Breaking: Recruiting drama! Georgia’s top basketball prospect changes his mind and signs only hours before midnight deadline (click here)
They aren’t part of his top five, but UGA still has a spot in the sweepstakes for the No. 1-ranked junior in the country, Robert Ndkemiche of Grayson High School.
The 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive end made a rare unofficial visit last weekend, traveling to UGA with a couple of teammates to watch the Auburn game. The only other trip that Nkemdiche has made this fall was to rumored frontunner Alabama for the LSU game.
Despite the Atlanta suburb of Grayson being located only 35 miles from UGA, the Bulldogs haven’t been able to crack Nkemdiche’s top five, which consists of Alabama, LSU, Florida, Oregon and Southern Cal.
However, his coach told the AJC on Tuesday night to not count the Bulldogs out.
“I’d put Georgia in the mix; he may decide that’s where he wants to go,” Grayson coach Mickey Conn said. “Georgia is playing really well right now, and they are playing good defense. They are probably going to play in the SEC championship game. Robert hasn’t ruled out Georgia.”
UGA flirted a little bit last spring with his brother Denzel Nkemdiche, the Grayson defensive back who qualified late and ended up signing with Ole Miss. With the younger Nkemdiche, UGA coach Mark Richt is personally handling the recruiting of the 5-star who may be the first No. 1-ranked prospect in the nation produced by Georgia (recruiting rankings weren’t around when Herschel Walker played).
“Georgia loves Robert, and Coach Richt calls about once every other week to check on him with me,” Conn said. “They love him. I mean, they really want him down there.”
Everybody loves Robert. He’s the “boy who would be king.” He has physique like a Greek god, runs like a tank breaking the speed limit, and plays with the tenacity and intensity as if he was starring in an TV episode of “24.”
Recruiting rumors started last year – and continue to this day – that Nkemdiche “secretly committed” to Alabama, but he denies it. Nkemdiche has a top five but not a leader, plans to take five official visits next year, and announce after his senior season.
“He needs to go somewhere where the overall program is disciplined, where they hold their players accountable, and where they have coaches that help their players become the best they can be,” Conn said.
How good is Robert? His coach played football at Alabama with roster full of future NFL players.
“I have never seen a better player, even when I played on the 1992 national championship team with guys like Eric Curry and John Copeland. I think our whole defense from 1992 went to the NFL, and we didn’t have anybody like Robert. They were good. But this kid is special.”
Copeland and Curry were All-America defensive ends from Alabama who were drafted back-to-back at the No. 5 and 6 picks in the first round of the 1993 NFL Draft.
“Robert is just different. If he takes his shirt off, there’s not one once of fat on him. Those guys were big ole guys. This kid has an ‘eight pack’ for abs. He just doesn’t look like a defensive end is supposed to look. Robert looks like a free safety when you see him. You like, ‘OK, he’s about 230 or 240 pounds. He doesn’t look 270.’ Then you put him on the scales and he’s between 265 and 270.
“He’s much faster than those guys and much more athletic. Now those guys were great players and they may have strengths that Robert doesn’t have. I was a player then, so I don’t know what all of those strengths were. But I just know that Robert is the best-looking athlete I’ve ever been around. He plays hard on every play.
“He’s not one of those guys you look at and say ‘Well, he’s got potential to be good. He’s got size and speed, and has the potential to be good one day.’ No, this guy is producing now. He’s not that big sloppy guy or big ole guy that people sign because he’s big, and they are going to make him into a football player. No, this guy is already the real deal.”
More on the USA’s No. 1-ranked junior
What do I think? In 25 years of covering high school football, Nkemdiche is the best I’ve ever seen. The only way I know how to describe Robert is this – it’s like watching Dwight Howard as a sophomore in high school, and not realizing you were watching a future NBA All-Star when he was a sophomore in high school.
He’s the best I’ve ever seen, and you don’t need me, any college scouts, coaches or recruiting analysts to convince you of that. Just go watch him play this year or next and you can figure this one out by yourself. Grayson plays host to Lowndes at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the state playoffs. Gates open at Grayson at 6 p.m. If you’re a college football fan, you might want to check this one out. Lowndes is led by safety-linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons, the No. 1-rated senior prospect in Georgia. Harvey-Clemons lists UGA, Florida and Alabama as his top three, according to Rivals.com’s Keith Niebuhr. Also, the game will be broadcast live on WSB-TV’s digital channel 2.2 and wsbtv.com, and re-broadcast late Friday on regular WSB Ch. 2 at 1:05 a.m.
Does UGA really have a chance? Right now, I believe the rumors about being Alabama’s to lose. But as we see all the time in recruiting, circumstances change. My gut instinct tells me UGA has two main things working in its favor among Robert’s elite list of schools: (1) A former NFL assistant who is defensive coordinator and can talk about and teach what it takes to make it to the NFL because he has been there. Then again, his top five schools have a tidal wave of coaches with NFL experience. (2) Far more importantly working in Georgia’s favor is its close proximity to Robert’s hometown of Grayson, which would allow Robert to be near his strong support system of family, friends and coaches. That’s a pretty big deal. They would be far enough away for Robert to experience the college life but close enough to help out with anything on a moment’s notice, if needed. As long as Robert keeps walking on the right path, barring an unforeseen injury, he’s a lock for the NFL. And I’ve never said that about any kid in 25 years while he was still in high school, and will probably never again. He’s just that gifted.
We’ll talk more about Nkemdiche in Friday’s Recruiting Blog, but I did want to address one more subject: What about Robert’s personality and character? How on Earth does he stay grounded after being the ranked as the No. 1 high junior in the USA? We asked his coach.
“Robert is a team player. I asked him the other day. Where are you thinking about going for college? He said ‘Coach, I don’t care about that. I want to win a state championship. That’s what I’m focused on.’ That’s the kind of kid he is. We don’t have to worry about him going to all these different places every weekend, or dressing a different way to get attention – although he did bleach his hair for the playoffs, and a lot of our players did that for fun. We don’t have to worry about Robert being too much of a prima donna. Not that he’s above it. He’s a kid, and he loves attention like anybody else. He’s not the doldrums. He’s a fun kid. He’s fun to be around as a person. He’s fun in the locker room. We’ve been talking about this recruiting stuff since he has been in the ninth grade. We knew when he was in the eighth grade that he was going to be special, and we’ve kind of been prepping and getting him ready for it. Who would’ve thought he would be the No. 1 player in the whole country? But it is what it is. And we’re extremely proud of him and we want to celebrate it with him. Another good thing is his teammates have not gotten jealous of him [because of the No. 1 ranking]. They celebrate with him. They are happy to have him on the team. That’s was the biggest thing I worried about. I was afraid there might be friction among other players being jealous. That hasn’t been the case. It has truly opened up for his teammates to have opportunities to be seen by colleges as well. I am proud the way they have handled that. I can see where that could send them the wrong message and they’ve been good about that.”
More on Nkemdiche on Friday.
– By Michael Carvell, AJC Recruiting Blog
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