There seems to be two schools of thought on recruiting in college basketball. On one hand, everyone is chasing the McDonalds All Americans every year and I don’t think there is a school or fanbase who would turn down what Kentucky has coming in next year. On the other hand, it is always nice to have a group of upperclassmen to lean on as well, as the Kentucky approach can be precarious: if a school misevaluates a kid or two, or the class as a whole ends up being not very good, then you end up losing to Robert Morris in the NIT.
To be sure, I don’t think recruiting is unimportant. Most Final Four teams have plenty of top 50 and 25 ranked recruits. But I also think it gets overvalued a bit. For example, this tweet from ESPN’s Dave Telep
So that could mean a couple of things. Either recruiting isn’t as important as recruiting experts make it out to be, or most recruiting experts aren’t very good at their jobs.
To the actual point of the post, the starters in this year’s national championship game come from a pretty diverse background. There are multiple highly rated guys and guys who racked up a ton of offers coming out of high school, but interestingly maybe best player in the Final Four was just a 3 star recruit who wasn’t even ranked in the Rivals 150.
We might as well start with said player. Russ Smith was unranked by Rivals, and was just a 3 star recruit. His only offers other than Louisville were Rutgers and St. Johns, and he wasn’t even noticed by Louisville until an assistant was on a trip looking at another player. Now he is one of the most valuable offensive players in the country and probably the best defender on the best defense in the country. Not too shabby for a 3 star recruit.
Siva was the 39th ranked player and the 8th ranked point guard in the class of 2009, and his other offers came from Arizona, Miami and Washington. Siva escaped a tough neighborhood in Seattle where drugs and crime were the norm and even talked his dad out of suicide when he was just 13 years old. Siva always had a reputation as a tough hardnosed athlete when he was in high school, and he’s been pretty much exactly that at Louisville. He was a McDonalds All-American who stayed four years. Not many players can say that these days.
Dieng was ranked 44th in his class (10th ranked PF), but didn’t have a lot of high level offers. In addition to Louisville he was offered by Colorado, Marquette, Marshall, Maryland and Memphis, with Marshall showing by far the most interest. Perhaps a reason was the eligibility question: Dieng, a native of Senegal, was initially ruled ineligible by the NCAA because of some questions about his academics at Huntington Prep. His actual smarts weren’t an issue (he passed the SAT with flying colors and speaks four languages) but they had questions about the classes he took. That appeal was soon reversed, and Dieng blossomed into one of the better interior defenders in the country
Behanan has had a couple of up and down years at Louisville, but he was a highly sought after recruit, ranked 21st nationally in the 2011 class (and 6th ranked PF). Behanan had offers from, among others, Kentucky and North Carolina.
Blackshear is Louisville’s fourth top 50 recruit in the starting lineup, having been ranked 36th nationally. He garnered other offers only from Illinois, Kentucky and Texas, likely because of an issue regarding whether or not he would be able to be cleared to play. He was the top ranked player in Chicago, and eventually was cleared in time for his Freshman year.
Bonus! Kevin Ware
Ware obviously won’t be taking part in the game tonight, but while he’s thought of as just a rotation guy (and now, unfairly to him, sort of an unofficial mascot) Luke Winn shows just how valuable he has been defensively in the tournament. In high school Ware played for the legendary Atlanta Celtics AAU program, helping him get offers mostly from lower ranked schools, but also Louisville (obviously), Georgetown and UCLA. Ware was ranked 70th nationally in the class of 2011.
Burke’s recruiting story is fairly well known now that he is a bonafide star and has won all of the major national player of the year awards (though it should be said the KenPom player of the year is going to be Russ Smith). Burke played on an AAU team with Aaron Craft, but with Craft getting the Ohio State offer, Burke, a fellow Columbus native, had to originally commit to Penn State. Burke’s only other BCS offers came from Cincinnati, Iowa, Nebraska and Providence. Rivals ranked him 26th in the class of 2011. Oh, excuse me, that’s the 26th point guard in the class of 2011. Now he’s one of the best players in the country and providing hope to all of the underrecruited high schoolers out there.
McGary grew up just next door from Notre Dame and 200 miles or so from the Indiana campus, but was not offered by either of them. Unlike Burke though, McGary was highly sought after, getting offers from Duke, Florida and Kentucky. He was anywhere from the 2nd to 5th best prospect in his class at one point, but slid all the way down to 30th in the Rivals rankings for 2012 because of effort issues (seems silly to type that now). He’s been one of the better rebounders in the country all season, and he has put a case for NCAA tournament MOP together, not to mention worked his way into the first round of the NBA draft if he decides to come out.
Glenn Robinson III
Robinson was ranked the #2 small forward and 11th overall by Rivals, but only had offers from a bunch of mid majors in addition to Michigan. That’s because when he committed to the Wolverines at the outset of his Junior season, he was just a three star prospect who was thought to be a fringe high major. A pair of excellent high school and AAU seasons shot him up the charts, but by then he was solidly in the Wolverines’ camp.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Hardaway is probably the Wolverines’ second best player, but somehow unbelievably was ranked outside the Rivals top 150. His only other offer was from Minnesota. It could have been because he played football in his Sophomore year, or it could have been because of his dad, but for whatever reason he slipped in the rankings and Michigan was the beneficiary of all those other schools being scared off.
Stauskas grew up in Mississauga, Ontario and after two years of high school basketball at Loyola Catholic he moved to the United States and played his final two seasons at St. Mark’s in Massachusetts. Stauskas played for Canada’s U-16 team at the America’s championship, and caught the eye of recruiters playing for a Toronto area AAU team. He caught Beilein’s eye in the summer of 2010 at a camp, and chose Michigan over Villanova, Georgetown, Iowa State , Notre Dame and Florida. He ended up rated 71st by Rivals, and the 13th shooting guard in his class.
While Michigan and Louisville have both ridden excellent recruits to get to this point, it is interesting that arguably two of the best three players in the game weren’t ranked in the top 150 Seniors in their class, and this year’s national player of the year barely made the top 150. Are recruiting analysts not great at evaluating talent, is recruiting not that important after all, or are college coaches just that good at developing talent? It’s probably one more than the other, but I propose that the answer is: yes.