For years the college basketball world has salivated over Zion Cruz. He’s got size: 6’5″. He’s got the rankings. He’s got offers from the blue-bloods. But as we enter September, his decision has been delayed, there’s no clear front-runner, and he just dropped like a rock in the latest ESPN rankings. So what’s going on?
Let’s start at the beginning. Who wouldn’t be excited about his potential at the next level? He’s got NYC-area point guard blood. Cruz fits nicely into the legacy of Kenny Smith, Stephon Marbury and Kenny Anderson. He’s a Jersey City product who has developed a reputation of getting better as the staked get bigger. He’s wanted to run a wide open style of offense to take advantage of his floor vision and play-making.
The scouting services have followed suit. He’s been ranked in the top 15 player nationally for months, a no doubt 5-star prospect, and the best player in his state. The elite programs have inundated him with offers and interest. North Carolina. Syracuse. Ohio State. Oregon.
Indiana tried to lure him with the prospect of an NBA coach in Mike Woodson. Hubert Davis took over the reigns from Roy Williams and made Cruz a priority. Cruz even called UNC a “dream school.” Creighton made a run at him. Kentucky’s staff changes may have dissuaded him. It seemed like Auburn was the clear front-runner and Bruce Pearl’s work would pay off soon in a commitment. Cruz likened the Tigers program to his new family. He was going to make his decision on Aug. 19.
But here we are two weeks later, the new school year is starting, and Cruz is still undecided. Unlike so many other recruits who take photos in prospective team jerseys when they visit, he never did. He has delayed his decision just as Auburn got a commitment from another guard, 4-star Tre Donaldson. Did the Tigers grab Donaldson because they weren’t confident Cruz was coming? Or did Donaldson’s commitment give Cruz pause?
247 Sports felt so strongly about this situation they pulled down their prediction of Cruz to Auburn. Tigers analysts have insisted, however, Cruz’s delay could be interpreted as a good thing for Auburn. (I know, confusing.)
Which brings us to this week. Cruz has offers from 20 schools, and yet has only taken two visits: Auburn and Oregon, back in June. Compare that with Kyle Filipowski, who seemed to take a nationwide caravan tour like College Gameday even though everyone assumed he would ultimately choose Duke.
Perhaps Cruz assumed he was going to Auburn, so he didn’t schedule any other visits. He may have also simply wanted to focus on the AAU season. In any event, ESPN “shockingly” dropped him this week in their rankings into the 50s and made him a 4-star player. By all accounts Cruz is still one of the 20 best players in the Class of ’22, and yet ESPN dropped him a star, placed him at #56 overall, and ranked 35 *4-star players* above him.
There’s speculation that Cruz is weighing his professional options, which is why he delayed his decision. With new NIL income, things are changing every day for these recruits. But what could make Cruz drop 30 slots in the rankings? What do the analysts at ESPN know behind the scenes about a young man who has been a top 20 recruit for years?
Rivals and 247 Sports are still placing Cruz in the top 20. So the next thing to watch will be whether the other services also drop Cruz in their next rankings. These projections are subject to change, and of course are not the end all, be all. As we learned with Kamari Lands, expect the unexpected in elite college basketball recruiting. And everything is subject to change. Zion Cruz’s situation included.