Prior Recruiting Errors Help Explain Denver’s Men’s Hoops Slide

It is far too early to evaluate DU’s new men’s basketball 2021-2022 recruits, especially with so little time to replace the exodus of players from last season’s 2-19 roster. Assistant head coach  Brandon Dunston and assistant Jeff Zewe are in charge of recruiting to Head Coach Jeff Wulbrun’s vision.  Wulbrun told the University of Denver Magazine, “Recruiting to a prestigious academic institution allows you to recruit high-character and high-integrity kids—kids who chase excellence not just in basketball, but chase excellence in the classroom; kids who not only want to be good players, but good students,”

The cupboard was bare when Wulbrun and his staff arrived on campus. So how are DU’s former players performing in new locales and are they better off at their new schools?

Jase Townsend transferred to a DU peer school, the University of San Diego (5-2). However, at USD, Townsend’s scoring has dropped from 19.2 points per game to 11.7.  on nearly the same minutes played (32.6 vs. 29.7). San Diego blends a solid academic experience and meets Townsend’s stated desire to play for a winning program.  Townsend, USD’s leading scorer in early non-conference play, broke his hand and is out 4-6 weeks for the Toreros.

Sam Hines, Jr. and Robert Jones transferred to South Florida and Iowa State, respectively, and are playing bit roles with their new teams. Sam Hines played 29.2 minutes per game at DU but dropped to 17.3 minutes this season, scoring 3.4 points vs. the 10.7 ppg. he scored at DU last year.  Big man Robert Jones’ playing time has dropped in half at ISU and he is scoring just 2.8 points as opposed to his 9.1 last year in Crimson & Gold.

Kobey Lam and Joseph Lanzi both transferred to Charleston (NCAA D-II). The free-wheeling Lam is scoring only 3.4 points per game, well under his 8.3 ppg last season, when he shot a tepid 35.1% from the field. Former Pioneers guard Joseph Lanzi is scoring 2.6 points per game in limited action for the Golden Eagles as his playing time has dropped as well. The same goes for Roscoe Eastmond at Southeastern Louisiana and Eric Moenkhaus at University of Indianapolis (D-II) with both players showing on their team’s rosters, yet no stat sheet results.

Earlier transfers have fared no better. Denver fans loved the early potential of the big man (literally and figuratively) David Nzekwesi who has continued his struggles at Weber State  (Big Sky) scoring a dismal 2.7 points per game this season in his second year on the roster. Jake Krafka took a step down to D2 St. Edwards and is playing 26 minutes per game and scoring 10.4 points. Last season, Elvin Rodriquez’s stock plunged lower as he played for the NAIA Science and Arts of Oklahoma and scored 16.2 points per game. Rodriguez borrowed a Hail Mary from the NFL in an attempt to enter the NBA draft and is not listed on any basketball rosters this season.

When looking at recent DU transferring players,  in nearly every case, their landing spots neither elevated their playing status nor improved their academic experience. Clearly, DU has not often recruited and/or developed legitimate D1 players, even for play in a mid-tier conference like the Summit League. These errors in recruiting have proved to be a disservice for both the student-athletes and the University of Denver. Wulbrun’s approach to recruiting may be more effective in securing student-athletes who want to remain and contribute both on and off-court at the University of Denver. Time will tell.

Denver (3-7) hopes to snap their 40-game road losing streak tonight at New Mexico at 7:00 pm MT.

Photo of former Denver guard Jase Townsend courtesy of USD Athletics

6 thoughts on “Prior Recruiting Errors Help Explain Denver’s Men’s Hoops Slide”

  1. Excellent article. It shows just how many of Billups’ players fared poorly at the D-I level, even after leaving DU, and some of them are failing as D-II players, which is even worse…

    In reality, the only D-I impact players that Billups really recruited and developed so far from start to finish were Ade Murkey and Jase Townsend. Nzekwesi, Jones, Hines and Eastmond may still turn out to be impact D-I guys, but that has not happened, as yet.

    Billups also got solid production out of Joe Scott’s recruits in his first couple of years – Amigo, Rosga, and Pemberton come to mind, and he also got some point production out of Ronnie Harrell, too, who transferred in from Creighton, but never jelled with the existing DU team.

    But when you look at DU’s slide down to the bottom of D-I, a large part of that is many of the guys wearing Crimson and Gold, despite lots of playing time, were never effective D-I level players in the first place.

    DU deserves better. Right now, it looks like Hunt, Henn, Smith, Johnson, Moore, Porter and Tanaimo are all legit D-I caliber players, while Billups’ leftovers like Gatlin and Green are small contributors.

    If DU can get from the 7 D-I players they have now to 10-11, I think they can contend in this league…

  2. No mention of Turkish departure Alperen Kurnaz. He landed at Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL and is starting for their team, getting good minutes and making strides on offense, defense, and off the court academically. Although it is D-II competition (some people would argue that DU’s team is barely D-1 given their history, etc.), the 6’8″ transfer is not failing.

    1. I’ve been to Lynn! Nice campus – glad he is succeeding.

      Jake Krafka must be like 32 years old at this point

    2. Good catch on Alp. But he was not a D-I caliber player, which was the larger point why DU failed. Glad to see him succeed at the D-II level.

  3. That was a excellent summation of what happened to our hoops program.. Some good players in past 5 years, but not enough. They were forced to play with non D1 talent, which turned into a disaster. Bobby Jones isn’t doing much for ISU, but that seems ok since the are unexpectantly 9-0. He gained 20 pounds and might help down the road. I wish Townsend was healthy. He has games coming up against Gonzaga, BYU, and St. Mary’s. David N. not being better is puzzling. He got out of shape and never recovered.. At least everyone found a college and can earn a degree. FYI, the Knicks have benched Kemba Walker knowing Elrod is on the way. Current coach has to be commended in quickly putting together a roster when few players were available. Dunker sees light at the end of the tunnel. The Dixie game is so winnable, but I imagine Dixie thinks the same thing and then some.

  4. Tough to say who could have been what under billups because he did not develop players but he sucked the life/joy out of them. So many times we all heard and said where is the passion from these guys listed above. It was destroyed by the coaching staff and the game was no longer fun. I do believe if you had a 4/5 star recruit under the last staff they would have transferred or their love for the game would have gone away. Just my opinion but I have never seen (or heard) of a coach/staff sucking the life/effort out of so many players before billups. The good coaches can take average players and make them at least be competitive and have effort (see this years team). We will never know what basketball could have looked like the last few years but I do believe it would have looked better with a different coach. Bad gamble on the administration with that hire and it will take a few years to get the program back. I do believe this coach is on the right track.

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