Why prized recruit passed on high-major offers and committed to South Dakota State

South Dakota State head coach T.J. Otzelberger landed a marquee recruit Wednesday when Caleb Grill committed. (AP)

He could have chosen a Big 12 school five months removed from an Elite Eight appearance. He could have chosen a Big Ten school that may crack next year’s preseason top 25. He could have chosen an American Athletic Conference school that has won 25 or more games four of the past five years.

Against all odds, Caleb Grill passed on offers from each of those programs. The prized 6-foot-3 shooting guard announced Wednesday he’s committing to less heralded South Dakota State instead.


“He was pretty confident in what he wanted to do,” said Chris Gill, Caleb’s father.  “He’s a competitive kid, he likes being pushed and he doesn’t back down from anyone, but when he was deciding where to go, I think he felt the best about going to South Dakota State because of the relationships he has formed with the players and coaches. It just felt right.”

Landing a prospect of Grill’s caliber is a major coup for a South Dakota State program that has advanced to the NCAA tournament five of the past seven seasons but has never competed with high-major schools for recruits. Ex-coach Scott Nagy and current coach T.J. Otzelberger have developed guard Nate Wolters and forward Mike Daum into NBA prospects during that span, but both of those guys were under-the-radar recruits that few other schools wanted while they were in high school.

Grill is different. Major-conference programs have been recruiting the bouncy, sweet-shooting Wichita native for months.

Texas Tech, Nebraska, SMU, Washington State and Colorado State had each already offered Grill a scholarship. Oklahoma State and Kansas State were also in frequent contact with Grill and Wichita State and Oklahoma have shown interest as well.

“Grill is a kid who has been improving rapidly over the last year,” Rivals.com recruiting analyst Eric Bossi told Yahoo Sports. “He has athleticism, he can put the ball on the floor and he’s a dangerous shooter from deep. I look at him going to the Summit League and think he has to be looked at as the kind of kid who will compete for all-conference and possibly conference player of the year honors at South Dakota State. He’s one of the biggest recruiting heists of the 2019 class.”

It’s a testament to the South Dakota State staff’s eye for talent and diligence that the Jackrabbits were able to get this done. They were the first Division I program to recruit Grill and the first to offer him a scholarship.

A source familiar with Grill’s recruitment told Yahoo Sports that South Dakota State first learned about him last summer via a glowing report from a scouting service. Otzelberger and assistant coach Eric Henderson made Grill a priority soon afterward, watching him play four times during the 2017-18 high school season and a couple more times during the spring even though Wichita is an eight-hour drive from the South Dakota State campus.

The dedication of Otzelberger and his staff paid off in a big way Wednesday when Grill selected the school that wanted him the most rather than somewhere with more tradition or prestige.  He cited his relationship with the South Dakota State coaching staff, the opportunity to contribute right away and the chance to play in a fast-paced, 3-point-happy system that highlights his long-range shooting and athleticism.

While South Dakota State will lose Daum to graduation next spring, Grill’s commitment ensures that the Jackrabbits will remain relevant in the Summit League and nationally for years to come.

Grill, the son of a former Wichita State basketball player, is an elite shooter, underrated passer and an exceptional three-sport athlete. He’s the starting quarterback of his high school’s football team and he posted the second best mark in the high jump in the state of Kansas as a junior.

Only a couple years ago, Grill’s dad just hoped his son would draw some interest from some in-state Division II programs. Since then, he has sprouted from 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-3, added muscle in the weight room and blossomed into one of the state of Kansas’ premier prospects.

If Grill continues to improve as a senior, there’s a chance more offers from prominent major-conference programs could pour in. Tempting as those may be, his father doesn’t expect him to waver in his loyalty to South Dakota State.

“He’s a pretty committed kid,” Chris Grill said. “He became a Chiefs fan when he was real little and it didn’t matter if they won two games or 13 games. He’s still a Chiefs fan. He has played on the same AAU team for a long time. He had some opportunities to play on teams that would have gotten him some more exposure, but he wanted to play with his friends.”

“When it’s all said and done, I can’t predict the future, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that he’ll be going to South Dakota State.”

Highlights of South Dakota State commit Caleb Grill:

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at jeisenb@oath.com or follow him on Twitter!