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The future of the Bulls: Hurley’s latest recruiting class offers size, shooting and athleticism

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With the men’s basketball team 2013-14 season finished, it’s time to look ahead. If the Bulls are to make another run at a Mid-American Conference championship and NCAA tournament appearance, they are going to have to replace the talent they lost.

Since his arrival at Buffalo, head coach Bobby Hurley has found cornerstones for the program and role players in his first two recruiting classes.

In 2013, Hurley recruited and landed the team’s two best players in All-MAC Second-Team guard Shannon Evans and reigning MAC Player of the Year junior forward Justin Moss. Hurley brought in a starter and All-MAC Freshman-Team selection Lamonte Bearden, as well as experienced reserves in junior forwards Rodell Wigginton and Raheem Johnson in last year’s recruiting class.

The biggest question for the Bulls this offseason is how they will replace senior forwards Xavier Ford and Will Regan, both of whom will be graduating at the end of the year. Both players were 6-foot-8 forwards with at least four years of college basketball experience. Regan was a solid 3-point shooter, while Ford was a strong defender who developed a shot from beyond the arc as a senior.

The Bulls return six of the top eight players from this year’s rotation, but four of them (Moss, Wigginton, Johnson and junior guard Jarryn Skeete) are entering their senior seasons, leaving a sizable gap after next year concludes. The Bulls will rely on young talent to fill the void, which may or may not come from the 2015 class.

The incoming talent for the 2015 season for the Bulls includes three freshmen and two junior college transfers. All recruits are committed to UB for next season, according to The Buffalo News and their individual social media pages. At first glance, this class has a strong balance of size, speed and athleticism.

Nate Navigato – Incoming freshman, small forward, Geneva, Illinois

Navigato is a 6-foot-7 big man who can also scare opponents with his jump shot. He has the length and wingspan to play both small forward and power forward for various stretches at a time. He is crafty on the offensive end and finds lapses in opposing defenses when attacking the basket. Navigato doubles as a talented spot-up shooter and is active on the defensive end, as his length allows him to create turnovers.

Last season, only Evans and Skeete shot better than 33 percent from beyond the arc, so Bulls could certainly use another outside shooter. Hurley has used mostly three-guard sets in his starting lineup and Navigato may need time to improve his strength and conditioning before seeing the court.

Nick Perkins – Incoming freshman, power forward, Ypsilanti, Michigan

Perkins is a 6-foot-8 lefty with a strong frame. He can finish in traffic when going to the basket and can finish through contact and has rudimentary post moves. Perkins can hit the mid-range jumper with consistency and can weave through defenders with his gentile dribbling touch, while getting to the basket from the perimeter.

With the Bulls losing both Ford and Regan, the team will be looking for depth at the forward spots. Perkins could have the opportunity to play right away, but most likely will be on the outside looking in on the rotation as he prepares for the rigors of college basketball. Perkins possesses skills similar to Moss, the reigning MAC Player of the Year.

Maurice O'Field – Junior college transfer, guard, Midland College, Cleveland, Ohio

O’Field is an athletic, 6-foot-5 wing player. He’s fast on the offensive end, has a strong shooting ability from mid-range and can get to the basket. His strong defensive play and sizable wingspan combined with leaping ability means he can contest shots at the rim, as well as defend both guard positions. Overall, O’Field possesses the game of a classic swingman.

Just off highlight tapes alone, O’Field could break out as the best incoming recruit of 2015. He could make the rotation as a reserve, but will have at least two years of eligibility. With Skeete and Wigginton entering their senior seasons, O’Field looks to be a prime candidate to get playing time in Hurley’s three-guard offense.

Torian Graham – Junior college transfer, guard, Houston/Chipola College

Graham was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and has become an athletic wing player with the ability to finish at the basket. His experience at junior college has helped develop his shot as he enters a Division-I program. He is capable of playing both guard positions with strong passing ability.

Graham could be the incoming recruit who plays the most next season. Although the guard position is stockpiled with talent, Graham could be the team’s third best player from opening day. His ability to shoot – combined with athleticism – makes him an ideal candidate for the sixth man role. Barring injury or underperformance, Graham could make his way into the starting five at some point next season.

Ikenna Smart – Redshirt freshman, center, Greensboro, NC

Smart redshirted his first season in Buffalo, but he is expected to make an impact starting next season due to his size alone. Since Smart redshirted last season, he was able to practice with the team but not play in games. Smart is capable of simple offensive moves and can hit the hook shot from low post.

Smart is touted for his defense. He is a solid defender who is capable of altering shots at the rim and creating position to box out for rebounds.

Smart can provide a legitimate center option that can change the entire look of the team. He’s someone who can grab rebounds and remain strong as a rim protector and allow Hurley to play around with various lineups. For this upcoming season, Smart will get likely receive playing time behind Johnson and Moss, with an eye for the starting center position in 2016.

Quentin Haynes is a sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com


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