster. It’s justified, as he’s extremely talented and clearly going to continue trending upward. Demary’s blend of IQ, size, defensive prowess, and offensive abilities as a combo-guard with comfort from either backcourt position should allow his recruitment to maintain its current trajectory. Meanwhile, Prather is the lone committed player on the team—calling it for Akron in November. He’s arguably the best shooter on the roster, but what he brings to the team goes far beyond spotting-up. Even Coach Wright said that “Prather voluntarily gave up his starting position for the betterment of the team. He just wants to win.” That statement really embodies unselfishness and provides even more security for Prather’s success at the next level.
While there might be some bias involved, 6’7 ’22 Cinque Lemon could be as under-recruited as anyone in the state—much less this specific roster. It’s worth noting that this roster is deep and balanced, which typically doesn’t allow for guys to post ridiculous stat lines. However, anyone who watches Lemon and doesn’t see the makings of a Division I prospect should subsequently exit the gym. It’s just uncommon to see a prospect with his collection of ability and physical tools. Lemon is a fluid, versatile wing/forward prospect with the flexibility to actively toggle between multiple positions. The idea of a tweener leaves folks with an uneasy feeling, because they are often unqualified to play either forward position (typically power forwards trying to prove perimeter skill). Lemon’s situation is actually the opposite, where he’s more than capable of excelling from either spot–simply based on opposing personnel. USC Upstate is the only school to extend an offer over the last six months, joining Eastern Kentucky, Charleston Southern, and Lee’s McRae. It honestly feels like programs are overlooking him for no legitimate reason, but that should definitely change over the coming months.
Although both guys are being actively recruited, it feels like 6’8 ’22 Jabare Perry and 6’7 ’22 Charles McClennahan Jr. are deserving of more than three offers apiece. Perry is a strong, rugged, fairly skilled post prospect with a clear understanding of how to embrace his identity on both ends of the floor. He typically operates around the basket through his ability to post-up, but also displays feel as a screener, roller, and capable midrange shooter. Perry is a solid athlete who finishes well with either hand, runs the floor hard in transition, and provides a useful rebounding presence on either side of the ball. On the other hand, McClenahan possesses quality instincts as an inside-out threat. He’s shaped like a big man and effectively operates inside the paint, but is skilled and adaptable enough to switch onto the perimeter as needed. McClenahan has the size, skill, and athleticism to appeal to a variety of scholarship-level programs. Both guys should have more activity within their recruitment.
In rounding out the roster, 6’3 ’22 Eric Morgan Jr. quietly goes about his business and maximizes his two-way presence for this group. He’s as low-maintenance as any of the Cardinals, truly able to defend his position and capitalize on spot-up opportunities as a perimeter shooter. Morgan is smart, tough, and does a great job of filling in the gaps. Despite recently joining, folks should already know about 6’5 ’22 Jalen McDonald and his exciting, explosive game. He’s always possessed the tools to be a high-level prospect, and continues to display flashes of improved perimeter shooting. McDonald is still an imposing athlete and generally tough player who will play at the next level. In addition, 6’5 ’22 Ayden Ince provides another scrappy, reliable shooting piece to this roster. He does currently hold a few offers but, just like the others mentioned above, should see his list continue to expand throughout the course of the season.
In the end, college coaches don’t need to overthink the process so much. Having faith in oneself to properly develop these prospects at the next level is simply more impressive than taking a ready-made player, squeezing out their last moments of eligibility, and accepting pats on the back. It’s understandable that we are discussing other’s careers or livelihood when referencing these coaches, but it’s a two-way street—and one side of the street has no leverage. It is time to stop ignoring the obvious and start extending offers to (arguably) the most talented group in the state.