University of Missouri

This week in Mizzou recruiting: E.J. Liddell, Mario McKinney, Aijha Blackwell & more

Well, we know last week was a loaded weekend for Mizzou recruiting.

So let’s talk about it.

Liddell visits and cuts to three

Missouri’s top basketball recruit for 2019, E.J. Liddell, took an official visit to campus the past weekend with childhood friend and fellow target Mario McKinney. All indications on Missouri’s end are that the visit went well. Fresh off the visit, Liddell promptly canceled future visits to Kansas State and Wisconsin and moved up his visit to Illinois to next weekend.

I traded texts with Liddell on Thursday, who said that he isn’t doing interviews at this time. Can’t blame him. The recruiting process can be a bear sometimes.

Out of his final three, I still think Missouri and Ohio State are the players here. A source tells me Missouri will be in to see him on Friday. The Tigers aren’t letting up. I don’t want to give a prediction right now but the Tigers have gone all out for Liddell.

As for McKinney, he’s been hard to get in touch with, too. I’ll stick to what I said last week though — I think he ends up a Tiger. Landing McKinney before Liddell commits would be the ideal scenario for Missouri. For my money, I think McKinney’s word holds a lot more say than Ohio State commits D.J. Carton and Alonzo Gaffney. He could help get Liddell to Missouri.

I wouldn’t be surprised if McKinney takes another visit or two but I think by the end of the month he’s on board. He fits perfectly into Cuonzo Martin’s system and is a Missouri legacy. While he hasn’t revealed his next move I think he ends up taking at least one more visit to build suspense before committing. Just my two cents.

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Buford on recruiting weekend

Because McKinney has been hard to talk to and Liddell is laying low, I caught up with someone who was involved in all facets of Missouri’s recruiting last weekend — Jack Buford.

The football commit was in town to cheer on his future team but his sister Madison, a fellow 2019 recruit, was also on a hoops visit. He hung out with Liddell, McKinney and Aijha Blackwell, Robin Pingeton’s top target.

First, a history lesson.

Buford and Liddell played on the same AAU team from second grade to middle school. That’s some team. Buford also played with Liddell in football, when E.J. was playing quarterback and tight end. I didn’t know how close they were.

“I was telling them to have fun and answer any questions,” Buford said. “You can’t force anything. But I know Cuonzo welcomed them in. They seemed to enjoy their visit.”

He went on to say that Blackwell and Madison also really enjoyed themselves. Madison Buford doesn’t have a Mizzou offer yet but a source tells me Pingeton’s staff would likely take her if she wanted to commit. At 5-foott-9, Buford said his sister is a shooter who uses her athleticism to rebound and post up against bigger players.

Aside from Missouri, she’s also hearing from Saint Louis, Kansas, Tulane and Nevada among others.

Buford had high praise for Blackwell.

“She just spreads the floor so well. She’s the female version of E.J. but with a better handle,” he said. “She’s got an all-around game.”

He went on to say that Blackwell could play for a men’s team if she wanted to and put up impressive numbers. All indications from Missouri’s end are that Blackwell’s visit went really well. She plans to take some more visits over the coming weeks before deciding.

Tray Jackson to Minnesota

Well it’s inevitable we talk about some bad news right?

Tray Jackson, a top-three target for Missouri, committed to Minnesota earlier in the week. I’m told the Tigers staff wasn’t totally blindsided, the surprise came that he didn’t take more visits before announcing.

Many believe that Antavion Collum will now be the new Mizzou priority, after having the Tigers in his top seven in August. That’s not a slam dunk. The biggest difference between Jackson and Collum is that while they have similar builds, Jackson can play any position while Collum is more of a guard. I’m told Mizzou’s staff was surprised Jackson didn’t take more visits before committing. The staff hasn’t met yet to decide what to do with Jackson off the board.

A side note, for the people saying Mizzou’s work in Michigan hasn’t paid off yet, context is key. Martin and assistant Cornell Mann, the program’s lead recruiter in Detroit, have been in the job for about 18 months. Those expecting Mizzou to land a recruit immediately are forgetting that the Tigers haven’t been this active in the area since the Norm Stewart era. Pipelines don’t grow overnight.

I said last week that Missouri canceled its visit with Rocket Watts because of issues on his end. If Missouri landed him but he didn’t make it to campus, would Mann get the blame on that too?

Speaking of Michigan, Missouri offered 2020 four-star recruit Jalen Terry and watched 2021 standout Pierre Brooks this week. Terry plays with Mann’s son Maliq Carr and has been on the Tigers’ radar for some time now. Missouri offered Carr for basketball on Friday.

Brooks is another Michigan kid, a 6-5 shooting guard with room to grow. Carr is also a standout football recruit. He’s talked about playing both in college but I don’t think that happens. If he does go the hoops route he could go the Demetrius Harris route (for all you Chiefs fans) after he’s done playing.

Missouri will likely offer 2020 five-star Isaiah Jackson soon too. Jackson is another Michigan player who I’ve raved about for some time now. His game is straight filthy.

The Tigers also offered 2020 Michigan prospect Carlos Johnson. I watched Johnson play at the Nike Elite 100 camp in St. Louis back in June. He’s a crafty guard who really takes care of the ball for his age. He’s great in transition, too.

Josh Christopher update

It’s open gym time so Missouri’s coaches are making the rounds this time of year. Missouri saw 2020 St. Louis guard Caleb Love this week and a source tells me the Tigers will be in to see Josh Christopher next week.

Christopher’s recruitment is interesting because strength coach Nicodemus Christopher, his cousin, appears to be taking the lead. That makes sense and no NCAA rule can stop Nicodemus from reaching out to his own flesh and blood.

But Missouri isn’t alone in this recruitment. A source tells The Star that Southern California coach Andy Enfield watched him this week along with assistants from UCLA and Gonzaga. Mark Few of Gonzaga could watch Christopher by the end of the week and Georgetown, Oregon and Kansas are supposed to stop by next week.

Noticeably absent from that list is Pitt, where Nicodemus’ brother Garry is the strength coach. Given the kind of recruiter Jeff Capel is, I thought the Panthers would be all over Josh. I don’t think Christopher’s recruitment is anything to worry about yet. Missouri likes its chances from its side. Getting him in for a visit is the priority right now.

Alex Schiffer

Alex Schiffer covers University of Missouri athletics for The Star.

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