3 recruits sign, help UT strengthen regional base


It forever will be known to Tod Kowalczyk as the Sunday Trifecta.

All of the energy he and his coaching staff put into placing phone calls, dissecting highlight tapes, and driving to and from games materialized this summer when the University of Toledo men’s basketball team filled out its recruiting class in a matter of hours.

Guards Jordan Lauf and Jonathan Williams and post Zach Garber committed to the Rockets on June 24, blessing Kowalczyk with a signature class in his third season as coach. Those three made their intentions official Wednesday, the first day prospects were allowed to sign a National Letter of Intent with a college program.

"I’ve never seen anything like it," Kowalczyk said in his first comments about a class he says fulfilled his recruiting wish list. "That’s a day I’ll always remember and one I think really elevated our program."

Toledo women’s coach Tricia Cullop also secured three players Wednesday.

Napoleon’s Lauf (6-foot-5, 190 pounds) projects to play shooting guard or small forward, two positions that are virtually interchangeable in Kowalczyk’s system. A Division II second-team all state selection, he led the Northern Lakes League last year in scoring with 21.9 points and ranked second in rebounding with 9.8. Garber (6-9, 225), his AAU teammate, will play power forward or center. A second-team all state honoree in Division IV, the Vanlue product averaged 19.7 points and 12.4 rebounds.

Respected recruiting analyst John Stovall ranks Garber Ohio’s No. 8 overall prospect in this year’s class and tabs Lauf No. 14.

Landing two of the premier talents in northwest Ohio is a major coup for a program that has struggled historically to build a fence around the area.

"That’s a priority for us," Kowalczyk said. "There are some exceptional high school programs and high school coaches in northwest Ohio, as well as southeastern Michigan. We want to make Toledo option No. 1 for those local guys. We’re always going to target the best possible student athletes from this area and pursue them."

Williams, who hails just 75 minutes away in suburban Detroit, was first-team Class A last season at Southfield-Lathrup after averaging 28.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. At 6-3 and 180 pounds, he projects to be a combo guard and can score in a variety of ways.

With all three signings, Toledo established itself as a recruiting threat by beating out many of the top programs in the Mid-American Conference.

"What really helped us was gaining so much respect last year, not just regionally, but nationally," Kowalczyk said. "The future of our program was bright and it allowed us to paint an even brighter future to these recruits."

For the UT women, replenishing Toledo’s frontcourt was Cullop’s priority in this class. She signed 6-3 forward Sophie Reecher (Byron, Ill.), 6-1 guard/forward Olivia Braun (Racine, Wis.), and 5-11 guard Lindsay Baker (Warsaw, Ind.).

The Rockets will lose post players Yolanda Richardson, Lecretia Smith, and Kyle Baumgartner after this season, and Brianna Jones after next.

Reecher averaged 17 points, nine rebounds, and two blocked shots last year, and she maintains a 3.9 grade-point average.

"She has a great future ahead of her," Cullop said. "We watched her go against a lot of strong post players this summer, and every time I watched her play I got excited about her future."

Braun, who can play multiple positions, did a little of everything last year in averaging 12.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 3.2 blocked shots, and 3.1 steals.

Baker averaged 14.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 2.6 steals, and shot 45 percent from beyond the arc. A member of the National Honor Society, she boasts a 12.0 grade-point average on a 12.0 scale.

"I really like this class," Cullop said. "Not only did we get really quality basketball players, but we got outstanding people."

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