Next season, the Crimson will bring in a star-studded, highly-ranked and extremely potent seven-man class consisting of Chris Lewis, Bryce Aiken, Seth Towns, Christian Juzang, Robert Baker, Henry Welsh and Justin Bassey. With four of these players ranked in either Scout.com or ESPN’s Top 100 lists and the class as a whole ranked 11th nationally by ESPN, expectations are high for this group. Combine all the rankings and buzz surrounding this class with Harvard’s lack of success this season, and the perfect storm for this class’s grand entrance is all but brewed. Here’s a breakdown, one by one, of what to expect from this recruiting class next year and beyond:
The first player in this class to commit to Harvard is also the highest rated according to ESPN (No. 65): Chris Lewis. Lewis, a 6-foot-8 230-pound power forward, was the first domino to fall when he committed back in January 2015. Lewis, however, started garnering college interest back in middle school. In eighth grade, he received offers from Memphis and New Mexico. Why is he so highly touted? Lewis is a tough, strong, physical post player who prides himself on rim protection and rebounding. On the offensive end, he is a force near the basket who easily overpowers other big men en route to easy layups and dunks. His only weaknesses include his developing and not yet refined post moves and jumper, and rumors of inconsistency. Lewis has work to do, but there’s no doubt he’ll be a key player during his Crimson career. I don’t expect him to be a huge contributor next year, as Zena Edosomwan plays key minutes down low, but Lewis has the tools to be a huge star in the Ivy League one day. His progression could be similar to Zena’s: showing flashes of strength and athleticism at first and gradually developing his complete game.
Bryce Aiken, a top-100 player according to Scout, was a huge pickup for the Crimson as Amaker and his crew snatched the New Jersey-born point guard from the clutches of initial hometown favorite Seton Hall. Aiken doesn’t score at will, but he is a leader and makes the right play consistently. He picks his spots, and he can get to the hoop and shoot the three well when the time is right. Aiken does check in at 5-foot-9, which has resulted in a few scouts criticizing his strength and size, but the intangibles are there, and he will most likely lead the team at the point in a few years. However, with Siyani Chambers returning next year to run the show and McCarthy returning for his sophomore campaign with solid experience under his belt, Aiken may have to wait a year before seeing much time on the floor. During Aiken’s sophomore season, he will have to battle with McCarthy for the starting role. Their contrasting styles – McCarthy as more of a scorer and Aiken as more of a poised floor general – could make them quite compatible, and could result in an intriguing point guard combo in a few years.
Seth Towns, a 6-foot-7 scoring forward, will be a key contributor next season. Towns, who declined offers from perennial Big Ten schools Michigan and Ohio State, has reached as high as 56th in ESPN’s top 100, and he currently sits at 99th. The talented wing out of Northland, Ohio attends the same high school as former Ohio State standout and current Celtics forward Jared Sullinger, and former Michigan star and current Utah Jazz guard Trey Burke. Towns, however, holds the all-time Northland High School scoring record with 2,016 points in his four-year career. Towns scores with ease, whether it be from beyond the arc, near the hoop, or in between, and his ability to create for himself will immediately make him one of the league’s best scorers. He supplemented his 32 points per game this season with a solid 12 rebounds per game. He also won the All-Central Ohio Player of the Year Award over Michigan State commit Nick Ward (No. 39 in ESPN 100). Bottom line: Towns will immediately bring a needed scoring presence to the Crimson, and I would expect him to average double digits in scoring his freshman year. He is a natural small forward, but his ability to rebound and score down low, plus shoot the three at 6-foot-7, will make his versatility a huge asset.
Christian Juzang, a scoring guard out of Southern California (which has become Harvard’s pipeline region in recent years), posted 2,000 points during his high school career. Juzang is a strong shooter and a solid passer, and he projects to be a legitimate three-ball threat down the road. However, with two strong scoring guards returning next year – Corey Johnson, a sophomore next season who just broke Harvard’s single-season freshman three-point record (74), and Corbin Miller, a senior next season coming off a strong 2015-16 campaign – plus the presence Siyani Chambers, Tommy McCarthy and Bryce Aiken on the point guard depth chart, the main question is when Juzang will make an impact.
Henry Welsh, the player who committed to the Crimson latest in the process (October), brings intrigue to this recruiting class. Welsh is the younger brother of UCLA seven-footer Thomas Welsh (11.2 points and 8.5 rebounds so far this season), and both Welshes have been tagged as “late bloomers.” The 6-foot-9 center has shown great improvement throughout his career, according to multiple sources, so it’s not unreasonable to think Welsh could become a solid contributor for the Crimson one day. It will be interesting to see how Welsh develops at Harvard.
Robert Baker (ESPN 100 No. 96) will come to campus this fall with a glut of breathtaking highlights to his name. (For an example, check out this in-game between-the-legs dunk.) Baker’s skill set ranges far beyond his ability to throw down rim-punishing dunks, though, as the 6-foot-9 forward can score from all over the court. Baker is even listed as a small forward on some sites, demonstrating his versatile repertoire. At only 190 pounds, Baker’s ability to drive, shoot the three, and play down low will make him hard to guard. That said, the only knock on Baker is his lack of strength, but if he can improve this without sacrificing quickness, he could be a star in the Ivy League. I anticipate him providing some minutes off the bench next season, but with Edosomwan leading the scoring effort next season, expect Baker to grow, improve and add strength before becoming a major contributor later in his college career.
Justin Bassey is an underrated combo guard out of Colorado. Bassey also scored 2,000 points in his career, but his career (and college recruitment) flew under the radar for the most part. Bassey can get to the rim and finish well. With the skills to create for himself, he’s another strong candidate to play key minutes for the Crimson next season, and to give the Crimson a much needed scorer. Bassey isn’t mainly a three-point shooter, but he can hit the open jumper, and his jump shot off the bounce is improving as well.
Kudos to Tommy Amaker and his assistant coaches for a remarkable recruiting season. Over the last year, they won recruiting battles over Yale (3), Miami (3), Butler (3), Florida (2), USC (2), Texas A&M (2), Michigan (1), and Ohio State (1), among many others. The expectations for Harvard are high, and these incoming freshmen have the skills to perform at a high level right away. With the recent establishment of the Ivy League conference tournament, these young guns will have all season to jell with Siyani Chambers, Zena Edosomwan and the rest of the returners before vying for a trip to the Big Dance. Can they perform? Time will tell.