While most of the NC State recruiting talk has been about the two in-state 4-stars, Terquavion Smith and Breon Pass, there is another 4-star commit that not only is rated higher, but may also have a higher ceiling than both of them.
Ernest Ross hails from Alachua, Florida. and is actually the highest rank recruit that Keatts is bringing in next year. The reason you haven’t heard as much about him is that he wasn’t really on many people’s radar early in his high school career. He was thin, his coordination hadn’t really caught up with his height and despite his size, many coaches were in ‘wait and see mode,’ but not Kevin Keatts.
Keatts actually targeted and prioritized Ross early on and stayed on him hard ever since. This was one of the main reasons why, when he started to fill out and emerge as a Top-50 kid, and colleges from all over started calling (Florida, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and LSU), Ross stuck by the Wolfpack.
“I had a lot of schools try to recruit me, but NC State was the most consistent,” Ross told the Gainsville Sun. “Coach Keatts and his staff just showed a lot of interest from the beginning and it just felt like a fit from day one.”
This one should be another feather in Keatts’ cap and it should be a reminder that you’re watching a master recruiter at work. Remember, Keatts was early on Jalen Lecque and Josh Hall. These were guys that weren’t top recruits that ended up getting so good, so fast that they skipped college altogether. He was early on Moore and Hayes as well and nobody knew who Breon Pass or Terquavion Smith was before Keatts was in their gym making them a priority. Ross is in the same boat. Keatts saw what was coming before anyone else, and that matters to these kids and their families.
“At the end of the day it boiled down to him having a great relationship with coach Keatts and his staff,” AAU coach RussPowell told Zagsblog. “They did a great job of him making him feel as home as possible. They made his family feel the most comfortable.”
Ross has matured. His skills have caught up with his height and suddenly, what you see is a 6’9 extremely athletic wing who can shoot it, pass it, score on the block and defend almost any player on the court.
For NC State fans, they really haven’t seen a guy like this in a while. One comparison is CJ Leslie, another 6’9 bouncy wing who had a pretty darn good (but at times inconsistent) NC State career. Think Leslie but longer, stronger, a better shooter, a better passer, but slightly less lateral mobility at this point. Their frame, athleticism, and motor are pretty similar. If you want to compare him to anyone on this year’s team, I guess you could say Funderburk, but I don’t think that’s a great comparison. I think his ceiling is actually higher and he has the ability to be a more versatile stretch forward.
If you think we’re overhyping the kid, take a look for yourself…
Ross has major bounce and has the ability to elevate high and elevate quick, but that’s not where the athleticism ends. He’s coordinated, can get out on the break, and finish in transition.
Ross has the ability to be a great defender. Over the past year, coaches have really seen a change in his demeanor. Instead of floating around the perimeter and coasting on defense by relying on his size, they’ve seen him start to kick it into high gear a lot more often. And when Ross does that, he’s a problem. He’s starting to get a lot more aggressive defensively and that is something that likely has Keatts’ mouth-watering. A guy with this size and this athleticism, with a high motor that enjoys locking people down on defense? You don’t see many of those guys. And while he’s not the best shot blocker out there, he’s not too shabby. Ross averaged 9 rebounds and 3 blocks per game as a junior.
Back to the basket
One area that Ross will have to improve is with his back to the basket. Now, there is no way Keatts is going to ask him to be some post guy. Not with this skill set. But he is a 6’9 stretch forward and when he starts coming into his own, teams are going to have to make a decision. Guard him with a big and match his size? Or guard him with a smaller wing to match his speed? Well, once you see the clips from the next section (shooting) you’ll see why it’s likely they’ll opt for the smaller defender. When they do that, is Ross able to post them up and make them pay? Well, I think that is an area where he can improve. He has great hands, but he has raw footwork. Polish it up a little and he’s going to be a major mismatch for almost any team in the ACC (outside of FSU). What you are seeing is him starting to learn how to use his body and throw his weight around. Just look at how he attacks his defender here. That’s a strong move with good body control. Pair that with some technical footwork and watch out.
Oh, you didn’t know we were going to go there, did you? Ross can shoot it and that’s what makes him really stand out. He’s got good form and he shoots it with confidence (and accuracy). There are times where he starts hanging out around the arc a little too much for a kid with his size, but Keatts will help him learn to play more situationally.
Ross has good body control, which is only improving as he matures into his frame. This is an area where most guys his size are lacking. Get them on the break and they arena’t really sure what to do with it. That’s not the case with Ross. he’s smooth, he’s got a decent handle and you can see he’s working on some finesse moves to the basket instead of always relying on athleticism and power. While he doesn’t convert on this break, look at the footwork and his change of speed with the attempted Euro-step. Like we said, there’s some cleaning up to do with certain aspects of Ross’ game, but you can see the eventual NBA-level talent just pouring out of him.
Finally, free throws. With this many weapons at his disposal, at some point, the defense is just going to have to foul to stop him. When that happens, it’s good to know you have a kid that can knock it down at the stripe. Look at his form. Elbow is tucked, off-hand is released early and the ball comes off his hand clean with great rotation. See for yourself.
So there you have it. We apologize for not going in-depth with Ernest Ross sooner, but with Pass and Smith in our backyard, competing in the same state tournament, and going head to head, we wanted to make sure you knew them as we were ramping up coverage.
Make no mistake, Ernest Ross is a guy you should be excited about. He’ll end up a Top-50 recruit and is the type of player that NC State has been missing for a long time. He’s a true stretch forward who is going to cause problems for ACC defenders in the years to come.
Full highlights here… (He’s #0)