Iowa has one available scholarship after Nicholas Baer was rewarded with one.
Christian Vital stretched himself in two ways at his Connecticut prep school this year.
On the basketball court, the long-distance gunner moved from shooting guard to point guard for St. Thomas More. In the dormitories, he volunteered to serve as a resident adviser, a liaison between the students and faculty.
Both experiences were instructional for the 19-year-old, who has narrowed his college choices to Iowa, Alabama, Connecticut, Louisville and Marquette and hopes to meet with Hawkeye coaches next week.
“You have to lead the team the whole time you’re on the court on both ends. You also have to watch how you speak to your teammates. Sometimes not everyone listens to the message, but they listen to how you say the message,” Vital said Friday.
“Being an RA is just another role that puts you in a position to lead the people that you’re around. Especially playing the point guard position, that can help subconsciously.”
Vital stands 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, but he’s grown in other ways this year. He originally committed to play at UNLV, but his coach at St. Thomas More, 38-year veteran Jere Quinn, dissuaded him from signing a National Letter of Intent, rightly fearing that the Rebels would be undergoing a coaching transition (which they still are).
Vital completed a season that saw him named first-team all-conference. He also found himself the subject of social-media wrath after he decommitted from UNLV once coach Dave Rice resigned in January.
“He was a little impulsive on that one,” Quinn said of Vital’s original commitment.
Vital is taking things slower now. He was en route Friday to the Barclays Center, in Brooklyn, N.Y., to play in a regional all-star game as part of the Jordan Brand Classic. After displaying his skills in front of family and friends, the Queens, N.Y., native will spend Monday and Tuesday visiting nearby UConn and hopes to arrange a sitdown with the Hawkeyes staff on Wednesday. He has three official visits remaining, but was coy about when and where those will occur, as well as when and how he will announce his decision. His mother, upset by the ire of UNLV fans, is encouraging him to keep a lower profile this time.
“I’m not going to rush it. Obviously, I haven’t had success with that in the past,” Vital said. “The moment I do feel comfortable 100 percent, I’m going to stick with it.”
Vital said Iowa drew his attention because of its recent success under coach Fran McCaffery and its Big Ten platform.
Iowa also has one scholarship open and a need at point guard after the graduations of Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons.
In Vital, the Hawkeyes would be getting a driven competitor who is still raw as a point guard, according to Adam Finkelstein, a former coach who now writes about recruiting for ESPN.
“He’s a really kind of hard-nosed, gritty kid. He shoots the ball well, but his best aspect is his competitiveness,” said Finkelstein, who is based in Connecticut and has been watching Vital play for years. “He’s a guy who really demands that from his teammates, too. I think in a lot of ways that competitiveness has made him a more impactful player than people, myself included, thought he was going to be.
“He’s exceeded expectations and defied the odds, and he has a habit of doing that. Would most people describe him as a prototypical Big Ten point guard? Probably not. But he’s a kid who thrives on proving people wrong.”
Finkelstein also said that Vital could play either guard position in college, which may appeal to a team like Iowa if a future recruiting class includes an elite point guard.
“He’s not somebody who’s going to wow you playing high above the rim. But he’s a capable ball-handler, and because he shoots it so well, he’s going to be able to play pick-and-roll,” Finkelstein said.
Vital, who has been attending prep schools since age 15 and comes across as exceptionally mature, said he’ll be paying close attention to the camaraderie of the players wherever he does visit. He’s looking for a “family atmosphere,” believing that cohesiveness relates to winning titles.
“I don’t want to go to a place where I can play 40 minutes off the jump but we’re going to lose games. I don’t want to just go to college to go enjoy it. I want to be able to play at the highest level,” he said.
“I’m going to look for how they (the players and coaches) treat each other. If you look at winning teams, that’s the type of people they have around.”