Outstanding class weighs options

4/15/2012
BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Bedford’s Jackson Lamb averaged 21.8 points but is also getting offers to play baseball.
Bedford’s Jackson Lamb averaged 21.8 points but is also getting offers to play baseball.

On the same day he unveiled his 2012 recruiting class last week, University of Toledo basketball coach Tod Kowalczyk was in his office making plans to attend AAU tournaments showcasing prospects for next year's class.

That he and his assistants will travel across state lines -- many of them, perhaps -- to evaluate a handful of players who reside within a short distance of their basketball offices at Savage Arena is a bit ironic.

Now juniors, a class that has elicited much hoopla since their freshman season has caught the attention of the Rockets coaching staff.

In the upcoming months, Whitmer's Nigel Hayes, Napoleon's Jordan Lauf, Bedford's Jackson Lamb, and Bowling Green's Vitto Brown, are expected to make their college decisions. All of them, along with Vanlue's Zach Garber, have been offered scholarships by UT.

"I can confirm that we are actively recruiting all five of those guys," Kowalczyk said.

Two other members of the class are off the board, as Marc Loving of St. John's Jesuit committed to Ohio State long ago and Mark Donnal of Anthony Wayne accepted an offer from Michigan last summer.

UT will take advantage of a new NCAA rule the next two weekends that allows college coaches to attend offseason tournaments in April. Travel itineraries at UT likely will include watching All-Ohio Red, an AAU team consisting of Loving, Hayes, Lauf, and Garber.

All of the uncommitted prospects indicated they will see what interest they attract in the spring and summer before selecting a school.

Garber, a 6-foot-9 center, averaged 19.7 points and 12.1 rebounds last year, and according to former Vanlue coach Jeff Kloepfer, "Toledo's where he's leaning right now."

Nigel Hayes averaged 13.4 points and led Whitmer to the Division I state championship game.
Nigel Hayes averaged 13.4 points and led Whitmer to the Division I state championship game.

With perhaps four scholarships available in the 2013 class, Kowalczyk could fill up on local talent, giving UT an influx of talent and a public relations splash.

Central Catholic's Deontae Cole and the Rogers duo of Tony Kynard and Clemmye Owens are possible recruits to Division I colleges, making the 2013 class perhaps the best ever in northwest Ohio.

"There have been other good classes in the area," Whitmer coach Bruce Smith said, "but they haven't had the exposure this class has had."

Bowling Green State University coach Louis Orr, who declined an interview through a spokesman, citing an apprehension to speak about unsigned recruits, has offered a scholarship to hometown prospect Brown and has expressed interest in Lauf.

Kowalczyk and Orr are crossing their fingers bigger programs don't swoop into the area.

More than meets the eye

In the classroom, Whitmer's Hayes has a 4.1 grade-point average, while on the court he averaged 13.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game last season. One of those numbers is more impressive than the other.

His coach, Smith, contends that anyone who judges Hayes merely by his statistics is missing the point.

"He could have averaged 23 points a game, but we wouldn't have been 24-3 if he had done that," said Smith, whose team advanced to the Division I state final, where it fell to Pickerington Central.

At 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds, and with guard skills, Hayes could end up at a major college program. ESPN rates him Ohio's fifth best player in this class, behind No. 1 Loving and No. 3 Donnal.

Thus far he has elicited offers from Cincinnati, Xavier, Dayton, Central Michigan, and UT, and Smith said tournaments the next two weekends are "very, very big for him."

Based on the prestige of other suitors, UT won't be favored to land Hayes -- but that's not a given, his coach said.

"I think the world of Tod Kowalczyk. He's a heck of a basketball coach," Smith said. "Until Nigel narrows it down, I'd say yes, they absolutely have a chance."

Two-sport possibility

Whereas Hayes is determined to play basketball in college, bypassing any overtures from football coaches, Bedford's Lamb is wavering between basketball and baseball.

The 6-6, 190-pound all-state honoree in basketball averages 21.8 points and 10 rebounds. He is also a prolific pitcher and center fielder.

UT and Akron, along with Central Michigan and Ohio before they made basketball coaching changes, offered Lamb the option to play both sports.

"I think that would be very hard to do in college," he said. "I don't know if I could balance that with school."

Lamb is currently doing a balancing act, playing baseball for Bedford and -- unlike previous springs -- basketball for the AAU squad Michigan Mustangs.

Go big or go MAC

Bowling Green’s Vitto Brown averages 19.2 points and has offers from UT and BGSU.
Bowling Green’s Vitto Brown averages 19.2 points and has offers from UT and BGSU.

Bowling Green's Brown has offers from Boston University and Mid-American Conference programs UT, BG, Kent State, and Central Michigan, but "I want to go higher than that."

The 6-8 Brown (19.2 points, 11.9 rebounds) hopes an impressive showing this month will draw attention from high-major programs, ones from the Big Ten, Atlantic Coast Conference, and Big East.

Ranked No. 12 in the state, Brown is participating on two AAU teams, Spiece Indy Heat from Fort Wayne and Cincinnati Phenoms. A matchup against All-Ohio Red, the team consisting of Loving, Hayes, Lauf, and Garber, might induce sensory overload in Kowalczyk.

"It's pretty sweet having them all around," Brown said. "It gives you something to work for because Marc Loving is at the top right now. That's kind of the gauge that you need to work for."

Taking it slow

Lauf is Napoleon's first D-I recruit in more than 30 years, and like Tim Reiser in 1980 and Barry Sonnenberg in 1981, he could end up at UT.

Such a decision would be made months from now, Lauf said, as he will continue to keep his options open. Albany is his only other D-I offer.

"I don't want to fall into loving one school right off the bat because I know going into my senior year there could be a lot of doors opening," Lauf said.

The 6-5 guard led the Northern Lakes League in scoring with 21.9 points -- outpacing Donnal and Brown -- and was second with 9.6 rebounds.

He visited UT during the recent season, watching a game alongside Garber. Those two might end up being college teammates at UT, giving Kowalczyk a huge coup from an area recruiting scene that's as appealing as it has ever been.

"They want to recruit locally, and they want to keep the focus here in northwest Ohio to where it's big for fans," Lauf said.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.