By Jeremy Rubin
After a successful 2019-20 season was cut short before a potential NCAA tournament bid, head coach Jerod Haase and Stanford’s men’s basketball program hinted at a promising future. Now, having secured one of the top recruiting classes in the Pac-12, the Cardinal have put the conference on notice.
Stanford will welcome four highly touted prospects — Brandon Angel, Max Murrell, Noah Taitz and Ziaire Williams — to the Farm next year. Each incoming player is at least a consensus three-star recruit.
“We worked really hard, we built relationships and sold a vision about what we’re doing,” Haase said, when asked how the program was able to land the No. 15 class in the nation. “I think this year helped that because we took a step forward as a program.”
Listed at No. 7 on ESPN’s top-100 prospect list for the class of 2020, small forward Williams is Stanford’s only five-star recruit and the highest rated signing since before ESPN began releasing its rankings. His all-around game and athleticism make him a potential 2021 lottery pick.
Taitz, a 6’3″ combo guard from Las Vegas, checks in as the No. 99 prospect on ESPN’s top-100. He’s the only incoming guard but is a versatile player capable of slotting in at shooting guard or running point interchangeably.
“[Taitz is] tough-minded and he understands the game. He can really shoot it and loves the big moments and big plays,” Haase said.
Murrell, the No. 14 power forward in the country, checks in at 6’9″ and adds a dynamic frontcourt presence to the Cardinal roster. His athleticism makes him a capable shot-blocker and scorer with good touch around the court.
Finally, Angel adds versatility and playmaking to round out the recruiting class. He is the No. 25 power forward, according to 247Sports. The 6’7″ forward can guard multiple positions and can stretch the floor with an elite 3-point shot.
While each player has their own standout qualities, Haase sees similarities among his recruiting class. On the court, knowledge of the game and across-the-board shooting were key in his recruiting.
“Those are both two things we wanted to bring in with this class,” he said.
Besides their on-court abilities, Haase mentioned another characteristic all the players share.
“They all need to put on some weight and get stronger in the weight room,” he said. “That’ll be the next step in the process.”
The quartet of players will join an up-and-coming Cardinal basketball team full of returning pieces. The only true question mark is freshman phenom point guard Tyrell Terry, who declared for the draft last month but can still opt to remain at Stanford.
Just one player, senior guard Rodney Herenton, will graduate, meaning much of the core is returning for the 2020-21 campaign. This nucleus includes junior forward Oscar da Silva, who averaged a team-high 15.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and was named All-Pac-12 First Team, and guards junior Daejon Davis and sophomore Bryce Wills.
“We’re optimistic. We’re excited,” Haase said. “We think the guts of the team is back. We have the incoming freshmen, who are going to help us with depth and talent. We think we can continue to take another step forward next year.”
The team has been in communication with each other and the coaching staff throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite being away from campus with limited basketball and exercise equipment at their respective houses, players are still working “to get bigger, faster, stronger — they’re trying to work on their game,” Haase said.
In a normal season, players often remain on campus for the summer to continue to work out and train. The team then officially reports for team training and practice on Sept. 15. While it remains to be seen when any students will be allowed back this year and in what form that may be, the players continue to maintain their skills from their homes around the world.
Following an impressive season with a roster full of young talent, men’s basketball was already pegged as a team on the rise. Now, with internal growth from the current roster and four additional high caliber recruits in the fold, the team looks to take the next step forward this coming season.
“Hopefully we can continue to grow the crowds at Maples and get a home court advantage and bring some excitement to the University and an opportunity for the students to come out and have some fun,” Haase said.