At Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut, head coach Tom Espinosa saw five of his basketball players from this year’s team land with major Division I programs.
The first four were Malik Ondingo (Texas Tech), Darnell Brodie (Seton Hall), Alexis Yetna (South Florida) and former Central and Westside big man Kentrevious Jones (Xavier).
That would be 6-foot-8 forward Isaac Kante, who committed to Georgia on Tuesday afternoon. And Espinosa believes he is the best scorer of them all.
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“He can score the ball better than all of those guys,” Espinosa said. “He’s pretty polished. Does he still need to get better? Absolutely. But he can score the ball in a number of ways — up-and-under, good shot fakes, score on both sides of the rim. He’s pretty good. Of the five high-major picks, he was the most advanced one.”
Kante chose Georgia over St. John’s after a recruitment that didn’t pick up until his postgraduate season tipped off. Kante attended a high school in Brooklyn, New York, but only saw recruiting attention from low-major programs. A year at Putman Science Academy made a big difference for Kante when it came to his college options.
In addition to Georgia and St. John’s, Kante picked up offers from Georgetown, Kansas State, St. Bonaventure, DePaul and Duquesne.
Kante, who averaged 11 points and six rebounds per game this past season, signed his national letter-of-intent shortly after he announced his commitment.
“We really felt like we needed to add another frontline player,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. “Isaac is a strong, versatile player with a big motor. We’re very excited about him joining our team.”
Georgia ramped up the interest after the new year began with assistant coach Jonas Hayes becoming a point man in the program’s recruiting efforts.
Espinosa said Kante and Hayes hit it off and were able to form a valuable relationship that ultimately helped seal the deal for the Bulldogs.
“It’s a pretty good bond,” Espinosa said. “He’s a great guy, and it’s easy to jell with him and build a relationship. He’s an easy-going guy. I think their relationship continues to grow.”
Kante, a three-star prospect according to the 247Sports.com composite, is the fourth and potentially final member of Georgia’s recruiting haul of 2017. The Bulldogs previously inked forward Rayshaun Hammonds, forward Nicolas Claxton and guard Teshaun Hightower. Hammonds is a top-50 player nationally, Claxton is a tall wing who can shoot the outside jumper, and Hightower is a rangy point guard who can also play off of the ball.
Kante has been Georgia head coach Mark Fox’s top priority lately. Kante, along with the other three incoming freshmen, will replace seniors J.J. Frazier, Kenny Paul Geno, Houston Kessler and Brandon Young on the roster.
With Kante, the Bulldogs felt the need to add a post presence inside. As it stands, the Bulldogs will return big men Derek Ogbeide and Mike Edwards. Yante Maten declared for the NBA draft but did not sign with an agent. Maten has yet to make a final decision on whether he will remain in the draft or return for his senior season.
If Maten returns, that will be it for Georgia’s basketball recruiting class of 2017. If Maten stays in the draft, one name to watch to fill his spot will be Texas transfer Tevin Mack, who Georgia recruited heavily out of high school. Mack, who was suspended indefinitely by Texas and ultimately earned a release from his scholarship, has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
As for Kante, Espinosa said Georgia is getting an under-the-radar post player who works well with others.
“He can score the ball in a number of ways,” Espinosa said. “He’s deceiving with how athletic he is. He’s a great teammate, coachable, a great kid. He works hard. He brings a lot to the table. We’re going to miss him tremendously.”