Tulane is the only Division I school that offered Sophie B. Wright small forward Charlie Russell a scholarship, but Wright coach Jason Bertrand insists the move will amount to much more than just a reach for a local player.
“Mark my words,” he said. “He’s going to be the biggest steal of the 2019 class.”
Russell, a 6-foot-7 double-double machine, averaged 17.2 and 11 rebounds as a senior. Sophie B. Wright earned the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A playoffs before losing to perennial power Madison Prep in the semifinals.
Bertrand said new Tulane coach Ron Hunter began looking into Russell less than a week after his introductory press conference, with assistant Kevin Johnson playing a role, too, after coming over from UL-Lafayette. Clearly, they liked what they saw.
“He’s a lanky kid, he’s extremely athletic and he can defend four different positions,” Bertrand said. “He shoots the ball extremely well from behind the arc. He’s what I would call the common-day 3 and D. He’s the new type of wing/forward. Tulane is getting a hard-working kid who has a chip on his shoulder.”
So how did a high-profile player on a high-profile team slip through the cracks on the recruiting circuit? Bertrand, who said Russell had just below 10 tentative offers coming out of his junior season, blamed a groin injury he sustained a month before participating in an AAU camp last July.
“He probably should not have gone out there and played,” he said. “He wasn’t 100 percent, so then he got labeled as inconsistent, a question mark, a red flag. How can you judge a kid off a weekend of basketball and throw away the fact this year he had eight games where he scored over 30 points and had 10 double-digit block games?
Russell joins R.J. McGee, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Chicago, in Tulane’s 2019-20 class. The Wave also picked up Georgia transfer Teshaun Hightower, another 6-foot-5 guard, who will become eligible in 2020-21, and could be in the running for a high-profile transfer.
CBS college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein tweeted that former Kansas forward K.J. Lawson visited Tulane Thursday as a potential graduate transfer.
Lawson, a 6-foot-8 forward, began his career at Memphis along with his brother, Dedric Lawson, averaging 8.8 points as a freshman and 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds as a sophomore in 2016-17. Both of them transferred to Kansas, but while Dedric excelled this past season, averaging 19.4 points and 10.3 rebounds, K.J. averaged 3.1 points in 9.9 minutes.
Dedric Lawson declared for the NBA draft after the season. K.J. Lawson entered the transfer portal.
Regardless of what happens there, Hunter’s roster makeover is well under way after he inherited a 4-27 team from former coach Mike Dunleavy. Tulane lists nine returning players, but most of them are tenuous.
Sources said freshman guard Connor Crabtree almost certainly would transfer after he lined up visits to Richmond, Boise State and Nevada in May.
Leading scorer Caleb Daniels, a St. Augustine product, declared for the NBA draft and entered the transfer portal but left open the option of returning.
Second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Samir Sehic declared for the draft, too, tweeting he wanted to play professionally in the United States or abroad, although he has continued to work out at Tulane’s practice facility.
Other possible returners include point guards Jordan Walker, a Seton Hall transfer who sat out the season as per NCAA rules, and Ray Ona Embo, a starter in 2017-18 who missed the year due to patellar tendinitis, along with freshman forward Kevin Zhang, a touted recruit who started 16 times and averaged 6.5 points. Zhang scored 23 or more three times but had only three other games in double figures.
Reserves Shakwon Barrett, Buay Koka and Bul Ajang round out the list, but all three might not be back as Hunter moves forward with players like Russell, a four-year starter who earned second-team All-State honors from The Advocate. He was Sophie B. Wright’s third-leading scorer behind a pair of first-team All-State performers—Gregory Hammonds (20.2 ppg), who signed with Rhode Island, and Damiree Burns (18.4 ppg), who signed with Southern.
Bertrand said Russell’s only other offers this year were from Division II and NAIA levels plus some elite prep schools. Still, he expects him to make an impact at Tulane right away, playing well above his recruiting ranking. He compared his game to a much more highly recruited local prospect who played for Tulane recently—Melvin Frazier.
Frazier just finished his rookie year in the NBA with the Orlando Magic, which picked him in the second round of the draft.
“He’s like Melvin,” Bertrand said. “He makes signature plays. I saw Charlie windmill on people. Other kids who have footage like that are 4-star recruits.”