Signing period: Where Missouri may stand among Courtney Ramey’s final 10

Louisville, who Ramey had formerly been committed to, stepped back from his recruitment on Monday after Ramey announced his final 10 schools last Thursday.
Four-star point guard Courtney Ramey warms up before a high school game in St. Louis his junior year. Ramey committed to Texas over Missouri and three other finalists.

Courtney Ramey was never supposed to be in this position again.

Everything was figured out. The standout point guard hailing from St. Louis — called a four-star by some, a five-star by others — was committed to Louisville, set to play for a premier college basketball program and free to enjoy the rest of his high school career free of recruiting mayhem.

But after Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was terminated in October 2017 in the midst of an FBI probe for corruption in college basketball, Ramey’s commitment was scrapped, and the class of 2018 talent had to start from scratch.

Now, months later, Ramey’s second journey through the recruiting process has reached a landmark point. As the college basketball national signing period opens today, he announced his final cut of 10 contending teams via his Instagram last Thursday.

The schools? Illinois, Louisville, Minnesota, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Oregon, South Carolina, Southern Methodist, Texas and Missouri.

Recent Missouri signee Xavier Pinson spoke with The Maneater on Wednesday about his relationship with Ramey and his thoughts on Ramey’s recruitment. He said he’s had a lot of conversations with several Missouri commits, naming “hopefully Courtney” among them.

“Me and Courtney have been really close friends since like the eighth grade or freshman year, because AAU,” Pinson said. “I just feel like if he came, we could be a good backcourt together along with Torrence [Watson] and another few players. I feel like we have a strong chance of getting him because of his history and friendship with Torrence and me as well. I’m really excited about Courtney.”

The Maneater spoke with Ramey after his high school’s state championship pep rally in March. Regarding the factors that affect trimming a list like this down, Ramey cited a good relationship with a team’s coach and a good atmosphere at the school as being important to him. But his first response, when asked for the elements he considers most, was immediate.

“I want to go somewhere where I feel like I have a chance to win a national championship,” he said.

Missouri has never won a national title, but blueblood program Louisville did in 2013 — the most recent championship among the remaining teams (though it was later technically vacated by the NCAA). It presented an unusual option for Ramey, who was already committed there for over six months before the program seemingly fell into shambles upon Pitino’s termination.

But now, Louisville appears to be out of the picture after recently hired head coach Chris Mack (formerly of 2018 No. 1 seed Xavier) ruled out Ramey and another former class of 2018 commitment on Monday.

Mack was able to name Ramey specifically because he and Louisville are not actively recruiting the point guard. Had Mack been recruiting him, commenting on Ramey by name would have violated NCAA recruiting policies.

Given Ramey’s prioritization of championship opportunities and Louisville’s history among college basketball royalty, then, Mack’s apparent disinterest in Ramey could be a good sign for Missouri.

So could multiple other recent potential influences. Illinois, which had long been one of Ramey’s top suitors, landed the top junior college point guard in the country, Andres Feliz, on Sunday, diminishing the program’s need for Ramey and perhaps lowering any sense of compellment for him.

The same could be true of Ohio State. The Buckeyes also added a future point guard on Sunday with the commitment of CJ Walker, a transfer from Florida State who averaged 8 points per game for an Elite Eight team last season. Walker entered school a four-star recruit and will be eligible as a potential starting point guard for two seasons after sitting out this one.

The other seven schools include Texas and Oklahoma State, both of which Ramey made official visits to; South Carolina, whose head coach Frank Martin visited Ramey’s high school on March 27; Minnesota, whose head coach is Pitino’s son; and Oregon, the only school whose head coach has not yet paid a visit, though assistants have. Oregon is also the contender to have reached the Final Four most recently, having done so in 2017.

Then there’s Missouri, an in-state program that was barely even a competitor for Ramey’s talents a little over a year ago when he was preparing to commit in February 2017. How did the team get to this point?

Today’s Tigers are a completely different team from the first time Ramey went through this circuit. They were en route to an eight-win season and a head coaching transition period of their own, with Kim Anderson on the hot seat.

Now, Cuonzo Martin has altered the course of the program, having finished fifth in the SEC and brought Missouri to its first NCAA Tournament in five years.

If freshman Jontay Porter sticks to his recent decision to declare for the NBA draft, Martin and the Tigers will have three open scholarships left to offer ahead of the 2018-19 season. Ramey has been one of their top targets.

Martin was at three of Ramey’s last four games in his high school career, while the Webster Groves High senior led his team to a second consecutive state championship.

Previously criticized for under recruiting the prospect who lived two hours away, Martin was in attendance for the state final in Springfield, fewer than 24 hours after his Missouri Tigers had their season axed at the hands of Florida State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

It was a testament to how devoted he had become to pursuing the country’s top undeclared point guard.

“[Martin] told me why it was scaled back, then he picked it up,” Ramey said after the pep rally. “He just felt like I was leaning toward a different school. It wasn’t the case. He told me that, and he was being honest with me.”

Good relationship with the team’s coach: check.

And along the way, Ramey and his high school coaching staff even attended a game at Missouri, experiencing the Tigers’ senior night festivities, and later, their 20th win of the season.

“It was fun; it was a different atmosphere from the last time I had been there,” Ramey said. “It was just good to see how the change was, how the fans were back at Mizzou.”

Said his high school head coach Jay Blossom: “I think that really got [Missouri] back in the mix.”

Good atmosphere at the school: check.

And while the idea of an established program may be enticing to Ramey, it’s not everything to him.

Villanova is a case study. Jay Wright’s Wildcats are fresh off their second national title in three years, but they were ruled out after landing Jahvon Quinerly, at the time the only point guard nationally ranked higher than Ramey.

The apparent message? The St. Louis prospect seems also to value the opportunity to have significant minutes in college right away.

That’s where Blossom thinks Missouri’s pitch needs to be. Blossom, a Columbia, Missouri, native, was frustrated by the team’s starved backcourt at many points during conference play in the 2017-18 season.

Ramey, he says, would be a perfect fit to fill that hole.

Whether Ramey ultimately chooses Missouri, some other school or if he finds that blueblood, the next college basketball signing period opens today and closes May 16.

After it opens, there’s no rush for Ramey to make his decision. He still has three allotted official visits to make, and with the cut still publicly whittled down to 10 (or now, presumptively nine) teams, he is still likely to remain one of Missouri’s biggest offseason waiting games.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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