(Editor’s note: This the first of a two-part series centered on the Bonnies’ 2019 recruiting class as it currently stands. Today, a look at the four additions through the eyes of coach Mark Schmidt. Tomorrow, a wider view of the state of recruiting and outlook for next year.)
ST. BONAVENTURE — Even still very much in the throws of last season, Mark Schmidt could see where the priority for next winter lie.
The St. Bonaventure men’s basketball coach considered who the Bonnies would assuredly be without — seniors Courtney Stockard and Nelson Kaputo — and who they might eventually (and did) lose — Jalen Poyser.
This made for an easy No. 1 on his list of recruiting goals for the spring:
“We needed to replace those guys,” Schmidt said of his backcourt departures. “Having Kyle (Lofton) and Dom (Welch) — the expectation is that they take the next step in their development. But we needed to bring in more guards.”
In the penultimate week of the regular year, Bona put that plan into practice, adding 6-foot-4 junior college transfer Matt Johnson, who averaged 14 points in just 17 minutes at Howard College (Texas). Later, it brought in another transfer in Jaren English, a top contributor on a team that reached the NJCAA Division I national championship.
By the end of the regular signing period, it had put together a four-man recruiting class that was equal parts talented and symmetrical: A pair of experienced guards to go with two high-ceiling, highly touted prep forwards in Justin Winston and Robert Carpenter. And its approach had become clear:
“We needed to bring in two guards that could score and two forwards that can play the way we want to play,” Schmidt said, “and we feel we have that in those four guys.”
Aside from their general ability to score, the two guards will be counted on to help shore up one specific area: 3-point shooting.
JOHNSON SHOT 40 percent from distance and averaged nearly two treys per game at Howard while English made over two 3s on an impressive 43 percent at Ranger College (Texas). Both could be viable options for a Bona team that spent much of last year near the bottom of the league in both categories and had minimal 3-point threats until Welch began heating up late.
The question is: How will they fit in a backcourt that not only has established players at the ‘1’ an ‘2’ positions, but guys who, by the end of last season, barely left off the floor? Schmidt sees clear openings that need to be filled.
“Matt and Jaren can be guys that come in and play for us right away — they have to play right away,” the 13th-year coach said. “Right now, we have two guards, three with Alpha (Okoli), who didn’t play a lot last year.
“When we recruit guys, we tell them: you have every opportunity to come in here and play as a freshman. I’ve told (them), when practice starts, I’m going to play the best guys, the guys that practice the best. All these guys have the opportunity to come in and play 25-30 minutes a game; it’s up to them. But the hope is that they can do that — and we need them to do that — so we can have some success again this year.”
IN BUILDING another intriguing class — one that might not even be complete, as two scholarships remain available — Schmidt once again emphasized athletic, interchangeable parts.
He described Johnson as a shooting guard capable of playing the point and English as a guy who can play both the ‘2’ and the ‘3’. He characterized Winston and Carpenter as “combo forwards,” players capable of filling the center spot in a small lineup.
“With Justin and Rob, even though they’re high school kids, they’ve had a year of prep, so they’re a year older,” Schmidt said. “Both of those guys can play multiple positions, as well. And they fit how we want to play — they’re long, they’re athletic, they’ve got good skill and they’re going to get better.”
The two 6-foot-7 forwards are perfect representations of the rise in recruiting profile on which Bona has been able to center its efforts in recent years.
Winston, who began his prep year at Putnam Academy, which produced Bona teammates Lofton and Osun Osunniyi, was the Bonnies’ first four-star signing under Schmidt and held offers from, among others, UConn, Minnesota, Seton Hall and Pittsburgh. Carpenter, who averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in leading Mt. Zion to the Elite 8 of the National Prep School Championship, was one of the top players in the basketball-rich DMV area and being courted by fellow A-10 schools UMass, Saint Joe’s and Saint Louis.
UNLIKE IN the early years under Schmidt, some Bona freshmen, recently, have not only been good enough to crack the rotation, but quickly become among the top contributors on good teams.
Given their credentials and physical maturity, Winston and Carpenter, too, seem capable of making an immediate impact.
“Yeah, we hope so,” said Schmidt, who noted that the two freshmen and English, a sophomore, are currently on campus for the first summer school session. “Physically they look good, and they’ve got good skill, so much of it depends on how quickly they pick up the system. Some freshmen are successful right away, and then there’s other guys — a Dion Wright or LaDarien Griffin, for instance — where it took them a year to really learn the system and then they took off.
“All four of these guys are talented kids. It’s yet to be determined how quickly they learn the system, but the hope is that they can come in and play right away, make an immediate impact, because we’re going to need these guys to come in and help us.”
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)