A Tremendous Track Record Shines a Light on Vermont’s Recent Recruitment Success
There’s a great series over at The Athletic (subscription required) that highlights a list from a few power 5 schools’ best and worst recruiting efforts in recent years. Did they forget about Vermont like they forgot about Dre? Truth be told, the concept seems pretty fun, so let’s give it a shot. For this exercise we’ll stay within the John Becker tenure at Vermont and examine the five greatest recruitment successes and five – well, failures.
Since John Becker took over the program from Mike Lonergan in 2011, he’s led the Catamounts to a 219-91 record while amassing numerous accolades and awards along the way. In more recent years, coach Becker and the influx of talent has helped elevate the program even further. Vermont has gradually become one of the most consistently winning and elite mid-major schools across the country. Burlington can often be a tough sell for many college athletes, yet coach Becker has somehow managed to not only find, but mold incoming recruits into top-notch players.
With a 219-91 record to boot, there’s obviously going to plenty of memorable names that could easily make the cut. On the flip side of the coin, hammering down five prospects who never quite lived up to the hype was a bit tougher. Just because their careers in Vermont didn’t flourish as expected should not by any means be considered a reflection of their character or even basketball talent.
Nonetheless, it’s a great reminder on the excellent job the coaching and scouting has been throughout these years. So without further ado, let’s dive in and examine where some Vermont’s most memorable and forgettable recruits fall.
Top Five Vermont Catamounts (2011 – Present)
1. Anthony Lamb (2016-2020)
While there have been plenty of phenomenally great Cats, this is an easy, clear-cut no-brainer. Anthony Lamb was an impact player from day one. If not for a freak injury that cost him nearly half of his sophomore campaign, Lamb could’ve come within striking distance for most points in Catamount history. Despite the minor setback, Lamb would still cap off his career with 1,933 points, good enough for fifth all-time in school history. Likewise, Lamb etched his name into the Vermont history books by finishing top ten in field goals, blocks, rebounds, scoring average and free throws. If not for the injury and lack of postseason this past year, who knows how far Lamb could’ve climbed up the record books.
Lamb was without a doubt a transcendental and generational-esque player for Vermont. The Rochester, New York, native racked up seemingly countless accolades and awards during his tenure in Burlington, including twice being named the America East Player of the Year. Throughout the years Lamb consistently poured his heart and soul into every game. Whether it’s his game-winning jumper against St. Johns or a gritty 42 point double-overtime performance over St. Bonaventure, Lamb was a glorified star.Not only was Lamb one of the best players during the John Becker era, he proved to be on the Mount Rushmore of Catamount greats with the likes of Taylor Coppenrath, TJ Sorrentine and Eddie Benton.
It was incredible to watch Lamb elevate and rise to the challenge against top competitors such as Virginia, Purdue or even Kansas. As of this moment, Lamb is preparing for the NBA Draft, where he’s likely viewed as a second round prospect. With all the shroud surrounding next year it’s unclear how the draft will shake out even more so than usual. Nonetheless, Lamb should have an excellent chance at sticking with a team through his sheer determination and work ethic. While his time in Burlington has come to an end, expect to hear Anthony Lamb’s name in the future.
2. Trae Bell-Haynes (2014-2018)
Although Trae Bell-Haynes wasn’t quite on Anthony Lamb’s level, he was one of the most highly respected Catamounts of all-time. His well-rounded style of play and phenomenal leadership both on and off the court helped the Toronto, Ontario native capture the second spot on this list. Much like the aforementioned Lamb, TBH would leave his mark in the Vermont history books. He’s one of only three Catamounts to finish their careers with over 1,500 points and 500 assists. Along with Lamb, TBH also captured the America East Player of the Year award twice, as the two have combined to win the award four straight years.
