Cincinnati narrowly misses signing 5-star goaltender Isaiah Collier

CINCINNATI — Five-star point guard Isaiah Collier — the top-rated prospect in the Class of 2023, according to 247Sports — signed on with USC on Wednesday afternoon. He announced his decision with ESPN’s Paul Biancardi on Collier’s Instagram account, choosing the Trojans over fellow finalists Cincinnati, Michigan and UCLA. Collier is also expected to sign her official Letter of Intent today.

“I will continue my college and athletic career in Southern California,” Collier wrote on Instagram Live. “The connection that I built with all the coaches, it was like a family atmosphere. … I mean, LA is LA, so I liked everything. … It was really comfortable. My brother lives there , my mother is from there, so I think it was the best solution, really.

Cincinnati narrowly missed a talent that could alter the schedule. It’s a blow to head coach Wes Miller and the Bearcats, who were really into it until the very end with Collier. It is also encouraging. Miller and his team, particularly assistants Chad Dollar and Andre Morgan, went all-in on Collier. The program “nothing was sparedincluding welcoming the Atlanta native during an unofficial visit last weekend when his Wheeler High School team was in town to tackle local Sycamore High. It wasn’t quite enough for the Bearcats in the end, but the effort was indicative of Miller’s philosophy of aiming for elite prospects.

“It takes a lot of balls, to be honest. Everybody (Cincinnati) is swinging for a home run, and sometimes with homerun hitters, you’re going to hit,” said Darnell “Shep” Shepherd, Collier coach and assistant varsity coach at Wheeler.. “But it takes a lot of heart and belief in what you do as a coaching staff and in a program to exclusively target those types of players. Many programs will not.

Despite rumors and suggestions in recruiting circles that Collier had been headed to USC for months, Shepherd and Wheeler head coach Larry Thompson – who is also Collier’s uncle – insists on the fact that the sentiment is not true and that Collier would not make a final decision until Tuesday evening. .

“I think it’s just the people who want to be first. Honestly, there’s no merit to (rumors that Collier had already made up his mind). Literally no one around him said anything different to a school,” Shepherd said.. “We are all of the same accord. Zay drives the bus for lack of a better term. We have constant conversations. He was very direct in letting all the (university) coaches know that he wanted to see the games first. This whole notion or thought that it has been known for months is a lie. It’s an outright lie. If it ends up being USC, he didn’t have that determination months ago.

The end result does little to dull the sting of the UC and Bearcats faithful, though Miller and his staff deserve credit for how Cincinnati emerged as a runner-up among blue blood programs. Miller and the Bearcats prioritized Collier for months, harboring him on an official visit in February and traveling to see him in Atlanta as often as recruiting rules allowed. Miller was relatively early on Collier, before becoming the No. 1 prospect in the nation, but he’s a player who’s attracted interest from the SEC and other Southern programs since he was in college.

Cincinnati was able to establish a bond with Collier and his entourage that surpassed most other programs through a combination of Miller’s vision for his team and the excitement of the Bearcats fan base. As much as Collier was uninterested in the pomp and circumstance of the recruiting, the enthusiasm for UC resonated with him.

“Especially in a sports city like Cincinnati where they really care about their sports, they let you know, good, bad or indifferent,” Shepherd said. “It’s an environment that’s prepared for the olden days, when Cincinnati was historically and eternally one of the best teams in the country.”

Miller and the Bearcats are working to get back to it, and adding Collier would have launched that effort into hyperdrive. But Cincinnati still has a strong recruiting class in 2023, including a pair of top 60 prospects in four-star hometown Rayvon Griffith and Orlando four-star point guard Jizzle Jamesand the team is loaded Flory Bidunga, five-star big man of 2024 as the Bearcats prepare to join the Big 12 this summer.

“From what I understand, a lot of money is being pumped into the program to make sure it looks a certain way for this Big 12 transition,” Shepherd said.. “When you have the resources and an administrative staff who want a winner and a national program, and then you have a coach and staff who are all on the same page, great things are on the way for UC.”

That won’t include Collier, but Miller and the Bearcats can close the book on that recruit knowing they did everything in their power to make it happen. For the first time in a long time, Cincinnati felt like a real player on the biggest stage for a five-star prospect. It’s all part of Miller’s plan as he working on rebuilding the programembrace the team’s history of success and restore the Bearcats’ relevance.

When he was hired in April 2021, Miller emphasized that he wanted the foundation of his culture at UC to be “think really, really big and work really, really small.” Cincinnati’s pursuit of Collier represented both of these ambitions. The Bearcats fell short this time, but Miller believes valuing process over results will eventually pay off.

(Photo: Arielle Holloway / Courtesy @scoottoookit)

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