Niagara announces first two Paulus signees

The coronavirus outbreak may have cut short the college basketball season, but it hasn't put a damper at all on recruiting.

Niagara announced Greg Paulus' first two official signees on Monday, Rochester guard Tahjae Hill and Mali-born big man Touba Traore.

"We're really excited for Touba and Tahj, to have two guys that are well-rounded, talented," Paulus said during a Tuesday phone call. "We've had a chance to build some really strong relationships with them."

 

In Hill, the Purple Eagles are getting a physically-gifted scorer. He finished his career at Hilton High School as the program's all-time leader in points, averaging 31 as a junior and 27 as a senior to finish with 1,953 in his career.

At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, Hill already has a frame for the college game. His high school basketball coach, Troy Prince, said back in January that Hill was offered three football scholarships and that his potential as a wide receiver was "unlimited," if he had chosen to pursue it.

"Tahj is a guy we had a chance to see a great deal, and it was important for us to establish those relationships and have a presence around (Western New York)," Paulus said. "He's a dynamic competitor who really likes to get out there. His versatility allows him to make plays on both ends of the floor."

The 6-11 Traore fills a huge need up front as a shot-blocking and rebounding presence on a team that hemorrhaged points inside last season.

Traore moved from Mali to Virginia in 2017 to chase his basketball dream. He comes to Niagara after one prep season at the Massanutten Military Academy, where he averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds per game while also setting school records for blocked shots in a single season (126) and game (15).

"He has a great motor, really likes to play hard and work hard, loves the game," Paulus said. "... We feel like he can add a different dimension to this basketball team."

The additions leave Niagara with two open scholarships. Paulus would not say exactly what else he'd like to add for next season, only that he and his assistants, Bryan Smothers and Brett Ervin, were evaluating all different types of players.

Of course, not being able to actually visit recruits has changed the game a bit.

"It is different from the standpoint of being able to make decisions on evaluations of kids," Paulus said. "What we're trying to do is watch as much film as we can, make as many conversations as we can to learn about not just the stuff on the court but how each person might fit in at Niagara University."

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One of those two scholarships is open because Noah Waterman, a freshman forward who should receive a medical redshirt, elected to enter the transfer portal in late March.

The 6-11 Savannah, N.Y. native played just seven games for the Purple Eagles, averaging 7.0 points and 3.3 rebounds over 22.1 minutes. He started five times before an ankle injury suffered Dec. 8 against Cornell ended his season.

Waterman was a relative unknown before landing at NU, putting up huge numbers for the tiny Finger Lakes Christian School in Seneca Falls. As a senior, he averaged 33.9 points, 12.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 3.9 blocks while winning MVP of the Empire State Christian Athletic League. His guard skills, developed as a 6-2 sophomore prior to a late high school a growth spurt, made him an intriguing talent for the Purple Eagles.

Paulus couldn't fault Waterman for leaving.

"I think kids throughout the landscape of college basketball are looking at their situations and evaluating," Paulus said. "Guys are going through what they think is best for them and their situations, and that's what he's doing."

Paulus also lost freshman guard Damani Thomas, a walk-on who entered the transfer portal Monday. The 6-2 Thomas played 17 games for NU, filling in as a makeshift center when injuries hit the frontcourt during conference play.

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Paulus will be filling two holes on his staff in the weeks to come.

He said Tuesday that he was working on filling Niagara's third assistant coach position, which he vacated in October to take over as head coach following Patrick Beilein's resignation.

"We are having a chance to have conversations and kind of work through that now that the season is over," Paulus said.

Paulus also confirmed that Madison Hahesy stepped down as director of basketball operations.

Hahesy, who was hired for the position by Beilein, recently updated her LinkedIn account to reflect that she'd taken a new job outside of athletics.

"Madison is excited about the opportunity that she is going to embark on in the next chapter for her and we're excited for her," Paulus said.

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