With career averages of 11.7 points, 3.7 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, TBH was an incredibly versatile player on both ends of the court. A true role-model both on and off the court, TBH often led by example, as his initiative and mentorship played a significant role in the rise of Vermont’s status. TBH played with many other talented Cats, including Anthony Lamb, but it was TBH who was the catalyst behind their remarkable 19-0 conference run to send the Cats back to the NCAA Tournament. Despite being severely under-recruited coming out of high school, TBH’s passion for the game helped elevate him into becoming a truly special player.
Beloved by his peers, coaches and fans, TBH embodied what it meant to be a Catamount. The Canadian native wound up going undrafted, though he’s been invited to participate in various NBA team’s training camps to compete for a spot. The former Catamount standout currently plays in the CBL (Canadian Basketball League) for the Niagara River Lions. His well-rounded and versatile style of play would continue as last season TBH averaged 12.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest for the River Lions. With aspirations of making the leap to the NBA, TBH has no intentions of settling for anything less. Here’s hoping we’ll be seeing him make the cut sooner than later.
3. Ernie Duncan (2014-2019)
Evansville, Indiana native Ernie Duncan checks in at number three on this Catamount greats list. Ernie was the first of the Duncan brothers (Everett & Robin) to come through Vermont, as he was able to string together an impressive resume during his tenure in the green and gold. Arguably one of the greatest shooters in Catamount history, Duncan would finish his career second in most three-pointers made (308) and first in the three-point percentage (42%). The sharpshooter was deadly from beyond the arc and could put on a shooting clinic on any given night.
Proving to be more than just a one-trick-pony, Duncan found himself on both America East First-Team All-Conference and All-Defensive team selections. Playing alongside the likes of Lamb and TBH meant Duncan would take a backseat at times, yet the star guard had no problem playing Robin to their Batman. As both a leader on and off the court Duncan portrayed initiative to the full extent. His courage and vulnerability in opening up about mental health gave countless others the strength to come forward with their own insecurities.
One of Duncan’s most memorable moments was much more than a game-winner or 40+ point performance. Ernie, Everett and Robin became the first trio of brothers to play alongside each other in an NCAA Tournament game. It was a truly special moment for Ernie and his brothers to all be a part of. Ernie has been working towards playing professional overseas and if not for the Covid-19 outbreak would likely be there right now. Lately, the young man has been digging into his coaching roots by working with youth squads and teaching proper shooting techniques. Best of luck to Ernie in whatever aspect comes next for him!
4. Ethan O’Day (2012-2016)
Ethan O’Day proved to be one of the early recruitment successes during John Becker’s tenure. The 6’9 forward from Mansfield, Connecticut owned the block for the Cats, as he helped carry the team throughout his four years in Burlington. Much like Duncan, O’Day was never able to capture the America East Player of the Year, yet the big man was recognized for his well-crafted game with selections to both the America East First-Team All-Conference and All-Defensive teams. A true workhorse and leader, O’Day would finish his career with over 1,200 points and 600 rebounds to boot.
During O’Day’s tenure as a Catamount, Vermont was a good, albeit not great team. Granted they did win 20+ games every year, but a high of 23 wins and no NCAA Tournament appearances falls flat in comparison to the Cats of today. However, O’Day was the catalyst behind John Becker’s offense and quickly became the voice of the team. A two-time captain, O’Day was well-respected by players and coaches alike for what he offered both on and off the court.
It would’ve been interesting to see how O’Day would have fared playing alongside more talented players such as Lamb or prime TBH and Duncan. If not for the dominance of Jameel Warney and Stony Brook, Vermont might have been able to reach the NCAA Tournament during O’Day’s stay. Nonetheless, O’Day built a very impressive resume throughout his time and is more than worthy of making this list. While his professional career never quite took off, O’Day has become a huge supporter of the Catamount program, whether it’s working radio broadcasts of the games or engaging in alumni support. O’Day has been a massive help in establishing and spreading the Catamount culture through the community.
