With March Sadness in the rearview mirror, many questions remain for the state of college basketball. The status of students returning to campus, games being played, arenas hosting fans and regional travel remain up in the air. But it is not only the coming season being affected. The recruiting game has been impacted as much as any aspect of hoops. I hopped on the phone with one of Richmond’s major targets, Zach Hicks (2021) from Camden Catholic High School, to talk about his recruiting experience during the COVID-19 pandemic and relationship with Richmond.
Hicks is a 6’ 7” wing/forward who runs with Philly Pride on the Under Armour AAU circuit. The rising senior, who holds offers from Richmond, Temple, Drexel, La Salle and Missouri, is a versatile playmaker who can score inside and out and particularly thrives on the perimeter. At Camden Catholic he plays anywhere from the shooting guard to power forward, using his length to expose guards and his quickness and shooting ability to draw big men out of position.
Not only is positional flexibility a major strength, but his off-ball IQ and catch-and-shoot ability fits best into a flowing offense that emphasizes down screens, cutting and quick ball movement. “Most of the colleges that I talked to…having guys playing different positions, guys coming off down screens hitting shots, pick and rolls, and just making a decision, a basketball play,” Hicks said. Sound familiar? The Spiders Princeton-influenced offense produced the fastest tempo in the Atlantic-10 Conference last season and ranked 29th in the nation in the assists, largely due to rapid ball movement, balls screens and cutting.
The system has a track record of using wing players like Hicks effectively. Rising sophomore Tyler Burton, also 6’ 7,” flashed his potential in it during his first year, posting a 105 ORTG in conference play when began showcasing his perimeter shooting ability. Nick Sherod, although shorter than Hicks, also runs at the 2-4 spots. His shooting stroke off the catch and ability to take advantage of weaker guards in the post has flourished under Chris Mooney, shooting a blistering 46.6 3FG% in conference play in 2020 on nearly five attempts per game. Hicks resembles more of a combination between Sherod and Nathan Cayo, but his mold could see similar success as many of Richmond’s current and former wing players have had.
Richmond extended a scholarship offer to Hicks on June 27, 2019. Steve Thomas, an assistant coach on Mooney’s staff, is a fellow New Jersey guy and is familiar with the high school basketball scene there. “It started when Steve [Thomas] called me,” Hicks said. “He was from Jersey; he knew a lot about the teams and places around here.” That call soon led to an offer, and the following December Chris Mooney traveled to catch one of Hicks’ high school games after the junior visited Richmond’s campus in November.
That face to face time bodes well for the Spiders’ chances at Hicks, who talked about the difficulty of the recruiting process during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Teams or the schools that I didn’t get to visit before… I really don’t know what their campus looks like, what the environment is, what the coaches [are] like in person.” Hicks told me that along with play style fit, the basketball environment and personality of the team, both on and off the court, are major factors in his decision. Zoom calls fail to give a sense of team dynamics, what coaches are like in person or the feel of a lively college campus. He said because of that, he feels more comfortable with the schools he did have a chance to visit, such as Richmond, Temple and La Salle.
Along with communication difficulties, the cancellation of AAU circuits take away chances to showcase talent, making it harder for players like Hicks to pick up more high-major offers. With a recent offer from Missouri, more Power-5 schools will likely come calling, however the coronavirus situation certainly benefits Richmond, Temple and La Salle’s chances.
Hicks is a top priority of the Spiders, who recently picked up their first commitment of the class of 2021 from Malcolm Dread. Downhill playmakers Andre Gustavson and Isaiah Wilson, who will be a senior and sophomore respectively for Hicks’ first year of college, will complement his game nicely. With Matt Grace, Andre Weir and Sal Koureissi likely holding down the block in 2021-2022, Hicks could find himself in a nice position to slide into that off-ball, wing scoring role should he choose the Spiders. Expect a decision some time before he begins his senior season.
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