With tears in his eyes, family by his side and friends looking on, John Marshall center Roosevelt Wheeler announced his commitment to the University of Louisville on Monday in the Justices’ gymnasium.
Wheeler, a four-star center and the No. 2 overall recruit in Virginia in the Class of 2021 according to 247Sports, repeatedly paused and looked sideways at members of his family, shaking his head in disbelief before making the announcement.
“I will be taking my talents to the University of Louisville,” Wheeler said as he stood up and took off his blue Justices jacket to reveal a Cardinals-red shirt emblazoned with an ornate L.
“The coaching staff, they definitely wowed me,” Wheeler said when asked what led him to decide on Louisville.
The Cardinals and third-year coach Chris Mack last season went 24-7, finishing third in the ACC and No. 14 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll.
His emotions, the soft-spoken Wheeler said, can be attributed to the significance the accomplishment holds for his family.
“On my dad’s side of my family, not many went to college,” he said. “So this is a big accomplishment.”
Wheeler’s top five schools also included VCU, Hampton, N.C. State and LSU. He said he came “very close” to staying home and choosing VCU, and that the Rams were his second choice.
“It was difficult because the other schools, they were amazing,” Wheeler said, adding that he came to his decision a couple of weeks ago.
Wheeler’s commitment adds to other Richmond-area hoops stars in the ACC, joining Trinity Episcopal’s Henry Coleman (Duke) and Armando Bacot (North Carolina); Monacan’s Joe Bamisile (Virginia Tech); and St. Christopher’s Gill Williamson (Virginia Tech).
Asked for his thoughts on playing in the ACC, Wheeler looked sideways at his family, who raised eyebrows and laughed with excitement.
“I’ll have fun and just do what I love to do,” Wheeler said.
At 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, Wheeler is a force on both ends of the floor. The first team All-Metro and all-state honoree averaged 15.8 points, 11.9 rebounds and 4.3 blocks last season for the Class 2 state champion Justices.
Wheeler is ranked as the No. 60 overall recruit nationally in his class by 247Sports. His development was delayed as a sophomore when he tore the patella tendon in his left knee going up for a dunk during practice.
It took months of rehab for him to return to 100%, and he’s since blossomed into a mobile, two-way threat with an ever improving offensive arsenal that includes right- and left-handed jump hooks and a strikingly soft touch.
Justices coach Ty White said “the best is yet to come” for his imposing, 17-year-old big man who is still becoming comfortable with his massive frame.
“Roosevelt is a young man who’s not just a player, he’s somebody I love, him and his family. This is just testament to all the hard work,” White said.
“This young man is phenomenal, and he deserves the best because he works like that, he acts like that, he’s got great character, a great family and I’m so proud of this young man.”
Wheeler’s mother, a breast cancer survivor, comes to all his games, and the big man has said he plays for her. Though Louisville isn’t exactly down the street, Wheeler said it’s close enough so that his family can continue its impassioned support of him. The KFC Yum! Center, where the Cardinals play, is about an eight-hour drive from Richmond.
Wheeler will not have a senior season, as Richmond Public Schools canceled winter sports because of the pandemic. But he said he plans to spend the extra time in the gym, healing an injured foot that currently bears a walking boot, diversifying his game and preparing to take on elite competition at the collegiate level.