Strong recruiting class brings high hopes to men’s basketball

Men’s basketball prepares for potential season with strong recruiting class

by Will Ennis | 10/13/20 2:05am

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Three-star recruit Robert McRae III '24 leads an impressive recruitment class.

Source: Courtesy of Robert McRae III

Whenever Dartmouth men’s basketball next takes the court, the team will feature one of its best recruiting classes in recent history. With its new recruits, the team aims to earn its first winning Ivy League record in 21 years.

Headlined by two consensus three-star recruits out of California — Robert McRae III ’24 and Jaren Johnson ’24 — the class is rounded out by Izaiah Robinson ’24 from New Jersey and Dušan Nešković ’24 from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Head coach David McLaughlin praised his freshman class’ work ethic and character, as well as his staff’s approach to finding the new recruits.

“I thought our staff did an incredible job recognizing high-level talent: hard-working, high character young men, and guys that really love, love basketball,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin also touted the versatility of the freshmen class as threats at multiple positions and on both ends of the floor. Adding depth at the guard positions with Johnson, McRae and Robinson fills a key need for the Big Green, who are thin on experienced guards beyond Brendan Barry ’20, Taurus Samuels ’22 and Wes Slajchert ’22.

McRae, an All-New England Preparatory School Athletic Conference Class AA standout, did not have a straightforward journey to Dartmouth. He weathered three injuries during his high school career, partially tearing his MCL and twice breaking his hand. He said that the 12-week recovery after his second hand injury was especially difficult since he “fell behind” many of his teammates. 

“The second time I broke my hand, I burst into tears, and both times I broke my hand, I went through a depression during the injury,” McRae said. “... Coming back, I was trying to compete and be better than everybody that I could be better than, and just compete, compete, compete, compete, compete.”

After coming back from his injuries, McRae earned a scholarship offer from California Polytechnic State University his senior year and had committed to play there. Disruptions to the school’s coaching staff, however, caused Cal Poly to revoke that scholarship offer and gave Dartmouth an opportunity to swoop in.

McRae ended up doing a postgraduate year at Kimball Union Academy in Plainfield, New Hampshire, which the Dartmouth coaching staff put on his radar. While there, he received recruiting interest from several schools — including Bucknell University, College of the Holy Cross and Columbia University — but he ultimately chose to play for Dartmouth at the collegiate level shortly after McLaughlin gave him an offer in person.

“Obviously they were showing me a lot of love — everybody [was] very excited for me to be recruited there,” McRae said. “… This is an Ivy League institution with a great education, Division I, a solid Nike sponsor. I see no reason why I wouldn't come here.”

With three All-Los Angeles City selections and a Los Angeles City Championship under his belt from his time at Fairfax High School, McRae looks to bring his competitive drive to the Big Green. He described himself as having “a little bit of a dog mentality,” ready to face off against any opponent.

“At the end of the day, I'm here to win, so I want to win,” McRae said.

Johnson, a fellow three-star guard and two-time San Gabriel Valley All-League First Team player, also looks set to play an important role for Dartmouth. He earned league MVP honors in his senior season while leading his Lynwood High School team to a conference title. He also secured a spot that season on the Long Beach Boys Basketball Dream Team First Team after posting averages of 16.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.

McLaughlin spoke about each of the new freshmen individually, praising McRae’s leadership potential and two-way talent, Johnson’s length and versatility at both ends in the backcourt, Robinson’s shooting off both the dribble and the catch and Nešković’s “European game” for his fundamentals and three-level shooting ability. He commended all of this year’s recruits for their dedication and love for basketball.

“All four of them have a love of the craft, which means they want to get better,” McLaughlin said. “We want guys that aren't going to settle for B or B+ performances, [who] will do anything to get that A.”

Chris Knight ’21, the Big Green’s two-time reigning team MVP, will be sidelined for any potential season rehabbing a torn Achilles. Nonetheless, he said that he looks forward to seeing how the team, including the freshman class, will step up without him to fill the pivotal role he has played in recent years.

“I think that we have a group of guys that are going to be ready for it,” Knight said “I think it's just going to be a great time to see people shine in their opportunities, and I'm pretty excited for it.”

Plans for an upcoming season are still tentative. Both Knight and McRae discussed a potential schedule, featuring only conference games, that would begin in January. However, both players along with McLaughlin admitted that plans remain highly subject to change.

Whenever that opportunity to play comes, McRae said he is eager to get back to playing basketball.

“I just want to play,” he said. “I want to experience what it's like to play at the college level. … I'm just looking forward to playing and getting on the court and trying to have the best year that I can, and [trying] to win the most games that I can for our team.”