CINCINNATI -- In the six weeks since Xavier’s men’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight, three players have signed with agents and a heralded recruiting class has made plans to arrive on campus by June 26.
Malcolm Bernard, RaShid Gaston and Edmond Sumner have hired representation to pursue their professional careers, and Sumner accepted an invitation to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. In the meantime, coach Chris Mack has hit the recruiting trail with an eye toward the future.
Mack sat down with WCPO.com to talk about the Musketeers’ offseason.
Trevon Bluiett was a NBA Draft Combine alternate but did not receive an invitation to Chicago. What’s the latest on him?
CM: He’s still going through the draft process without an agent. He’s got, I think, four or five workouts with teams. He’s already been to Oklahoma City, worked out with the Thunder. He has worked out with the New Orleans Pelicans. I think he’ll complete his workouts and then he’ll have to make a decision by May 24 whether to keep his name in or return to Xavier.
Do you have a feel for whether he will return to Xavier or not?
CM: No, not a great feel. I think that I’ll probably have a better feel here in a couple of weeks after the workouts are over.
Bluiett also worked out for several NBA teams last spring. Does that familiarity have any bearing on his draft prospects?
CM: No, because he wasn’t at the Combine last year, which frankly I can’t understand. If there are 60 better basketball players in college basketball than Tre, I’d like to see them. You’ve got freshmen that get invites for teams that are good teams but didn’t have near the type of year that Tre did. And I know it’s a lot about ceiling and stuff, but there comes a point where your production needs to match your potential. Tre’s production speaks for itself, so I think that he’s more than deserving of a shot. And again, I know it’s one of the best drafts in recent years, the 2017 NBA draft, so from that standpoint maybe he’s better served coming out in the 2018 draft.
Bluiett was arrested in April on one misdemeanor count of possession of marijuana, hash oil or hashish. Does that impact his prospects?
CM: Sure. That’s been indicated by a few teams. It didn’t help him, especially when you’re not a Top 10-, Top 20-type guy. And he’s not. So when you’re on the cusp of possibly going to the Combine or not, those things don’t help you.
What’s Bluiett's state since then?
CM: He made a mistake. I know he feels terrible but you have to sort of lay in the bed that you make. And so he’s done a really good job physically. I think he’s even down more in terms of his weight than he’s ever been. I think both the teams have given us feedback that he really came into the workout in shape, which is a good sign. He didn’t necessarily put his best foot forward a year ago. And his ankle had something to do with it a year ago, not being in the best of shape. I think he showed he was a lot more serious and a lot more in the shape he needed to be for these workouts.
Does any feedback indicate that he might be a second-round draft pick?
CM: I think there’s a small possibility. That’s the rub of it. Nobody’s given him any promises. I think every team has a different opinion, and again he’s not working out for every team in the league. There are only so many teams that have second-round picks. But he’s only worked out for two so far and I don’t think either one of them have given him the indication that they would select him in the second round.
Were you surprised about Sumner’s decision to go pro?
CM: Not one bit. I think that what Xavier fans and maybe outsiders can’t understand is… I think their main question is, ‘Why wouldn’t you come back to college for another year?’ Edmond’s not going to be able to play this year. He had his (knee) surgery March 1. This is coming from a guy who’s had three ACLs -- he’s not going to feel really comfortable playing again until at least March 1 of next year. Now, could he get released a little bit earlier? Yeah, but there’s a difference between being released and actually feeling like you’re comfortable out there playing again and playing with burst and athleticism and reaction.
For Edmond, I think he’s been guaranteed by quite a few teams that if he’s available during their pick in the second round, they’re going to take him. And they’re going to shelf him for a year and allow him to rehab with their people, with their trainers, with their doctors. Catch up to their speed in terms of basketball system-wise, and really feel like they’re getting a first-round talent in the second round.
To make the decision to come back next year would have been sort of to hang around here at Xavier, take classes. Edmond’s a diligent student. He’s going to finish his degree at some point. But I think that’s why he, maybe from the outside, didn’t appear like a wise decision. People in the know, I think we all sort of expected it. If he makes a minimum salary, we all know he can’t live on it for the rest of his life but in one year he’ll make more money than most people make in 10 years. And so having that opportunity and then being able from that point, as a starting point, to get better and hopefully have a long career in the NBA… I just think it’s too much of a risk to take (to not enter the draft), especially when those teams are giving a guarantee to him.
(While unable to participate in physical activities at the NBA Draft Combine due to his knee surgery, Sumner can undergo medical testing, meet with doctors and participate in interviews in Chicago. The guard also will have shoulder surgery May 16.)
Your incoming consensus Top 10 recruiting class features Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Elias Harden, Jared Ridder and Kentrevious Jones, in addition to grad transfer Kerem (pronounced Care-um) Kanter. The last time you had such a big group of newcomers was 2014, and you were able to maximize practices with a trip to Brazil. How will you initiate this group?
CM: The second summer session for us will be a great opportunity to get those guys integrated into everything we do at Xavier, from taking a couple of classes to lifting with Coach (Matt) Jennings, doing Ignition to help with agility and quickness and explosion. And then we have our two hours a week of skill instruction. That’s going to be an awesome time for our older players to teach our younger players, as well as our coaching staff to teach those new guys sort of how we do stuff in the offseason as we gear up. There’s plenty of time before the season starts to implement the system. My concern a lot of times when you have an overseas trip is you make the season too long. So I don’t really have any concern. College basketball, you’re always adding players. So maybe the group will have to go slower but I think we have some quick learners and some guys that are more than ready to play at this level. Nothing sort of beats going through the experience to learn.
Will any of the incoming freshmen red-shirt?
CM: I mean, there’s always a possibility. Nothing’s been predetermined. A lot will be determined by how they attack their workouts, where they feel and we feel they have to get significantly better. But we don’t have anything predetermined on that front.
Recruiting resumed right after the season. What’s going on now for you and your assistant coaches
CM: It’s a little bit of a down time because we’re between when the spring semester is over and Summer I begins. We don’t have a full slate of guys coming back for Summer I. I think maybe three or four guys will be on campus to take classes, to lift with Coach Jennings, to get some skill workouts in with our coaches.
But it’s also a time for us to plan for next season, for us to get our ducks in a row for July recruiting, to try to get as many kids on campus as we can. We’re recruiting every class there is in high school, rising freshman through seniors. We’re still recruiting. We may add another piece.
Ideally it would be great if we could get a transfer that could sit out, sort of balance the classes depending on what year that kid would be -- whether it’s a kid that would sit one and play one like RaShid, whether it’s a kid that would sit one and play two like Remy Abell. Just to maybe balance our classes a little bit and not necessarily have five freshmen. We’re always looking. With the landscape of transfers out there, it’s a possibility. We will not add another graduate transfer but we would like to add a transfer that sits out this coming year and that would give us a little bit more experience when he’s eligible.