Wednesday, September 18, 2013

the recruit: Jack Salt

Name: Jack Salt
Position: C
Hometown: Auckland, New Zealand
School: Westlake Boys School
Height: 6'10"
Weight: 230

24/7: N/R
Rivals: N/R
Scout: N/R

Other offers: None

I don't routinely cover basketball recruiting, preferring almost exclusively to wait until someone actually commits before I say anything.  There's a very long list of reasons why, but one of them is this: Months, even years, can pass, with nothing happening, and then everything you thought you knew goes out the window in two days.

Case in point: Two weeks ago, four-star and top-100 prospect Martin Geben, who liked UVA but liked Notre Dame more, was scheduled to visit Charlottesville for a trip that would hopefully flip-flop the two in his mind.  Then the visit was cancelled - mutually, as it came out shortly thereafter - and Geben committed to the Irish.

The reason for the cancellation, as it turns out, is named Jack Salt, a name that lends itself to too-easy puns and - I think - sounds like something out of Mother Goose.  ("Jack Salt could drink no malt / His wife could drink no gin / And so betwixt them both, it made / The barman quite chagrined.")  Several times a year the recruiting gurus will say "there is a mystery recruit whose name I can't reveal yet."  Rarely are they so adamant about saying positively nothing.  Salt is a guy that Tony Bennett personally identified (it was his New Zealand connections that made this one possible), personally scouted, and personally recruited, and this was definitely one of those deals where the coaching staff wants CIA levels of secrecy lest someone else find out about the prize.  Salt visited this past weekend, and that put the bow on top so that the secret could finally be let out.

We can go ahead and list Salt's resume - he played one season for the Super City Rangers of the NBL, New Zealand's professional league, but that's OK because his team is actually 100% amateur.  He's played for the U-18 version of his national team, but sparingly, whereas for the Rangers, he's a starter.  (Given that the Rangers don't pay their players, they're terrible, though.)  And for the Rangers, he averaged 8.6 ppg and 5.4 rebounds in 18.5 minutes.

Doesn't tell us much about the quality of the competition, though.  It's probably not much; the NBL requires all but two players on each team's roster to be native Kiwis, and the FIBA rankings place New Zealand 18th in the world, ahead of several countries (like Italy) that have no such rules.  One of the teams in the NBL plays in a high school gym.  We're talking about a league that's well below the competitiveness of the professional leagues in Europe and China.

That said, Bennett has a track record of finding players way down there.  Kirk Penney played for him when he was an assistant at Wisconsin and later went on to a short NBA career; at Washington State, he brought in a player named Aron Baynes, who put up 12.7 ppg/7.5 rpg as a senior, and then took the long way to the NBA, where he appeared with the Spurs just this past season.

As we discussed with Isaiah Wilkins, there won't be much need for a freshman big in the rotation in 2014-15.  You'll have Tobey, Gill, and Atkins playing major, major minutes.  Wilkins might get a few minutes here and there; Salt may just redshirt.  Even in his sophomore (or redshirt freshman) season, Tobey will be a senior and probably a major workhorse if things develop right, but that'll at least be when Salt starts to show up in the mix.  Make no mistake, Bennett's rolling the dice a little on an investment in the long term, but he found a gem for Wazzu in Baynes, so he knew what he was doing when he shut the door on Geben.

Which, by the way, brings us to one final point: I'd been noting, in profile posts of recent years, that Tony appeared to be going over future scholarship limits, and the gurus dealt with this by telling people "the numbers will work themselves out."  But here, the signs point to Tony being done with 2014 if he gets good news from Robert Johnson (or if not, and he goes after a consolation prize in someone like Jalen Hudson) - otherwise he wouldn't have shut down the pursuit of Geben.  One more player will fill up the limit for 2014-15, and one more player is all it looks like Tony will take.  I take this as a sign that Tony is no longer getting I-might-transfer vibes from his players.  That can only be good news.

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