Recruiting Mailbag: Omaha Biliew breaks down his top 4, including Iowa State
Hello, everyone. Welcome, once again, to the Recruiting Mailbag.
After a couple weeks off, we've got updates from Drake head coach Darian DeVries and Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson, both of whom Alyssa Hertel caught up with last week at the Coaches vs. Cancer Gala in West Des Moines. Alyssa also has updates on two rising in-state prospects: Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn linebacker Kooper Ebel in football, and Cedar Rapids Kennedy point guard Kenzie Reed in basketball.
But, to start us off, I've got an update on five-star 2023 forward Omaha Biliew, who included Iowa State in his final four options he released Tuesday night.
Let's get right into it.
Does Iowa State have a real shot to land Omaha Biliew?
Omaha Biliew, who played his first two seasons in Iowa before transferring to play at Link Year Prep in Missouri as a junior, unveiled his final four options Tuesday night: Iowa State, Kansas, Oregon and the pro route with G League Ignite.
A 6-foot-8 forward who can guard just about every position and can finish above the rim with the best of them, Biliew has been at or very close to the top of Iowa State's 2023 big board since it offered him last summer.
In his own words, here's how Biliew described each of his final four options to me:
On Kansas: "The winning tradition and culture KU has, especially coming off a national championship. The platform Rock Chalk has and the confidence Bill Self has in me has been the biggest attraction to KU for me."
On Oregon: "(Assistant) coach Mike (Mennenga) has been consistent with my recruiting for over a year now. He’s showed up to a bunch of games. Oregon is a beautiful place, too. I was just out there for Hoop Summit and the basketball culture is live out there.”
On Iowa State: "(Head coach) T.J. (Otzelberger) and I have a lot in common. He’s a hard worker just like me and is defensive-minded. We’ve built a great relationship and I’ve been up there to watch practice a few times. I love to be challenged and he is great at that. I’ve been out here in Iowa since I was 5, so it’s basically home to me and I’d love to represent for the state and my family."
On G League Ignite: "It’s been my dream since I picked up a ball to make it to the league (NBA). The G League route offers an alternate option other than college to prepare for the next step. Their main focus is development at the pro level. I think it’s a great option and has worked out for some guys."
So, does Iowa State have a real shot at the consensus five-star talent who's ranked as high as No. 10 in the 2023 class by 247Sports?
Most prospects' offensive skills develop more quickly than their defensive skills, but it's been the opposite for Biliew. This gets said about a lot of players, but it's true with him: Biliew prides himself on defense. His play on that end of the floor is what made him a starter for national runner-up Link Year Prep, where he didn't score tons.
Otzelberger and Iowa State have quickly built an identity based on defense, and that resonates with Biliew. And his love for his home state is real.
Is that enough to pull the mega-talent to Ames? It definitely can be, yes. Biliew is not at all a long-shot target for Iowa State. He's realistic. In fact, it wouldn't be wild to call the Cyclones the favorites at this point. Of course, a lot can change between now and later this summer, when he's expected to announce a decision. We'll see how much NIL plays a role. His personal coach, Tyler Sass, told me a couple weeks ago Biliew will sign with an independent agency for NIL opportunities, so what the school can provide might not be as big of a factor.
Up next for Biliew is the USA Basketball U18 training camp next week in Houston. - Matthew Bain
Who else could stand out for Drake men's basketball after the Bulldogs return four seniors?
It’s been about two months since the end of the Drake men’s basketball season, and yet this time of year might be the busiest in terms of recruiting. It comes down to two words: transfer portal.
Here’s the deal … talking to head coaches in the offseason can be a bit of a rarity. But in the past week, I’ve been able to talk to Bulldogs head coach Darian DeVries twice, which means I was able to get a bit of a state of the union on Drake men’s basketball heading into the summer. Let’s break down some of the things we talked about.
First things first, four seniors — D.J. Wilkins, Roman Penn, Garrett Sturtz and Darnell Brodie — will be back next season. That means the Bulldogs will have one of the best perimeter defenders in the Missouri Valley Conference, the program’s all-time assists leaders and a pair of solid all-around athletes back in the lineup.
