Chris Mack and Louisville basketball are ‘unofficially’ on commitment watch.
2020 has been weird and the list of reasons why grows longer and longer by the day. With three commitments already in the books for Chris Mack and the Louisville basketball program in the class of 2021, his success on the recruiting trail could in fact be one of the more weird things in local sports news.
Think about it. Louisville was on the receiving end of a NOA from the NCAA just months ago, one that everyone across the world of college basketball has known was coming for nearly two years. This is the time that most, including myself, thought that Mack and his staff were going to struggle to recruit at a level even close to what we’ve seen to no fault of their own.
Even with all of that swarming the program and the effects of the pandemic reaching the world of college basketball and recruiting, the class of 2021 has turned out to be the start of something special.
Coach Mack didn’t flinch when we asked him on the Big Red Louie Podcast about the ongoing battle with the NCAA and how it has impacted recruiting, acknowledging that it has made things tough but hammering home that they aren’t willing to let it stop them from building their program. Mack told us:
“This is something that when I took the job we knew it was impending. we knew at some point we’d receive an NOA. Being that Louisville is really the only school that took the proactive measure that they did, from the President, board, Athletic Director, entire coaching staff, those are some real strong mitigating factors. So in that sense, we feel really good about what we’ve done and who we are”
That recruiting pitch has clearly worked, already leading to commitments from three dynamic players in the class, starting with four-star forward Bryce Hopkins, four-star guard Bobby Pettiford, and the most recent commit, four-star guard and the nation’s top JUCO guard El Ellis.
Louisville basketball closing in on combo forward
Now it appears that the fourth commitment could be coming down the pike any day, and it just so happens to be from a player I believe could be the most intriguing out of the pool of recruits being targeted by Louisville.
Eric van der Hejiden, a 6’9 combo forward and Raleigh native was a name that recently emerged for Louisville basketball, as Mack and company officially extended a scholarship offer back in June. Things moved quickly, as van der Hejiden announced his list of ten finalists which included Louisville along with Iowa, Wake Forest, Providence, Texas, Cincinnati, Ole Miss, Clemson, Marquette, and Maryland.
Less than a month later, Louisville received a “high-confidence” crystal ball projection from one of the top college basketball recruiting analysts in Brian Snow, who wrote, “sources in Van der Heijden’s native North Carolina have informed 247Sports that Van Der Heijden is favoring the Cardinals right now, and that he could be entering into decision making mode.”
While Snow acknowledged there’s no official timeline yet, it seems that a commitment to Louisville is in the near future which is huge considering the circumstances. As I tweeted on Tuesday, there’s so much to like about the game of what I believe to be one of the most unique recruits in recent memory.
At 6’9, Van Der Heijden is a versatile combo forward with great size who has the ability to play both the three and four positions in Coach Mack’s four-in-one-out system, similar to Jordan Nwora and Quinn Slazinski.
He’s a composite three-star player, who ranks as the 157th best player overall and the 36th best small forward in the country according to the 247 Sports Composite rankings (this is a combined rating from the major recruiting websites). However, 247 Sports is much higher on him ranking him 72nd overall, making him a top 100 four-star player.
His size combined with his skill and feel for the game, not only as a shooter and scorer, but as a passer and playmaker for his teammates makes him an even more intriguing prospect.. As I wrote previously, Van Der Heijden is a “point-forward” of sorts, who possesses a very high level of vision for his position making him a dangerous threat both inside and out. While he’s not a freak athlete, he moves extremely well and is adept at using his length as a tool to get his shot up and to keep quicker offensive players in front of him defensively.
In Mack’s offensive system, VDH (we’re going to start using “VDH” now for the sake of time) will likely play a similar role to what we’ll see from Slazinski this season. His size and shooting will be a weapon that Mack can use in a variety of lineups, and will be a huge tool for dynamic downhill attacking guards El Ellis and Bobby Pettiford Jr. to rely on.
The rankings are what they are, and while VDH is ranked ‘lower’ than most recruits Louisville fans are used to landing it doesn’t mean that they are “lowering standards.” Recruiting becomes much more challenging during an NCAA investigation because of all the “what if’s” and negative recruiting that comes along with it. Finding three and four year players who may be overlooked by the top schools but bring unique traits to the floor that can help the program win is what Mack has focused on and he’s done an incredible job.