Kevin McPherson: Keyshawn Embery Makes It 4


Hogs add third national Top 100 player to 2018 class in Keyshawn Embery

The last time we talked Hog hoops recruiting in this space, it was early July and a versatile, 5-star player had just de-committed from Arkansas, which at the time boasted the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for the class of 2018.

You don’t replace a 5-star talent easily or quickly, but fast-forward roughly two months later and Razorbacks head coach Mike Anderson and his staff took a big step in the right direction by winning the commitment of national Top 100, 4-star Keyshawn Embery, a 6-3 combo guard at IMG Academy by way of Oklahoma City.

Embery committed to Arkansas on Saturday, and in doing so the Hogs now have three 2018 commits who are ranked in the national Top 100 — Embery (Top. 100, 4-star prospect according to both and, Little Rock Parkview and Arkansas Hawks 6-8 power forward Ethan Henderson (Top 100, 4-star prospect according to ESPN,,, and HoopSeen), and Fort Smith Northside and Arkansas Hawks 6-4 shooting guard Isaiah Joe (Top 100, 4-star prospect according to Arkansas also has a commitment from Jonesboro 6-2 combo guard Desi Sills, who’s rated a national Top 200 prospect.

With two more scholarships to give, Arkansas is on a path to healing from the sting of losing Reggie Perry, the 5-star combo forward who has since committed to SEC rival Mississippi State. Arkansas’s team recruiting ranking for 2018 is no longer atop college basketball, but the Embery addition helped boost the Hogs to No. 6 nationally according to And, in the composite national team rankings (which is an aggregate of the four major recruiting services), they’ve moved up to No. 12.

Rankings and star ratings look great on paper and are fun for fans, but the real wins in recruiting boil down to how well a staff evaluates talent, team needs, system fit, academics, and personality/character while also building and growing relationships.

If the evaluation boxes are all checked, then closing the deal relies on the strength of the relationship, and in that regard Arkansas scored big with Embery.

“I’mma love being (at Arkansas) playing under Coach A!!!!” were the first post-commitment thoughts conveyed to me on Saturday by Embery, who chose the Razorbacks over Texas A&M after shutting down his recruitment following back-to-back official visits to Fayetteville and College Station, TX, in early September. 

Embery had offers from at least 20 schools, including Arkansas, Texas A&M, West Virginia, Arizona State, Purdue, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Kansas State, Cincinnati, Butler, Creighton, and Nebraska, among others. 

What helped Arkansas stand out was a prolonged journey of recruitment and relationship-building. The Razorbacks had Embery on campus last fall (2016) for an unofficial visit, and they went to Oklahoma to see Embery play in 2016-17 when he was at Midwest City (OK) High School. They were close to offering Embery in January, but wanted to see more. Arkansas coaches continued to evaluate him in the spring and summer while Embery starred for OK Run PWP on the Under Armour Association grassroots basketball circuit. 

He had a solid showing on the UAA circuit, averaging 14.2 points (13th in UAA), 3.4 assists (4th) and 1.4 steals. But he really blew up nationally during the Under Armour All American camp in July, and soon afterward Arkansas extended a scholarship.

“Mike Anderson is one of my favorite coaches,” Embery told me back in July, just after the Head Hog had called to offer him. “He told me I had been playing great, that I had improved as a leader and all-around player. Those were areas they wanted to see from me.”

Relationships. If you’ve got a good one, that kind of feedback is welcome and appreciated. T.J Cleveland, Embery’s lead recruiter who also helped bring 4-star combo guard Jaylen Barford to Arkansas, was key in securing Embery’s pledge. And the Hog staff had won over Embery’s Dad and grassroots hoops coach, Jermaine Simpson, some time ago.

“Jermaine (Simpson) always wanted Keyshawn to go to Arkansas,” said Matt Reynolds, who heads up Oklahoma Prep Hoops and knows Embery and Simpson well. “He has a good relationship with the Arkansas staff.”

During last week’s build-up to Embery’s weekend announcement, coaches from Texas A&M (Tuesday) and Arkansas (Thursday) did in-home visits to make last-minute pitches, and Simpson highlighted some of the factors at play. 

“We’re just breaking down everything as far as the rosters, culture, life after basketball, etc.,” Simpson told me at the time. 

Certainly those considerations were important, but in the end, relationships won the day for Arkansas.

Keyshawn Embery scouting report: He’s a textbook combo guard = more of a shooting guard who can go get you buckets, but has the ability to help at point guard and make plays for others … Keyshawn — who scored 50 points in a high school game last season — is a crafty and fearless slasher/finisher who does not mind contact once he gets into the paint … he’s got a strong 3-point game, both catch-and-shoot and off the bounce (one-dribble step-back, crossover, and going left or right) … he’s got counter moves at all 3 levels, a reflection of his high basketball IQ, skill, and determination … he does a good job of mixing in drop-offs and kickouts as a facilitator for others, enough to keep defenders off balance and guessing while he picks and chooses … improved defender with quickness … tenacious competitor, which translates to having plenty of “dog” in his game.

Projecting Keyshawn Embery’s role at Arkansas: He’s a great fit in Mike Anderson’s system. His slashing game is reminiscent of current Hog combo guard Jaylen Barford, and his perimeter set-up game reveals versatile complexity similar to current Hog combo guard Daryl Macon. Mike Anderson needed his team to get bigger and stronger at the shooting guard and wing positions — and you can see it has in what he brought in with the 2017 class, not to mention some of the recruits he’s targeting in the 2018 class — but the Hogs still need those scrappy, skilled, quick, tough, dog-mentality 6-3-and-under guards, too. Embery fits that bill at both ends of the floor, and it lines up great with the kind of player Anderson covets. Embery will play his senior season at basketball prep IMG Academy in an effort to improve all aspects of his game before college. From my vantage point, he’s got long-term All SEC potential.

keyshawn Embry

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