HARRISONBURG — The beginning of June has turned into a busy recruiting week for James Madison with the addition of guard Zyon Dobbs to the incoming class and a pair of offers extended to big men in the class of 2020. Dobbs becomes the the seventh member of the 2019 class in total and the 15th player on the roster, boosting the Dukes backcourt depth and perhaps changing the recruiting focus for the next year.
The NCAA limits Division I men’s basketball programs to 13 scholarships. JMU coach Louis Rowe said he didn’t want to discuss scholarship distribution, but wasn’t expecting any further changes to the roster that brings back eight players from last season.
“I have 13 scholarships and 15 guys,” Rowe said. “Nothing else is fair to the kids. To my knowledge, nobody is leaving. I want everybody who is here to be here. I love all my guys.”
But adding another player in the class of 2019 is indication of just how high the JMU coaches are on Dobbs, a combo guard known for his toughness attacking the rim and ability to distribute the ball. Madison spent most of the spring extending offers to point guards across the South and Rust Belt in the 2020 class, but eventually fell in love with Dobbs who had considered a postgraduate year at a prep school, but chose to enter right away.
The impending commitment of Dobbs might have explained the sudden shift in attention to big men on the recruiting trail. Monday, JMU extended offers to a pair of intriguing post players who will be high school seniors in the fall. Burke Smith, a 6-11 center from Trinity Episcopal in Richmond, and Christian Fussell, a 6-9 power forward from Greenforest Christian Academy in Georgia.
“They said they were really trying to get a point guard,” Smith told the Daily News-Record just a few hours before Dobbs announced his commitment. “But now they said they are also trying to get a big man to try to bring in a couple kids instead of just a guard.”
The Dukes also enter the season with just one senior, swingman Antanee Pinkard, meaning JMU won’t have a bunch of scholarships opening up next spring via graduation. Of course current trends in college basketball suggest coaches need to be ready for the roster to change in a hurry, so Madison may be covering all its bases with the most recent offers.
Both Smith and Fussell tweeted Monday about their offers from JMU and each has a handful of offers from other mid-major programs. Fussell is one of several players in the class of 2020 from the Atlanta area to receive an offer from JMU this spring as Dukes head coach Louis Rowe and associate head coach Byron Taylor have been busy in the region.
Fussell also has offers from College of Charleston, Indiana State, USC Upstate, Florida Gulf Coast and Appalachian State.
Smith, who holds offers from Furman, Elon, William & Mary, George Mason, Richmond and several others along with the Dukes, is an intriguing in-state product and the latest in a line of big men from Trinity Episcopal, which includes JMU forward Zach Jacobs, North Carolina signee Armando Bacot and four-star power forward Henry Coleman.
Smith, whose father Scott averaged 12.5 points over a four-year career at William & Mary in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is quite skilled for nearly 7-feet tall, displaying great passing ability and a knack for shooting and handling the ball beyond the 3-point arc.
“The main thing I see myself doing at the college level is to facilitate by passing the ball,” Burke Smith said. “Instead of being a main scorer, I see myself really being able to run an offense at the top of the key. I have watched JMU play a little, and I wouldn’t say that’s exactly what they do, but it’s pretty close though.”
Smith is currently listed at 215 pounds while Fussell checked in at 200, meaning both players could stand to bulk up a bit for the college game.
“A little Dukes strength and conditioning and he can probably play about about 235-245,” Scott Smith said of his son via text message. “After two months at W&M as a freshman I went from 225-255. But we still got whooped by the Dukes and Lefty (Driesell) year in and year out.”
JMU already signed five players for 2019 — VHSL Class 6 Player of the Year Michael Christmas from Landstown High School in Virginia Beach, Class 3 Player of the Year Julien Wooden from Roanoke’s Northside High, Quinn Richey from Mount Pisgah Christian School in Georgia, Mike Fowler from Greensboro (N.C.) Day School and Jayvis Harvey from Southern High School in Durham, N.C. East Rockingham forward Dalton Jefferson also announced this spring he was joining the Dukes as a preferred walk on.
Dobbs will make seven newcomers to join eight returning players, counting power forward Devon Flowers, who played in two games last year as a true freshman, but was expected to receive a medical redshirt from the NCAA.
The Dukes return four starters — All-CAA guard Matt Lewis, swingman Darius Banks, point guard Deshon Parker and center Dwight Wilson — along with Pinkard, forward Zach Jacobs and guard Matthew Urbach.