5. Stef Smith (2017-2021)
As the only currently active Catamount on this list, Stef Smith has the chance to climb even higher with another remarkable year ahead of him. The Ajax, Ontario native will be taking over as the focal point on offense now that Lamb has graduated and is widely considered the odds-on favorite to take home the America East Player of the Year award. Much like TBH, Smith was under-recruited coming out of high school, yet the young guard continues to exceed every expectation and rise to new challenges.
With one America East First-Team All-Conference selection already under his belt, expect Smith to add plenty more accolades and awards before it’s all said and done. Smith has already exceeded the 1,000 point mark (1,021) and has a strong chance of cracking Vermont’s top ten career points leaderboard. Taking a page out of Duncan’s book, Smith has established himself as one of the best three-point shooters in the league. His 49.4% from beyond the arc during conference play dismantled teams from just a season ago.
Smith briefly tested the NBA draft waters, but ultimately knew he’d be back to continue showcasing his skills and development throughout the year. Early projections would place Smith as a fringe NBA prospect, but the young guard has seen improvement every year. With full control of the offense and preeminent force of the Cats, Smith’s stock is on the rise. Can the Catamounts really win America East Player of Year five years running?
Bottom Five Vermont Catamounts (2011 – Present)
1. Ra Kpedi (2017-2019)
Out of all the players on this list – both good and bad, Ra Kpedi was actually the most highly touted coming out of high school. The Indianapolis, Indiana native was viewed as a raw prospect with immense upside and athletic potential. Verbal Commits even gave Kpedi a three-star grade, higher than players such as Lamb, TBH and Duncan. Vermont was in search of an athletic big man who could compliment Lamb in post. By all means, Kpedi passed the eye-test. So why didn’t it work out?
That question could be asked about every other player on this side of the list. There may be some obvious inclinations such as poor fit, or that they never quite developed, but the honest answer is there will always be countless factors to take into consideration and it’s neither here nor there to expunge that part of their life. As for Kpedi, it was clear that he was too raw to play right away, however due to injuries Kpedi was forced into action too soon. Kpedi struggled mightily and quickly found himself at the end of the bench.
The coaching staff had initially made Kpedi a starter during his sophomore campaign. But after losing his starting spot, along with being relegated to the end of the bench, it was clear Kpedi had lost confidence in himself. Kpedi wound up transferring to Purdue Fort-Wayne at the end of the year. He redshirted this past year due to NCAA transfer rules, though it will be interesting to watch how he performs for the next two years. Best of luck Ra!
2. Brandon Hatton (2014-2015)
From the start it was clear Brandon Hatton wasn’t a great fit in John Becker’s system. Although he was well-regarded coming out of high school (2.5 stars per VC), the Edgewood, Kentucky native never quite lived up to the hype. Technically Hatton was classified as a guard, though he was probably better suited as an undersized wing (6’3). There was no doubt Hatton had talent, especially on the offensive end, but his lack of effort defensively was ultimately his biggest downfall.
He was a good shooter, who even flashed at times during his abbreviated stay at Vermont. Not only did Hatton finish as his high school’s all-time leading scorer (3,045), he was also playing at the varsity level since seventh grade. Sadly, Hatton was just too slow to handle being a guard and too short to play on the wing at the next level. He was a defensive liability and in John Becker’s system there’s no quicker way to the end of the bench than not being able to handle your defensive assignments.
As if being a square peg trying to fit in a round hole wasn’t tough enough, Vermont had quite the influx of talent at guard and Hatton was the odd man out. Duncan, TBH, Cam Ward, Dre Wills and even Kurt Steidl were at the top of the ladder and Hatton could see the writing on the wall. He’d ultimately transferred after one year down to the division two level and played for Kentucky Wesley. His numbers were better, yet it was nothing spectacular. Hatton’s career never amounted to much and sometimes that’s just the way it goes.
