SDSU basketball went “all in” on the Class of 2023

BJ Davis chose the Aztecs over multiple offers. Credit: Samantha Schmidt

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NCAA early signing period for the class of 2023 started on Wednesday. SDSU officially brought in a pair of future Aztecs they hope will be cornerstones of the program in the coming years on Thursday. 6’1 point guard BJ Davis from Modesto Christian High School in California and 6’9 center Miles Heide from Mount Si High School in Washington made their commitments official today.

“Our excitement level is very high,” SDSU assistant coach Chris Acker told EVT after the school announced the signing of Davis and Heide. “They fit in with the character and makeup of our current players. They are extremely coachable. From a coaching standpoint, it’s exciting because they are thirsting and thriving to get better as players. Both of them ultimately want to get into the NBA one day, and we’ve had a lot of success moving guys onto that level here, so it’s the perfect fit. We just can’t wait to get them on campus at this point.” 

Recruiting techniques are well established. Due to the decades coaches have had to hone their craft, universities often have the upper hand when pursuing an athlete. The tried and true method is to gather a list of prospects with mutual interest and play the high schoolers off each other to gain a commitment. Programs rarely put too much emphasis on any one player because it would ruin their recruiting class for that year should the coveted players choose to play elsewhere.

Against this backdrop, SDSU’s pursuit of Davis and Heide stands out. Over the summer, Dutcher detailed to his assistants what he was looking for in this class. He wanted recruits ready to compete as freshmen, who could blend with the expected returners and fill the holes of the departing players. 

Brian Dutcher roaming the sidelines against CSUF. Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Armed with their marching orders, Dutcher’s lieutenants pared down their already short recruiting lists and presented him with their recommendations. Davis and Heide quickly rose to the top of the Aztecs’ recruiting board. According to their high school coaches, SDSU went “all in” on bringing the talented duo to America’s Finest City. 

“They did a great job recruiting him,” Modesto High School head coach Brice Fantazia told EVT. “Just daily, they let BJ know that he was their guy. There were other kids ranked – as wishy-washy the rankings are – but they were ranked higher than BJ. They said, ‘BJ’s our guy, not those guys. We want him. He fits us. He fits our culture.’ Some of those other kids didn’t.”

“Just from the perspective of (SDSU saying), ‘Miles is the only big we’re recruiting.’ ‘We’re going all in on Miles.’ ‘We’re going to commit ourselves 100%.’” Mount Si head coach Jason Griffith told EVT last month. “Typically, a kid that’s getting recruited is going against three, four, five, six kids in the process. I’ve had kids that get recruited by schools, and their scholarship gets pulled because someone else commits, and that takes their spot. There was no other kid that was going to take Miles’ spot.”

Four-star point guard Mikey Williams, one of the top prospects in the nation, had SDSU as a finalist. Five-star center Dennis Evans considered the Aztecs late into his process.

Head coach Brian Dutcher and his staff wanted Davis and Heide.    

Elite Feel

Dutcher describes his system as “freedom within framework.” Offensively, this allows his players to create outside the script of designed sets. Defensively, it means organically doing what is needed on every possession to force the opposition to take tough shots away from their normal spots on the floor. Both require an elite feel and a high basketball IQ to succeed. These are the qualities SDSU’s staff looks for in prospects.

Identifying feel is more art than science. It is here where Dutcher’s underrated ability as a talent evaluator shines through. The athletes who play for SDSU are so much better than their high school counterparts that the refined aspects of the game are unnecessary for success. 

Heide’s feel is seen in how he already understands the nuances of screening at a college level. Most high school bigs are able to screen on the ball, but Heide understands how to set a second screen off the first and use his size to create space for his teammates. Last season, he played with four players who shot over 40% from deep and played within the space they provided, rarely extending outside the three-point line himself.

Davis and Heide are expected join players like Keshad Johnson in 2023. Credit: Don De Mars/EVT

Davis’ acumen for the game reveals itself most in the calming effect he has on his teammates. Basketball games at all levels can be erratic. The less skilled the players competing in a contest are, the more it resembles Saturday morning pick-up games. The Open Division runner-up last season, Modesto Christian, is ranked in the top 25 in the nation. Only two players on their roster, Davis and Jamari Phillips, are nationally-ranked recruits. There are many teams across the country with more talent, but there are few with floor generals like Davis with the feel to bring everyone together to build a team.

