On Sunday afternoon, Northwestern basketball’s 2018 recruiting class got off to an encouraging hot start in the form of Missouri point guard Jordan Lathon. After nearly striking out with the 2017 class, the Wildcats are on the board early — and are hoping that this is just the beginning.
In landing Lathon, Northwestern has addressed a major need. With Isiah Brown looking a ways away from being a Big Ten-caliber starting point guard, it’s no secret that Chris Collins needed to add a floor general (and preferably a highly-rated one) in this class to help replace Bryant McIntosh. Securing an early commitment from the late-rising but extremely talented Lathon allows the coaching staff to breathe a little easier going forward.
We’ve speculated about potential members of this class, especially potential B-Mac replacements, for the past few months, and for the majority of that time, Lathon’s name was nowhere to be found. The top targets were Morgan Park star Ayo Dosunmu and Massachusetts native Cormac Ryan, both top-70 players nationally. Then, out of nowhere, Lathon’s name popped onto the map when he received a Northwestern offer on May 24th. Almost exactly a month later, Lathon made his decision shortly after visiting campus, instantly helping assuage the pain of losing out on Ryan to Stanford and the anxiety of having to pull Dosunmu away from the likes of Illinois, Kansas, and Butler.
But let me make one thing very clear: Lathon is no backup plan.
Not only is this an important get for Collins and his staff, it’s also an impressive one. Lathon, a four-star recruit according to 247 Sports’ composite rankings, immediately becomes the fifth-highest rated Northwestern commit in the modern recruiting era.
There was some serious competition for Lathon’s services, too. Making up the other four schools in his top five were an in-state rival (Illinois), a solid ACC program (Wake Forest), an established Big East power (Butler), and a basketball-crazy Big 12 school (Iowa State). In the end, it came down to the Wildcats or the Cyclones, Lathon told Rivals after committing. That Northwestern could make up for certain disadvantages to land its point guard almost instantaneously is another sign of how far things have come in Evanston.
"It really came down to Iowa State and Northwestern. Turning down playing in front of 14,000 in the Big 12 is very tough. But, just knowing where I’m going and knowing my comfort level with them it feels like a great decision.”
It’s also worth noting that this is the first recruiting benefit of Northwestern’s 2017 NCAA Tournament appearance.
“Knowing that they made it to that level and now they are trying to take it to the next step," said Lathon. "Their pitch is that they need somebody like me and other players to take it to next level and I liked that.”
Because he only recently became a highly-touted prospect, we don’t know too much about Lathon’s game. He doesn’t have any YouTube mixtapes, just a few single-game highlights on Hudl. However, a glimpse into those highlights gives you a good idea of how the 6-foot-4, 190 pound Lathon ended up as a four-star recruit.
The biggest thing that stands out is the athleticism. Lathon can jump out of the gym, whether that’s for defensive rebounds or putback dunks, as you’ll see in the videos below.
Lathon should provide more help in the rebounding department than McIntosh does, and he projects as an above-average, if not elite defender at the position. Four of the nine videos on his Hudl page are focused on steals, and they show a player with great footwork and instincts, not to mention athleticism and length. McIntosh has turned himself into a capable defender, but he’s always been offense-first and hasn’t even finished in the top 20 in the Big Ten in steals in any of his three years. Lathon’s upside on that side of the ball is enticing.
Where he’s still likely a project is on the offensive end. From what I can see, Lathon has great speed in the open floor and is an adept finisher around the rim. The unknowns are shooting range and the ability to facilitate and lead an offense, but there’s no need to worry about that now; Lathon won’t make his collegiate debut for nearly 17 months.
The point guard from Grandview, MO, isn’t short on potential. But the fact that Northwestern filled a major need with a four-star player isn’t the only reason Lathon’s commitment is big.
After assembling consecutive strong classes in 2015 and 2016 to follow up on his 2014 coup, the 2017 class obviously didn’t go the way Collins hoped. He missed out on targets left and right, ending up with just a single signee, albeit a solid one in three-star wing Anthony Gaines. The only way such a disappointing, small haul (not to mention losing 3⁄4 of that ‘14 class to graduation next summer) is survivable is if Collins puts together a dynamite 2018 class, and getting Lathon is the first step towards doing that.
Last year, Northwestern didn’t get on the board until Gaines committed in September. That meant that all summer long, as the Wildcats competed in recruiting battles, they couldn’t sell players on joining anyone already in the class. That’s why getting Lathon to commit in June is huge for Collins. He has an early building block, and a point guard that wings or big men might want to come play with.
Oh, and Lathon can join in on the recruiting effort too. According to Teddy Greenstein, Lathon has already started reaching out to players, including his friend Talen Horton-Tucker, a Chicago wing who’s considering many of the top programs in the Midwest, including Northwestern and Illinois.
He pledged to work his phone Sunday night, texting prospects like his friend, Talen Horton-Tucker. The Simeon wing is ranked sixth in the state, but Lathon is among those who feel he’s underrated.
The Wildcats and Illini are dueling for Horton-Tucker, who took unofficial visits last week to both Evanston and Champaign.
“I think he is the best player in Illinois,” Lathon said. “He told me he’s the best player in Illinois. I don’t think he will go to Illinois. I’m gonna hit him up after we get off the phone.”
Lathon’s commitment probably takes fellow point guard Dosunmu off the table, but there are still plenty of available pieces out there that could make up a dangerous 2018 class over the next few months. In addition to Horton-Tucker, some names to watch are Pete Nance, Miller Kopp, Dwayne Cohill, Saddiq Bey, and Riley Battin.
Still, it starts with one. Much like Vic Law in the summer of 2013, Jordan Lathon is a big-time athlete with which to start a recruiting class. Now, Northwestern just needs its first commitment to lead to more like it did four years ago.