URI loads up on talent during hectic week

What has gone on at Rhode Island since Thursday isn't normal. There's busy, and then there's busy.

Last Wednesday, the Brothers Hurley traveled to Virginia to see 2013 center Ifeanyi Onyekaba (Roanoke, Va./Episcopal). Nobody, not Dan Hurley, not Bobby Hurley, not Ifeanyi, nor his AAU or his high school coach would have predicted that less than 24 hours after meeting in Roanoke, Ifeanyi would be in Kingston, R.I, for the first time, enrolled in classes at URI as a freshman.

Say what?

It would be too long and complicated to explain so I’ll shorten it up. Onyekaba had a choice to make. Due to his transcript from Nigeria and subsequent reclassification in the States, he was hours away from potentially losing not one, but two years of collegiate eligibility. That’s where URI enters the picture.

Onyekaba met with VES (Virginia Episcopal School) administrators late into the night on Wednesday, caught a 6 a.m. flight to URI on Thursday, watched practice, enrolled and then had to explain to his friends back home where he was and why he wouldn’t be at the prom in the spring. URI was fortunate that classes started late enough that Onyekaba had one day left to enroll.

Once Rhode Island pieced together a plan for its newest center, it had to turn its attention to a pair of senior visitors: power forward Hassan Martin (Staten Island, N.Y./Curtis) and wing Jonathan Severe (Brooklyn, N.Y./Christ the King).

At this point, Rhode Island had landed a surprise recruit and was in the midst of hosting two other prospects when a piece of significant news came in. E.C. Matthews (Detroit, Mich./Romulus) had committed to the Rams. Matthews is legit and is the program’s first top 100 prospect. He’ll fit in nicely with transfers Gil Biruta and Jarelle Reischel.

The Rams’ blue-collar approach laced with experience in playing and coaching the point guard position didn’t hurt. “It helps that (Dan) coached high school for nine years,” Romulus coach Nate Oates said. “He doesn’t come in as some guy overseeing this program. He’s a guy that lets you know he’s going to come in and grind. E.C.’s mom picked up on that right away.

“She knew some of the guys were salesman. When she talked to Danny, she felt he was genuine and he was going to take care of her kid. Danny will even say it, he hasn’t been tainted by being a Division I head coach his whole life. He gets after it and he’s genuine.”

Hurley definitely gets it. These days, he’s getting “it” a lot. A day after Matthews committed, Martin did the same. Four days, three new players and two recruits hosted on visits. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a quick, productive stretch.

Unfortunately, there’s still work to be done. Onyekaba has to appear to the NCAA for eligibility this season. It’s probably a Hail Mary, but he’ll make the attempt.

Here’s the takeaway from this commitment spree: Rhode Island, in the next two years, is going to be pretty good. At the very least, they’ll be right there with the top teams in the Atlantic 10 from a talent perspective.

The second takeaway is even more impressive: The Atlantic 10 is an early winner in realignment. The league adds Butler and VCU – two teams with three Final Four appearances – and at the same time a rebuilt Rhode Island squad.

“You know the Hurley’s are going to get that thing going,” Oats said. The same could be said about the Atlantic 10.