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.
Pittsburgh, the No. 1 team in the land, continues to mine New Jersey for some of the top guards in the nation.
Plainfield (NJ) High junior point guard Isaiah Epps became the latest Garden State floor general to give a verbal commitment to the Panthers.
The 6–foot-2, 170-pound Epps, who will graduate high school in 2010, chose Pitt over Maryland, Rutgers and Seton Hall. He took an official visit to the Big East school in October and ultimately chose the school because of his relationship with Pitt assistant coach Brandin Knight, who starred at Pitt and, before that, Seton Hall Prep and also played for the Playaz Basketball Club, the same AAU outfit Epps plays for now.
“I decided to go to Pitt because I was cool with Brandin Knight and he played with the Playaz before,” Epps said Sunday by phone. “He had that relationship and I felt at home when I was at Pitt. I felt real comfortable.”
Epps, who is also cousins with current Pitt freshman guard Travon Woodall of Paterson, N.J., cannot a sign a National Letter of Intent until November. Hewill visit Pitt next Sunday and will stay for Monday’s Syracuse game.
Epps is the No. 8 point guard in the Class of 2010 according to Rivals and the No. 40 player overall. He is averaging 18.3 points, 6 rebounds and 5.3 assists for the Cardinals (6-3) and dropped 28 points on Seton Hall Prep.
“I made my decision last week but I talked to the coaches [Jamie Dixon and Knight] on Friday,” he said.
Epps follows in the footsteps of New Jersey guards Woodall (St. Anthony) and Ashton Gibbs (Seton Hall Prep), who also chose Pitt out of the Garden State. Both will be juniors when Epps arrives on campus.
“They told me I was going to go in there and start from the jump,” Epps said of his role. “They might move Ashton Gibbs to the two and put me at the one.”
Maryland was also a strong possibility for Epps, who visited the ACC campus with his friend Taran Buie of Albany (NY) Bishop Maginn.
“I was thinking about going to Maryland but like I said I felt more at home at Pitt and the relationship with Brandin Knight and him playing with the Playaz,” Epps said.
Former Plainfield coach Pete Vasil said Epps has come a long way since he played some varsity ball as a freshman after arriving at Plainfield from Manhattan.
“He’s a kid that in the 8th grade had very minimal scholastic basketball experience,” Vasil said. “Then Jimmy Salmon got him involved with the Playaz. Nobody knew about him until the summer going into his sophomore year. He led our JV team to the Union County JV championship. All this stuff started circulating on him that summer and then all of a sudden in one summer, he blew up.
“He had a great summer circuit with the Playaz. Seton Hall called me at the end of the summer of 2007 and offered him. And then Rutgers called me and offered in August in of 2007. He hadn’t played his first full varsity season yet.”
Vasil said Epps can contribute to a Big East team right away.
“Now he’s got the savvy and the basketball IQ,” Vasil said. “I’ve gone against all my guards and he was the toughest to guard because of his craftiness with the ball. He can go by you. He’s got great handle. You can’t give him that much room because he can bury the long ball. And he’s very, very shifty. His quickness is tremendous.
“I think he can be a prototypical Big East guard,” Vasil added. “He’s gotta get stronger. Originally I was thinking the ACC had the upper hand, but the Big East is the best conference in the nation.”
Epps will not play for Plainfield next year because he will be too old as per New Jersey state regulations, and will have to prep somewhere. It remains unclear where he will spend the year.
“The school that I committed to I’m letting them decide on that right now,” Epps said.
Said Vasil: “I think it’s going to be a luxury for him to go to a prep school because he’ll be able to focus even more on his academics, so that qualifying isn’t really an issue.”
In the meantime, Epps wants to help lead Plainfield to a state title.
“Yes, I’m just really being a captain right now, trying to get a ring right now,” he said.
ZAGSBLOG ANALYSIS: This is a blow for both Jersey schools, who had hoped to land Epps to play the point in 2010. Seton Hall will have Jordan Theodore for three more years and Keon Lawrence for two, but Rutgers desperately needs a point guard next year and beyond. Epps won’t be that guy at either school. Instead, he will head to play for the current No. 1 team in the land.
COACHES WATCH LANCE:Among those watching this past week’s Lincoln-Boys & Girls game were St. John’s head coach Norm Roberts, Pitt assistant Tom Herrion and Rutgers assistant Craig Carter. St. John’s and Kansas had been the schools thought to be most heavily recruiting Lincoln senior star Lance Stephenson, but Pitt appears to be giving him a look as well. Stephenson dropped 37 points in the game, but his team lost 71-61. Rutgers is not involved with Stephenson, and Carter was presumably checking out some of the younger players in the game.
UCONN OFFERS TYLER HARRIS:
In other recruiting news, UConn has offered a scholarship to 6-6 Tyler Harris, the younger brother of Tobias Harris. UConn is also involved with the 6-8 Tobias, a junior who has numerous major D-1 offers and has visited the UConn campus. Both play at Long Island Lutheran.
“Coach Calhoun wants Tyler to be a UConn Husky,” said Torrel Harris, the boys’ father. “He said that Tyler is going to be a special.”
Clearly the Huskies wouldn’t mind a package duo of both Harris boys.
“UConn is the first school that offered both,” Torrel said. “They both have considered playing together if they happen to like the same school that would be cool with both of them.”
MICHAEL GILCHRIST COLUMN:
Here’s a great column from the Philly Inquirer on Michael Gilchrist, the star sophomore at St. Patrick of Elizabeth, which narrowly escaped with a 58-48 victory Saturday over Trenton Catholic. Gilchrist told Rivals Syracuse and Villanova are his favorites. You have to think Memphis is in there, too.
(Photos courtesy Rivals, fiveborosports.com)
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 whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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.