By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
LSU’s 2017 recruiting class endured a setback on Wednesday, when five-star New Orleans center Mitchell Robinson announced his commitment to Western Kentucky.
If the commitment holds, it’ll be quite the coup for Western Kentucky, but the fit makes sense. Robinson’s godfather, Shammond Williams, is an assistant at Western Kentucky (sound familiar?), and new Hilltopper head coach Rick Stansbury was Robinson’s primary recruiter at Texas A&M, where Robinson was originally committed.
Western Kentucky is also in on LSU’s next primary target, Lafayette wing Galen Alexander, and could also land former Mississippi State guard and five-star high school prospect Malik Newman as a transfer.
There’s no question LSU needs a player like Robinson in the 2017 class. At 7-foot, 220 pounds, he’s the best rim protector in the country in his class, averaging 4.1 blocks per game and ranking second through four EYBL sessions with a 13.2% block percentage for Nike Pro Skills, according to stats provided by GroupStats. He’s no offensive slouch, either, scoring 15 points per game on the circuit and ranking in the top five in offensive rating (134.4), effective FG% (73.8), true shooting % (72.4), offensive rebounding % (15.8), and 2-point % (73.2).
Essentially, Robinson is exactly what LSU needed a year ago next to Ben Simmons: a low-usage, high-percentage rim-protector.
So where does LSU go from here? How do the Tigers find the big they need for the future?
Here are a few options.
Ikey Obiagu, 2017
A four-star center from Decatur, Ga., Obiagu is every bit the rim protector Robinson is, blocking nearly 11% of opponents’ shots for the Georgia Stars on the EYBL circuit this spring and summer. At the NBPA Top 100 camp in June, Obiagu was the leading shot blocker, with 3.3 per game. He’s been far less proficient offensively, however, with just a 64.6 ORtg in 11 games for the Stars, but he showed he’s not a black hole at the NBPA Top 100. There, he posted a far more effective 117.1 ORtg.
LSU extended an offer to Obiagu last summer and has kept an eye on him throughout his recruitment. His stock has dropped slightly this summer. He entered the EYBL tour as a consensus five-star and top 10 player, but his offensive struggles have seen him lose a star, and he currently sits at No. 41 in the 247Sports.com Composite Rankings.
But at 7-foot, 245 pounds, he’s a physical specimen, a long, athletic rim-runner in the mold Johnny Jones prefers his bigs.
The Tigers have some ground to make up here. Maryland and Louisville seem to be the favorites for his services.
Joe Thompson, 2017
A New Orleans kid from Bonnabel, Thompson is an inside-out scorer. At 6-foot-9, he’s got plenty of size to play in the post, but he can also step out and shoot it from the perimeter.
Also of note is that Thompson is teammates on the Under Armour circuit with 2018 Baton Rouge native Javonte Smart, a five-star combo guard out of Scotlandville who is a must-get for the Tigers next season. The two are by no means a package deal, but it wouldn’t hurt. He holds offers from Richmond and Tulane.
Bruno Fernando, 2017
The former SMU commit reclassified from the 2016 class to 2017 in May, and he’ll spend next season playing for Monteverde’s post-grad team. The 6-foot-10, 225 pound center was ranked No.
LSU’s well established at Monteverde, with Ben Simmons and Jalyn Patterson having signed with the Tigers in recent seasons. LSU assistant Brendan Suhr is an Orlando native with strong connections in the coaching community.
SMU will remain the favorite for Fernando, who also visited Alabama. But it’s worth a look for LSU, who has connections to the player and recruited him for the 2016 cycle, too.
Khavon Moore, 2018
Who says LSU has to sign a big in 2017? There will be no seniors in the starting forward positions, and possibly none on the roster, if Darcy Malone and Brian Bridgewater both leave.
Craig Victor, Aaron Epps, Duop Reath, and Elbert Robinson will form the core of LSU’s frontcourt in 2016-17, and all should be back as seniors in 2017-18. Freshman Wayde Sims will be a 3/4 hybrid, and mostly a four.
So it’s possible LSU could turn to the 2018 class to start filling its interior needs, and Moore, while not a center, is a high-caliber point forward from that group who is high on the Tigers and is planning a visit soon, per Andrew Slater of 247. Like Robinson, he’s a five-star, top-10 player in his class, and he’s what LSU loves: a “positionless player” who can play with size around the rim and with skill on the perimeter.
Shareef O’Neal, 2018
Shaq made news a few weeks back when he failed to mention LSU as a potential landing spot for his four-star son, but tossed LSU in the mix with Kentucky and Michigan State as places he’d like to see Shareef land this week on his podcast.
Netting the younger O’Neal would be nice for LSU in 2018. The 6-foot-8 combo forward is leaner than his dad and plays a more perimeter-oriented game. 247Sports ranks him the No. 15 player in the 2017 class, and he’d fit in with Jones’ uptempo system. Not to mention, Jones and O’Neal have a very good relationship, and Shaq was helpful in getting Jones the job at LSU in 2012.
Still, Shareef is a west coast kid and is thought to have a preference for UCLA or Arizona. Kentucky is also in the mix.
Mitchell Robinson, 2017
Robinson didn’t sign anything this week to set his future at WKU in stone, and he can’t until November 9. That’s how long LSU has to flip his commitment (again…the Tigers were key in working to get Robinson to back from his Texas A&M pledge).
He’s the best player in the state, and he’s a perfect fit for what the Tigers need, a rim protecting big who can score on one end and stop others from scoring on the other. He’d be the best shot-blocker the program’s had since Jordan Mickey and would go block-for-block with the ex-Tiger in no time.
— Bryan LaRussa (@SLAM_Bryan) June 13, 2016
One avenue LSU could explore is trying to lure Shammond Williams to its vacant assistant coaching gig. Williams just began his job with Western Kentucky, but that didn’t stop Jabbar Juluke from leaving Texas Tech for LSU on the football field. Still, LSU isn’t going to give the job away to attract a single player. If Williams is the right guy for the job, that’s one thing, but I don’t see the Tigers pursuing this sort of package deal. Ben Simmons wasn’t Ben Simmons when they hired David Patrick, and Jones isn’t the type to hire coaches to get players.
Regardless, the chance to flip Robinson is still there. We’ll see if LSU can make it happen.