Utah Archers head coach Chris Bates breaks down top draft prospects

By Zach Carey | May 2, 2024

The Utah Archers made waves yesterday by trading LSM Jared Conners to the California Redwoods for the no. 13 selection in Tuesday’s College Draft. Conners was the Archers’ no. 5 overall back in 2021 and he delivered on that investment. A Brodie Merrill LSM of the Year Award finalist and a PLL champion in 2023, Conners has been a major contributor to the club’s success. 

The trade gives Utah more firepower to capitalize on a deep draft class. Head Coach and General Manager Chris Bates commented that, this year, “a second-round pick is equivalent to a first-round pick because who is going to go nine through sixteen, those are first-round caliber guys.” Now, he holds the no. 8, no. 13, no. 16, no. 24, and no. 32 picks with the opportunity to add multiple top talents to his roster. 

Before the action kicks off on Tuesday, I caught up with Bates to get his perspective on a collection of top prospects. 

Jake Piseno, LSM/Close Defense, UAlbany

“He’s a little bit of a unicorn,” Bates said. “Just fun to watch. He has that impact all over the field. I think early on in the PLL there were the old Jarrod Neumann days and the two-pointers. You’ve seen the league adjust to that so there’s less of an impact of those kinds of guys. But Jake is a guy who is going to bring it back at least a little bit. He’s a guy who you can have some fun with and keep him on the field. He’s great on the ground. He plays for one of my good buddies at Albany, Scott Marr. He’s a lacrosse rat and I think is going to be a good one.” 

With Conners shipped off to California, Utah loses one of the premier young LSMs in the game. Piseno would be the logical replacement and is a very realistic target at eighth overall. Plus the club’s confidence in Patrick Shoemay and Cam Wyers should mitigate the concern about replacing Matt McMahon at close. 

TJ Malone, Attack, Penn State

“I’ve known and watched TJ forever,” Bates noted. “He’s a winner. He can really do everything well. It’s not fair to call him a complementary player, but he can complement any offense as well as be a guy who makes big plays. He feeds well, sets picks, dodges, scores: He’s a complete package.” 

Bates also mentioned the club expects to add another lefty option to the offense after Reid Bowering signed with New York in free agency. “We do feel like we need a little bit of depth on the left-hand side,” he said. “Obviously we’re really good there. But in case somebody goes down, based on how we play offense, we’ll find somebody there.”

That in mind, Malone looks like a prime option for Utah at 13th overall. Most years he wouldn't be available that late. But this offensive class is one of the talented and deepest ever. That could be why Bates was willing to give up a piece like Conners. 

As Bates suggested, Malone is a versatile offensive weapon who can play any variety of roles. The two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year also played alongside Grant Ament and Mac O’Keefe for a few years in Happy Valley. So there is already familiarity with key pieces of the Archers offense. 

Ajax Zappitello, Close Defense, Maryland

“Very steady, very efficient,” Bates said. “Not flashy, but well-coached and has had a great career. To wear number one [at Maryland] and play within that program and that defensive system; I think for the most part you know what you’re getting and it’s all good, really.” 

Zappitello is the best cover guy in the draft. With McMahon retiring this offseason, Zappitello is an elite option as a core defensive piece. Candidly, though, the Conners trade makes LSM a more significant need for the club than close. So Piseno’s versatility could bump him over Zappitello on Utah’s big board. 

Kenny Brower, Close Defense, Duke

“A really good cover below goal-line extended,” Bates emphasized. “Competitive, tough, high motor. Plays for a great program, so we’ve seen it at the highest level in college and have a window of him playing against the best peers that he’s got. So there’s been a good ability for us to see his skillset.” 

At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Brower fits the mold of close defender that the Archers tend to like. He's a stout cover guy who won’t get bullied by physicality and has the footwork and control to avoid getting burned by shiftier attackmen. Utah’s Warren Jeffrey is a good comparison for him. At eighth or 13th, Brower would be a nice selection. At 16th overall he’d be a steal. 

Jake Stevens, Midfield, Syracuse/Princeton

“Do it all, really,” commented Bates. “He’s obviously great on the wings. He’s a threat in transition. He’s good offensively, handles his business defensively, really good in transition. Tough kid, great on the ground. He’s pro ready in a lot of ways.” 

With Latrell Harris’ injury status up in the air, picking up Stevens would be a useful addition. Stevens is more than a depth piece; he’s the most versatile short-stick prospect in the 2024 draft. Wing players who can initiate offense are increasingly valuable with the 32-second shot clock. So Utah could double down on its success in the 32 last season by nabbing Stevens.