Posted On: 06/28/18 6:01 PM

When Arkansas State University lured I.M.G. Academy Head Coach Vince Walden to Jonesboro (April 2017) they expected to attract even better players to their program.  How could the ASU admins even anticipate this?

Arkansas State University (11-21) Head Coach Mike Balado plucked Coach Walden from the premiere training facility of I.M.G. Academy to campus the recruiting team calcified into a juggernaut.

Fast forward to June 2018 and five DI prospects visited the campus on invites.  The Tennessee players are bolded.

PG Howard Gray
PG Ashton Smith (Findlay Prep)
G Amorey Womack (Webster Groves-MO)
PG Andrew Anderson
WG Alex Anderson


Ashton Smith and Amorey ran with Bluff City Legends 17u in April-May.  Howard and the older Anderson Andrew helped Team Thad Elite 17u to many nice wins.  The baby of the quintet Alex Anderson (2021) played and plays with Team Thad 15u.

Howard is also an accomplished football player.  Ashton attends Findlay Prep, but began his high school career with Lausanne Collegiate in Memphis.  Amorey Womack dominate the high school season in St. Louis and elected to run with Bluff City Legends this spring for extra competition.

Now you know who Arkansas State was dealing with for this lovely unofficial visit.

The Visit

Howard Gray raved about the stop in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

“Overall they had a beautiful campus, beautiful facilities, and everything from the athletic program to the academic program was amazing, and the way they interacted with me made me feel comfortable and made me feel as I was welcome!”

Alex Anderson is a tantalizing combo forward with college wing potential.  He is ranked very high in the fresh Class of 2021 player rankings and plays for the #2 AAU team in the state, Team Thad UA.

A question was posed to Alex about the visit.

“Well, I like the environment a lot,” said Alex Anderson in response.  “The players work hard like all of them work very hard. They do everything with a lot of energy even in the weight room they all are talking and encouraging each other listening to music.”

For a Class of 2021 player three high school seasons still separate the beginning of college.  Rarely do players pick a school before their junior seasons, but Alex did enjoy the look at Arkansas State.

“The coaches push the players to be their best and what I liked the best is the coach said “if I’m not getting my guys to be pros, then I’m failing as a coach” like he really wants to help them get to the next level.”

Alex shared one more detail about his visit.

“The campus is beautiful and they have a lot of resources to help them succeed academically,” said Alex Anderson.  “Everyone around is nice like the players treated us like little brothers.  It was fun really fun.”

Great Connections

Older brother of Alex, Andrew Anderson is closer to his college decision entering his senior season.  Both Howard Gray and Andrew Anderson compete with Team Thad Elite.  July will be important for Anderson to build on his South Alabama offer.  The South Alabama program probably learned of Andrew and Alex through Memphis-native South Alabama Assistant Coach Amorrow Morgan.

Coach Morgan played for Idaho State and professionally in both Germany and the Netherlands.

He is aggressively recruiting the Memphis area.  You will hear South Alabama’s name more often than usual in Memphis player recruiting.

What does Howard Gray want to do after his successful high school football and basketball careers?

“In college I will be considering whichever sport God leads me to,” shared Howard Gray.  “I love both sports, but I think it would be too much for me to play both sports in college, so whichever sport I get better offers for I will take.”

Specialization is a wonderfully complex subject that many parents deal with.  ‘Should my son just play one sport?  Should my daughter drop out of ___, so that she can focus on ___?’

It is a mature decision Howard appears to be ready for.  He wants to advance beyond high school and even though he has the skills, size, power to do one or both Howard Gray clearly thinks both would be an abnormally burdensome workload.  College classes and weight lifting and football and basketball together certainly creates a cluttered freshman year.  Howard Gray is open to one or the other, but not both after next year.

What exactly is Arkansas State Head Coach Mike Balado trying to build?  What is the direction of their basketball program?

“They are trying to become a powerhouse,” said Howard Gray.  “When people talk about basketball they want their school to be mentioned.”

The Arkansas State Wolves competed in the NIT four straight seasons 1987-1991.  Postseason play is not a certainty in Jonesboro, but Coach Balado intends to make it a habit.

“Their style of play is fast-paced, and aggressive defense,” said Howard Gray.  “They have hard-working, talented, and coachable kids with a high motor.”

Isn’t fast-paced exactly what Howard and Alex Anderson create with Tipton-Rosemark?

“Yes, this is similar to what I can do because for TRA we play fast-paced, and VERY aggressive defense,” said Howard Gray.  “I feel like I will be able to do this, and I have room to get better at it in college.”

The most important early step for college recruiters is to get improving players on your campus.  Assistant Coach Vince Walden and the ASU staff did just that with the speedy, hungry Tipton-Rosemark trio.

What is next?