What does that mean for the other players who have waited for their opportunity? Two players, Deven Dahlke and Jordan Kwiecinski, entered the transfer portal. But the Bulldogs did pull in two players from the portal in Texas Tech guard Sardaar Calhoun, who committed to Drake in January, and Eric Northweather, who transferred from Division II Truman State earlier this week.
“I’m really excited about what he’s done in our workouts so far,” DeVries told me of Calhoun. “What he gives us is a mixture of shooting and athleticism. Where Tank (ShanQuan Hemphill) gave us a lot of electrifying moments last year, I think Sardaar can do some of those same type of things, but also give us some of that shooting that we were lacking at times last year.”
So, DeVries expects Calhoun to take on a larger role on a team packed with talented upperclassmen. There’s also returning Valley freshman of the year Tucker DeVries. Taking Drake’s roster as it is right now, there is little space for new faces in the starting lineup. But the Bulldogs’ biggest strength this season could be their depth.
“Looking at Calhoun, Bryce Burns, Okay Djamgouz, those are kind of the three guys that can jump in there and fill (Tremell Murphy’s) role,” DeVries said. “We have lots of good options that we feel really comfortable with.”
Heading into the summer, the Bulldogs staff, like all other basketball programs right now, is looking at some options in the transfer portal, although DeVries wasn’t quick to share what specifically they’re looking for.
“We’re exploring all the options," he said. "Obviously, there’s lots of options out there because the portal is so big. But for now, it’s just pursuing guys that we feel would be a great fit for our program and fit into what we already have.” - Alyssa Hertel
Does Iowa or Iowa State have a better shot at landing Kooper Ebel?
A couple of weeks ago, Iowa and Iowa State fans were tossing around the name Kooper Ebel, and for good reason. The Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn junior has picked up eight Division I offers since February, turning him from an under-the-radar athlete to a must-have recruit.
“These past several months have been stressful, although it has also been a blast,” Ebel told me. “I’ve learned a lot and built a ton of relationships. I’ve enjoyed the recruiting a lot, but it will definitely be a relief when I have made my decision.”
Yes, Ebel, a 6-3, 200-pound linebacker, is itching to commit, but don’t expect that news to come super soon. He has an official visit to Iowa State lined up June 10-12. He also planned on taking an official visit to Iowa in late June, although it wasn't set in stone when we talked. He’ll hold off on a decision until then, at least.
“The Iowa State offer was big for me,” said Ebel, who checked in at No. 15 in our 2023 in-state recruiting rankings in December. “Iowa State has been in contact with me the longest of any school I have an offer from. They contacted my coaches when I was just a sophomore wanting to get to know me.”
When the Cyclones offer came in, it seemed like Iowa State could easily secure an in-state prospect with rising recruiting stock. But then Iowa complicated things.
“My offer from Iowa was huge,” Ebel said. “It has made my decision significantly tougher.”
Long story short, despite holding other Power Five offers from Nebraska and Vanderbilt, it looks like we have yet another Cy-Hawk battle for a football recruit on our hands. I know I’m looking forward to a couple things: How Ebel looks at football camps this summer and which program he ends up picking. - Alyssa Hertel
How is Ben Jacobson handling the transfers of AJ Green, Noah Carter?
Speaking of Valley teams and the transfer portal, Northern Iowa’s roster was a bit shaken up in the offseason.
AJ Green tried out the NBA Draft route but will most likely end up at Iowa State or Duke in the coming weeks. Noah Carter entered the transfer portal after a successful sophomore campaign and committed to Missouri less than a month after announcing his intention to entertain other options. Antwan Kimmons also entered the portal.
So, is head coach Ben Jacobson worried about losing his two best players to the transfer portal while trying to build off a successful season that included claiming the MVC regular season title and a trip to the NIT?
“We spent the whole month of April getting better and had 11 guys that will be back for us," Jacobson told me, "and I feel like that part of it was a really good first step getting ready for next year.".
