St. John’s guard Casey Morsell became the first junior in the Washington, D.C., area to make a college decision Wednesday, announcing his verbal commitment to Virginia. He also becomes the Cavaliers’ first recruit in the Class of 2019.
Morsell, a 6-foot-2 scorer, had narrowed his search to three final schools — Virginia, Penn State and Oklahoma State — before pledging to the Cavaliers. He also had offers from a list of high-major schools — Maryland, Georgetown, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech among them — and a small handful of less-heralded programs.
“Coach Bennett and staff, they wanted me a lot,” Morsell said. “Some schools say to you that you fit in, but there, at Virginia, they really said I would really fit in.
“Every time I have been on campus, they have never let me down.”
Morsell chooses Virginia after a season in which Coach Tony Bennett’s team earned the top overall seed in the March Madness field but ended with a historic NCAA tournament loss to No. 16 UMBC. Morsell said he really started to know that he was going to choose Virginia about a month ago and it was a school that was always at the top of his list.
“I just knew it was the right school for me,” Morsell said on committing early. “I wasn’t on a major blue-blood trail like Duke or Kansas or anything like that. I am happy where I am wanted and I can see myself playing.”
In Morsell, who will not be able to sign a national letter of intent until next winter, Virginia gets a player who scores at all three levels, with a strong three-point shot, solid midrange game and the ability to get into the paint. He will also add length to Virginia’s famed pack-line man-to-man defense, which has been the backbone of the Cavaliers’ recent run of success.
Since the 2013-14 season, Virginia has finished with 30 or more wins three times, finished first in the ACC three times, and seemed to hit a new level this season, going 31-3 overall and 17-1 in one of the country’s toughest leagues.
“He is a great fit as a two-way player,” Cadets’ Coach Pat Behan said. “He can create own shot, but he is also team-oriented player and fits into what they do defensively. He is the type of two-way player Bennett is looking forward to having, and he fits into the culture as well, so it is a great fit for both.
“U-Va. has done a fantastic job of recruiting him, and they had a great season. All stars aligned and it’s a great fit. They have made him a priority since Day 1.”
After finishing his high school career next year at St. John’s, a successful team that competes in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, Morsell will look to help the Cavaliers find the NCAA tournament success that has escaped them at the end of each passing season.
Morsell is also expected to play for Team Takeover’s 17-and-under team, which competes in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League, on the upcoming AAU circuit. He used last year’s spring and summer sessions to build his reputation as a high-major recruit and was a top priority for Virginia come fall.
“He’s definitely progressed and it’s a credit to his work ethic,” Behan said. “He’s the first one in gym, the last one to leave. He’s a very mature kid and he wants to keep on getting better.”
Bennett and all three of his assistants visited Morsell at St. John’s during a preseason workout in September, and Morsell had taken an unofficial visit to the school’s Charlottesville campus earlier that month. Bennett then stopped in to see Morsell play a few times during the high school season, and now has added the junior to the Cavaliers’ future.
“It is definitely a relief,” Morsell said of committing. “You can just focus on yourself and improving your game and improving your body. I am just focusing on winning with AAU and getting my body in the best shape possible so when I get to college I am ready.”
Virginia also has an offer out to DeMatha guard Justin Moore, who is being recruited by a large handful of high-major schools after a strong junior season. Moore will play with Morsell on Team Takeover’s 17U team, and expects to make his college decision sometime after the AAU season wraps up in July.
» DeMatha sophomore guard Earl Timberlake was offered by Clemson last Thursday, he told The Post. Timberlake averaged 11.3 points per game for DeMatha this season, his first after transferring from Rock Creek Christian. Timberlake has other offers from Maryland, Georgetown, Kansas State, Penn State, Providence, Rhode Island and Wake Forest. Timberlake will play with Team Loaded, an Adidas-affiliated team out of Richmond, on the upcoming AAU circuit.
» DeMatha sophomore center Hunter Dickinson was offered by Purdue, DeMatha Coach Mike Jones announced in a tweet Saturday. Dickinson, a seven-footer who will play for Team Takeover’s 17U team on the AAU circuit this spring and summer, already had offers from Notre Dame, Virginia, Maryland, Southern California, Wake Forest and Illinois, among other high-major schools. DeMatha sophomore Paul Smith was offered by James Madison University, he announced in a tweet Friday. It is the 6-foot-8 forward’s first offer after he averaged 3.3 points per game last season for the Stags.