Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
John Riek could be coming to a Big East arena near you.
The 7-foot-2, 240-pound native of the Sudan committed to Cincinnati after a visit Saturday night and the plan is for him to enroll for the 2008-09 season. If Riek becomes eligible and suits up for the Bearcats this fall — which is still undecided at this point — he could make an immediate impact as a shot-blocker and rebounder in the Big East.
“He gave a verbal commitment (Saturday) night,” said Fatah Muraisi, Riek’s advisor. “We went there on an unofficial visit to see how he liked it and see how their academic plan is for him, and their rehab since he had an ACL surgery (June 19). He didn’t want something too big or too small. (Assistant) coach Tony Stubblefield has been recruiting him patiently since March. We’ve had offers from other schools, Arizona, UCLA, Oklahoma, Kansas, all the big guys.”
Riek is a former 5-star recruit who spent the last few months at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. — and had considered spending another post-graduate year there after withdrawing from June’s NBA Draft. Prior to that, he was at the Winchendon (Mass) School and, before that, Our Savior New American on Long Island.
Riek will arrive on campus Sept. 24 having just taken the ACT on Sept. 13 for the first time; he might not be eligible until at least December. The NCAA Clearinghouse and the Cincinnati admissions office already have his international paperwork, including an allegedly impressive GPA from the Sudan. He must receive his ACT score and pass through the NCAA Clearinghouse to accept a scholarship and become eligible.
“Best-case scenario would be September, worst-case scenario would be December,” Muraisi said. “We just want to make sure the kid’s ready. The doctors are saying Dec. 1 he should be healthy enough to start playing basketball. We’re saying Jan. 1. right now; his knee looks good.”
Winchendon coach Mike Byrnes said he has doubts as to whether Riek will get a qualifying score on the ACT.
“He has been at IMG since March and I’m sure IMG has been working with him on the English language,” Byrnes said. “I am as curious as anyone else is to see how he does on the test. I love the kid and you wish the kid the best, and I hope it works out for him. He is a super kid and was a role model on our campus, but I really hope that IMG continued to educate him in the English language and math to get ready for that test. When he left our campus in March, I thought it would be difficult for him to pass the test.”
As for the knee surgery, Muraisi said Riek was interested in Cincinnati’s rehab program.
“The AD asked him any if he had any questions,” he said. “He said, ‘What is my academic plan? Second question: What’s the rehab like?’ Nothing about X’s or O’s.
“There’s a big difference between you and I being ready and being basketball ready. (Bearcats head coach) Mick Cronin said he’s not going to throw him out there until he’s 100 percent cleared by a doctor and he’s basketball ready.”
Riek originally intended to declare for this year’s NBA Draft, but ultimately pulled his name. IMG coach Dan Barto previously called Riek “a project” who could potentially make an impact in the league.
“He’s not ready to step in and immediately make an impact on a team,” Barto told me earlier this year. “However, in my seven years of pre-draft training, I haven’t seen many better projects. We had Ricky Sanchez down here, who was drafted directly out of high school, as well as we’ve had numerous kids who we’ve prepared for the draft, including Monta Ellis, Louis Williams and Jackie Butler, all guys that were drafted and turned into pretty good players. And John is a much better prospect than any of those guys were.”
Barto said Riek could be a “poor man’s Patrick Ewing.”
“If he gets in with the proper strength and conditioning program, he’s going to have a chance to be one of the better shot-blockers and really impact the game from a standpoint of maybe getting to the level of a poor man’s Patrick Ewing,” Barto said.
Riek arrived at the Winchendon (Mass.) School last fall after leaving Our Savior New American on Long Island in a much-publicized story.
But he missed games early in the season at the National Prep Showcase in Lowell, Mass. after he injured his left knee doing leg squats on a machine that was too small for him. He had the knee drained and returned to the team but then twisted his right knee in mid-January while playing at St. Thomas More against Devin Ebanks’ team.
“Unfortunately, John missed about 15 games,” Byrnes said.
In the year-ending NEPSAC Championships in New England, Riek played 2 1/2 minutes in the quarterfinal game and another two in the semifinal, but did not play in the final against Brewster. That amounted to a total of 4 1/2 minutes in the team’s final 16 games.
Under the advice of Muraisi, Riek withdrew from Winchendon in March and ended up at IMG. During a typical day at IMG, Riek participates in various exercises based on his physical weaknesses; an individualized, movement-based weight training program; position-specific on-court workouts; and shooting and/or live play.
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.