Intel Report 7/03/23: The July Storm
Virginia landed a key commitment on Friday from Christian Bliss. Details on that, updates on all of UVA’s top recruiting targets, and looking ahead to this weekend’s crucial AAU live period with the hotspots and names to know in this edition of the Locker Room Access Intel Report.
George School (PA) point guard Christian Bliss announced his commitment to Virginia on Friday. He chose the Wahoos out of a final four that also included Miami, Villanova, and Xavier. It was Xavier who put up the best fight. He had visited both recently, and did zoom calls with each of them before deciding. I don’t think it was all that close though. There had been growing optimism since his visit. Once he set the date, we pretty well knew the verdict.
If Bliss hadn’t committed when he did, Harvard Westlake (CA) point guard Trent Perry was set to visit over the weekend. That would have put Bliss’s spot in jeopardy, and surely helped to speed things up. It was very much in UVA’s interest to get clarity on the situation before this week’s live period, so the coaching staff would know whether they needed to evaluate point guards. They’ll no longer be involved in Perry’s recruitment now.
Bliss will likely enroll this fall, and officially be a member of the 2023 recruiting class. He’ll make a final decision on that over the next few weeks. I assume the plan would be for him to redshirt. He was originally in the 2023 class, so it would only be undoing his earlier reclassification. Virginia has one remaining open scholarship. It’s his if he wants it.
July is Here
The start of the July live periods on Thursday is a big landmark in the recruiting cycle. All the other recruiting activity shuts down. There’s only evaluation periods: Two of them, this coming weekend and another on the weekend of the 15th. It’s the last chance for coaches to decide whether to pursue most 2024 recruits.
July is like a storm. Things get cloudy while it’s happening. And the landscape might look different on the other side. It’s a fun time though when players make a name for themselves. Just about all of Tony Bennett’s favorite recruiting stories are set in July.
After Wednesday, visits aren’t allowed for a while. There might not be another until football season. The only time between July 6th and August 20th when recruits can take visits is an eight-day window starting July 28th. The recruits that emerge in summer take their visits and decide in the fall for the most part.
This month will just be about holding on through the bumpy ride with Wisconsin Lutheran wing Kon Knueppel. Duke offered him a scholarship on Sunday after watching him at Top 100 Camp. That’s obviously always a big deal. There will surely be others to join in.
I’m hesitant to believe any newcomer will be a factor though. We’ll see. Never underestimate the allure of blue-blood programs. But I expect it will still come down to schools already in the mix. Virginia, in-state schools Wisconsin and Marqutte. And Notre Dame, just a three hour drive from his Milwaukee home, is a contender.
There’s two things to watch. The first is which head coaches show up to see Kon these next two weekends. That won’t be convenient, as I’ll get into below. It’ll be telling of which programs are serious contenders. The second thing to watch will be the dates of any visits he sets. Bennett typically asks for a verdict from early recruits like Kon ahead of the fall recruiting period, which opens around the second week of September.
Virginia offered St. Rose (NJ) forward Matthew Hodge on Thursday after Bennett spent the previous weekend watching him at Philly LIve. He’s blowing up as they say. Offers from Villanova, Alabama, Florida State, among others this past week. There will surely be more coming after Peach Jam this week.
His recruitment is only starting. It’ll be decided in the fall. UVA is very serious about him. We’ll see what happens with other recruits this month. They’ll certainly be evaluating similar players. But I expect him to remain the top forward target, and UVA to be a major factor in his recruitment this fall.
Hodge grew up in Belgium until moving to the US last year. He’s the son of former Old Dominion star and Martinsville native Odell Hodge, who settled in Belgium after playing professional basketball there.
Virginia has helpful connections. Not the least of which is that he’s a friend and AAU teammate of UVA commit Christian Bliss. He has family ties to the region, and Coach Willifirod knows his dad from their playing days. Other schools have connections too though. His high school coach played at Villanova. And Maryland assistant Mike Jones was an ODU teammate of his dad’s.
