Karris Bilal talks Vanderbilt commitment, game, and future
It’s as if Karris Bilal was always built for this.
“He’s been in our program since he was an elementary school aged kid, from the minute we saw him we knew he had something special,” Riverwood head coach Leonard “Buck” Jenkins says of the Vanderbilt commit. “When he got here as a freshman he was the best player on the team and as a sophomore he was the best player on the team.”
Vanderbilt’s coaching staff quickly took notice and became Bilal’s first offer in December of his sophomore season at Riverwood. Xavier and Georgia State joined by offering shortly thereafter.
“It meant a lot that they were my first offer and the first college to really believe in me,” Bilal says.
That early offer and official visit went a long way with the Riverwood guard, who committed to Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse and his staff in September of 2022, less than a month after his official visit.
At the center of that decision was Stackhouse and his staff.
“I really like the coaching staff, I can tell that the whole staff has really good connections because a lot of them are involved with and have something to do with the NBA,” Bilal says.
“They just made it feel like family when I was there and they really just made it feel like home,” the class of 2024 guard said of his visit to Vanderbilt’s campus.
The staff wasn’t the only thing that Bilal liked from his visit, though.
“Obviously I like the competition, they play in the (Southeastern Conference), and I like the academic part of the school and how they have really strong academics,” Bilal said, adding, “One thing I looked at was Scottie Pippen Jr. and Darius Garland both doing good things right now after coming from Vanderbilt and I feel like they're both scoring guards, which is similar to me.”
When asked how he would describe Bilal to Stackhouse, Jenkins was quick to praise his star player and his mentality.
“The first word that comes to my mind when talking about Karris is competition, he's a competitor, he seeks it out,” Jenkins says.
“He’s getting a competitor, Karris competes every single day and he competes on both ends of the floor. Obviously people pay attention to his ability to score, he’s a natural scorer.
"But there's a lot of other things that he does on the court that impact the outcome of games that I think that when he gets to the next level people will really start to pay attention to,” the former Charlotte guard adds.
That scoring ability has been easy to see throughout the 2022-23 season.
Although Bilal had one of his slower offensive nights of the season while being face-guarded on Friday night, the Vanderbilt commit threw down an impressive dunk in transition and later got into a rhythm with a shot from 3-point range along with a smooth pull-up jumper after struggling to get open looks in the first half.
Despite scoring below his 23.4 point per game average, Bilal showed plenty of the tools that left Jenkins encouraged.
“He plays at his own pace all of the time, he's never rattled, he's always even keeled,” Jenkins says. “He believes in himself, his confidence is supreme, he believes in himself so much that everyone around him also believes in him.”
Bilal hasn’t only expressed his confidence in himself but also in the Vanderbilt program, even through its struggles.
“I’ve been watching the games and obviously there’s some games that could’ve gone either way,” the junior guard said .“I’m still for sure confident, I feel like there's some things I could definitely do when I get there to help too, I’ve actually been eager to get there.”
Jenkins shared the belief that Bilal can be ready to see the floor right away, similarly to Vanderbilt’s current freshman guards Noah Shelby and Paul Lewis.
“I think from a physical standpoint he’ll be ready, I think from a game standpoint he’ll be ready, and I think from a leadership standpoint by the time he gets there he’ll hit the ground running,” the Riverwood head coach says.
“I really think that they’re getting a guy who regardless of how they need to play, they got a guy they can plug in.” Jenkins adds
Bilal’s offensive profile is certainly one that provides reason for encouragement. The 6-foot-2 guard has an innate ability to create his own shot, finish around the rim because of his athleticism, and has the shooting ability to be a threat from all three levels.
Vanderbilt’s young backcourt members all have different skill sets, but Bilal is especially appealing because he appears to be a blend of the three. Lewis is the steady distributor, Shelby is the knock-down shooter, and class of 2023 guard Isaiah West is the all-around scorer.
Bilal shows signs of being capable of earning all of those labels and is encouraged by the way he fits in
“I think it's gonna look really good, I’ve seen Isaiah West and Noah Shelby play before in AAU and I think they’re really good so I think we’ll fit nice,” the high school junior said of the ‘Dores young backcourt.
It isn’t just the backcourt that appeals to Bilal either.
“I feel like offensively they have some really nice big men and I feel like I play good in pick and roll, so I feel like I’ll fit nicely with that,” Bilal adds.
While the Vanderbilt commit lights up while talking about his commitment, Bilal still has his sights set on where his feet are. That includes some big goals.
“I just want to be more of a leader and improve on my leadership,” the Riverwood guard says
That leadership will contribute to his bigger goal, though.
“I wanna win, I feel like I’ve gotten what I wanted with my commitment and recruiting. I got the most I could get out of that so I want to be able to win the region championship and hopefully a state championship while I’m here,” Bilal says.