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Where will Collins turn next after Gaines commitment?

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There are a few options open.

NCAA Basketball: Loyola-Maryland at Northwestern Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Northwestern men’s basketball team received a desperately needed boost on the recruiting front by securing the commitment of 3-star shooting guard Anthony Gaines. The New Hampshire native is the team’s first addition from the class of 2017, and was a vital capture for the Wildcats after swinging-and-missing on a series of highly-touted 4-star prospects. With Gaines now confirmed to be headed to Evanston next fall, Coach Chris Collins and his staff must now turn their attention towards filling the one open scholarship spot that remains for their next incoming class.

As far as official offers go, the Wildcats currently have just two extended to 2017 prospects. The recipients of these offers are a pair of 6-foot-8 wings from the Northeast, Buffalo’s Jordan Nwora and Connecticut’s Aaron Wheeler.

Of all the prospects on Northwestern’s radar, Nwora is clearly the crown jewel. A 4-star and the No. 2 player in the state of New York (per 247Sports), he is a prolific scorer who is blessed with a refined and diverse offensive game, as well as a 6’8”, 220-pound, Big 10-ready body. The ‘Cats coaching staff has doggedly pursued him since the early phases of the 2017 recruiting process, and extended an offer to him back in mid-June after his unofficial visit to campus. According to Nwora himself, 30-35 other schools have also tabled offers his way. The good news for Northwestern is that the list of competitors for his talents has been whittled down to just eleven after the ‘Cats survived the Vermont Academy standout’s first official cutdown of his list on Monday. Rick Pitino and Louisville, who are equally hot on Nwora’s tail, are widely considered the front-runners to secure his commitment, but it appears as if Collins and Co. are not being left too far in their wake.

The Wildcats’ interest in Wheeler is more of a recent development. Until last month, the two parties had barely been linked by any source, but just in the last few weeks, 247Sports has reported that Collins has gone to watch Wheeler play in person, visited with him, and extended an offer. No other reports confirm these claims, but regardless it appears that interest between Wheeler and Northwestern is percolating.

On the floor, Wheeler is incredibly raw but has tantalizing potential. His freakish wingspan, smooth stride, and impeccable leaping ability make him a shot-blocking force and a menace in transition, but he will have to do a lot of work to build his wiry frame and fine-tune his inconsistent jump shot if he wants to excel when the game slows down. However, potential should be what catches coaches’ eyes first and foremost when they drop down into the 3-star level on their recruiting boards, and the fact that Wheeler has attracted interest from such programs as Virginia, Villanova, Syracuse, Kansas, Purdue, and Notre Dame certainly backs up that claim. However, of those schools, only Purdue has pulled the trigger on an offer, and in present company (Creighton, St. Louis, St. Joseph’s, Rhode Island, and Providence), the Wildcats look well positioned to compete for the lanky swingman’s signature.

If the ship were to sail and Nwora and Wheeler, it is likely that Coach Collins would continue his pursuit of wing athletes and wing scorers, with Indiana native Zach Gunn looking like he would be the next in line to receive an offer. Somewhat of an undersized 3-man at 6-foot-6, Gunn’s primary skill set is his shooting. He is an elite marksman from long range with a sweet left-handed stroke off the catch to go along with an effective mid-range pull-up game. At this point, Gunn does lack lateral quickness and explosion and may not have the requisite size and strength to have success in the paint at the college level, but his overall arsenal of ways in which he can score the basketball is impressive. He has not generated a lot of buzz outside of the state of Indiana, but among the five offers he has picked up are Butler and Indiana, where he has taken multiple unofficial visits.

Another player on the radar is Gunn’s fellow Indiana 3-star Tyler Plummer. Interestingly, the well-built 2-guard from La Porte fits into a similar mold of player as Northwestern’s incumbent class of 2017 commit Gaines. They are both 6-foot-4 and both are elite defenders who have some refining to do of their offensive games. Where Gaines is more of an explosive off-the-ball player who is likely to guard wings and excel on the glass and in transition, Plummer is more of a below-the-rim, terrier-like player with a slick handle and an ability to lock down lead guards. Gaines is likely the better prospect overall, but Plummer looks as if he would be a terrific complement in the backcourt. Plummer has yet to receive any offers, but has generated a fair amount of interest outside of his region. He has made it clear that top flight academics are paramount in making his college decision, which bodes well for Northwestern, Harvard, and Stanford, who are showing the keenest interest in his talents along with DePaul.

Sliding down from the wing and into the post, another prospect catching the attention of the Wildcats’ staff is 3-star center Zach Kent from Delaware. Although an offer has not yet been made by Northwestern, Coach Collins did take the time to scout him in person on Wednesday (per 247Sports), and may be looking to add to the 14 offer sheets that Kent has already collected. Among those 14 schools are programs such as Oregon, Notre Dame and Maryland, and considering that the big man with the soft touch is rated as a particularly high 3-star talent, it may be a long shot for Northwestern to become serious players this late in the game.

However, the more options the better for Coach Collins and his staff, and with the commitment of Gaines and one scholarship remaining for 2017, the Wildcats have options moving forward for the first time. It is safe to say that the most dire straits of this recruiting cycle has been navigated, and it will be interesting to see who out of these five prospects fills in the final piece of the puzzle.