Stunning signings could mean DU hoop dreams

Photo: Courtesy of NBC Sports

Yesterday, media sources across the nation released the news – Ronnie Harrell is transferring from Creighton University to the University of Denver as a graduate transfer. A local Denver high school player, the 6’7″ Harrell was playing 25 minutes per game for the Bluejays and averaged 7 points and 6 rebounds in the rugged Big East.

The deciding factor, besides returning to his hometown, was likely his relationship with Denver’s head coach Rodney Billups, his cousin.

And folks around the country reacted to this move by Harrell.

And, the news also just gets a little better for the Pioneers in the Summit League as South Dakota graduate transfer Matt Mooney announced that he is transferring from the program – several weeks after their coach Craig Smith left to take the reins at Utah State. Mooney absolutely demolished the Pioneers in a number of games over his career and his departure will put a major dent in South Dakota’s 2018-2019 season hopes. And, no word yet on South Dakota State University’s superstar Mike Daum. The rumors on the street are that he will either transfer or test the demand for his services in the NBA draft without an agent. And, other Summit League teams are announcing defections as well. We will update them all in a future article.

And, hold on again, the news gets better again for Denver.

Last week the University of Denver received a verbal commitment from 6’9″ power-forward David Nzekwesi. Verbal Commits shows Nzekwesi’s hometown as The Hague, Netherlands and he plays at Byron Nelson High School located in Trophy Club, Texas, about 20 miles north of Fort Worth.

Nzekwesi, who currently has 20 offers, had narrowed his schools to Fresno State and Denver before last week.

Nzekwesi told D1 Vision , “The main thing I’m looking for is a team that wins, has a good coaching staff, somewhere I can go to develop even more, good academics, and somewhere that I will get to play. This season at Byron Nelson High School, Nzekwesi averaged close to 19 points and 11 rebounds per game.

Combine  6’9″ prep player David Nzekwesi with grad transfer 6’7″ Ronnie Harrell Jr. and 21-year-old 6’8″ Alperen Kurnaz from Turkey – and, suddenly, DU is big, athletic and experienced up-front.

All these moves by Denver, combined with graduation and transfers across the Summit League, place Denver squarely in the hunt for their first Summit League title. That is if all the different parts jell and Denver gets solid guard play alongside senior veteran Joe Rosga.

So, with Harrell Jr. as the veteran linchpin, for the first time in a long, long time – Denver hoops fans can realistically dream about the Pioneers competing for a conference title next season.

11 thoughts on “Stunning signings could mean DU hoop dreams”

  1. This is great news for all DU fans. Harrell is the kind of local player that could spur more local interest in the Pioneer program, even if it’s just for a year. Hopefully, Harrell will use his experience to help lead the Pioneers,and I hope the team is accepting of a 1 year player coming in as a graduate transfer. If he can average 7 PPG in the Big East, one would think he should be able to be a 10-12 point per game guy in the Summit.

    This also helps the Pioneers get bigger and more athletic up front, which is needed, but DU still lacks a true big man in the middle (6-10+), which is concerning.

    I don’t know that DU is a true competitor for the Summit title now, but they are improved from where they were a week ago. DU will still need to replace Amigo’s inside big man presence/scoring as well as Pemberton’s hard nosed defense just to maintain the .500 level where they are now, and it remains to be seen if they have the internal answers to do that or surpass it. Getting bigger on the outside forwards will be helpful, but we’ll need to see better ball security and tenacity on defense if the Pios hope to finally make it to the dance.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I disagree, Swami.

    The Pioneers held the rebounding edge last year. I think the three big guys can more than make up for Amigo on offense. Add, 6’8″ sophomore Donovan Carlisle should be healthy this upcoming season as well as benefit from another off-season of training/conditioning. Plus, if Murkey and Krafka improved like they did last season, that is a lot of inside talent. Size is less important now than it has been in the past in the college game. That is why the open issue now is the guard play beside Joe Rosga. Freshman recruits Taelyr Gatlin, Joesph Lanzi and Jase Townsend need to prove they can play both ends of the floor as does Elvin Rodriquez. If one of them emerges alongside Rosga as a reliable 1 or 2, they will be a tough out in the Summit League.

    And who knows, Denver may not be done.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Let’s not jump to statements that DU may be in the hunt for a Summit title. Do we know who the rest of the Summit teams has recruited? Grad transfers? It’s nice to be positive, but also objective.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We will provide an update on transfers/departures once we get through the signing period. If this year is like the past several years, the Summit League is the net loser on transfers – with the exception of SDSU.

      We said DU ‘could compete’ for a title. The best we could say the last two years was .500. So, we have avoided hyperbole when evaluating DU’s hoops program in the past -and we have been pretty accurate. At this point, Mike Daum is the wildcard. SDSU would still be the prohibitive favorite again if he stays. If not, DU ‘could compete’ for the title this upcoming season.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Great signing and great freshman recruiting class!!! BTW – When we are talking about new power forwards…what about adding JaVonni Bickham in additional to our returning bigs too!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We left 6’8”Bickham off the list because he plays for a small HS classification in Minnesota. His impact could be big but likely not his first season. That would be a big jump to D1. But big-time skills and potential.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Probably a better chance of getting Tory Miller-Stewart from CU. (6.2 PPG and 4.7 RPG). He just got his graduate release from CU. He was recruited to CU by Billups and his family is fairly close – Kansas City. DU can’t speak to players being recruited so just an educated guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sounds promising. Love hoop news in April. “Can’t tell the players without a scorecard” as Red Barber used to say. (Red owned the scorecard and pencil concession at Yankee Stadium) I would think we have reached our allotted scholarships for next year. Some kids may be getting financial aid in some other fashion. I’m not too worried about other Summit schools getting grad transfers. Honestly, how many good hoopsters want a master’s degree from our Summit competitors. No 6’10” player is fine. If it turns out we are fairly tall and athletic, things will fall into place quickly. Besides Daum, the other 6’10” players in the league did little to make their teams strong. Daum has multiple skills, but still he needs a supporting cast to win.


    1. DU never signs grad transfers – especially a player that could go to any number of power conference schools. Also, landing a 6’9” freshman with 20 offers is pretty impressive. Based on DU’s historically middling recruiting, stunning, from a DU perspective. But, probably ‘business as usual’ for Power conferences members.

      Liked by 1 person

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