With Green and Carter moving on, let’s take a look at who the key pieces should be for the Panthers next season.
Bowen Born is the first player that comes to mind. He started as a freshman, earning MVC freshman of the year. After dealing with injuries this season, he was a huge contributor off the bench and picked up the MVC sixth man of the year award. Born can shoot, steal, move the ball around and I’d be willing to bet he’s one of the fastest players in the Valley.
Jacobson also expects him to step into a bigger leadership role.
“He’s a big-time leader, and he’s ready and can’t wait to take on that leadership,” Jacobson said. “I’m excited for him because that’s who he is; he’s always been that guy. ... He’s well beyond his years in terms of the way he sees things and the way he approaches things.”
The Panthers will also have in-state recruit Trey Campbell out of Cedar Falls joining the program this summer. Campbell has been a big name in Iowa high school basketball for some time, and he capped his career with an impressive senior season. He averaged 24.4 points per game, second-best in Class 4A, and added six rebounds and 4.2 assists on top of that.
One of the biggest question marks for UNI — for quite some time — has been Austin Phyfe. He’s struggled with health issues, including long-COVID, during his time at Northern Iowa, but it seems like things could be looking up.
Jacobson shared that Phyfe has gotten back some “great” reports from doctors in the past month.
“For him personally, what a big deal to get a good report and to be able to start working out again,” Jacobson said. “Second to that, his teammates and our program, I mean, you got your anchor back.
“You get your first-team all-conference center and a guy who’s gonna be one of the best players in our league, and right now health-wise he’s doing great.”
It will be interesting to see how UNI recovers from losing two players that helped the Panthers to such a successful season. But with Phyfe looking to make a return at full health, Born coming off back-to-back standout seasons and a group of other players looking for a shot to prove themselves, UNI could be a real threat in the MVC next season. - Alyssa Hertel
What's happening with Kenzie Reed's recruitment after his impressive showing in the state tournament?
It’s been a little over two months since the last time Iowa high school basketball fans saw Cedar Rapids Kennedy point guard Kenzie Reed on the court. In fact, it’s been that long since anyone has seen Reed in any basketball game.
“I had an ankle injury that I’ve really been dealing with,” Reed told me on Wednesday. “I’ve been doing physical therapy to get back to 100%. I haven’t played in a basketball game since (the state tournament).”
I had to hit the rewind button a bit when Reed shared that. You’re telling me that the player who dropped 26 points against Waukee Northwest in the quarterfinal and 12 points against eventual state champion – and practically unstoppable – Ames hadn’t been playing at full strength?
While I was surprised, it does make sense why we haven’t heard much about Reed’s recruitment since the end of the season. He’s used the spring months to rehab his ankle before joining Kingdom Hoops in July for AAU basketball.
Reed will be a senior next season, so an injury like this could set his recruitment back a bit. But he has something else working against him in a sport where sometimes genetics are valued over skill: his height.
He showed that he could ball with the best of them at the state tournament. But at 5-10, Reed acknowledges that, even though it doesn’t bother him, it’s hard to stand out and grab the attention of college coaches when you're shorter than a lot of guys on the floor.
They say bad things come in threes, and that’s proving to be true with Reed. In addition to an injury and his height possibly holding him back, we’re in the age of the transfer portal coupled with lingering COVID eligibility for some athletes. Unless you're a no-doubter, it’s harder nowadays to get your foot in the door as a high schooler when athletes with college experience are shuffling around the system.
Injury, height and the transfer portal are all possible reasons why Reed is still without an offer. But he’s not focusing too much on the things he can’t control and rather what he can, starting with AAU basketball in July.
“I just want to perform,” Reed said. “I’ve been working pretty much my whole life to get an offer so I can play at the next level. But I’ve got to translate what I’ve been working on off the court on the court and perform.” - Alyssa Hertel
Alyssa Hertel is a college sports recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at email@example.com or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.
Matthew Bain is the deputy sports editor for the Des Moines Register. He still covers some recruiting, too. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.