Let’s not beat around the bush here, the scholarship restrictions imposed on the Syracuse University basketball program by the NCAA are hurting right about now. The thing is, they aren’t hurting in quite the way we might have anticipated early on. Rather, where we might have thought they’d scare off some options, the real trouble is that it has completely handcuffed Jim Boeheim in his ability to take on multiple players in the 2016 class, despite having multiple fantastic options considering the Orange right now.
So the big question now when we look at how the rest of the 2016 recruiting cycle will shake out is, which guard would fit best for the Orange to round out the two man class, alongside Ohio forward Matt Moyer?
Syracuse has several options, but the top three right now are Kobi Simmons, Alterique Gilbert, and Kevin Huerter. Each has a high interest in the Orange, and each is ranked in the top 75 nationally, per ESPN.com’s latest rankings. They’re also all completely different players, each of whom would impact the program in entirely different ways. So which one should Syracuse fans be hoping lands in Orange?
Each of the three can be compared, at least vaguely, to recent Syracuse guards. The 6-foot-5 Simmons probably best compares to Michael Carter-Williams, with his long, slender, athletic frame that desperately needs some muscle, as well as his excellent court vision but shaky and mechanically flawed jumper.
Gilbert, meanwhile, will remind every Orange fan of Jonny Flynn, as a flashy, athletic, but a bit undersized point guard who doesn’t quite fit the usual measurements Boeheim looks for in a lead guard at the top of his vaunted 2-3 zone. And Huerter, who was originally offered as a 2017 prospect with the hopes he’d agree to take a year at prep school to get more physically ready, is a more athletic version of Andy Rautins. The 6-foot-5 Huerter is one of the best shooters in the class of 2016, and thanks to his recent play, the chances of him agreeing to do a year of prep and reclassifying to the 2017 class are next to nil.
But enough about their Syracuse player comparisons. Which would be the best overall fit for the Syracuse basketball program, both in terms of immediate impact and long term contributions?
When it comes to Kobi Simmons, the key word is “potential.” With his combination of size and athleticism, he’s still a work in progress as he tries becoming a more natural point guard and keeps filling out his frame. He’s almost painfully thin right now, and as I alluded to earlier, his jump shot still needs a significant amount of work. But there’s a reason he’s rated as the No. 6 player in his class…and that reason, again, is potential.
Chances are, Simmons would be a one-and-done player, which might not be a terrible thing for Syracuse with its limited scholarship situation, but probably isn’t ideal. And frankly, the biggest thing with Simmons is that we probably won’t see his best until his early 20s. In other words, long after his college career is over.
Next on the list is Alterique Gilbert, who, like Simmons, is a Georgia native. The 6-foot-1 Gilbert is lightning quick, and has absolutely been exploding onto the national scene lately. He’s always been well regarded, but it was definitely a little shocking when he vaulted all the way to No. 23 in the most recent ESPN rankings. Like Simmons, he needs to work on his jump shot, but he’s got plenty of excitement in his game and could easily eventually follow Flynn’s footsteps and leave after just a couple years.
And that brings us to Huerter, a sharpshooting guard who has a shooting guard’s height and scoring ability, but combines it with exceptional court vision and plenty of room for physical growth (he’s still very young for his grade). Unlike Simmons, and potentially Gilbert, who could also go pro fairly early thanks to his extraordinary athleticism, Huerter feels like at least a three year guy, and would probably spend four years in the Syracuse program.
If you couldn’t guess by now, at this point I think my preference would be the No. 73-ranked Huerter, as strange as that might sound considering the other two guys are rated No. 6 and No. 23 in the nation. But here’s the thing: last year’s Syracuse team suffered from an enormous dearth of shooting and just overall skill at the guard position. Landing Kobi Simmons would follow that recent trend of getting big, long, athletic guards with questionable shooting ability, while Gilbert, as exciting as he is, also struggles sometimes to knock down jumpers. Add in the fact that both are early entry candidates and it makes it pretty clear that Huerter should probably be the choice.
Huerter, after all, is an exceptional shooter with great size, and the ability to play either guard position. His passing is that good, and his athleticism is underrated.
We may not know for awhile who Syracuse is truly interested in pursuing the hardest in this stage of the recruiting cycle, and the versatility and shooting prowess of Kevin Huerter – particularly being an upstate New York kid – would go a long way toward curing some of Syracuse’s ills on the basketball court, considering he combines his versatility with a high hoops IQ. Huerter may be a less flashy commit than Simmons or Gilbert, but he’s bound to spend more time in the program than either, and boasts the skill set that the Orange desperately needs moving forward.