Bruce Pearl missed out on arguably the country’s most sought-after transfer Wednesday, when former Georgetown guard Mac McClung announced his intentions to attend Texas Tech over Auburn and Memphis among others.
However, with one scholarship spot remaining, Auburn is still in the running for the nation’s No. 1 prospect for the 2021 class, five-star forward Jonathan Kuminga.
Kuminga, who is expected to reclassify, listed Auburn, Duke, Kentucky and Texas Tech as his final four contenders last week, along with the NBA’s G-League.
The professional route has garnered more attention this recruiting cycle from the nation’s top recruits, with the NBA allowing high school players to sign with a G-League pathway program. Five-star center Kai Sotto became the fourth player to sign with the new G-League select team for next season, joining Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix.
Green, the nation’s No. 1 player for the 2020 class, chose the G-League over Auburn and Memphis in April.
“For me, right now, I would say 50/50,” Kuminga said of his decision earlier this month on the “High School Basketball Happenings” podcast with ESPN’s Paul Biancardi. “With everything is going on right now, I don’t want to put myself in the type of situation where I don’t know what I’m doing. So I’ve just got to be patient with it, sit down with my family and plan on everything.”
Among the finalists, Auburn and Texas Tech are considered the leaders for Kuminga if he does indeed choose the college route, but his recruitment process has been hard to predict to this point so there are no concrete indications of where he will end up before the summer ends.
A decision for Kuminga doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon, but the G-League seems like the most likely path for now.
The five-star forward did say his ultimate goal was “to get to the NBA, play at the highest level and go out there and compete.”
Auburn has picked up its second 2021 commitment from the state of Texas.
Four-star offensive guard Jaeden Roberts, a teammate of Auburn quarterback commit Dematrius Davis at North Shore High School in Houston, Texas, committed to the Tigers Wednesday via Twitter over other contenders Alabama and Oklahoma State.
Roberts, a 6-foot-6, 335-pound lineman, is the second-highest rated offensive guard in ESPN’s 2021 class rankings and is the No. 11 overall prospect from Texas.
Auburn had been a serious finalist for the North Shore product since his high school friend and teammate Davis committed earlier in May, despite Roberts never visiting the campus. As momentum picked up, Roberts virtually visited with the staff this month and began growing relationships with Malzahn, Bicknell and Morris.
Roberts is a mammoth offensive line prospect with overwhelming size and strength, helping North Shore to a 15-1 record and second consecutive Texas 6A D-I state championship as a junior. He can be a real force in the run game and has the athleticism and speed to get out for blocks at the second level.
As formidable as he is physically, Roberts consistently dominates his smaller high school counterparts with little to no resistance. But at the next level, especially in the Southeastern Conference, he will need to work on his agility and hone in on his technique to compete with other four and five-star recruits and develop into an everyday Power-Five starter.
Roberts is the fourth offensive lineman to commit in Auburn’s 2021 class, joining Caleb Johnson, Garner Langlo and J’Marion Gooch, and is the Tigers’ ninth commitment overall.
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Auburn had a monumental shift on the recruiting trail last week.
The Tigers picked up four recruits in three days, doubling the size of its 2021 class, and picked up some much needed momentum for the summer. ESPN 300 quarterback Dematrius Davis headlined the group and was joined by a pair of offensive linemen, Caleb Johnson and Garner Langlo, as well as an athlete from Florida, Tar’varish Dawson.
Auburn now sits at No. 20 in ESPN’s Class Rankings with eight commitments, six of them being four-star prospects.
Who’s next for the Tigers? Here’s a list of players to keep an eye on in the weeks ahead. Now, this list always liable to change considering how fluid recruiting is, but these are a few of the players atop Auburn’s wish list.
DE – JEREMIAH WILLIAMS (4-STAR) – 6-3, 224 LBS. – BIRMINGHAM, AL
Auburn will lose both edge rushers Big Kat Bryant and T.D. Moultry after this season, so Williams is a guy that Malzahn and his staff will be pursuing relentlessly this summer.
