- Travis Ford came into the Saint Louis job with a mission: Recruit local talent. So far, his recruiting strategy is paying dividends.
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It is no surprise for Travis Ford to have success on the recruiting trail. The longtime coach brought in many talented players to Oklahoma State during his time in Stillwater. However, the first-year boss is now showing just how skilled a recruiter he is as he has the St. Louis Billikens bringing in quality players at an unprecedented pace.
The most recent bit of big news came on Wednesday when highly touted Class of 2018 prospect Carte'Are Gordon picked the Billikens over Missouri and Kansas. Gordon, who ranks as the No. 41 prospect in his class, represents a major win for Ford.
Ford not only beat some heavy hitters in the recruitment, but he also kept another local St. Louis-area kid home. This is on the heels of landing St. Louis-area star Jordan Goodwin; the No. 51 prospect in the 2017 class picked the Billikens over Illinois and Missouri.
About his decision to play for Ford, Goodwin said, “It means a lot staying close to home and getting a chance to play in front of friends and family. With Cart’Are committing a lot of people are talking about SLU, and it is just a special thing to be a part of right now.”
Before Ford got the job, St. Louis wasn’t even really on Goodwin’s list. It seemed that Illinois and Missouri were the clear top two for Goodwin, with schools such as Butler and Michigan State coming on strong.
“Coach Ford just broke it down to me in a lot of areas,” Goodwin said. “He showed me the ways he could make my game better, and just how he would help me as a person and as a basketball player."
Obviously Ford has been thrilled with the recruiting start, and recruiting locally has been a big part of that. Ford knew when he got the job that there was plenty of talent in the area, and he and his staff targeted their home base from Day 1
“There have been a lot of great players who have gotten out here in recent years,” said Ford of the St. Louis area. “Honestly I don’t think there has been much of an emphasis here to lock down the St. Louis area and develop the needed relationships with the AAU and high school programs.”
Ford continued, “Since the day we got here, we’ve let it be known to everybody that our top priority was going to be recruiting in the St. Louis area. We’ve made it a priority, and we’ve really emphasized it.”
According to Ford, not only does he think that SLU can provide a great opportunity for kids to play in front of their friends and family, but the university itself makes it easy for kids to want to stay close.
“I think players are wanting to stay close to home because of everything that we can provide,” noted Ford. “Playing in front of family is always appealing, but when you combine that with the facilities that we have, the great campus that we have, and the academics at the school, there are just great reasons to stay close to home."
Hughes was a McDonald’s All-American in 1997 and committed to play for the school and then coach Charlie Spoonhour.
Now Goodwin, who hails from the same high school as Lisch, is hoping his name ends up mentioned with the local stars who have helped take St. Louis to another level on the basketball court.
“That would be a great compliment to mentioned with Larry Hughes,” said Goodwin. “If people were to look at me like that it would be a huge accomplishment. My goals are of course to make the NBA, but I also want to be known as a player who stayed home and helped bring St. Louis back.”
But even with the focus in St. Louis, the Billikens have also brought in some notable recruits from around the country.
Transfers from Javon Bess, an Ohio native who started at Michigan State, and Adonys Henriquez, a Florida native who started at UCF, chose St. Louis this off-season and will be eligible to compete starting in the 2017–18 season.
The Billikens also nabbed a commitment from Hasahn French. French, who attends prep school in Massachusetts and is originally from New York, had offers from schools such as Marquette, Minnesota and Massachusetts, but in the end he committed to Ford’s program.
French, who wan with the high-powered PSA Cardinals program during the spring and summer, was a top priority for Ford since he got the job.
“They basically targeted Hasahn from the day they got the job,” said PSA Cardinals assistant coach Mark Carter. “Travis Ford or assistant coach Van Macon were at every one of our games this spring and summer. Also while most coaches were in Las Vegas at the end of July, Ford was in Kansas City watching all of our games. That just showed the commitment they had to Hasahn and how much they wanted him to be a part of program.”
That individualized attention is something that Ford did on purpose. At some of his other stops he had to bring in huge first recruiting classes, but not this time around.
“We only had a few scholarships to give,” said Ford. “At some of my other jobs had to bring in five, six or seven guys in my first year, but here that wasn’t the case.”
He continued, “I’ve been a college head coach for 20 years, and I’ve probably not concentrated on four or five guys who could be difference-makers for our program like I did this summer. We just really locked in on those guys who we felt could be difference makers, let them know they were a priority, and put in the work we could do to get them.”
With the transfers of Bess and Henriquez, and the additions of highly touted prospects such as Goodwin and French for next year, and Gordon for 2018, the recruiting strategy seems to be working for Ford.
Though the Billikens were picked last in the Atlantic 10 SI's projections this year, the rebuild looks like it will be a short one, as the reinforcements are beginning to arrive in a big way.