A few weeks ago, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas made headlines when he discussed an article about which college basketball programs produce the best NBA players. Bilas’ argument was that colleges don’t “produce” pros, they recruit them, with the premise being – as best I can tell – that most players in the NBA were born with physical gifts that would have gotten them to the NBA regardless of where they went to college.
And for the most part, I don’t disagree with Bilas. John Wall, Anthony Davis, Zion Williamson, De’Aaron Fox, Ben Simmons, Marvin Bagley – they all would have ended up lottery picks regardless of where they went to college.
Interesting article on college programs with the most pros. One thing: college programs don't "produce" pros, they recruit them. Good coaches at every level help players improve, but don't "produce" pros. Which NBA team "produces" the most NBA All-Stars? https://t.co/YhKYGvV0qp
— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) June 17, 2019
Still, there are plenty of exceptions and we see them every year in college basketball. Virginia won a national championship with a lottery pick, DeAndre Hunter, who was ranked the 91st player in America coming out of high school. Was he recruited to be a pro, or did he develop at Virginia? How about Grant Williams at Tennessee? Isn’t it insulting to Rick Barnes to say that Tennessee didn’t help develop him into a first rounder? Texas Tech has had two lottery picks in the last two years (Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver) who were both ranked outside the Top 150 in their high school class. While both had natural physical gifts, I’d tend to think that Chris Beard had something to do with their success as well.
Which brings me to the main point of the article. With all due respect to Bilas (who covers college hoops as well as anybody) there might not be a single better example of the flaw in the “recruit vs. develop” argument right now than Tyler Herro. John Calipari used Herro’s name as proof that Kentucky “produces” pros a few weeks ago, and so far in Summer League – where Herro has been a breakout star – the former Wildcat is proving him correct.
Now look, I understand that playing well in Summer League isn’t a be-all, end-all to future NBA success. There are plenty of guys who play well every summer in Vegas, and it doesn’t translate to becoming a star in the NBA. Last year, Josh Hart won Summer League MVP, and he will never be anything more than a very good role player in the NBA. Lonzo Ball won Summer League MVP two years ago, and his career has been filled with injuries and up-and-down play on the court.
So again, to quote Denny Green I’m not going to “crown” Tyler Herro anything because he’s had a few good days in Vegas.
Still, it’s hard not to watch Herro ball out and feel like Kentucky and John Calipari didn’t at least play some part in his success.
For those who haven’t been paying attention (and I’m guessing most of you have been) Herro has been absolutely phenomenal in his short time as a pro. In the California Summer League (which was a precursor to Vegas) he averaged 19 points per game, and in his three games in Vegas has scored 21 per night. Over five games he’s averaging more than 20 points per game, and doing it all while hitting 40 percent from the field and adding five rebounds and two steals per contest as well.
So yeah, Herro is good. And please don’t tell me that it’s just because the “competition is bad” in Vegas. Keep in mind, RJ Barrett is averaging under 12 points on 28 percent shooting in his three games in Vegas. Let’s give a little bit of credit to Herro here.
Still, let’s also give a little credit to Calipari and Kentucky as well.
By now we all know Herro’s recruiting back-story, so we don’t need to take a deep dive here – but it is worth mentioning. This was a kid who ended up as somewhere around a Top 40 recruit in the recruiting rankings and a guy who – even after he decommitted from Wisconsin and ended up at Kentucky – wasn’t viewed as an immediate, unquestionable NBA talent. Most believed that even in Lexington, it would take two, three or four years for Herro to develop into an NBA player.
So yes, some of it was Herro’s natural talent, and yes, to a degree Kentucky did “recruit” a future NBA player when he signed his National Letter of Intent. To say otherwise would be to take away from Herro’s hard work.
At the same time, didn’t Kentucky play a role in how fast he got to the NBA, the fact that he was just a lottery pick after one season and that he’s been so successful so far in Summer League? I’d say the answer is yes when you consider, oh, I don’t know, that Herro got to play for a Hall of Fame coach in Lexington and was able to practice every day against NBA-level talent like PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson and Ashton Hagans. I’d say that it didn’t hurt playing against other NBA caliber talent when Kentucky faced off against Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, LSU and others either.
Tyler Herro: "The first day I stepped on campus at Kentucky (Coach Cal) treated me like a pro."
"I think I made the best decision ever to go to Kentucky." pic.twitter.com/rSesmFMLsw
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) July 9, 2019
And if there was any doubt that Kentucky helped produce him into a pro, Herro put it to rest, when he himself discussed the role that Kentucky played in his development on Tuesday night. When asked about Kentucky, he said:
“The first day I stepped on campus at Kentucky (Coach Cal) treated me like a pro. Without Coach Cal and really the rest of the coaching staff I don’t think I would be here right now. I think I made the best decision ever to go to Kentucky.”
If that isn’t a ringing endorsement I don’t know what it is.
It also proves that while some pros are recruited to college campuses, quite a few others are developed there as well.