When Timpview High School star and 2016 recruit Gavin Baxter announced that he had verbally committed to coach Dave Rose on Monday, the consensus reaction from across the BYU fan base seemed to be one of relative indifference.
It's not that fans reacting to the news on Twitter and message boards weren't excited to have another Cougar in the fold. They were — it's just that they weren't quite excited enough.
And it's not hard to understand why. It's hard to follow recruiting, and for those who do spend the time to keep up on the latest whims of high school students, most choose to focus on football prospects. As a result, many BYU fans may catch a snippet of basketball recruiting news here and there, but they're certainly not immersed in it.
There are some clear exceptions for high-profile players. Jabari Parker's recruitment became the subject of intense interest a few year's back when the Cougars were (nominally, at least) in the mix. And to the extent that most folks have heard about any upcoming 2016 recruits, it's likely they know about Frank Jackson, the former BYU commit who has rocketed up the national rankings and collected truckloads of offers from the country's top programs. Beyond that, there's just not enough hours in the day to pay attention — and that's completely understandable.
Which brings us back to Gavin Baxter. He may not be Parker or Jackson, but make no mistake: BYU just landed a very good basketball player with tremendous upside — and one who fills one of the program's longest-standing holes.
For evidence of just how big of a pickup this is for the Cougars, take a quick look at the reactions to Baxter's commitment from the people who do follow this stuff closely every day — national recruiting experts:
Gavin Baxter is a terrific pick up for BYU. Four-star power forward with impressive athleticism. 6-8 and likes to face up & attack.— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) June 8, 2015
Gavin Baxter is a big commitment for #BYU. Long forward with high level athleticism that can play inside and out.— Josh Gershon (@JoshGershon) June 8, 2015
Congrats to Gavin Baxter on his commitment to BYU....one of the more intriguing prospects out west...extreme length/budding skills @6-7ish— Joel Francisco (@JoelFranESPN) June 9, 2015
That's not a reaction you'd get from some of the country's foremost recruiting voices if Baxter was just your average, run-of-the-mill recruit. These are guys who watch thousands of prospects in person every year, and they have nothing but praise for the newest Cougar commit. That should tell us something, whether or not you'd ever heard the kid's name before this week.
At 6-foot-7 (or 6-foot-8, depending on who you talk to) with an insane 7-foot-2 wingspan, Baxter is exactly the type of player that BYU has been missing — a long, athletic wing with the physical ability to lock down an opponent's best scorer on defense and attack the basket on offense. It's been awhile since Rose has had that kind of luxury on his roster — think Lee Cummard or even Charles Abouo, although Baxter is much longer than both — and it should give him much more versatility with his lineup combinations.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about Baxter is his potential. In many ways, he's still growing into his game. His offensive game, while effective, could use a little more polish. He's a solid shooter, but his form could be streamlined to make him even more accurate. And he certainly needs to put another 20-30 pounds of muscle on his lanky frame to truly reach his potential at the Division I level. These are all things that are eminently fixable through hard work and continued development. The physical tools are there in spades — and it will Dave Rose and his staff's enviable job to continue shaping them.
If they succeed in doing so, Baxter will be poised to play a significant role on what could end up being some of BYU's most talented teams. By the time he returns from his mission ahead of the 2018-2019 season, he'll be joining a seasoned lineup that will feature seniors Nick Emery and Eric Mika, as well as juniors TJ Haws and Payton Dastrup — all Top 100 recruits in their respective classes. Yet as strong as that group undoubtedly is, the one flaw they have is the lack of a lockdown wing defender who could hide Emery and/or Haws on that end of the floor, allowing them to focus more of their energy and attention on what they do best — scoring.
Gavin Baxter is well suited to be that guy. He's got the height, the length, the athleticism, and most of all, the potential. If he continues to hone his skills and address his weaknesses, he could soon be filling an essential role for the Cougars that few others can — and doing so at a very crucial juncture in the program's future.
If you weren't already excited about his commitment, you should be now.