When Elijah Landrum announced in April that he was transferring from SMU, it did not seem like a big deal to most SMU fans.
The guard averaged just 3.1 points per game on 28 percent shooting in his freshman season. Losing those numbers is not a huge blow for the team. But Landrum is SMU’s fourth player to transfer from the program in the last two years.
That number is alarming.
No one remains from SMU’s 2016 recruiting class, as Australians Harry Froling and Tom Wilson are both pursuing professional opportunities after spending less than a year at SMU. Dashawn McDowell, the third player from that recruiting class, is now enrolled at Seattle University after he was used sparingly in his lone season on the Hilltop.
From the 2013-14 to the 2016-17 seasons, the Mustangs won at least 25 games in each campaign. The four-year run was not built on the back of one epic recruiting class but was instead sustained by new players stepping up and filling the void of those who left.
When Nick Russell and Yannick Moreira graduated, Ben Moore and Sterling Brown replaced their production. When Keith Frazier left the program and Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy graduated, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and Semi Ojeleye starred, taking the team to an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Foster is still deciding whether to return for 2018-19, but if he doesn’t, all of SMU’s AAC Championship core will be gone, and there is no evidence that SMU can fill its key players’ shoes like it has in the past.
In a college environment where a player can leave for the NBA at any moment, it is crucial to keep cycling in talented players. When someone leaves, there needs to be a player on the bench who is ripe for more minutes, ready to step in.
Ethan Chargois was SMU’s most promising freshman, averaging 9.1 points per game, but even he wore down over the course of the season after a searing start. Neither of SMU’s other two rising sophomores, Will Douglas and Everett Ray, made their presences felt, averaging less than three points per game each. Other returning players are guards Jahmal McMurray and Jimmy Whitt, who played decently last season but are both limited players who cannot be the core of an NCAA Tournament team.
SMU will add two transfers to the mix. Isiaha Mike showed off an explosive game as a freshman at Duquense. He redshirted last season, and is ready to step into the lineup this season. SMU also landed Chattanooga graduate transfer Nat Dixon, who is ready to play immediately after averaging 13.8 points per game for the Mocs last season.
Mike is an unknown, which, for a team that needs offense after last season’s debacle, is a positive for SMU at this point. No one has seen Mike play in over a year a half, and the prospect of having a player without a defined ceiling is tantalizing for an offensively challenged roster.
Tim Jankovich is also bringing in two new freshmen in 2018: DeSoto teammates Feron Hunt and Jahmar Young. Hunt is one of the highest-rated freshmen SMU has landed in recent years, as 247Sports ranks him as the eighth-best prospect in Texas and 136th nationally.
SMU needs Hunt to pan out and instantly contribute to evaporate the bad karma created by prior swings and misses on the recruiting trail. Contributions from Young would be big from the program as well, although he is not as highly touted as his DeSoto teammate.
So after two huge hits in Milton and Foster, SMU has missed on four targets, hit on one, with two undecided. Including Mike and Dixon, the team has just five players penciled in to be solid rotation guys next season, and it desperately needs at least two of Ray, Douglas or Hunt to pop.
Last season was a major step back for the Mustangs, and the future is murky at best. The team is counting on improvements from Douglas and Ray, as well as solid showings from Hunt and Young to reverse the recent trend of recruits falling by the wayside.