TOLEDO, OH - Head Coach Gene Cross addressed vacancies in the Rockets’ backcourt on Thursday when he added three guards to Toledo’s 2009-10 recruiting class during the second day of the late signing period. Cross announced that 6-5, 190-pound guard Jake Barnett (Wauwatosa, WI), 6-4, 205-pound guard Malcom Griffin (Chicago, IL) and 5-10, 165-pound guard Neil Watson (Kansas City, KS) have each signed a national letter of intent and will be joining UT’s program beginning in the 2009-10 campaign.
The incoming threesome will join a trio of interior players — 6-8, 245-pound forward/center Jordan Dressler, 6-8, 210-pound forward Hayden Humes and 6-9, 210-pound forward/center Devin Russell — who signed with the Rockets last fall.
“The student-athletes in our incoming class come from winning teams and know what winning is about,” Cross said. “That’s an important ingredient when you’re building a program, because you need hard-working, dedicated players who can develop into leaders on and off the court. We’re bringing in quality people who understand the value of education, positive mental attitudes and a cooperative effort.”
Barnett played this past season at one of the top prep schools in the country — Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, MA — and helped the Crusaders to a 29-6 win-loss mark. He averaged eight points and four rebounds per game for a team that included several future NCAA Division I players and closed out his campaign with a 22-point effort against Brewster Academy in the first round of the National Prep Championship. As a senior, Barnett helped Wauwatosa East High School to the 2008 Wisconsin Division I state title and registered 15 points and seven rebounds in the championship game. He received honorable-mention all-state accolades after averaging 12 points per game.
“Jake is a tremendous young man who does so many different things very well,” Cross said. “He can shoot it, set people up and rebound it well for a player his size. He’s a glue guy who does all the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. He plays hard every single possession and can score, but he doesn’t need to put the ball in the basket in order to be effective.”
Griffin helped Hyde Park to a 27-5 overall win-loss mark and appearances in the Illinois Class 4A supersectionals and Chicago Public League’s championship game. He averaged 17 points, seven assists and five rebounds per game, and scored 28 points in just 13 minutes of action in the Chicago Classic All-Star Game on April 3.
“To get a player of Malcom’s caliber from the Chicago area is great for us,” Cross said. “It’s also good that we’ll continue to have a representative of the Chicago Public School system in our program. Malcom has a body that’s ready-made for taking a pounding in college. He has a great feel for the game and he’s a great team guy. People love to play with him, because he’s very unselfish and has certain instincts you can’t teach. He can play different positions whether he’s the second guard or a wing or even serving as a back-up at the point.”
Watson earned Class 4A first-team all-state accolades after helping Sumner Academy (21-3) to league and regional titles and an appearance in the state quarterfinals. The Kansas City Kansan’s 4A Player of the Year topped the 1,000-point mark in his prep career and help the Crusades to a second straight undefeated run through conference play. He averaged a team-high 23.3 points per game as a senior and tallied a season-high 33 points vs. Washington High School, thanks in part to hitting eight straight three-point field goals in the first half. In his junior campaign, Watson averaged 17.2 points and 6.5 assists per game.
“Neil is a terrific young man who embodies the type of person and citizen we want to be part of this program,” Cross said. “On the basketball court, he’s a tremendous shooter and possesses unbelievable quickness on the defensive end. He’s a jet with the basketball, and his speed pushing the ball up the floor will greatly change our overall team speed.”