FREE: The Hilltop Review

FREE: The Hilltop Review

Check out this week's FREE Hilltop Review with the latest news & recruiting updates on SMU football and basketball.

Class of 2015 big man picks up SMU offer

By: Omar Majzoub

As soon as the NCAA’s designated ‘quiet period’ for recruiting ended, the SMU coaching staff began offering numerous talented players from all over the country.

One of those recruits is class of 2015 big man Kerry Blackshear from Evans HS in Orlando, FL.

Blackshear is a three-star power forward and the No. 21 rated player at his position on Scout. At 6-foot-9 and 217 pounds, the member of the Q6 All-Stars averaged 14 points and nine rebounds last season as a junior.

Blackshear was offered by SMU through his father and hasn’t spoke with the coaches yet, but had very positive things to say about Larry Brown and company.

“I think it’s a great school,” he said. “It’s a program that is on the rise and has great coaching with Larry Brown. It’s in Texas, so the location is nice. It’s just a great school.”

Blackshear lost his phone last week and hadn’t been able to contact coaches until he recently got a new one. Although he is yet to talk to the Mustangs, the big man took it as an honor to be recruited by a Hall of Fame head coach.

“It feels really good,” Blackshear said. “I know he is somebody who pushes his players and has NBA experience. He knows what he’s doing, so that would be nice.”

Blackshear has never visited SMU and isn’t very familiar with the program, but hopes to learn more about it soon. He currently holds offers from Clemson, Kansas State, USF, UCF, Miami, Georgia, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, and more.

“I would say my strength is my versatility on the offensive and defensive end,” Blackshear said. “I try to be as valuable to the team as possible on both sides. I’ll do whatever is needed to win.”

Although he wasn’t keeping up with coaches, Blackshear has still worked hard on his game this summer. He is a terrific post player, but says he has a lot of room to grow before playing in college.

“I need to get stronger, so I can play at the next level,” Blackshear explained. “I have been playing a lot this summer and trying to stay in the weight room and gym as much as possible.”

Kearns sets visit date, eyes big senior year

By: Patrick Engel

Kyle Kearns was SMU’s fourth commit for the Class of 2015, and since he pulled the trigger in early June, he has been working out and talking to his future coaches and teammates. He said he has kept in consistent contact with SMU quarterbacks coach Dan Morrison, who was his primary recruiter.

“We’ve been planning when my official visit is going to be. I think as it stands right now, I will go to the TCU game (on September 27),” Kearns said.

Kearns likely will not be the only SMU commit at the TCU game. He and wide receiver James Proche have been planning to visit together.

“James and I have been able to talk a bunch, and he’s an awesome guy” Kearns said. “He’s already talked about being roommates, so I have to get down there soon and hang out with him.”

The two have quickly become friends, but they have may have to battle for one thing: the right to don number eight for the Mustangs.

“We both wear number eight, so we are going to have to do something to see who gets number eight. He wants to play one-on-one basketball, but I have to find something that’s a sure bet that I win,” Kearns joked.

Kearns will be the Foothill High School (Pleasanton, Calif.) starter for the third straight season, and said he has been preparing for the upcoming season nearly every day this summer, both with his teammates and with his quarterback coach, Adam Tafralis. He says that he has focused on his footwork this summer.

“Our [offensive] line at Foothill is notorious for being a little bit undersized, so I always have to be able to move in the pocket and extend plays with my feet,” Kearns said.

One of Kearns’ teammates is Isaiah Langley, Scout’s 9th-best cornerback in the country, who had an SMU offer. Langley committed to Southern California to play cornerback, but he is also a threat on offense.

“He’s a deep threat, so if I can get time and let him get down field, good things are going to happen. [I want] to keep the play alive and give him time to get downfield.”

Kearns said he did some recruiting of his own by talking to Langley about SMU, and he said Langley considered playing with him before deciding to stay on the West Coast.

“He did play around with the idea of going to the same college as me, and we’re really good friends. But he made a good decision and USC is a good program for him.”

Foothill should have a strong team this season, and Kearns says he feels great about the season. With the recruiting process over for him, he has been able to focus solely on the season.

“The recruiting process in and of itself is so time-consuming, and you worry about who you’re going to call and the coaches and how they’re feeling about you,” Kearns said. “It feels like a hamster wheel when you’re going through the process, so it’s good to settle down now and focus on the high school season ahead of me and enjoy my senior year.”

