As one of the only three uncommitted players at this week’s McDonald’s All-American week festivities, EJ Montgomery knew there would be plenty of eyes charting his play on the court and plenty of recruiters in his ear off the court.
He’s said throughout the week that his fellow McDonald’s All-Americans from such schools as Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina have been pursuing his commitment.
All of those players acknowledged Tuesday that they’ve been doing some recruiting.
It might be awhile until they get an answer.
Montgomery — a 6-foot-11 power forward from Marietta, Ga. — has yet to officially cut his list and said Monday that he’s still considering taking official visits to five schools. UK, Duke and UNC are on the list for three of those. Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and Georgetown are other possibilities.
More on that decision in a bit. This week has been more about getting to know his game.
Coming into McDonald’s week, Rivals.com ranked Montgomery as the No. 11 overall prospect in the class of 2018 and the best big man available from the group.
Rivals.com national analyst Eric Bossi has kept a close eye on him through the first few practices of the event, heading into Wednesday’s game at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
“He was better today when they started doing one-on-one stuff and could show off more of his skill,” Bossi told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday. “He’s definitely a guy who floats a little bit and kind of wants to play facing the rim. And when he does get physical, he has a big enough and strong enough body to handle it. But he just doesn’t seem to be the most physical guy by nature, so he’s getting kind of lost in the shuffle.
“He’s not playing badly, but he hasn’t stood out as a guy who’s like catching your attention either. Like, ‘Oh, wow. He came here to prove something.’ When you talk to him, he’s just kind of an even-keeled guy. He just doesn’t seem to have the kind of mentality where for one of these games he’s going to come in and say, ‘I’m going to come in here and show everyone how dominant I am.’ … He’s not doing anything crazy.”
But the skills are obviously there — Bossi’s outfit does have Montgomery ranked No. 11 in the country, after all — and the five-star player’s future success will be about mixing what he’s most comfortable doing now with what he seems capable of doing at a high level.
For the majority of the Monday and Tuesday practices open to the media this week, Montgomery was clearly content with setting for those mid-range jumpers. And he has great touch from there for a post player.
“That’s what he does. That’s what he wants to do,” Bossi said. “He’s a face-up guy. He wants to face up and either shoot a mid-range to deep jump shot or drive you.”
Montgomery is capable of much more.
“It’s funny, because when they started doing the one-on-one stuff in the post, it’s like, ‘Oh, wow. This guy has post game.’ So that’s going to be the key,” Bossi continued. “Whoever gets him is figuring out, ‘How do we get him to go and play in the post while still doing what he wants to do?’ Because he can do some of that. I always feel like guys with that game — if you get a couple of easy baskets in the post, then that other game opens up for you. But he wants to seem to do the reverse: play out facing first, then go post up.”
Getting Montgomery to play with a little different mentality against top competition is a challenge that pretty much every college coach in the country would love to take on next season.
John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams all hosted him for unofficial visits last month, and they’re all expecting him back for official visits in the next few weeks. He was one of the first meetings that new Georgia coach Tom Crean set up when he took that job earlier this month.
This week, those coaches have their future stars on the case.
No. 1-ranked recruit (and top Duke signee) RJ Barrett is a former high school teammate of Montgomery’s at Montverde Academy in Florida.
“He’s a monster,” Barrett told the Herald-Leader. “It doesn’t even make sense — I don’t know how he can move like that. He can shoot it, dribble and pass. He’s really good. Everybody’s been on him the whole week, trying to get him to come to their school.”
Where does Barrett think his old (and possibly future) teammate is headed?
“I have no idea,” he said.
That was the consensus in the McDonald’s All-American media day room Tuesday.
Everybody wants EJ, but no one had much of an inkling on which way he’s leaning.
“My gut feeling — from just kind of asking around and judging things — would be that Duke possibly has a slight lead,” Bossi said. “But I think Kentucky’s right there. I think Carolina’s right there, too. I feel like one that could be the sleeper would be Vanderbilt.”
Montgomery has said that five-star shooting guard Romeo Langford, one of the other uncommitted players here this week, would “totally rearrange how he’s looking” at Vandy if Langford commits to the Commodores, one of his three finalists. Montgomery said Langford’s addition would bolster Vandy’s chances for his own commitment.
That would be a heck of a duo for Bryce Drew to add late, pairing those two with fellow McDonald’s All-Americans Darius Garland and Simi Shittu.
Montgomery’s teammates this week include Langford, Garland, Barrett, Duke commitment Zion Williamson, UK commitment Immanuel Quickley and UNC commitment Coby White. That’s made for a lot of recruiting chatter.
Don’t expect it to end anytime soon.
“I think it’s going to be a while with him,” Bossi said. “I’ve got a feeling he might be the last guy to pop when it’s all said and done. If anyone is heading for one of those mid- to late-May decisions, I think it’s going to be Montgomery. And I think it’s going to be a roller coaster. ‘Duke today. Kentucky tomorrow.’ There’s a lot to be determined on it.
“There seems to be a little bit of (Duke) buzz. But it’s not a definite, like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s a Duke lock,’ or anything like that.”