College basketball is a revolving door, with the landscape constantly changing. Special players and defining moments become part of the program’s lore, but the coaching staff and fan base always has their eye on the future, as the prospect of prolonged prosperity that many of the power schools like Duke and Kentucky enjoy, is what all mid major programs aspire to obtain.
On Tuesday night, Daron “Fatts” Russell, a three-star recruit according to ESPN.com, and a 5-foot-10 point guard from Philadelphia, announced that he would be playing college basketball next year for the University of Rhode Island. The senior from Imhotep Institute Charter High School chose the Rams over Seton Hall, Southern Methodist University, Grand Canyon and Atlantic 10 foe La Salle to name a few. The move positions the program for future success, while also setting in place the possibility of consecutive buzz-worthy classes and the hope of perennial NCAA Tournament contention that the team has not enjoyed for quite some time.
It may be seem rather premature to look so far down the road when the Rams will be hoping to punch their ticket to the “Big Dance” for the first time in eighteen seasons, but given the national acclaim the program has garnered from all of the major polls, it seems natural to assume that the 2016-17 season will finally be URI’s year. While the superstitions of the Rhody Ruckus might prevent them from succumbing to that possibility, the Rams undeniably possess one of the most formidable starting fives in the conference which should make for a team primed for contention atop the A-10 standings.
Russell’s role is to assure that all of the buzz and hype that has permeated throughout Rhode Island for the last couple of years continues long after what may or may not be a potentially banner-year for URI. The top 50 point guard in the nation, who reportedly earned the nickname “Fatts” due to his chunky physique as a child, is renowned for his midrange jump shot, which would satisfy a need for the Rams, and his ability to drive to the basket. He already boasts over 1,000 career point at Imhotep, and will be looking for more accolades in his final year of high school.
While it is important to note that Russell’s commitment means that the URI backcourt will have a more than respectable heir apparent to E.C. Matthews and Jarvis Garrett, it also serves to highlight a growing trend in the Dan Hurley Era. He joins Matthews, Hassan Martin and Jared Terrell as three highly sought-after prospects that the smaller school Rhode Island has managed to wrestle away from bigger name programs. Russell, like those before him, is hoping that URI will afford him the playing time and opportunities necessary to make a name for himself these next four years, and in turn continue to boost the reputation of the team.
The mid-major programs spend hours of recruiting and work to capture a glimpse of the magic that leaves the perennial giants jaded by years on top of years doing what it is expected of them. They are fortunate if a star player or players can lead the school to temporary run of success, but with singing of recruits like Martin, Matthews, Terrell and now Russell, URI can hope to string together several noteworthy seasons.
Again, it is difficult to predict a bright future when the present has yet to come to fruition, but the Rams have put together a squad that offers promise, and depending on if the team lives up to or surpasses its lofty expectations, one would think URI could be on its way to being validated as no longer just a team-to-watch, but the team to beat in the A-10.
Regardless of the uncertainty that surrounds this season, which includes not only the Rams’ tourney prospects, but also Matthews’s health, status of Hurley as the coach going forward, and the hole Martin will leave in the paint following his graduation, URI can take pride in the fact that another capable and exciting player will be around to try to keep this restored proud basketball tradition alive and growing.