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Rapolas Ivanauskas: What he means to Northwestern

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Northwestern hit on a huge recruit, and the recruiting momentum is up once again.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Rapolas Ivanauskas is a Northwestern Wildcat. The 6-foot-8 Barrington product is Northwestern's first commit of the Class of 2016, and he's a really good one at that. With an impressive highlight tape that shows his shooting and passing ability as well as a bevy of moves off the dribble, "Rap" (which is surely going to be one of several nicknames) can likely fit as a small forward or power forward for Chris Collins.

Securing Ivanauskas' commitment now is massive. It can't be understated. It's a coup for Collins. Multiple people have described Ivanauskas as a player who was about to 'blow up.' He's already climbed recruiting boards over the past year, but this summer and its AAU circuit would have brought more exposure, more eyes, more coaches of big time programs, and of course more offers. Schools like Wisconsin, Kansas and Indiana had been lurking. Over the summer, some of them likely would've pounced. That's why it was crucial for Collins to make Ivanauskas such a priority and make him feel wanted right now. Assuming he honors his commitment, there's a chance Ivanauskas could come to Northwestern as the highest rated recruit in program history.

Ivanauskas' commitment also changes Northwestern's recruiting trajectory for the next year, and there is certainly some work to do. First, though, we look at the team right now. Verbal Commits shows Northwestern's current scholarship availability in this chart:

A couple things to note about the chart above:

  • All names in blue are current high schoolers who have some interest in Northwestern
  • Bryant McIntosh is listed as a shooting guard, not a point guard
  • Dererk Pardon has formally signed his Letter of Intent

There are two major things that stand out: There are no true point guards behind McIntosh. Tre Demps and/or Jordan Ash will likely run the show when McIntosh sits, but Collins will certainly be looking for a 2016 point guard. Additionally, both Alex Olah and Joey van Zegeren will be gone after this year, and a true big man will be a pressing need. Ivanauskas and Gavin Skelly project as power forwards, and it remains to be seen whether Pardon has the size to play the five.

Ivanauskas is rated anywhere from two stars to four stars depending on the website you look at. But that reflects the fact that he's been trending up. And stars can't show you that he chose Northwestern over Purdue and Iowa, who had both offered, and all of the following schools that had shown interest:

Shortly before his commitment, Ivanauskas had talked about how dedicated Northwestern had been in its recruitment of him. Collins' and assistant coach Armon Gates' commitment will be key as they pursue another big man and another point guard to back up (and eventually succeed) Bryant McIntosh.

So who's on the radar? Barrett Benson, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound center from nearby Hinsdale is a major 2016 target who has shown quite some interest. At point guard, Xavier Simpson holds interest, but Northwestern would have to wrestle him away from the likes of Xavier, Iowa and Purdue.

Both are far from sure things -- in fact, 247 Sports doesn't favor Northwestern to land either one at this point -- but that's why the Ivanauskas commitment is such a big deal. The Barrington, Ill. product is an early cornerstone for this recruiting class, and this gives Collins and company a lot of time to pursue other major recruits. With two open spots to play with currently and one solid commitment already, Chris Collins has Northwestern not only competing with, but beating out other Big Ten schools for highly-rated high schoolers. High school prospects will see that and be impressed. If Benson and Simpson follow Ivanauskas, Wildcats fans everywhere should be very satisfied.