If you have followed Florida’s recruiting under Mike White you’ll know he and his staff have been known as tireless workers on the recruiting trail who are going to go all over the country to find talent they like. Recently they have been out to New Jersey to get Scottie Lewis and Niels Lane, and before that they went to Maryland to find Noah Locke. In their first class with the Gators they traveled all the way to the west coast to find Dontay Bassett in California.
When you look at Florida’s offer lists over the last five seasons, they have been expansive. Mike White, Darris Nichols, Jordan Mincy, and Al Pinkins (and Dusty May, before he left for the head job at Florida Atlantic) have gotten in the mix for as many quality players as possible and it never seemed uncommon for the Gators to land in the list of final schools for players that were 5 star All-Americans, 4 star talents, or 3 star program pieces.
That was the case for the first few seasons, but it has completely changed since last year.
As you might know, the Gators only have one signee for the 2021 class, a versatile wing named Kowacie Reeves. Now, the Gators don’t have any seniors set to graduate after this season, but they have several expected to go pro. Were the Gators just looking to not over sign? You could look at it that way, but from what’s out there, that’s not the case.
Instead of looking heavily at the traditional high school recruiting market, the Gators are looking more at the transfer market and bringing in veteran, proven talent. Whether instantly eligible graduate transfers or sitting redshirt transfers the Gators have had great success bringing in talent, and they’re looking to continue to be active in doing so moving forward. With that being the case, they are far less involved in traditional high school recruiting than they have been.
For that reason, when the Gators offered 2022 big man Jai Smith, it was instantly notable. The Gators haven’t offered many players in the 2022 class and the only players that have gotten offers are ones the staff is very interested in. Jai Smith has instantly become one of the most interesting players on Florida’s recruiting board and is a player you need to be aware of.
Smith is listed at 6’9” and 235 pounds and is incredibly physically developed. If you were to hear that Florida was interested in him and you saw a picture you’d think they were looking at him as an upperclassman transfer–not a 16 year old 2022 player. Smith is incredibly muscular and his 235 pounds are mostly muscle, profiling him as a player who should be able to contribute instantly when he enters college.
Hailing from Syracuse, New York, he’s the 149th ranked player in the class right now. His offer list is tremendous as in addition to Florida he has received overs from Kansas, Michigan State, Alabama, Maryland, and Alabama. Considering the interest he already has and the time he still has in high school to showcase his abilities, it won’t be at all surprising if all the big boys in college basketball come calling for him. He plays for Bull City Prep in Durham, North Carolina, where he’ll be plenty visible to the traditional blue bloods of the sport.
Standing at 6’9” with an incredible physique and leaping ability his number one skill is just what you would expect–defending. He’s everything you want in a modern big man with great size and jumping skills to defend on the interior but the dexterity to switch onto smaller guards and compete on the perimeter. Simply put, there are very few players with this frame and athleticism combination and you can see why great teams across the country are interested in his services.
While his defense and shot blocking are his calling card he also has some solid offensive skills for a young big. In fact, he has referenced himself on multiple occasions as a small forward, not a power forward or center, and while he isn’t likely to play that position at the division-I level it speaks a bit to how he sees himself that more than just a run and jump big man and more of someone who can handle the ball a bit offensively.
The Gators only offered a few weeks ago, well after a lot of other programs already offered. Texas and Baylor are two schools that have also expressed interest recently so this is going to be a hotly contested recruitment. He has mentioned in a recent interview that he really likes Florida and that he has had a number of good conversations with both Mike White and assistant coach Al Pinkins (generally responsible for coaching big men on the Gators) and those two are going to be key to bringing him in.
There has also been some discussion regarding if Smith would reclassify to 2021. It’s out there, but a source close to the recruitment says a reclassification is unlikely. For the Gators, that’s probably a good thing. They stand to have Colin Castleton, Omar Payne, Jason Jitoboh, Osayi Osifo, and Anthony Duruji all on the roster next year as frontcourt players which would be a pretty crowded room that may deter Smith from wanting to join. If he were to come in 2022 where he is currently classified there would likely be a bigger opportunity for him as pro opportunities for Castleton and Payne might come at those times.
Considering how physically developed Smith is and how talented he is as a player he is probably weighing in minutes right away to his decision, so Florida would be sitting much better if he stayed in 2022.
With so few targets on the board in 2022 every offer Florida does put out is going to be of high interest and importance. Additionally, we’re seeing this season just how important having capable big men is to modern basketball. The success Florida has had this season has largely been due to their fantastic center rotation of Colin Castleton and Omar Payne and getting a taste of that kind of frontcourt production will definitely have Florida’s staff wanting more moving forward.
Jai Smith is an outstanding player you’ll want to keep an eye on.