- David Jablonski Staff Writer
Nine players will join the Wittenberg Tigers men’s basketball team as part of 2017 recruiting class, second-year head coach Matt Croci announced this week. All nine are from Ohio.
The most intriguing name on the list is the only player who doesn’t have four years of eligibility remaining. Centerville High School grad Mitch Balser, a 6-foot junior guard, is a transfer from Wooster, Wittenberg’s longtime North Coast Athletic Conference rival.
Centerville coach Brook Cupps, who Croci has known since he was in high school, reached out to Croci to gauge his interest in Balser.
“Mitch was kind of looking for a change in scenery,” Croci said.
Balser started for Wooster’s Elite Eight team as a freshman in 2016, averaging 9.1 points and 3.1 assists per game. Last season, he averaged 6.7 points and 3.0 assists.
“He had a little injury last year, which slowed him down,” Croci said. “He’s just tough as nails and an unbelievable competitor. Both of those things are going to be pretty important for us to continue to improve.”
Two other players who could contribute as freshman are Rashaad Ali-Shakir, a 6-2 guard who scored 1,276 points in his career at Purcell Marian, and James Johnson, a 6-6 forward from Roger Bacon who averaged 13 points and 6 rebounds last season.
“Rashaad is the all-time leading 3-point shooter in the history of the (Great Catholic League),” Croci said. “That’s a big deal. Rashaad can really shoot it. Great kid. James is kind of a face-up forward. He can play inside-out. He can shoot from 3. He rebounds really well. Both of those guys will be instant-impact players.”
Ali-Shakir graduated from high school in 2016 and then went to Wright State as a preferred walk-on. When Billy Donlon lost his job, Ali-Shakir was told by the new coaching staff there wasn’t a spot for him, Croci said. He will have four years of eligibility at Wittenberg.
Croci heard about Ali-Shakir while recruiting Johnson, who was Wittenberg’s top recruiting target since last September. Ali-Shakir and Johnson were good friends in high school.
For Croci, the most important fact about the group is the players know what it takes to win.
“Seven of the nine guys have played in a district final game,” he said. “Six of the nine guys have play in the regional. Two played in the state championship game last year. We were really looking for guys that were part of winning programs. We feel we got that. We were also looking for guys that were skilled offensively. We need to improve our offensive skill level. We feel we did that with this group.”
Here’s a quick look at the other six players:
Landon Martin, Columbus Africentric: The 6-2 guard averaged 22 points as a senior.
Jordan Nash, New Alabany: The 6-1 guard shot 43 percent from 3-point range.
Ryan Peaks, Columbus DeSales: The 5-9 guard ranked fourth in career assists and steals at his high school.
Adam Porter, Wellington School: The 6-5 forward played for a state runner-up team in 2017. He averaged 10 points and 7 rebounds.
Griffin Sattler, Perrysburg: The 5-11 guard averaged 7.6 assists per game.
Jordan Welch, Waterford: The 6-3 guard made the All-Ohio first team in 2017. He averaged 14.2 points per game, 8.6 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in the regular season.