With added size and strength, Bolden playing more confident

By: Billy Embody

The SMU basketball staff has been busy with a flurry of offers going out to 2015 players in the wake of Matt McQuaid’s decommitment so it’s no surprise that 2016 big man Marques Bolden hasn’t been a top priority for SMU right now.

“I haven’t really talked to them in a while. I think they still have interest, but they’ve been so busy with all the 2015 players,” Bolden said. “I don’t really pay attention to that because I’m not thinking about that because I still have a whole year.”

That bodes well for SMU since Scott Drew from Baylor, a few coaches from Texas and a coach from Kansas have been all over the 6-10, 230-pound junior.

With all the attention from these schools, Bolden has been looking to set up some unofficial visits.

“I’m trying to go down to Austin so I can visit Texas and up to Lawrence and down to Waco to visit,” Bolden said.

Florida, Louisville, UCLA have really come on hard lately, but the 4-star Desoto native doesn’t have any favorites and isn’t really focused on recruiting at this point.

This season, Bolden will watch how teams run their systems and look out for schools that fit him the best.

“This upcoming year I just look for the progression in the position I play. Most schools just try to spread the floor,” Bolden said. “I’m just trying to see which schools get the balls to their bigs and rely on them. See if they work with them a lot and see if that’s their main focus.”

Bolden has clearly been focused on the EYBL circuit and has been playing much better than his first year on the circuit last year.

“AAU or EYBL circuit has really helped me a lot because it has been some of the best competition I’ve played against,” Bolden said. “Playing against those guys on the circuit in every session and in Peach Jam has really helped me. It’s been fun too competing at the highest level of high school basketball.”

Bolden didn’t have the best Peach Jam, averaging two points, two rebounds and nine minutes a game in the EYBL marquee event.

“Peach Jam went alright. I didn’t play my best, but it was alright,” Bolden said. “My team, we made it to the bracket round, but we didn’t make it as far as we wanted to go.”

The Texas Titans lost in the first round to Isaiah Briscoe and the Playaz, but after being able to look back on the circuit this summer, Bolden could see a difference in his game.

“Last year I was 15 playing 17s and I couldn’t hold my position as well as I do now and I kept getting pushed around,” Bolden said. “Now I’m stronger and I’m taking contact more and now I’m playing better. I’ve become more sturdier in the upper body since last year.”

Bolden was going to attend the Fab48 in Las Vegas, but instead will now just go to Nike Global in a couple weeks. The tournament features teams from all over the world, meaning Bolden will have to step up big time.

“Just play hard. I can’t go out there and play like somebody I’m not,” Bolden said. “Just go out there and just play hard and do what I do best.”

Bolden will also turn his attention after the global challenge to his high school season, which he fully expects to be a good one.

“We’re going to make a really good run. I’m just looking to finishing what we started,” Bolden said. “Last year we made it to the Final Four, but couldn’t get it done. This year we’re just trying to finish it off.”

Bolden didn’t mention setting any dates for an SMU visit, but expect him and the Texas Titans to be fixtures at Moody Coliseum this year.

SMU commit Brown making unofficial to SMU

By: Billy Embody

Massive SMU commit Marvis Brown is working hard with his senior year on the horizon and it’s showing. The two-star offensive guard added a UTSA offer since committing to SMU, but that hasn’t changed his commitment.

“It doesn’t change anything. They were going to offer me before I committed and before I got the SMU offer,” Brown said. “Now that I committed they just decided to pull the trigger.”

Brown hasn’t set a visit to UTSA, but he did visit their stadium in December for an All-American combine.

“I like the feel and the environment,” Brown said. “I got to go up into the press box and eat lunch up there. Everything is really nice.”

There was a chance that Brown would reconsider with the new offer and it doesn’t look like the UTSA coaches are going to go down without a fight.

“They’re pushing hard. I talk to them every other day and they send me mail,” the Little Cypress-Mauriceville product said. “I’m pretty sure once they can call my phone, I’m sure they’re going to be blowing it up.”

Brown does like the fact that it’s somewhere he can fall back on if something happens with his SMU offer, but Brown is a Mustang and he says it doesn’t look like any other school can change that.

“I don’t know because if it’s a school that’s already been looking at me and then they just offered me at the end of my senior year I don’t know if I’d go there because I want to be a top priority,” Brown said.

Brown has stayed in constant contact with SMU offensive line coach Wes Suan and their conversations are now focusing on what Brown can do to get better for his senior year.

