To put into perspective the excitement over the class of 2022 men’s basketball recruiting class that AW Hamilton has signed for Eastern Kentucky, let’s turn to some of the programs that 247Sports ranks below the Colonels.
EKU’s class, rated No. 65 in the country, stands above the recruiting hauls of 20 “big-time” programs. Included are:
▪ A four-time NCAA champion — Connecticut (No. 73);
▪ Three SEC programs — South Carolina (No. 66), Georgia (No. 79), and Mississippi State (No. 86);
▪ Arizona (No. 83);
▪ Gonzaga (No. 90).
“I had to have a big recruiting class,” Hamilton said last week. “We had a disappointing year (in 2021-22), especially (with) the expectations we had.”
As Eastern seeks to bounce back from an injury-plagued 13-18 mark last year in its first season at the ASUN Conference, Hamilton will rely heavily on what will soon be an eight-person recruiting haul.
Included are the first four-star prospect ever signed by EKU; a guard chosen the 2021-22 Indianapolis Player of the Year; and Kentucky’s 2022 Basketball.
ESPN ranks Leland Walker as a four-star recruit. The 6-foot, 160-pound guard turned down offers from Xavier, Providence and DePaul, among others, to cast his lot with EKU.
An Indianapolis product, Walker spent his final high school season playing for Virginia’s Hargrave Military Academy — where Hamilton used to be the head coach. Walker averaged 16 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and one steal a game last season for Hargrave.
“He’s the highest-(ranked) incoming recruit in Eastern Kentucky history. So we’re excited about him,” Hamilton says. He’s dynamic. He does things, you just say, ‘Wow.’ He’s shifty. He can get to the paint. Now, he’s got to shoot it a little bit better. But he’s just a great ballplayer.”
Tayshawn Comer led Indianapolis Cathedral to the Indiana Class 4A state championship. A 5-11, 175-pound point guard, comer averaged 17 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists. Comer signed with Eastern early over offers from schools such as Belmont and Loyola (Sister Jean’s version).
Says Hamilton: “He’s a leader. He’s a floor general. He’s a fearless competitor. He’s a pure point guard. We were lucky to get him. We recruited him really hard and signed him early. He’s got a chance to be really good.”
Comer and Walker are friends from Indianapolis. “They wanted to come to Eastern Kentucky to play together,” Hamilton says. “Both of them could have gone to bigger schools than us. But they wanted to come to Eastern and try to do something special.”
Kentucky’s reigning Mr. Basketball, Turner Buttry, is only the fourth winner of that award that EKU has ever signed directly out of high school.
The former Bowling Green High School star joins Ervin Stepp (1980), Robert Brooks (1970) and Ralph Richardson (1958) as Kentucky Mr. Basketball winners to sign with Eastern. A fifth Mr. Basketball, Charles Thomas (1995), Transferred to Eastern Kentucky from Minnesota.
A 5-11 guard, Buttry (23 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.4 steals) is both hard-nosed and a dead-eye from the foul line (career 93-percent free-throw shooter at Bowling Green).
“We’re excited about Turner. We were his first Division I offer. We believed in him,” Hamilton says. “He’s a kid with a big chip on his shoulder. He’s got something to prove — and I love that about him.”
If the season goes as Hamilton expects, the incoming freshman guards will play major roles for EKU.
“I am going to rely on young guards,” Hamilton says. “These young guards, we’ve got to throw them in the fire and we’ve got to get them some experience quick.”
In addition to the freshman guards, Eastern is adding a junior-college wing in College of Southern Idaho’s Taelon Martin (12.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.1 steals). Out of high school, Martin had offers from Syracuse, UConn, Rutgers, Penn State, Marquette, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech, among many others.
To bolster its front court, Eastern Kentucky has added three players: A high school prospect in 6-8, 215-pound rebounding specialist David Onanina (10 ppg, 10 rpg, 2.4 blocks) from Bishop O’Connell in Virginia; a juco transfer in 6-7 forward John Ukomadu (14 ppg, 6 rpg, 55% FGs) from Macomb Community College in Michigan; and a 6-10 DI transfer, Dardan Kapiti (1.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg), from Florida Atlantic.
There should be one more big addition coming for Eastern. Early next month, expect the Colonels to announce the addition of Western Kentucky transfer and former Madison Central High School star Isaiah Cozart (1.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg).
The 6-7, 235-pound Cozart was a shot-blocking force for Coach Allen Feldhaus Jr. at Madison Central but got caught behind standout big men, first Charles Bassey and then Jamarion Sharp, at WKU.
With the influx of new talent added to five returnees — starters Michael Moreno, Cooper Robb and Devontae Blanton; reserves Dashawn Jackson and Michael Wardy — Hamilton is hoping Eastern can regain the momentum it had generated by going 22-7 in 2020-21.
“We’ve got an exciting group,” Hamilton says. “We are going to be young but we are super-talented. We’re really looking forward to this season.”