“I think it’s something he has worked on,” Fantazia said when asked about Davis’ feel. “He has always been explosive. He’s always been able to go by guys. Now, through film and stuff like that, he’s become more of a pure point guard and not just a scoring point guard. Get other people the ball. In transition, he’s explosive but making the right reads, not over-dribble, and stuff like that. His feel has improved a lot, and there’s more that he can improve on.”

Work Ethic

Both three-star recruits, Heide and Davis, share a similar path in their recruitment process. They were late bloomers. Davis did not enter the national conversation until after Modesto’s Open Division run to the state championship game. He is the 138th-rated player in the nation, according to 247 sports. Heide is not on that distinguished list at all.

SDSU’s staff did not have to ask anyone if their newest players would fit into their program’s culture of hard work. They saw it in the improvement Davis and Heide made. Their high school coaches predict their meteoric rise will continue, and in a few years, coaches, especially on the West Coast, will wonder how they failed to identify players of such obvious talent.

“Just hard work,” Heide coach. “Last year, we had four kids that shot above 44% from three. It wasn’t that maybe he couldn’t do it. It’s just we had a lot of other kids that could do it better. … After the season, it was something that we focused on. We wanted to get him to face up more, be a threat from that distance from the basket. Now he has shot fakes, getting past kids with his handle. We had a game this summer where both our point guards were out, so we put him at point and let him run the show. He’s just playing with a lot of confidence. He’s a young 2023. If he was a 2024 (recruit), it’d probably be a little bit more normal development, but right now, we’re seeing it a little later, just more because of his age.”

What BJ Davis brings to the Aztecs

Davis is a magician on the court. What the eye sees and what he accomplishes are different things. He plays at his own pace like Aztec greats DJ Gay or Trey Kell. But, unlike Gay or Kell, he is actually the fastest player on the court. Watching him is an optical illusion, he looks slow on tape, but few can stay in front of him. His speed is effortless. Even after coaching him for years, Fantazia said he is still surprised at the ease with which Davis glides up and down the court.

Credit: Twitter @bjk10_

His scoring ability complements his speed. Last season, Davis shot over 50% from the field, above 40% from three, and topped 90% from the free throw line. He scores at all three levels. Teams cannot go under ball screens, and few can guard him on the perimeter. His ceiling is a quicker version of Malachi Flynn.

“BJ’s a very good point guard in the sense that he has a great feel of where his teammates are at all times,” Acker said. “He can really shoot the basketball, which opens up the game for him as a player. His ability to shoot the basketball really separates him at that position. The other thing about him is he’s a very good passer. When he gets in tough spots, he knows how to find guys. And the best quality about him is, he’s an elite defender, which fits in tremendously well with what we do at San Diego State.”

What Miles Heide brings to the Aztecs

The nation has yet to see Heide’s full game on display. Like Davis, Heide was part of a state runner-up a season ago. His play for Mount Si caught the eyes of college coaches, but it was not the style recruiting services pay as much attention to. He was more workmanlike than flashy. Playing with and off his teammates, he was not the focal point that stands out to amateur scouts.

Credit: Twitter @miles_heide

Heide is an athletic player who is still growing. He possesses enough handle to face up and beat his man off the dribble or push the ball in transition. His rebounding is elite because he has terrific hand-eye coordination and a great motor. His ability as a shooter is improving, and teams will have to play him honestly when he is on the perimeter. His ceiling is a bigger Jalen McDaniels.

“Miles is – and I don’t even know how to phrase it – he’s one of those bigs that just doesn’t come around very often because he’s a big that’s constantly getting better, that’s constantly improving,” Acker explained. “Whatever he is right now, he’s going to be ten times better by the time he gets to campus because he’s always working. He’s a pick-and-pop five-man, but he can roll it into the block. He has great vision. He catches the ball extremely well regardless of if there are guys around him, or he’s rolling to the rim. He’s deceptively athletic, and I think the best quality about him, like most young bigs nowadays, is his ability to shoot the basketball at his position. But he’s also developing his back-to-the-basket game.”

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Future Pick and Roll Partners

If all goes according to plan, Davis and Heide should form a dynamic duo that will drive Aztecs’ opponents crazy in the coming years. Their already present skill sets complement each other. Over time, Davis and Heide should become potent partners in the pick and roll.

Heide’s shooting ability and athleticism will force teams to play team defense behind the ball screen, which should open up space for Davis to create. Heide’s motor should play well in the chaos created by Davis’ speed.

Davis and Heide’s potential, like all recruits heading to programs like SDSU, is the NBA. They are smart, athletic, versatile, defensive-minded, competitive, and have great feel. It is easy to see why SDSU went “all in” for the Class of 2023.   

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