While few Florida fans have spoken of Mike White's recruiting since taking over for Billy Donovan in glowing terms, "unorthodox" is one word that can certainly be used to describe the efforts of White and his assistants on the recruiting trail. The Gators getting an unexpected coup late Monday night, when HoopSeen's Corey Evans reported that 2017 four-star wing Deaundrae Ballard had committed to Florida, is just another bolt from the blue.
"Florida came in and visited at his school and (he) made the announcement today that he was committing to them," his high school coach Tony Robinson told HoopSeen.
That HoopSeen post was calling Ballard a Florida commit on the word of his high school coach alone, which is somewhat unusual in recruiting reporting. But Ballard did visit Florida last fall, and it should be noted that Ballard, who attends the same Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy that once minted Dwight Howard (whose father is still the school's athletic director), has long been on the Atlanta-based site's radar, and that Evans had previously covered him. And given that Scout's Brian Snow followed up with his own report on Ballard just before midnight with confirmation from his AAU coach, this is a genuine commitment.
It may also come as a bit of a surprise to White's detractors that Ballard, by all accounts, can really ball.
DeAundrae Ballard to UF comes completely out of the blue. Big time pickup for Mike White and the Gators. Great athlete, unlimited motor.— Carter Wilson (@CarterTuck) April 19, 2016
As mentioned yesterday DeAndre Ballard equals instant offense— Shun Williams (@OntheRadarHoops) May 25, 2015
6'5 guard comes into the game to knock down (2) three pointers@gastarsRL
Can't say enough good things about Deaundrae Ballard. He drew two SEC head coaches in to see him today. Mike White & Avery Johnson.— Justin Young (@JustinDYoung) December 6, 2015
@JustinDYoung agree with you. One of the most under recruited (at least offers wise) players out there.— Trinity Best (@bballTrinity) December 6, 2015
No.2 St. Francis falls to No.4 SWAC and DeAndre Ballard. 42 points for the stud.— Kyle Sandy (@KyleSandy355) December 19, 2015
Perimeter trio of DeAundrae Ballard, Danny Lewis, and Davion Mitchell looking very solid for Ga Stars against Alabama Challenge— Brian Snow (@BSnowScout) July 8, 2015
One would think that Ballard playing for that Georgia Stars AAU team — one of the Atlanta area's best-known outfits, and one with a long list of Division I players and over a dozen NBA players on its alumni page (which notably is missing any Gators, though Kwame Brown was infamously a Florida commit) — might have gotten him noticed. The Stars did win the prestigious Nike Peach Jam in 2015, with five-star center and future Kansas commit Udoka Azubike and four-star guard and future Florida State commit Trent Forrest leading the way.
Except: Ballard played on the 16-and-under Stars team, not the main 17-and-under Stars squad, leading it to a Peach Jam title of its own. That youth, and a skinny (6'4", 170ish-pounds) frame that doesn't quite look like it was ready for banging with the seniors of the AAU circuit as of last summer, may well have worked against him. Switching teams from the Stars to the less-established Game Elite, though the latter program has (apparently) produced 2015 five-star Jaylen Brown and 2016 five-star Kobi Simmons, probably didn't help, either.
If Ballard has been underrated or underrecruited, though, that seems to have worked in Florida's favor. Ballard's the nation's No. 58 player for 2017 per the 247Sports Composite, and all four major recruiting sites have him within their top 100 players1.
And Ballard shows nice shooting touch on midrange jumpers in his highlights, and the ability and verve to go up against elite competition in the form of 2016 three-star D'Marcus Simonds, who was repeatedly rumored to be close to a Florida commitment last cycle before ending up at Georgia State. (KeVaughn Allen sticking with Florida might have something to do with that.)
Ballard's commitment gives Florida two commitments for the 2017 class, as he joins point guard Shai Alexander in White's second class. While it's still very early in the 2017 cycle, Alexander's commitment alone had Florida ranked No. 10 nationally in the 247Composite team rankings as of late Monday.
Adding Ballard vaulted the Gators up to third.
One thing there's no consensus on? How to spell Ballard's first name. HoopSeen uses "Deaundrae." Scout uses "DeAundrae" on his player page, but stylizes his name in all caps, so you have to go to the Florida commit list to find "DeAundrae" spelled like that ... which is still different from the "DeAundre" in Snow's report. ESPN has "DeAndre," meanwhile. And while 247Sports concurs with Scout and lists him as "DeAundrae" and Rivals has "DeAundre" to match Snow, a 2013 report on Ballard from CBS Atlanta goes with "De'Aundrae." In other words, there are five distinct spellings for his first name from credible sources on the Internet. If ever there were a human who could use a Twitter account to straighten something out...