The new rules regarding the NCAA transfer portal, along with an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19, has created a kind of free agency whirlwind all across the college basketball landscape over the past two years.
Many teams have been able to turn over nearly their entire roster using the portal, which has led to programs changing their recruiting strategy entirely to focus less on “riskier” prospects, like junior college or international prospects, in favor of adding more proven talent via the portal.
This has also led to less 4-star and 3-star recruits ending up at traditional Power-5 programs, leaving more available talent for mid-major programs to snatch up.
One coach who seems to have taken advantage of this change is Randy Bennett down in Moraga, who added two key potential contributors to his Saint Mary’s program in the class of 2022 in Aidan Mahaney and Joshua Jefferson.
Mahaney is the big prize, a 4-star combo guard from Moraga who came in at No. 130 overall in the 247Sports composite rankings for the incoming class.
“He was always someone who caught my eye, just because he plays very confidently,” Jason Jordan, the head recruiting analyst at Sports Illustrated, told me on an episode of the Locked on Zags podcast. “He’s going to create a lot of separation to get his three-point shot off, which he’s very efficient because he scores at all three levels. And since you have to respect his three-point shot, you push up on him and he’s going by you. That’s what is the best part of his game, and you really play into his hand. They always want to press up on him because they think they can rattle him, but he’ll hit them with a crossover and they’ll be like, “oh”.
Jordan went on to say he believes Mahaney’s combination of scoring, vision, facilitating, and overall basketball IQ will make him an instant contributor for the Gaels in year one, although he acknowledges his size (he’s currently listed at six-foot-two and 150 pounds) may be a factor early on.
Jordan also dropped a pretty eye-opening comparison when discussing Mahaney, comparing his shiftiness (and shiftiness only) to one of the greatest guards in NBA history.
“I don’t want to say the name Steph Curry, but he’s shifty like that,” Jordan continued. “He’s not Steph Curry, but he’s shifty like that. You can’t play him up, and he’s got a really keen eye, great vision, great facilitator. Really high IQ guy, he’ll probably have a curve from a strength standpoint, he’s really thin.”
Mahaney may be the big fish for Bennett and the Gaels, but their other addition, power forward Joshua Jefferson, is no slouch either.
“Josh Jefferson is a big body, I was very, very impressed with him during his senior year,” Jordan continued. “I got on to Liberty because they were in our Power-25 that we do at SBLive. They knocked off powerhouse Bishop Gorman and he was an integral part in that, averaged 17 and 10 his senior year. Just a solid big body, I think he’s around 235/240, around six-eight, six-nine. Another high IQ guy who does a lot from the high post. So he operates from the high post, you can run the offense through him. Really smart, makes the right play at all times, can definitely score in the low post but I think he thrives as a facilitator, and a playmaker for himself and his teammates.”
Jefferson wasn’t as highly ranked as Mahaney, but he did have an offer from Texas A&M before opting to commit to Saint Mary’s. Jefferson played at Liberty High School in Nevada, the same school as current Zag Julian Strawther and Gonzaga target Dedan Thomas in the 2024 recruiting class.
Jefferson and Mahaney are both ideal system guys for Bennett’s plodding, methodical, but highly efficient offense, and Jordan is willing to bet these two guys will be primary enemies for the Zags in the coming years.
“Two big gets, two guys who you guys (Gonzaga fans) are not going to like for the next couple years for sure,” Jordan said. “Especially Aiden, because he plays real confident and that tends to rub fans the wrong way.”
More on SMC’s recruiting class, as well as newcomers for the Pepperdine Waves, can be heard below:
Andy hosts the Locked on Zags and Locked on College Basketball podcasts, and serves Locked On in a marketing/digital content creator role as well. He lives just outside Portland with his wife Jenna and dog, Tillie.