“I called him Saturday. We talk about grades and what I want to major in then we’ll talk about what I need to work on to get better,” Brown said. “He wants me to get my first step better and be more agile and explosive.”

Brown will get a chance to talk more with the coaches when he visits SMU today (July 26) on an unofficial visit to see a bit of what the Hilltop has to offer.

“Just meeting all the coaching staff, feeling out the environment and checking out the facilities,” Brown said.

The staff won’t be able to recognize him Brown said. The 6-4 guard dropped down to 317 pounds this summer, but is not up to 330 again, but it’s not from eating snacks and candy.

“I’ve been working on my explosiveness, getting off the ball quicker and my first step,” Brown said. “I’ve been losing a lot of body fat and putting more muscle on. You won’t be able to recognize me.”

All this effort in hopes that Brown will be able to help his team do something his school has never done before.

“I’m looking forward to trying to get a ring and doing things that have never been done in my school’s history. Nobody has ever made it to state and I want to be the first to do it.”

Winnegan’s interest in SMU dwindling

By: Patrick Engel

Almost all of the 2015 running backs with SMU offers have either committed elsewhere or eliminated SMU from their list, but Glenda Dawson High School’s Brett Winnegan received an offer from the Mustangs in June and has not committed. However, he said he has not been hearing from SMU since he got the offer.

“[The offer] came through my coach,” Winnegan said. “[SMU had] been to my school in the spring and watched me work out, and then they offered me a couple days later.”

Winnegan has not visited SMU and said he does not know much about it. He said he was invited to visit but was unable to go because of a track meet, although he may visit during the football season.

“I don’t really know much about the program, but I probably should start looking into it more,” Winnegan said.

Winnegan has visited UTSA and Houston, and said that he has plans to go to Duke and Maryland in the next couple weeks. He has offers from SMU, UTSA, Navy, Air Force, Colorado State, Rice, Illinois and Fresno State, and said that he thinks Duke will offer soon. He almost committed to Illinois earlier this summer, but found out that his offer was not committable.

“I was kind of leaning towards Illinois, but they filled up their last spot at running back, so now I have to re-evaluate everything I have,” Winnegan said. “I might make [a decision] towards the beginning of football season. I’m just trying to wait and see if I’ve gotten all the offers I’m going to get.”

Winnegan said UTSA and Fresno State have emerged as his favorites, although he is still looking at all of the schools on his list.

Speed is Winnegan’s greatest asset, so it is no surprise that his offer list is fairly large, especially for a two-star recruit.

SMU wide receivers coach Jason Phillips has watched Winnegan, but views him as a slot receiver and offered him as one. Winnegan says he would like to play running back at the next level, and said that he would mainly pursue schools that have offered him as a running back.

“UTSA and Fresno would let me play running back. As far as prestige, Fresno State’s probably my biggest offer so far.”

If SMU is going to have a shot at Winnegan, the coaches will likely need to start contacting him. Should he commit elsewhere, SMU will be facing tough odds to land a running back for 2015.

Sterling Brown Q&A

By: Omar Majzoub

Q: Last year, Larry Brown said you improved a lot throughout the season. What was the biggest improvement you made?
A: “Just being comfortable on the floor and getting into the rhythm of things. Things were a lot different from high school moving into college. The transition was a big difference. I just had to get adjusted to the game and the speed.”

Q: You have a lot of people in your life to help you like your brother, Coach Brown, etc. Is there anyone you think has taught you more than anyone else?
A: “If I had to say someone, I would say my brother. He taught me a lot. Just watching him do all the levels, like high school, college, and the NBA. That taught me a lot. I just learn from everybody. Everywhere I go I try to learn as much as I can. I’m just trying to improve my game for the team.”

Q: You have been mentioned as a possible replacement for Nick Russell when it comes to guarding the perimeter. Have you always been that guy on your teams?
A: “I pride myself on getting stops on defense. Those win championships. If you can’t stop a team from scoring, you are going to be going at it all day on the offensive end. I think that’s my strongest asset and I’m going to keep improving on it.”

Q: So, you would you rather lock-down a terrific scorer instead of score a bunch of points?
A: “Every day, no question. If you can lock a man down and make him uncomfortable or throw off his game, you have done something.”

Q: Is that defense-first attitude something you got from your brother?
A: “Yeah, playing one-on-one with him is pretty tough.”

Q: Now that you have had some time to practice and play with the new guys, can you give us a scouting report on Justin Martin and Jordan Tolbert?
A: “Justin Martin brings great perimeter play. He has a great jump shot; he is a strong guard and a good defender. Jordan brings athleticism for the four. He is a strong, big body who can rebound. They are going to help us out a lot.”

