The Navy men’s basketball team will look a little different this season.
Patriot League Player of the Year Greg Sprink has graduated, but coach Billy Lange is excited to see how his 2008 recruiting class attempts to fill that void.
Johnnie Corrigan, a 6-foot-6 guard from Harrisburg, Pa., Nate Kasper, a 6-foot-8 forward from Wheeler, Ind., and Jordan Sugars, a 6-foot-3 guard from Millbrook, Va., make up Navy’s 2008 class.
The Mids also add point guard O.J. Avworo to their roster. Avworo, a sophomore, sat out last season after transferring from Idaho.
Lange spoke with Recruiting Report recently about Navy’s 2008 basketball recruiting class.
Give us a quick overview of what this class will bring to Navy.
I’m excited about the overall skill level of this class. It was a priority for us last summer to go out and sign up some guys who could bring a good level of passing and shooting. We knew we were going to add three or four guys to help us become one of the better shooting teams in our conference and the country. We feel like we added three guys that make shots.
Kasper was the fifth-leading scorer in the state of Indiana as a senior. Did he have a lot of recruiting interest?
Not from a Division I level. He really did not. He played with a very good AAU team that was kind of under-the-radar. You think about Indiana high school basketball and there’s a ton of great players there. But this AAU team wasn’t thought of as one of the elite teams in the state. We saw him at a side auxiliary gym in Las Vegas and he just caught my eye with his ability and his skill level inside and out. He looked like a kid who loved to play. He has a very big frame at 6’8, but he’s mobile. He can put the ball in the basket. He’s able to score in a variety of ways.
Who was the main competition for Kasper?
Honest to God, I don’t even remember. It wasn’t anything that was crazy. Some Division II and NAIA schools [offered him]. Some Ohio Valley schools, some MAC schools came around.
How did he fare at prep school last year?
He went to Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio. He did well -- averaged like 16 points a game and seven rebounds. He played well -- really changed his body and got strong. His body kind of went through a metamorphosis.
Will his prep school experience help ease his transition to the Division I level?
I’ve seen it go both ways. I think it should be a positive if the guy has gained some experience. From high school to prep school, the competition gets better every level you move up. But you still have to make an adjustment from moving up -- the adjustment from playing against guys a little bigger and more experienced. But Nate’s experienced. He has a lot of experience. He was also a volleyball player in high school, so he’s not freakishly athletic, but he’s a good athlete.
What kind of player is Sugars?
He’s kind of like a do-it-all guy. He’s very aggressive, he’s got a great body and he’s athletic. He has a good understanding of the game and he’s a phenomenal leader and teammate. He’s got a combination of all the things we look for. He can drive the ball, put it on the floor and one of the best things he does is shooting from the outside. He’s got a lot of intangibles. He’s always in the right place at the right time. He does a great job defensively, really goes after rebounds from the guard positions. He’s been well-coached.
Do you expect him to contribute immediately?
I think so. Obviously, we lose Greg Sprink, but we have a lot of guards returning so there’s a lot of competition. But I think Jordan as a freshman is ready to play at that spot. We do have some older, more experienced guys at the spot. The great thing about Jordan is his ability to adapt to his role because he’s such an unselfish basketball player.
Is Sugars sort of a combo guard? What type of role will he fill?
We play three guards at a time or four guards at a time. He can be our fourth guard out there because he competes, he’s athletic and he can handle the ball. He’s more of a wing than anything else, but he also has that ability to handle the ball. When you say combo, I think of a guy who could play the point. He might be able to do that, but I haven’t seen that out of him yet. But he can dribble. It’s just, can he handle the pressure against the college level? I don’t know that yet.
What do you expect from Corrigan?
We’ve recruited some very good shooters here and he ranks among the best in terms of shooting the basketball. He takes the shots he can make and makes the shots that he takes. He’s very aware -- he doesn’t force bad shots. He’s a very smart, cerebral basketball player. He can shoot off the dribble, and catch-and-shoot. He can really shoot the basketball.
Who was the main competition for Sugars and Corrigan?
Jordan came down to The Citadel, High Point, Navy and some Ivy League schools at the time. John, it’s funny. We got a call on John, saw him work out April of his junior year. We offered to take him and he committed late May or early June, so nobody really got the chance to recruit him. He’d have had 10,12 offers [had he not committed so early]. There’s not a doubt in my mind. He had a team camp at [the Eastern Invitational in Trenton, N.J.] and he was one of the leading scorers in the camp. So he can score, he’s a great rebounder and he very rarely makes mistakes.
How were you able to land Corrigan so early in the recruiting process?
We struck it on our first conversation and had a good relationship, John and I. He had great respect for the tradition and our institution. He comes from a great family. They’re amazing people -- he’s very family-oriented. Then he got the same family feeling on campus and it just struck. We’re very fortunate. He’s a heck of a player.
Talk about Avworo and how he came to Annapolis from Idaho.
We recruited him out of high school. He went to Alief Elsik High School in Houston, Texas. He had scholarship offers from Idaho and Wichita State. ... He was looking to transfer from Idaho and just wanted a different institution for himself. This is the first place he called and we got him up for a visit. He’s all about leadership and challenging himself. Sometimes you’ve got to go away to come back and that’s what he did and we’re happy to have him.
What did you see out of Avworo in practice last year?
He’s probably the first pure point guard that we’ve had here. ... There aren’t many [true point guards today] in terms of what the position is all about -- creating shots for your team and spearheading the defense. He’s kind of a throwback to that position. He’s going to bring us a speed and passing and creating element that we haven’t had. Overall, he’s going to bring a winning attitude and toughness. He’s a very tough kid who’s committed in the classroom and on the basketball court.
Will this recruiting class, collectively, be able to help replace Sprink’s production?
Here’s what I would say. Our program has evolved a lot in four years. I’m going to play the best players. If those freshmen are among those guys, I’m going to play them. To count on that right away, collectively as freshman, I think would be leading those guys down the wrong path. But they can contribute to the team. They’re going to make us a better shooting team, a smarter team, a little bit more versatile. That can help make up for him. Replacing a guy like Greg Sprink is more of a team attitude than an individual or small-group attitude. I think that all three of them are capable of pushing for minutes as freshmen. We’ve basically started some freshmen every year since I’ve been here. Is it going to continue? I don’t know right now.
Has Navy’s recent success made recruiting any easier?
Does it get easier? I don’t know if it gets easier. I think we’ve gotten a little smarter [in recruiting], but these guys are as good as any class we’ve brought in, from a versatility standpoint, intelligence in the game and team toughness. It’s a great rebounding class. There are a lot of things these guys have brought. Our program is further along, so it helps. We’ve got more guys who can lead. Now we’ve got [veteran] guys who’ve played here ... that can bring these [freshmen] along at a more rapid pace. Whether they’re major contributors is yet to be determined, but as far their careers here, I feel very good about them.
Photo of Billy Lange by George Bridges / KRT (Dec. 5, 2005).