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The Recruiting Rankings: How Do They Work and are they Helpful?

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This post is for those that dont follow recruiting a great deal and wonder about things that many just take for granted. If you are a recruiting expert (or think you are), just skip it and go directly into an argument on a message board about Dakotah Euton’s grown pattern

The past few months have been quite interesting. We have seen our basketball coach embark on an almost unprecedented recruiting binge, that has seen him get commitments from players all over the basketball map, ranging from an in-state star to a JUCO guard to a 5 star cant miss to an 8th grader few people knew. And throughout that time, Gillispie has had those who have praised and those who have criticized….often the same individuals, no matter what the decision. In trying to evaluate the relative success of these operations, most people use whatever criteria best bolsters their argument. If the guy is ranked highly by the scouting services, then he is a great pickup. If he is not ranked highly, well then thats ok because we dont like those guys anyway. One TCP poster (whose name I wont mention for his protection), I once saw write the following two sentences, ON THE SAME DAY:

You got to have the top studs. If you dont have 5 star kids, you wont win.

These top ranked kids are all head cases. Gillispie doesnt need them to win.

Unless one wants to be as consistently inconsistent as our friend above, it becomes necessary to figure out a criteria on which to evaluate recruits, specifically those you havent seen. I have learned over the years that the most effective way to do it (in my view) is find the opinion of someone you trust, who has no interest in the player’s success (aka not a fan of the team) and listen to how they say the individual competes nationally. For me, Dave Telep of Scout.com has been that guy for some time and Evan Daniels is growing into that role as well. These guys see hundreds of players every week, and over time start to evaluate those players in comparison to each other. They see the good patterns and the bad patterns. Their rankings thus act as a good starting point for player evaluation.

However, if you are like I used to be, you might ask yourself, how does this whole scouting thing work? Specifically, what do these scouts base their decisions on? In a nutshell, it involves three things:

1. AAU
2. AAU
3. AAU

There, you now know the basics. In order to rank the players on a yearly basis, scouts focus heavily on AAU. The reason is simple. If every scout does not see every player, the rankings are meaningless. Thus if I see a guy and you see another, how do we compare them? It becomes important then for the scouts to get to see all the players….but great players are all over the country and travel takes to long. In comes AAU, bringing all the best talent into one place at one time. The guys from Scout.Com, Rivals.com, Bob Gibbons etc, descend on these tournaments and camps, see the players playing these glorified pickup games, and make their evaluations. From these evaluations, likely 80% of a guy’s rating is based. It can fluctuate a bit based on high school performance, especially if a player plays in a large market, but the AAU is the base and if you play well or poorly there, your stock is set.

There are pros and cons to this style of course. The obvious pros of course are that all the best players are evaluated at the same time. However some players do better in an AAU setting:

1. Athletic players: In glorified pickup games, the athletic guys usually win out.

2. Guards or DOMINANT big men: Guards have the ball in their hand and like to showcase….a dominant big man however cant be stopped in an AAU setting and thus becomes a star.

3. Deadeye shooters: Spot up, use the sagging man to man and hit three bombs.

4. Good players on great teams.: In the same way that Kurt Rambis is remembered because he played with great players, second tier guys on great AAU teams get hype that is more a function of who they are with than what they are.

Others dont do well in AAU:

1. Defense First guys: In AAU games and camps, defense is an afterthought….playing it well is like being a right guard on a 7 on 7 team….you wont get to use your skill.

2. Tweeners: aka “Chuck Hayes”. ON a college team with a good coach, this guy can be used for his strength, in AAU he looks out of place.

3. Good player on bad team: If your team stinks and you cant create your own shot, you have no shot.

Thus the very nature of the AAU system means that the rankings are going to be a bit flawed. But that doesnt mean you throw them out. You have to use them for what they are good for and ignore what they arent. Here are my 5 Rules for Using the Scout and Rivals Rankings:

1. If they are Top 15, they are a star.: With all the caveats above, the best players are the best players are the best players….period. When you see them you know. If a guy is in the Top 15, he is likely a great player. In every class, 10-12 of the top 15 make the NBA and all but one or two become really good college players. The rankings are good at picking the best of the best….you see them and you know it and the scouts do as well.

2. After the Top 15, Look at the Rankings as groups, not as a List: This is the most important rule in my view. The rankings after the top 10-15 arent a science….22 is not necessarily better than 40. Instead, the players should be seen as groups, with the differences in the eye of the beholder. As a general rule of thumb, I use a tier system:

Top 15
16-40
41-75
76-125
126-200

Generally speaking, guys in those groups have a similar talent range. This can be seen by the fact that if you compare various lists, most guys fluctuate within these ranges, but they are generally mostly in the same range. So when I see a fan arguing about a guy ranked 40 versus a guy ranked 70, I want to say, “hey, they are similarly talented….dont waste your breath arguing who is better….it will all be about their college system.”

3. Realize who has an AAU game and who doesnt: If the player you are evaluating has a strength that is also a strength of AAU (as seen above), then his ranking likely tells you where he should be….if he is too low, then he isnt a “diamond in the rough.” But if the player’s strength is not an AAU strength, then add some spots on the rankings for him….AAU just isnt his thing.

4. Stay away from AAU wonders: Anytime I see a guy who is great in AAU, but doesnt star in high school, I get nervous. Call it the “Scotty Hopson” syndrome. I would much rather have a good AAU or ranking player, who is a star on the high school level (a la Darius Miller). The latter usually end up being better college (as distinguished from pro) players.

5. Dont use the rankings on kids who dont fit into the system: The most important rule of the day. I often hear, “Player X isnt ranked so he cant be good.” The name may be Chris Lofton, Gerald Fitch, Hunter McClintock or Shelvin Mack. But that is an incorrect assumption….the kid may have never been IN A POSITION TO BE RANKED. He may have never played AAU nationally or been involved in top camps….for whatever reason….thus he was never seen. Chris Lofton wasnt on the national scene….he was thus missed. Shelvin Mack has never been on the national scene….he will do well at Butler. When these kids come around, you have to trust the judgment of the coach to see how the kid will fit into his system. The rankings simply dont apply to him because he didnt take part in the prerequisite camps to fit into the rankings mold.

I think the rankings are very helpful. But you have to know how to use them. They arent the end-all and be-all. Great coaches try to find players to fit a role in a system and thus will often go outside the beaten path to find their Anthony Epps or Lee Humphrey. When they do this, the rankings will be of little use. But they do provide a way (when you trust the scout as I do Telep and Daniels) of figuring out what general area to place some players’ talents. Use them for that purpose and you will have a bigger smile on your face than our man Jared Carter does above.

Article written by Matt Jones