As the Transfer Portal turns
Has Cal MBB wrapped up recruiting for the year? And Cal football adds a critical player from the FCS level
Men’s Basketball: Welcome, Devin Askew!
Trying to understand the recruiting process is always hard, and particularly so with a coach who isn’t particularly interested in sharing any information with any kind of media.
I can say with a high degree of confidence that Cal had SOME level of interest in the following players available in the transfer portal:
Mike Saunders Jr. (committed to Utah)
Jason Roche (committed to Richmond)
Jaelin Llewellyn (committed to Michigan)
Femi Odukale (committed to Seton Hall)
Souley Boum (committed to Xavier)
Rudi Williams (committed to BYU)
Kyrell Luc (committed to St. Bonaventure)
Colby Rogers (committed to Wichita St.)
What we don’t know is how hard Cal’s staff went after each player, and the extent to which each had a committable offer. In other words, was Devin Askew Cal’s first choice? Fifth choice? 13th choice?
It’s probable that some of the players listed above were back-up options if Askew went elsewhere. It’s probable that some of the players listed above got an early call from Mark Fox but decided to go elsewhere. We know that Colby Rogers actually visited, and that Rudi Williams put Cal in his top 8, but we don’t know much beyond that.
Askew’s commitment raises an interesting roster building question: given the choice, would you rather secure a player with proven production at the mid-major level or the upside of raw talent/athleticism?
Most of Cal’s targets were point guards and shooting guards who had strong performances at smaller schools like UTEP, Princeton, and Coastal Carolina. Instead, Cal is bringing in a player who was a borderline 5 star prospect, but who hasn’t quite broken through on the court yet. Here’s Askew’s stat profile:
You can see flashes of a 4 star player: a solid assist rate as a true freshman that improved as the year went along. A solid free throw rate, which suggests he’s able to beat defenders and get to the bucket. He was in the rotation for two high-end defenses and he has a good steal rate, so he’s probably a plus defender.
But shooting is an iffy point, as are turnovers. Askew was more successful in Kentucky’s relatively up-tempo offense than he was in Texas’s slowdown offense, which makes one wonder how he will fair in Mark Fox’s equally slow offense.
There’s a strong argument that this is the right long term move. One year from a mid-major grad transfer on a team with low expectations, who isn’t guaranteed to adapt well to Pac-12 basketball anyway? How much of a difference is that really going to make to the trajectory of Cal basketball? It’s probably better to take a gamble on a higher ceiling player, even if there’s risk that Askew never delivers on his elite recruiting ranking.
My assumption is that Cal is done with recruiting for a while. Here’s the updated scholarship chart, which assumes that Askew will be eligible next year:
By my understanding of the rules, Cal is currently full for their scholarship allocation for both next year AND the year after, since there are no seniors on the roster. And since the time period in which a player can enter the transfer portal without sitting out a year has ended, the roster may well be set.
There’s always the possibility that a player decides to transfer anyway, or somebody medically retires. And the odds that all 13 scholarship players on the team right now remain for the next two years is certainly low. But at least for now, Mark Fox may not need to do any recruiting for a while.
Football: Welcome, TJ Session!
T.J. Session is a great example of the weird impact that COVID-19 has had on the world of college sports: Cal just brought on a senior who is a sophomore. A knee injury cost Session his true freshman season, and COVID took away his true sophomore season. But he was finally able to play last year, appearing in 10 of Montana State’s 15 games, missing a handful due to injuries.
It appears that Cal and Session are a great match - as we’ve discussed at various junctures, Cal is badly in need of options at tackle, while Session was looking for a place that he could earn immediate playing time (ideally with good weather):
My goal isn’t to go anywhere where I know that I can't play. Not even “know that I can't play” because I feel like I can play at a lot of places. So, I'd say what's influencing my choice is really just team dynamic, environment, how the team is and just how their availability on O-line is. For Cal Berkeley, just from what all the coaches told me, they're looking for a right tackle right now.
Which isn’t to say that Session is a shoo-in to earn the starting nod at right tackle . . . but also, he was the starter at a team that went to the FCS title game, so he’s bringing a resume that indicates he should be able to hold his own.
I took a quick glance at his PFF scouting, and if you trust their numbers his run blocking comes out ahead of his pass blocking. He also produced some of his strongest single game performances later in the season, which isn’t surprising for a guy playing in his first season as a collegiate, but is nevertheless encouraging because he’s got plenty of eligibility left to practice and improve.
With Ben Coleman moving from right guard to left tackle in spring practice and Session coming to compete at right tackle, you can start to envision what the Cal line may look like come September. There’s still plenty to figure out in fall practice, but Cal has found a viable solution to one of their biggest roster gaps, and that’s something worth celebrating.