Center Ryan Kalkbrenner announced Sunday night that he intends to sign with Creighton. The four-star big man is the first known member of the Jays’ 2020 recruiting class.
What does his commitment mean for CU? World-Herald staff writer Jon Nyatawa has three immediate takeaways on the news:
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1. The Jays landed their top target
Creighton had to find a big man for 2020. And after the first recruiting evaluation period in April, it became clear the staff was prioritizing Kalkbrenner. He’s a long and mobile 6-foot-11 center who fits the profile of a Creighton 5-man. He can run the floor, set a ball screen, roll quickly to the rim and leap above the defense.
The only problem for CU? Most everyone in the region knew about him back in April, too. Illinois and Kansas State had already offered. Purdue, Missouri, Cincinnati, Ohio State and others were soon involved as well.
But that’s standard now. CU has elevated its recruiting profile over the last couple years, and thus, it’s had to fend off formidable challengers to secure commitments of talented prospects. And lately, the Jays have lost some high-profile battles — like 2019 center Tristan Enaruna (Kansas) and 2018 grad transfers Matt Mooney (Texas Tech) and Joe Cremo (Villanova).
The Jays continue to aim high, though. You must to compete in the Big East.
And their hard work paid off with Kalkbrenner. Assistant Paul Lusk took the lead on his recruitment. CU welcomed Kalkbrenner on campus for an official visit in June. The staff conducted an in-home visit on Sept. 9, according to Stockrisers.com. Kalkbrenner was back on campus this month for an unofficial visit, according to Rivals.
2. CU is placing added value on rim protection
It doesn’t seem like a coincidence the Jays’ last two additions at the 5 have the ability to block shots. Creighton’s best-performing defense under Greg McDermott, at least according to Ken Pomeroy’s data, was the 2016-17 group with big man Justin Patton in the middle (his 50 blocks are the most in a season since Gregory Echenique). Size at the rim makes a difference.
Grad transfer Kelvin Jones isn’t as prolific as Kalkbrenner in this department, but the senior center did rank 64th nationally in individual block percentage in Division I last season at Idaho State, according to Pomeroy’s numbers. Jones, who joined CU’s program this summer, has gone up and stuffed a few of the Jays’ shots in workouts already.
Then there’s Kalkbrenner. His block rate on the Nike EYBL circuit this season (4.3 per game) has been replicated by only one other player in the last three years: Bol Bol (4.5). Kalkbrenner’s presence can change a game. The Jays will certainly benefit from that.
3. Creighton now has flexibility in 2020
The Jays’ roster makeup looks like this for the 2020-21 season: a junior and a sophomore at point guard; four seniors and two sophomores on the wing; two juniors and a freshman on the interior.
So there really isn’t an immediate position of need now that Kalkbrenner is committed. That means Creighton’s staff can target the best available options, without much of a downside.
For example, if CU swings and misses on a high-profile shooting guard like four-star Kerwin Walton — the Jays reportedly went to see him two weeks ago, but North Carolina became the latest blue blood to offer on Wednesday — it wouldn’t necessarily have to scramble to fill the spot, because Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitch Ballock, Denzel Mahoney and Damien Jefferson will all be seniors on the 2020-21 roster.
The Jays have some wiggle room. We’ll see how they use it. There are two available scholarships for 2020, although CU will likely reserve one of those for the transfer market next spring.