3. Brendan Kilpatrick (2012-2015)
Credit Bredan Kilpatrick for staying at Vermont for as long as he did. The 6’5 wing from Norristown, Pennsylvania looked like he could’ve been a nice rotation piece, but after a serious foot injury wiped out his entire sophomore campaign, it was clear that Kilpatrick wasn’t quite the same player. Kilpatrick wasn’t regarded as highly as Kpedi or Hatton, but he was a solid prospect nonetheless. While he was never going to become a star for Vermont, he had all the makings of a great role player who could provide excellent value off the bench.
The biggest “what if” for Kilpatrick centers around his infamous foot injury. If Kilpatrick is able to stay healthy, how does his game continue to develop and does he ultimately stay at Vermont? While the first part is open-ended, I’d wager Kilpatrick stays committed to Vermont through all four years. When he returned the following year, it was clear Kilpatrick was still hampered at times and his growth had hit a brick wall. Kilpatrick deserves praise for at least trying to stick with Vermont for his comeback, but once it was clear that he had lost a step, Kilpatrick knew he’d have to transfer to continue his career elsewhere.
Dropping down a level to division two was likely Kilpatrick’s best option. He joined Jefferson University and was able to stay healthy his first year, starting all 32 games, while averaging 37.2 minutes a game. However, after another injury setback, Kilpatrick would only make 12 total appearances during his senior year. Injuries are a part of the game and unfortunately for Kilpatrick, he couldn’t evade what would eventually become his undoing.
4. Kian Dalyrimple (2016-2017)
As previously mentioned, Vermont has had a tremendous track record of not only bringing in the right type of recruits, but also getting them to buy into the program and culture. When a player such as Kian Dalyrimple is considered one of the bigger busts, it’s a great indicator of where the program stands. As for Dalyrimple, expectations were set pretty low from the get-go. It was clear that it was going to take some patience and development before Dalyrimple would be ready to make any sort of contributions to the team.
Dalyrimple had prototypical size for a shooting guard (6’4) and was athletic enough to handle himself on the wing as well. Unfortunately it just seemed like Dalyrimple wasn’t ready for the division one level. After redshirting his freshman year in Vermont, Dalyrimple knew that he had quite the uphill battle in front of him and was unlikely to pick up much playing time. Dalyrimple chose to go the JUCO route and transferred to Barton Community College.
Sadly, the JUCO route didn’t exactly help Dalyrimple find redemption. After a year at Barton, Dalyrimple transferred yet again, this time to the division two level to play for New Haven College. Dalyrimple would only play a total of nine games for New Haven before leaving the team for personal reasons. It’s always unfortunate to see a player’s career unfold in such a manner, yet it is what it is. Best of luck to Kian in whatever ventures he seeks after basketball.
5. Nas Williams (2013-2014)
This is a highly contentious pick, but as mentioned Vermont has had way more hits than misses in their recruitment efforts so the final spot goes to Nas Williams. The reason this should be considered contentious is because Williams joined Vermont as a walk-on and actually flashed enough to the point where he could’ve carved out a much larger role at Vermont. In fact, not only did Williams walk-on at Vermont, the coaches elected not to redshirt him and he averaged nearly 6 minutes a game. Pretty impressive for a walk-on prospect.
Now just because Williams looked decent in limited appearances doesn’t mean he wasn’t flawed. At 5’9 Williams was quite undersized and struggled to handle more adept defensive assignments. His field goal percentage (30%) wasn’t anything to write home about it either. Now there could’ve been some more personal issues that led to Williams leaving Vermont after only one year, but it would have been very interesting to watch Williams grow under the tutelage of John Becker.
All things considered the division one level might have been too much for Williams. The Harlem, New York native transferred to division two Post University, where he strung together a decent season. Williams would only elect to play for Post for just one year. It’s unclear what led to this decision, or what Williams has been doing since then. Williams was a criminal justice major, so hopefully he’s been able to put his education to good use and pursue a life after basketball.