This may be Anthony Latina’s first offseason as Sacred Heart’s head coach, yet this is far from his first true recruiting class. Since hired as Dave Bike’s associate head coach in 2005, Latina and assistant Johnny Kidd have spearheaded the majority, if not all, of the recruiting efforts. This four player class – five if you include red-shirt freshman Cole Walton – is critical toward determining Latina’s near-term future, given the current state of the Pioneer’s roster.
With a backcourt full of experienced upperclassmen, Latina wanted to infuse his bench with much-needed youth, hence the addition of guards Leo Vincent and Jordan Gleason. The 6’0″ Leo Vincent, in particular, has the best chance to find minutes in the backcourt thanks to his versatility as a true combo guard. Vincent compares most favorably to former Sacred Heart standout Jerrell Thompson, who as an upperclassman had a productive career in the red and white. Like Thompson, Vincent has the ability to use his athleticism and shiftiness to score from all parts of the floor. All accounts report that Vincent is a pure scorer, yet the biggest question may be how easily Vincent can get open looks at the Division I level. Nevertheless, Latina is excited about his future.
“He can really score,” said Latina. He’s a guy that can score in bunches.”
On the other hand, the accomplished Gleason profiles strictly as a shooting guard who can really stroke it from behind the arc. Playing time may be scarce in year one, but at 6’2″, Gleason compares favorably to another Sacred Heart guard you may or may not have heard of.
“He is very similar to, and believe me I don’t want to say this because he’s one of the best players in the history of Sacred Heart basketball, but (Jordan) is similar to Shane Gibson,” proclaimed Latina. “We think in time, he can be a terrific three-point shooter for us.”
These days, finding an “under the radar” recruit is near impossible, yet Latina may have one on his roster in 6’5” swingman De’Von Barnett. A Google search on Barnett will garner next to nothing (go ahead and try), both on Youtube or in online newspaper clippings.
In his final season at the high school level, Barnett was part of a loaded Riverdale Baptist club that included CCSU’s Brandon Peel. Due to Riverdale’s impressive depth, which included five to six Division I players, Barnett saw less playing time, and ultimately, had difficulty getting noticed by D-I coaches not named Johnny Kidd. After turning down an offer by Radford in the spring after his senior season, Barnett opted to attend junior college for a year while accepting Sacred Heart’s offer. Little may be known about Barnett, but Latina feels like they found a diamond in the rough.
“De’von is long, athletic, there are a lot of good things about him, but one of the things that excites me as much as anything, I think he’s a great team guy,” said Latina. “In a time where there’s no sleepers or under-the-radar guys, we are hoping we found one in De’von Barnett. I really am extremely excited about him. I love his mental makeup, his approach.”
As an aggressive slasher who can create around the rim, Barnett could find minutes backing up Louis Montes or Chris Evans this season. Out of this class, Latina feels Barnett could force the staff to find him minutes during the season.
Due to the sudden departure of De’Aires Tate, Latina had two more scholarships available even after signing Vincent, Gleason, and Barnett. Scholarship number twelve came straight out of the junior college ranks with the addition of Eyidome “Mofe” Edukugho. Mofe was a preseason Division II All-American who unfortunately torn his ACL in the first game of his sophomore season at Erie CC. Despite the season ending injury, Sacred Heart swooped in and offered the undersized, yet explosive 6’6″ Edukugho, who has three years of eligibility remaining. It’s likely that he would’ve ended up at a bigger DI school had he remained healthy.
When healthy, Edukugho can create havoc around the rim on both ends of the floor with his excellent athleticism. His knee is currently around 70%, yet he’s projected to be at full strength by the first jump ball in November.
Finally, there’s 6’11” prospect Cole Walton, who red-shirted last season to add some bulk to his wiry frame. Latina is expecting Walton will add depth to the center position and give the Pioneers another option to consider down low.
“He’s a skilled “5”, so he can play the high post, because he’s a very good passer and he can make a 15-footer,” said Latina. “He’s not a guy who just has to be around the rim.”
With only 53.2% of Sacred Heart’s returning possession minutes returning from last season, these five newcomers will be expected to contribute, especially if the Pioneers want to surprise in the NEC. Evan Kelley and Chris Evans return from injury after a lost 2012-13 season, so there’s clearly upside despite losing All-NEC first teamer Shane Gibson. It remains to be seen if Sacred Heart will finally return back to their glory days of the middle of the last decade.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.