Dominic Cheek's announcement that he will attend Villanova following his senior year is a major coup for coach Jay Wright. The Wildcats had size and a good lead guard in their 2009 recruiting class, but they needed a big, athletic, scoring guard. In landing Cheek, who plays his prep ball at St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.), they hit the jackpot.
Cheek was recruited and offered by virtually every elite program in the country but his final five schools came down to Villanova, Kansas, Memphis, Pittsburgh and Rutgers. Wright's history of developing players is impressive, and that should continue with Cheek. When you watch Villanova play, you see that the Wildcats always have terrific guard play, great intensity and a strong respect for defense. On this year's team, they are lacking someone who can get them easy baskets, explode in transition and defend opponent's big guards. Cheek can do those things.
Cheek committed because Wright and his staff have made recruiting him a priority since he was a sophomore. Perhaps it was Wright's approach that sealed the deal; he said what a lot of coaches are afraid to say to a top recruit. According to Cheek, Wright told him that he had huge potential, but he still would need to earn his playing time at Villanova.
That honest, straight-forward approach is what makes Wright an outstanding coach and recruiter.
Also instrumental in Cheek's decision was his relationship with future Villanova teammate point guard Maalik Wayns (Philadelphia/Roman Catholic). The two formed a tight bond over the years; they made college visits together and played on the USA U-18 team that won a silver medal in Argentina in July.
Wayns will be the straw that stirs the drink when he arrives at Nova; he has an infectious personality along with big-time point guard instincts and toughness. He's the ideal point guard to complement a tenacious scorer such as Cheek.
When it comes to style of play, Villanova's system of running the floor to score with four guards and aggressive man-to-man defense that uses some pressing works well with Cheek's abilities. In the half court, they will spread the floor and run a base motion offense. The Wildcats also use ball screens and hand-offs to get their guards good looks.
Cheek is a marquee player who has tremendous upside because he has all the tools for greatness: size, great athleticism and excellent ball skills. He displays his athleticism on each possession, with or without the ball. Cheek has great speed when filling the lane on the break, and when he receives the ball in transition, he can pull up. He uses his 6-foot-6 frame to shoot over defenders, and he is effective from 3 and in the midrange. Cheek also is an excellent finisher going to the basket. In the offense, he uses his screens and his athleticism to free himself to get space for clean looks at the basket. When playing in a pick-and-roll action, which he will do quite often at Nova, Cheek has the ability to stop behind the screen and shoot it or attack the big man and go by him with his explosive speed.
Defensively, he is solid now. But Cheek has the length and athleticism to be a lock-down defender. He has improved in that area thanks to St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley, who emphasizes and holds his players accountable for it.
Cheek is the consummate team player and must lead by example everyday to insure St. Anthony of another successful season. This upcoming offseason, Cheek must commit to improving his strength to truly become an elite player.
Cheek reminds me of former Villanova Wildcat Kerry Kittles. I had the opportunity to study Kittles' game as an assistant coach at Boston College. I also had the privilege of coaching him for a week in an all-star event against international competition in Europe. Both Cheek and Kittles have great size with scoring skills. Both are guys you can depend on to score and still be team players. At the same stage, Kittles had a more consistent jumper from long range than Cheek does. However, Cheek is a much faster and explosive.
In addition to Cheek and Wayns, the Wildcats are bringing in two other blue-chippers. Forwards Mouphtaou Yarou and
Isaiah Armwood, both of Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md., give the Wildcats great size and athleticism in the frontcourt.
With Cheek's addition, Villanova, which was No. 7 in our most recent recruiting class rankings, could make a jump into the top five.
Paul Biancardi, who spent 2007-08 as an assistant coach on Rick Majerus' staff at Saint Louis University, is the national recruiting director for ESPN Scouts Inc. He has 18 years of coaching experience at the Division I level, and is a member of the selection committees for the Gatorade Player of the Year award and the McDonald's All-American Game.