Wright State basketball: Noel more proof of how Raiders’ recruiting strategy working

FAIRBORN — Wright State forward Brandon Noel created plenty of buzz among coaches and teammates during preseason practice, and what he’s done so far has only elevated the hype.

He tallied a combined 45 points and 25 rebounds in three games off the bench at the Vegas 4 tourney last week. He’s shooting 68.6% — first in the Horizon League and 20th in the nation — and is averaging 11.9 points and a team-leading 7.0 boards.

The third-year freshman — he was redshirted twice because of a knee injury — even showed an ability to step out and knock down 3′s, making 4 of 7 in the last two games.

Asked if the event was Noel’s coming out party, coach Scott Nagy said: “The term is ‘coming into his own.’

“You play how you view yourself, and he’s starting to view himself as a pretty good player. And still, I don’t think he’s close to what he can be and what he’s going to be. Physically and athletically, he has abilities most people in the world just don’t have.”

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In recruiting vernacular, Noel is looking more and more like a mid-major steal and a high-major miss.

But Nagy won’t take credit for out-working other programs to land him. They actually didn’t have much competition.

“I’m pretty sure we were his only offer. (His commitment) happened pretty quick,” Nagy said.

If there has been a secret behind the Raiders’ resurgence — three HL regular-season titles and two tourney crowns in the last five years — it’s that Nagy and his staff clearly have a keen eye for talent.

Since the end of Nagy’s first year in 2016-17, the Raiders have had more selections on the league all-newcomer team than any other school.

They’ve had five in the last five years — Loudon Love, Malachi Smith, Tanner Holden, Grant Basile and A.J. Braun. And barring injury, Noel likely will make it six in six.

From 2017-22, Oakland and Green Bay had four each, and Northern Kentucky and Youngstown State three.

But the Raider rookies don’t just make a splash in their first seasons. They blossom into major-conference-caliber players.

Setting aside Braun, who’s in his second year as a starter, the others were good enough to transfer to schools at college basketball’s highest level.

Basile is averaging 14.1 points in his first season at Virginia Tech and is the team’s top 3-point shooter, going 19 of 44 for 43.2%. Holden is averaging 5.7 points at Ohio State and Smith 7.9 at Gonzaga.

Love wasn’t lured away despite numerous chances, choosing instead to leave the Raiders after four years for the NBA G League.

“Everybody says recruiting is about relationships, but you can have a great relationship with a kid, and if Ohio State comes through with an offer, he’s not going to Wright State,” said Nagy, who’s never forgotten how a coaching friend once summed up the Raiders’ strategy.

“He always thought what we’ve been doing better than anyone else is not out-recruiting people, but out-evaluating them,” Nagy said.

“Some of it is having an idea of who you are and what fits your system. It’s not hard to look at some kids and say, ‘He’s a great player, he’ll fit our system.’ Anybody can see that. It’s finding the guys that people maybe aren’t recruiting — we always call them ‘back-gym guys.’”

National AAU tournaments invariably attract a slew of celebrity coaches. But there are loads of teams and games at those events, and the players leading the way for lesser outfits are relegated to auxiliary courts. The back-gym guys.

“It’s not hard to go to the Nike AAU tournaments where it’s all the top kids. Those things are so over-recruited,” Nagy said. “It’s going to the back gyms where a kid is maybe on a smaller AAU program — like Trey Calvin was, like Loudon was, like Cole Gentry was.

“These guys didn’t play on monster AAU programs, but there are all kinds of good players there. They’re probably not as entitled, and they’re hungry — where some of these kids in great programs have been told how good they are, and they’re probably not as hungry.”

Calvin, a senior guard for the Raiders and a candidate for league player of the year, was lightly recruited out of suburban Chicago — probably because of his 6-foot, 165-pound frame.

His first D-I offer came from Wright State, which made a profound impression.

When other mid-majors tried to get involved — especially after he won a state 3-point-shooting contest — Calvin remembered who invested in him first.

After his commitment, he told the Chicago Tribune: “I feel like I landed in a good spot. I’d rather go where they wanted me right away and believed in me, instead of where I’m the second option.”

Nagy credits assistant Clint Sargant for discovering Noel at Chillicothe High School:

“Clint really locked in on him and saw some upside with him. And now all our players know it, too.

“Trey is coming over and saying, ‘Let’s run this play.’ And it’ll be a play for Brandon because he knows we’ve got a mismatch with him. (Opponents) can’t deal with him.”

Nagy expects that to continue, which will only bolster Noel’s confidence.

“When you see your point guard say, ‘Let’s run a play for him,’ it tells you what they’re thinking about you,” he said.

Nagy also is quick to point out Noel is a high-character player and an ideal fit for the Raiders’ culture.

Back-gym guys usually are.

“He’s a straight-A student and a chemistry major. He’s got a lot of things going for him,” he said.

THURSDAY’S GAME

Robert Morris at Wright State, 7 p.m., ESPN+, 980

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