Not long into his first season at DePaul, head coach Oliver Purnell landed a recruiting coup. The Blue Demons were in shambles, with just one Big East win over the preceeding two seasons (1-35 in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 combined), plunging attendance and a core of promising but untested freshman. Nevertheless, Purnell nailed down a commitment from one of the top commits in the class of 2011.
Shane Larkin had outstanding offers from Colorado and Mississippi, but he wanted to play in a big city and in the Big East. At least that's what he told ChicagoHoops.com when his signing was announced in October 2011.
“Athletically, [DePaul is] in the Big East, so they play the best competition, and they play my style of play. Academically, DePaul presents me with a good education, and since it is in Chicago, which is a big city with many companies, you can have a good job after basketball if basketball doesn’t work out," Larkin said.
Larkin, a Florida native and son of the baseball great, attended summer school at DePaul and preseason workouts, but when it came time for an exhibition tour in France, Larkin tossed a wrench in Purnell's plans to build a team around the talented combo guard. He wanted to leave.
The team announced that Larkin was leaving due to an undisclosed medical condition and that Larkin needed to return to Florida to be closer to his family. Not long after, he signed with Miami and coach Jim Larranaga. The NCAA cleared him to play with the Hurricanes immediately.
"It was probably the hardest decision I had to make in my life," Larkin told the Chicago Tribune's Shannon Ryan. "Just going back on my word. I committed to them and I signed a letter of intent. I had nothing but good intentions going up there and being successful at DePaul and trying to turn that program around."
He continued: "People say we would have been in the tournament if I was up there or their success would have been different."
So, were those 'people' correct?
In two seasons with Miami, Larkin earned an array of honors: All-ACC freshman team, 2013 Lute Olson National Player of the Year, Bob Cousy Award finalist, Wooden Award finalist, Second Team All-America, All-ACC First Team and ACC Tournament MVP.
Since declaring for the NBA draft after his sophomore season, Larkin has had workouts with the Bucks, Celtics, Pacers and Jazz. He set a record for the second-highest vertical leap ever at the NBA Draft Combine with a 44-inch jump, and is now projected to be a second-round pick despite his 5-11 size.
So what could he have done at DePaul?
In what would have been Larkin's freshmen season in Chicago, the Blue Demons already had an incumbent point guard in Brandon Young, a member of the Big East all-rookie team the year before, and a senior two guard, Jeremiah Kelly. So maybe he splits minutes his freshman year, but Larkin certainly would start for DePaul — at either SG or PG in his sophomore season.
A Young-Larkin backcourt with Cleveland Melvin in the paint would be a monster force on the floor. The Blue Demons mostly relied on senior Worrel Clahar in the two-spot this past season, but he didn't perform, and neither did any of the guards behind him. In fact, DePaul ranked dead last in shooting defense in the Big East (by opp. eFG%, opp. 3P% and opp. 2P%), tenth in 3-point shooting in the Big East and 13th in steal rate.
Larkin's 3.4 percent steal rate would have ranked seventh among Big East players last season; his 40.6 percent 3-point shooting would have been the best among all DePaul players since Drake Diener sunk 46.2 percent in 2004-2005; but most of all, his ability to attack the rim with unparalleled inside moves and quickness earned him an offensive rating (117.2) that would have ranked eighth among all Big East players last season. By comparison, Clark had an ORating of 94.7, Young's was 105.8, and no DePaul player since Marcus Head (2006-2007) has reached such a mark.
The Blue Demons finished last season 11-20 overall and 2-16 in the Big East. If gifted Larkin's inside-outside presence and moves combined with Melvin's frontcourt athleticism and Young's talent for passing, I'm not sure the Blue Demons make the tournament, but they certainly win a lot more games.
But can we quantify all of this somehow? Well, not easily or precisely — there are just too many factors at play when you add or subtract a player to a team — but maybe we can come close.
According to figures provided by Value Add Basketball, Larkin added 5.5 percent to Miami's scoring while he took away 1.37 percent of opponents' scoring last season for an impact on Miami's total scoring output of 7.37 percent — a number which ranks him 19th overall and third in the ACC. Those figures are calculated against an "average" major conference replacement player base number.
If we consider that anyone other than Young or Melvin from DePaul was quite average last season, we can apply Larkin's value-add figures to the Blue Demons and come up with some interesting results, which are played out in the data below.
|Opp||PF||PA||Orig. Result||PF+Larkin||PA+Larkin||New Result|
Now this is by no means meant to be precise, it's merely a fun 'what if' with some psuedo-science thrown in, but under the Value Add projecctions, DePaul would have gone 14-18 last season with additional wins over Cincinnati, Seton Hall and Notre Dame if Larkin had been a sophomore on the team. I gave ties to the home team, so maybe DePaul would also have beaten Saint John's.
And who knows what kind of recruits Larkin's freshman season at DePaul might have brought in to up the scoring even more.
Larkin wouldn't have gotten DePaul to the NCAA Tournament by his second season — not by a long shot — but the Blue Demons might have had a shot in '14 or '15 had he stayed around, helped re-light the college basketball fire in Chicago and start a recruiting train into the Windy City.