The Niagara University men’s basketball team has primarily played four guards at a time over the past two seasons. If the Purple Eagles still had a freshman squad, that’s the lineup they’d use next year.
Niagara could still add one more player to its incoming freshman class, but coach Joe Mihalich is ready to shift his recruiting focus toward future prospects, content with the five players already in the fold.
Guards Marvin Jordan and Malcolm Lemmons signed binding letters of intent last week, joining a recruiting class that already included perimeter players Skylar Jones and Antoine Mason, and big man Joe Thomas.
All five players are enrolled in summer school at Niagara and playing evening pickup games at the Gallagher Center with current and former Purple Eagles, and, on occasion, notable Niagara Falls natives like Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris and Tyrell Lynch.
“Here’s what excited me about all these guys — they’re winners,” Mihalich said Monday. “You look at the high schools they came from, they’re all winning programs with great coaches.”
Mihalich said the class is guard-heavy because the recently graduated Purple Eagles (Tyrone Lewis, Bilal Benn, Rob Garrison and Demetrius Williamson) were all perimeter-oriented, and the roster already features four frontcourt players (Kashief Edwards, Scooter Gillette, Eric Williams and Luuk Kortekaas) who have at least two years of eligibility remaining.
Jordan, a 5-foot-11 point guard, initially signed to play for Ball State, but was denied admission to the university that is a four-hour drive from his home in Peoria, Ill.
Jordan said the Ball State coaches never contacted him to explain why his scholarship offer wouldn’t be honored, but told his high school coach, Derrick Booth, he did not qualify academically.
Around the same time, Niagara assistant Luke Dobrich, a native of Depue, Ill., called Booth in search of new recruiting targets. He was pleasantly surprised to hear that one of the players the Purple Eagles thought they had lost out on was now available.
“They were one of the first schools to start talking to me,” Jordan said. “I feel like everything happens for a reason. I knew I’d be fine wherever I ended up. When I got here for my visit, I already felt like it was home.”
“Not to be too corny,” Mihalich said, “but it was meant to be.”
Ball State has since signed another guard, and Booth accused the program of being “unethical” in its treatment of Jordan, according to the Peoria Journal Star.
“If they had another kid they liked better, don’t say Marvin was denied admission,” Booth told the newspaper.
Jordan’s grade-point average and ACT scores were good enough to qualify with the NCAA Clearinghouse, and he was admitted to Niagara.
Lemmons, a lean, 6-3 wing, is the latest to travel the Purple Eagle pipeline from Washington, D.C.’s Gonzaga College High School to Monteagle Ridge.
Akbar Waheed was recruited from Gonzaga to Niagara by Jack Armstrong, and stayed on as a member of Mihalich’s staff for 11 seasons. Waheed helped in the recruitment of Gonzaga grads Lorenzo Miles and Stanley Hodge, who both coached Lemmons at summer camps.
“Stanley and Lorenzo told me Coach Mihalich was a great guy, and I found that out to be true when I came up here to visit,” Lemmons said. “I felt a great relationship with Coach Mihalich and the staff, the education here is great, and I think it’s the perfect place.”
Lemmons averaged 11 points per game as a senior while playing alongside two other highly recruited guards, Duke-bound Tyler Thornton and Richmond signee Cedrick Lindsay.
“He kind of played in the shadows of those guys,” Mihalich said. “We got a steal.”
The additions of Jones, a 6-3 guard from Washington, D.C., and Mason, a 6-2 guard from New Rochelle were reported in the Gazette after the players made verbal commitments and Mihalich was barred by NCAA rules from commenting.
On Monday, Mihalich said, “pun intended, the sky is the limit for Skylar. He’s athletic, rangy and can do a lot of good things.”
And on Mason, who is the son of former NBA player Anthony Mason, Mihalich said, “he is a hard-shell guy, extremely competitive. The bigger the game, the tougher he gets.”
The Purple Eagles got signed letters of intent from two players who won’t be joining the program. Shaquille Duncan, a forward from Philadelphia, has decided to attend prep school in the fall, and Harold Washington, a point guard recruited out of the junior college ranks, was deemed inadmissible by Niagara officials.
• SKYLAR JONES, 6-3 guard, Washington, D.C.
• MARVIN JORDAN, 5-11 guard, Peoria, Ill.
• MALCOLM LEMMONS, 6-3 guard, Washington, D.C.
• ANTOINE MASON, 6-2 guard, New Rochelle, N.Y.
• JOE THOMAS, 6-7 forward, Miami, Fla.
Contact reporter Jonah Bronstein at email@example.com