Mitchell Wilbekin was granted a release from Tulsa and it did not take a long until teams flocked to earn the point guard's attention. Cincinnati, Auburn, and USF were among the schools that reached out to the Rock School head coach Justin Harden. But in the end it was two schools that stood out.
"Virginia and Wake Forest are at the top of his list because of his relationship with coach (Danny) Manning and his previous relationship with coach (Tony) Bennett helped him resolve some of those nervous issues," said Rock School head coach Justin Harden.
"He just really appreciates what coach Manning and coach Bennett has to offer in terms of their coaching styles, the schools that they are at, and certainly their ACC play."
Wilbekin took an official visit to Wake Forest on Thursday and Friday. Some say the Deacons hold the advantage in this two team fight, as coach Manning was one of the main reasons the 2014 standout chose Tulsa in the first place. But Harden thinks differently.
"I think it's quite open. I know he appreciates what coach Manning did for him last year in recruiting him, really believing in him,"Harden explained. "I think with coach Bennett though, he has been on an unofficial visit last year there. He loved the campus, he loved the school, really enjoyed the school because they are solid Christian. His dad being a pastor, and us being so closely tied with our faith here at the school, that is very important too….. He (Mitchell) has grown in his faith and to Tony that is very important. And to the Wilbekins, it is very important that their son be raised by a man who has great integrity."
Harden is quite familiar with Bennett. The Virginia head coach recruited another Rock School standout, soon to be NBA lottery pick Joel Embiid.
"He (Bennett) came down he spoke to Joel, and Joel was very intrigued because Tony is not necessarily a recruiter. He is a guys that operated more on integrity and honesty and he was honest to Joel which was intriguing to Joel in the midst of so many other coaches giving him the spiel of what he could be at their school.
Although Wilbekin is not a big fan of the spotlight, Harden is happy the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association Player of the Year is having this second chance. Wilbekin, whose brother is Scottie Wilbekin at the University of Florida, always had big shoes to fill. With ACC schools showing interest, this is a chance for Mitchell to find his own place in basketball history."
It's always tough when your brother goes off and plays at the Florida level school. This year he was the SEC player of the year, the tournament player of the year, the regional final-he has all these accolades and Mitchell received the accolades on the high school level but it wasn't paying off, and he wasn't being recruited by high level schools.
"So to get the ACC level offers has been great to prove to Mitchell that his hard work has been paying off. Even better is that Scotty firmly believes that Mitchell can play anywhere. He tells his dad, he tells Mitchell, he has told the Florida staff that Mitchell can play for all these teams. He says Mitchell is a tougher guard for him than some of the guys that he goes up against currently in college. Scotty has a huge basketball IQ and he isn't a guy to b-s much, so he is going to be a straight shooter. "
Mitchell Wilbekin averaged 15 points, 2.8 points and 2.1 steals per game. Harden says he expects Wilbekin will be a big playmaker on the outside for whatever team he chooses to play for.
"I think shooting is at a premium. You have a ton of athletes who can get to the basket and get to the foul line and so forth, but you don't have a lot of knock down shooters, whether it be off the dribble or off the catch," he explained. "And Mitchell is a type of guy that will be looked at as a guy that will have to make a high volume of three pointers . I'd say about 90 percent of the 3 pointers he took this year were college range or even NBA range.
"He has really worked on his range, because he knew that was going to be his calling card when he got to college level because of his ability to shoot threes, but to shoot deep threes…He is a good floor general and does a lot of things a coach enjoys. I always knew, especially in the last two years, when the ball was in his hands, we were likely to have a good quality possession because of what he brings to the table. Whether he plays the point guard or a combo guard at the 2 position, I think he will be a valuable addition to a team.