Q: Since they are both seniors, can you see them making an impact right away?
A: “Oh yeah, no doubt on both of them. Hopefully Jordan will be able to play this year. That would be big for us with Shawn Williams leaving. Justin will be big for us because we lost Nick Russell. It will be good for us.”

Q: What’s Shawn Williams like as a coach?
A: “He looks pretty good. He is still in shape for a coach.”

Q: Has his relationship with you guys changed at all?
A: “It has a little bit. We still got that player-type relationship, but at the same time we know we need to develop that coach-player relationship because he is at a higher level now.”

Q: Last year, Coach Brown talked about learning how to win. Has this team done that now or is that still a work in progress?
A: “It’s still a work in progress. We won a few games, but a lot of the games we won we really didn’t like the wins. We hoped to play and beat better teams, so we could know where we were. Last year, we learned a lot like how to win in tough situations especially in the NIT when we fought through adversity. This year, we hope to put it all together.”

Q: The goal is obviously the NCAA tournament. What has to change or improve for this team to take the final step?
A: “The mindset in the locker-room from all the coaches to all the players. We have to be on one page, focused and ready to do what we got to do.”

Q: With the tougher schedule, is there any opponent you are most excited to play against this season?
A: “I’m actually excited for all the games. All the non-conference games like Indiana and Michigan and in conference like UConn and Memphis especially. All the games should be fun.”

Q: Once you start winning, you go from the hunter to the hunted. However, UConn wants to beat you cause you swept them. Does it feel good to know the national champions have you circled on their calendar?
A: “Oh yeah, that’s fine. We have them circled on ours, too. We can be the hunted, but we are always hunters, too. We ready for everybody and want to go at everybody.”

Mailbag Question: I have read EJ Holland's position-by-position analysis of the 2014 squad. I know that a JJ coached team requires solid QB play to be successful and that losing Gilbert was a big loss. So, other than QB, where have we taken a step back? It seems like we're improved in all positions but QB. Maybe that's no longer the case in the defensive backfield with the loss of all the Army Prep guys at least in terms of depth.-AlamoCityStang

Billy’s Response: Receiver has to be where this team takes a step back and it’s also coupled with the fact that there will be an unproven quarterback running the show as well. This could magnify the loss of Jeremy Johnson and Keenan Holman even more. The offensive line and running backs have to step up to help balance the offense more or it will be extremely tough to develop some rhythm with the receivers with this tough non-conference schedule to open the year. Are the new guys capable? Der’rikk Thompson hasn’t shown much the last couple years, but a few flashes of that elite speed. Cedric Lancaster has that same potential to be a game breaker with possession receiver Darius Joseph underneath.

Scott’s Response: With the losses of Jeremy Johnson and JaBryce Taylor among others, I think SMU took a small step back at the wide out position. But at this point, it all depends on how guys like Jeremiah Gaines and Cedric Lancaster perform. If the youngsters can step up and contribute, the receiving core should be fine, but that’s a big “IF” at this point. Gaines and Lancaster have the talent, but have yet to be utilized by June.

Patrick’s Response: I think the only other position that SMU has stepped back in is wide receiver. Jeremy Johnson and Keenan Holman graduated while JaBryce Taylor was kicked off the team. I really feel that Taylor will be missed. In my option, he would have been the most complete receiver on the team. Der’rikk Thompson, Cedric Lancaster and Jeremiah Gaines are the candidates to start opposite Darius Joseph, and while all have strengths, I don’t think a single one of them is more than a role player.

Omar’s Response: Quarterback is definitely where SMU will take the biggest step back, but there are other positions that also concern me going into next year. I know the Mustangs have done a great job replacing their receivers the last few years, but I think it will be tough losing Jeremy Johnson and Keenan Hollman who were the two most consistent and explosive targets last season. With them gone and the loss of freshman sensation JaBryce Taylor, June Jones will need to find an impact receiver in his slew of two and thee-stars to make an impact. The Mustangs are also losing key offensive lineman like Ben Gottschalk, Ben Hughes and Thomas Ashcraft, so replacing both guard spots up front won't be easy. Lastly, I think SMU will really struggle to replace Kenneth Acker, Jay Scott, and Chris Parks in the backfield on defense. Even with a much improved front seven, it will be very important for Ajee Montes, J.R. Richardson, and others to step up or the Mustangs will struggle defensively once again.

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