Right now, the Tigers are in an ideal spot. They are in the top two or three of contenders to land a commitment for a number of reasons. Malzahn’s relationship with Williams is very strong, Williams is an in-state prospect only hours away from campus and having a guy like Rodney Garner oversee you, with the track record he has, never hurts. Now, that also means that Alabama will be a factor and something Auburn will have to deal with, but the Tigers have a real chance here.
Williams, a Ramsay High School product, is a long, athletic edge rusher that has the frame and versatility to play a number of position in Kevin Steele’s defense. He’s the 5th ranked prospect in the state and is the 6th-best weakside defensive end, but could also line up at outside linebacker.
CB – GA’QUINCY MCKINSTRY (5-STAR) – 5-11, 175 LBS. – PINSON, AL
McKinstry is obviously one of Auburn’s most wanted targets, being the No. 1 player in the state. Also, when you look at positions of need for the Tigers, the secondary is at the forefront of that conversation.
The five-star corner dropped his top-five schools this past weekend, naming Auburn, Georgia, Alabama, LSU and Clemson as his finalists. For now, I think Alabama, Auburn and LSU are the slight leaders but that could change over the next month or so. What bodes well for Auburn is the longstanding relationship it has with the two-sport athlete. He comes from Pinson Valley, where he played with Bo Nix, and also is entertaining the idea of playing both football and basketball at the next level so that could be a positive for the Tigers.
McKinstry is an elite two-way player, has excellent ball skills and is instinctive in coverage. He’s a guy that could come in and be an impact starter at the Power-Five level immediately.
LB – SMAEL MONDON (5-STAR) – 6-3, 220 LBS. – DALLAS, GA
Mondon is Auburn’s top linebacker target on the board.
However, most believe the Dawgs are the team to beat for the five-star from Paulding County. It will be a tall task for Auburn to go into Georgia for Mondon, but linebackers’ coach Travis Williams gives the Tigers a realistic shot. Mondon and Williams’ relationship is very strong, and Mondon has said that the former NFL linebacker keeps Auburn firmly in his group of possible destinations.
Mondon is just another example of the versatile, athletic linebackers that Auburn likes to recruit. He is the 2nd-best outside linebacker in the country and is the 3rd- best prospect overall in Georgia. Mondon has exceptional length and speed at his position, playing sideline-to-sideline and could also be very useful dropping back in coverage.
OG – DYLAN FAIRCHILD (4-STAR) – 6-5, 298 LBS. – CUMMING, GA
Fairchild listed his final six schools earlier this month and five of them are from the Southeastern Conference.
Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and South Carolina all made the cut, as well as Penn State. Georgia is the clear leader for now, but Auburn is close behind and Jack Bicknell has developed a good relationship with the four-star prospect. The pitch for Auburn that Georgia can’t offer, is early playing time. If Fairchild wants to come in and realistically compete for a starting job as a freshman, there’s more of an opportunity at Auburn as opposed to Georgia.
Fairchild is the No. 7 offensive guard in the country and offers real strength, flexibility and athleticism for a big man that could translate into a multi-year starter in the SEC.
TE – LAKE MCREE (3-STAR) – 6-4, 217 LBS. – AUSTIN, TX
McRee could be the one most likely on this list to commit next.
He recently narrowed his list to Auburn, Penn State, Purdue, Washington, USC and LSU. And although he only visited Auburn virtually, the the coaching staff has made an early impression on him as has the idea of playing in Chad Morris’ offense. McRee is also from Texas and has been in contact with Auburn commit Dematrius Davis, so the Tigers are trending up for yet another tight end recruit from the Lone Star State.
McRee is the 18th-best tight end in the country and can be used in a variety of ways, whether it be in a traditional role or an unconventional one. He’s a capable blocker that Malzahn could use in the run game but also possesses the length and athleticism to line up out wide similar to a receiver.