From what I’ve heard, UVA has gotten an encouraging initial response from Hodge. We’ll need to ride out July and see where things stand, but so far it seems fairly promising.
Local product Chance Mallory of St. Anne’s Belfield also received a scholarship offer while on an unofficial visit last week. The 5’9” guard is the first serious recruit for Virginia in the 2025 class. He’s little but the guy has proven he can get it done against the best. Mallory led the entire Under Armour circuit in offensive efficiency this spring, averaging 18 points and shooting 40% from three-point range.
Virginia is the very heavy favorite in his recruitment. Christian Bliss’s commitment won’t interfere at all. Mallory is an elite shooter. That’s his ticket. He can play the point, but he could also fit well next to a big point guard like Bliss.
Mallory could also become a 2024 recruit. That’s his original class. It’s something that might come up later. He currently holds offers from Maryland, Iowa, Illinois, among others.
Coaches will be on the road from Thursday through Sunday attending AAU events. This is the biggest live evaluation period of the year. All the major shoe-sponsored AAU circuits are holding their championship events.
The action is mostly clustered in South Carolina and Georgia. Very convenient for coaches to easily move between locations. Nike Peach Jam is in North Augusta, SC. Under Armour Finals take place in Cartersville, GA. And the Adidas Championships are held in Rock Hill, SC.
Special Trip for Kon
Kon Knueppel and his team have chosen not to play in the consolation bracket at Peach Jam. They’ll be at Summer Slam in Cincinnati instead, an independent event. Coaches will need to go out of their way to see him. It’ll be interesting which head coaches show up. It may seem like a small thing, but spending half a day to see one recruit this weekend is a big deal for a head coach.
The Rock School (FL) forward Ryan Jones Jr. requires a special trip too. His team plays at the Pro16 New Balance Championship in Houston. We’ll see if anybody from UVA goes. I know they’ve talked to him a lot, but I’m really not sure at this point if they’ll follow through.
Nike Peach Jam in Augusta is the Rose Bowl of AAU. It’s already underway, although coaches can’t attend until Thursday. Virginia commit Christian Bliss and teammate Matthew Hodge will try to lead the PSA Cardinals to the title. We know UVA will have a heavy presence all weekend.
Evaluating other forward candidates will be a theme of July. Dynamic Prep (TX) forward David Punch is one they’ve had their eye on for a while. He’ll square off against Bliss and Hodge on Friday. Expect Wahoo coaches in attendance.
And this is the time when the coaching staff will really focus effort on evaluating 2025 recruits. Guard Derek Dixon and big man Christian Gurdak of Gonzaga (DC) are both of serious interest. So is Woodside (VA) forward Silas Barksdale. And Grayson (GA) forward Jacob Wilkins plays at the nearby independent Peach State event.
2025 STAB guard Chance Mallory and his Team Thrill squad are aiming for an Under Armour championship. And Tony Bennett has never seen 2025 South Lakes (VA) wing Jordan Scott play in-person. That should happen this week in Cartersville. They’ll need to make a decision on whether to offer him a scholarship soon.
2024 Peddie School (NJ) forward Ebrahim Kaba was one of the biggest stock risers of the June live periods, racking up mid major offers. He’ll get a look from the big boys this weekend, UVA included.
There’s a pair of 2024 recruits UVA will check out in Rock Hill. Totino Grace (MN) wing Isaiah Johnson-Arigu has become a popular recruit. And sharpshooting forward Jaxon Johnson from Alta (UT) impressed in June.
The main draw there will be 2025 recruits. Highland School (VA) wing Nate Ament already has a UVA offer waiting I believe. And they’ll need to make a decision whether to offer Southern Durham (NC) guard Jackson Keith.
Be sure to check the forum this weekend for play-by-play updates as we track which players Coach Bennett is eyeing. As always, thanks for subscribing to Locker Room Access.