CINCINNATI -- Xavier’s men’s basketball team scored in a big way Wednesday by inking its highest-ranked recruiting class in program history.
Coach Chris Mack and his staff received signed National Letters of Intent from Class of 2017 members Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Elias Harden, Jared Ridder and Kentrevious Jones on the first day of the early signing period.
That group is ranked No. 5 nationally by Scout.com and 247sports.com. It’s ranked No. 6 by ESPN.com and Rivals.com.
"We’re really excited,” Mack said when the news became official at Cintas Center. "I’d like to give my coaching staff (Travis Steele, Luke Murray and Mike Pegues) a lot of praise for their hard work. It’s a lot of time-consuming work that those guys put in, whether it’s identifying kids and their families early on in the process when kids are sophomores -- heck, even freshmen in some cases -- and just continuing to develop relationships."
Xavier’s staff aimed for a large class and recruited accordingly. Not only did Musketeers coaches secure commitments from high-caliber players, but they also located high-character recruits who fit in well in the locker room, Mack said.
Ridder was the first to verbally commit in June. The 6-foot-7, 205-pound Missouri native, who was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN.com, averaged 19.3 points and 7.2 rebounds last season for Kickapoo High.
His AAU team, MoKan Elite, is the reigning Nike EYBL Peach Jam champion.
Ridder picked Xavier over Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Missouri State and Northern Iowa. The forward said on Twitter then that one school "always stuck out" to him, so he solidified his future with the Musketeers after his official visit.
Mack said Wednesday that Ridder shoots as well as any high school player in the country.
"He instantly spaces the floor at the college level," Mack said. "With added strength, Jared will be a very difficult match-up with how we play."
A month after Ridder selected Xavier, Harden and Marshall pulled the trigger with days of each other. Harden, a four-star player from Georgia, contributed 20.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists last season at Sandy Creek High but this year plays for Pebblebrook High.
The 6-foot-5-inch, 175-pound guard had a list that included Georgia, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Cincinnati and Xavier.
"Elias Harden is vastly underrated, in my opinion. He can do it on both ends of the floor because of his athleticism and size," Mack said. "Elias’ size allows him to shoot the ball over defenders and will give us versatility at the guard position."
Marshall’s commitment was another feather in Xavier’s cap. The consensus four-star prospect selected the Musketeers over programs like Rhode Island and South Carolina.
The 6-foot-6-inch, 205-pound forward from Washington, D.C. is prepping now at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, where he plans to work on his strength and conditioning. Last year Marshall averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists at Eleanor Roosevelt High.
Marshall, Mack said, is a throwback to the versatile swingman of the past.
"He can do a little bit of everything and do it at a very high level," Mack said. "I love his ability to pass, to see the play develop."
Jones, nicknamed "Big K," chose Xavier in September. The 6-foot-10, 290-pound center bypassed LSU, Oklahoma and Kansas State to play for a Musketeers program that felt like home.
The three-star recruit chipped in 21.2 points and 13.8 points last season at Central High (Ga.) and this year is at Westside High.
Jones said he dropped 30 pounds over the summer by eating right and exercising more. His ideal playing weight is around 265 pounds.
Mack described Jones as "massive" with a "great touch and IQ for the game." He can score with his back to the basket, use his body to create space and make free throws.
"What excites me with Kent has been his desire to get in the shape he needs to be at our level," Mack said.
Scruggs provided the last piece of the puzzle for when he announced Xavier as his destination in October.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 190-pound guard and consensus four-star recruit is the highest-ranked player to commit to the program since ESPN’s database was created nine years ago. ESPN.com rates Scruggs the No. 5 point guard in his class as well as its 28th overall player.
Scruggs chose XU over a list of suitors that included Indiana, Connecticut and Michigan State. He averaged 19.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists and three steals last year at Southport High in Indiana but this year is at Prolific Prep in California.
"Paul Scruggs is as tough of a competitor as we’ve recruited at Xavier," Mack said. "There’s not a challenge that Paul won’t answer.
"He’s a point guard with excellent vision, an ability to get in the lane and (he) plays with a physicality that makes opponents uncomfortable. He has the tools and mentality to be a lockdown defender in college."