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Auburn is reportedly in the lead for the country’s most sought-after transfer, Georgetown’s Mac McClung, as of Tuesday according to sources close to the situation.
Along with Auburn, other schools showing interest are Memphis, Tennessee, North Carolina, Arkansas and Wake Forest. Memphis is reportedly the second frontrunner, as of now.
McClung, who was the Hoyas’ leading scorer last season, unexpectedly decided to enter his name into the transfer portal last week after pulling his name out of the NBA Draft to maintain his NCAA eligibility.
“It was a number of different events that made me feel I had no choice but to transfer from Georgetown,” McClung said in a recent interview with ESPN. “I really wanted to stay, but things throughout my career made me realize that I couldn’t. … I’m looking for a place I can call home. A place I can be a part of a family and help them succeed.”
Last season, the high-flying guard averaged 15.7 points a game for head coach Patrick Ewing and was a budding star in the Hoyas’ offense before a foot injury cut his season short. As a freshman, he averaged just over 13 points a game.
“Mac was an integral piece of our program, and when he let me know his decision I was disappointed,” Ewing said in a statement. “But he needs to do what’s best for him. I want to wish him luck in his future endeavors. Moving forward, our focus is the core that we have coming back and our incoming class.”
Now, where does he fit in at Auburn? Bruce Pearl’s team needs scoring. The Tigers are losing all four players from last year’s team that averaged above 10 points per game (Samir Doughty, Isaac Okoro, J’Von McCormick and Austin Wiley), not to mention the next two highest (Danjel Purifoy and Anfernee McLemore), who averaged just under double digits. That leaves a massive hole.
To remedy this, Pearl has signed one of the best recruiting classes in the program’s history as well as the program’s highest-rated recruit to date in five-star guard Sharife Cooper, and there could still be more to come by way of a transfer or Jonathan Kuminga.
But, Auburn isn’t Kentucky. You can’t expect this group of true freshman to carry the load in the Southeastern Conference, a conference that has propelled to the top of the ranks in college basketball in recent years. There are serious question marks at the wing positions about who is ready to take that next step as a reliable, go-to scorer. Cooper will almost certainly be running the show at the point guard position but he will need to have a guard to facilitate to in the backcourt, so that he isn’t carrying the weight of an entire team.
So, who fills that scoring guard role? The Tigers have a number of guards returning (Jamal Johnson, Tyrell Jones, Devan Cambridge, Allen Flanigan to name a few), but not one averaged over five points a game. Justin Powell and J.T. Thor, depending on how Pearl chooses to use him, are both versatile freshmen that could be tried at either of the wings, but who knows if either of them are ready to make that jump immediately. Cambridge and Flanigan would be the leading candidates if the season started tomorrow, but both were fairly one-dimensional role players on the offensive end last season.
This is where McClung would fit nicely in Pearl’s offense, as a scoring complement for Cooper. McClung has the experience and scoring prowess to come in and average double digits right away, having done so for back t0 back years in the Big East. The 6-foot-2 guard is a walking highlight-reel and could be leaned on to go get a basket in pressure situations, and can score in a variety of ways. I don’t see anyone else on Auburn’s roster with as polished of an offensive skill set and I think McClung, if he were to choose Auburn, would flourish in Pearl’s system.
Now, there is still a long way to go in this recruitment. McClung’s agent told the Washington Post that NBA teams’ feedback to him in this process was that they wanted to see him more as a facilitator, since he played primarily off the ball at Georgetown. That’s why I’m still skeptical that he eventually lands at Auburn because of McClung’s desire to be at the point guard position, with Cooper coming in next season. Nonetheless, Auburn is in the hunt and there are other teams pursuing him that are set at that position as well.
“Being more of a point guard role, etc. I’m not saying he couldn’t have gotten that at Georgetown, but he didn’t showcase that at Georgetown,” McClung’s agent Daniel Hazan said. “He didn’t get the opportunity really to showcase that.”
McClung will need to file a waiver to play immediately in 2020-21.