This is part 3 in a 4 part series. If you missed my article on returning players you can find it here. If you missed my article on returning players that either redshirted or didn’t play much last season, you can either scroll down on the BOTC home page, or click the link here.
Today I’m here to discuss Coach Tang’s first true high school recruiting class at Kansas State. The 2022 class ended up better than I originally anticipated for a rush job, but the 2023 class shows the true recruiting power of this coaching staff. Coach Tang didn’t have results to sell the 2023 class, they were all committed before the tournament run, but he did have a vision to sell, and we all witnessed that vision come to life in March. Now three highly touted high school guys that bought into the vision before seeing the results are headed to Manhattan, Kansas to leave their mark on the program.
Dai Dai Ames
Dai Dai is the headliner of the class, both because of his talent and his position. I don’t know if Coach Tang needs a dynamic point guard capable of breaking the other team down off the dribble, lobbing oops, and hitting 3-pointers from the parking lot — but it certainly didn’t hurt the 2022-23 team.
Enter Dai Dai Ames, a 6’1”, 160 4* dynamo point guard out of Kenwood Academy in Chicago (a town known for producing point guards). Ames is a consensus Top 100 player in the 2023 class. He chose the Cats over offers from hometown Illinois (who coaches them?), LSU, and Maryland among others.
According to 247 recruiting analyst Brandon Jenkins, Ames is:
“A quick and aggressive bucket getter, Ames is a small guard who thinks scoring first. He scores in bunches from all ranges, is good with the ball in his hands, and excels at weaving through a defense to create a solid scoring opportunity for himself. He is a threat with his jumper off both the catch and the dribble. He has the ability to heat up and make shots from distance. Additionally, his tight handle is in full use when breaking down defenders and getting inside the paint where he is a crafty finisher. As a scorer, Ames can do his damage on or off the ball but he also is a willing passer who knows how to make the right basketball decision when the play is there. He is an energizer bunny on the defensive end where he competes with a chip on his shoulder. He pressures the ball for stops and initiates fast-break points by forcing turnovers.”
That sounds a good bit like Markquis Nowell, and any comparison to Mr. New York City is a compliment. Ames has an advanced skill set on offense, a knack for forcing turnovers on defense, and an insatiable work ethic on both sides of the court. That’s exactly the type of player Coach Tang wants leading this program into the future, and Ames is the future of the program.
Playing point for Kansas State offers much freedom but at the same time, much responsibility. It took Markquis a while to balance his mandate to do whatever he wants on the court with the need for him to make the right plays. If you want to be a star point guard, Manhattan, Kansas is the place to be, but it comes with a certain amount of pressure. If the point guard doesn’t play well, the entire system falls apart. Ames, from everything I’ve read, has the mentality to take on that challenge. To help him transition from high school to college, the Wildcats jumped into the portal and snagged veteran guard Tylor Perry (more on him in part 4 of this series). Having Perry on-board should allow Dai Dai to ease into his role as lead guard. He’ll play, and play a good bit, but if everything goes according to plan, it will be Perry carrying most of the weight this season while talented freshman figures things out both on and off the court.
Coach Tang knows what he wants in terms of team make-up. He’s looking for three guards that can control and win games, much like he had at Baylor. Keeping that thought in mind, R.J. Jones, a 6’3”, 190 combo guard out of Denton, Texas should pair nicely with Ames.
While Ames is a bit narrow in terms of build, Jones has plenty of room to fill out his 6’3” frame. If Ames is Markquis Nowell, Jones is Cam Carter. He’s nominally a 2-guard, but is comfortable with the ball in his hands as a playmaker as well. Considered the best overall player in Utah for the 2023 class (where he finished up prep school) Coach Tang, in conjunction with key Texas recruiter Coach Maligi, went down to their old stomping grounds and brought back a top 100 player to Manhattan. Jones selected Kansas State over finalists Oklahoma, Cal, A&M, Colorado and Notre Dame.
R.J. is a talented shooter with the ability to play both on and off the ball. He’s capable of hitting shots off the dribble and spotting up. When he’s not draining jumpers, he’s using his strength to force the ball to the rim where he’s adept at finishing through contact and finding open shooters spotted up around the perimeter. Dai Dai and R.J. can take turns driving and dishing to each other, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that becomes a key element for the Wildcats in the near future.
On defense he uses his strength and quickness to get into ball handlers. He can guard both guard spots and is adept at jumping into passing lanes. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Jones spend a good bit of his time harassing point guards while Ames guards more off ball, but that’s way in the future. For now, Jones should provide solid depth at all the guard spots, and is a high ceiling, competitive guard to build around in the future.
R.J. Jones Highlights
Coach Tang is in the business of collecting athletic freaks. In the 2022 recruiting class, that freak was Nae’qwan Tomlin, in the 2023 class it’s Macaleab Rich, a 6’6”, 220 forward out of East St. Louis, Illinios. The Top 150 3/4* player (depending on who you ask) is one of the most physically gifted players in his class. He’s a killer on the court, and won’t hesitate to put a defender on a poster (or meme now?). His entire game is built around angrily flushing the ball through the hoop from every possible angle.
There isn’t much of a comp from last years team, but you don’t have to go too far back to find an athletic marvel with grown man strength. For me, Rich is comparable to Xavier Sneed in terms of build and desire to dunk the basketball. If anything, Rich plays with more of a chip on his shoulder. I’m not sure what the rim did to him, but he looks to punish it every time he steps onto the court. He’ll need to develop the rest of his game, but if you’re looking for a player to get onto the end of an Ames or Jones oop, Rich is your dude.
Even more interesting than his disdain for rims is his versatility on the defensive end of the floor. In some situations, he could guard 1-4. He’s going to make an elite pick and roll defender with his length and ability to switch onto pretty much anyone. He can use his length to confound guards on the perimeter and his strength to bang down low with forwards on the block. From what I’ve seen, you can’t go through him, you can’t go over him, and it’s extremely hard to go around him. He’ll need to tighten up his off-ball defense, but that’s something you can say about the vast majority of high school players.
His physical presence alone could see him grab some minutes as a true freshman, but he could also go the Taj Manning route and spend the year dominating the practice floor and building up his all around skill set. Either way, Coach Tang and company have acquired one of the best pieces of clay available in the 2023 class. It’s up to them to mold him into an all around player.
This is a guard/wing class, and you couldn’t ask for much more. You’ve got a prototypical point guard in Ames, a streaky (in a good way) combo guard in Jones, and a freak of nature on the wing in Rich.
All three are walking into a situation where they can contribute early without having to be “the man”. They’ll start as role players for the ‘Cats but all three have the potential to finish as stars. Of course, it’s rare to hit on three players in the same class, but I wouldn’t bet against any of these guys individually.
This should be the back court of the future in Manhattan.