Posted On: 04/3/19 11:01 AM
Throughout the Prep Hoops Network, we want to provide you with the most conclusive basketball coverage in the high school ranks, but we want to aim more towards the recruiting side of things than just reporting scores and highlighting statistics. One of the toughest things to do when it comes to basketball recruiting is to differentiate between a really good basketball player and a really good prospect, and believe it or not, while the two are not mutually exclusive, they can be mutually inclusive. This differentiation is tough for evaluators such as myself, college assistants, and even some college head coaches. It’s especially tough for parents, family, friends, and coaches of a specific prospect, because emotion gets entangled with reality, and it is oftentimes tough to see past the love and support of a player in order to assess that player’s college “recruitability” objectively.
In this article, I wanted to take the time to hit on several points that I consider when breaking down a prospect’s game and projecting them to the next level. We have recently released our updated rankings, so what better time to hit on this than now, as we always get feedback on how “John Doe” is overlooked, underrated, or how he’s just “better” than someone else on our list. The remainder of this article is laid out more like bullet points than traditional written paragraphs, as I felt it much easier to hit on specific topics that way. While you may not agree with everything below, it is how I and most other evaluators and college coaches take on recruiting, as we have to be objective and remove any bias from projecting kids to the next level.
– Talent vs. Skill – I’m not saying in every case, but in the majority of cases, a college coach will lean towards talent versus skill. Say you have two prospects, and one prospect is unbelievably talented but under-skilled, while the other prospect is highly skilled but is just an average athlete. The lean will be to the talented, lesser-skilled prospect because college coaches are confident in their abilities to teach skill to their athletes. They aren’t always confident they can help someone run faster, turn quicker, or jump higher. Maybe that isn’t fair, but that’s just how it is at the college level. For lack of a better phrase, and no pun intended, but it’s kind of “survival of the fittest”.
– Attitude & Effort – I often hear how a kid shouldn’t be ranked as high as they are because of their attitude or effort, and I do understand that. Believe it or not, I do figure that into my evaluations of prospects, but it is a piece of the puzzle, not half or all of the puzzle like some of you want to think. Can the prospect still run and jump? Yes. Can they still dribble, pass, and shoot? Yes. Well, college coaches do have an ego at times, and there are many of them who think to themselves “I can fix that trait in that kid, and we’ll have a star.” In my experience, I have seen this go one of three ways, and it’s pretty much cut evenly into thirds. (1) The prospect is misinterpreted while being recruited, or they aren’t coached and mentored properly in high school giving them the impression of having a poor attitude and poor effort. Maybe the college coach does have a positive effect on them, and they turn out to actually be a good kid/good recruit and have a nice college career. (2) The prospect comes in and their attitude and effort is mainstream…not spectacular, but not detrimental either. They follow the rules, do what they’re supposed to do, but nothing above & beyond. And (3) the prospect comes in and can’t be motivated be anyone or anything. They are either released from their scholarship or they decide to transfer on their own, and this is when the media likes to say “they took a gamble on the kid and lost.” In the end, though, I feel like my job is to evaluate the best full-package prospects for the next level, not just the best kids or the hardest workers. It’s up to college coaches to determine how an individual fits within their own program.
– The Motor Myth – Extending my previous point about attitude and effort is something I like to call “the motor myth”. A couple of weeks ago, Purdue’s Coach Painter made mention of how when you look at a prospect you don’t always know “what’s inside a guy”, as he put it, until that kid gets to campus and is a part of your program. I’m guessing that his whole intent of that speech was to suggest that they are looking for guys for their program who have that extra internal “it” factor, and they have done a nice job of finding those kids. Everything he said was 100% true, BUT that isn’t all of it. He was driving home a singular point, but make no mistake about it, Vincent Edwards can still run, jump, and shoot. As we all learned, Ryan Cline is an incredible shooter and big-shot maker. Grady Eifert plays exceptionally hard, but he’s still a really nice, lengthy athlete (he shares the same genetics with an NFL playing brother), and he shot in the high 40-percentile from 3-point range this season. They weren’t JUST guys who had that internal “it” factor; they were also capable athletes and/or highly skilled ballplayers. Here’s where my “motor myth” comes in…I talk about kids with motors all the time, we all do, and that’s the first thing a player needs to compete at the next level, but not the only thing. Your motor can’t be your best trait unless it’s so exceptional that it elevates your play so much above the next prospect…Grady Eifert being the best example of this. But his effort, that type of exceptional effort, is extremely rare in prospects. And, when you get to the collegiate level, successful programs have rosters littered with kids who work hard, prepare hard, and play hard. They can also all run, jump, shoot, pass, and defend. Unsuccessful programs even have a few kids who work hard. So like with the attitude trait, a motor is just a piece of the puzzle, it’s only a big piece if it is just so exceptional that it elevates a prospect’s play above others.
– Height/Size – Whether college coaches want to admit it or not, height, size, and even length have a lot to do with the decisions they make in recruiting. I go back and forth on this a lot myself. I get it, too…if a kid can freaking play, a kid can play. But, if there are two identical prospects interested in a college…same exact skillset, same exact physical abilities, same exact attitude and effort…and one prospect is four inches taller, which prospect do you think the college is going to favor? Some of the best teams in the country at their respective levels even have a height “requirement” to some extent, because they maybe play a switching man-to-man defense and they want to be able to switch hand-offs and ball-screens flawlessly and not worry about a 5-10 point guard switching onto a 6-6 forward. It stinks, I get it, and a ballplayer is a ballplayer is a ballplayer. But once again “survival of the fittest” applies here.
– Emotion – One of the toughest things to do is remove emotion from evaluation. Parents, family, friends, high school coaches, and grassroots coaches are often too close and invested in a prospect to remove emotion from offering an honest assessment of a prospect. That emotional attachment causes them to give the prospect the benefit of the doubt in most cases, and it causes them to even overlook flaws in their game. We as evaluators even have kids we like more than others because of their personalities or actions, and we have a handful of kids who stand out negatively because of something they’ve done in the past. It isn’t fair, but it’s natural with human interaction.
– P2G Transfer – “Practice To Game Transfer” means just because you are able to do certain things in practice, you have to be able to transfer them to a game setting effectively. College coaches and evaluators like myself only have a limited window to watch prospects play. I might see each travel team 7-10 times throughout the grassroots season, but a college coach might only see you once. I see approximately 100 high school teams play each Winter. With there being more than 400 high schools in Indiana alone, I can’t see everyone play multiple games, let alone see most teams even once. College coaches really only see the teams of the players they are actively recruiting. What I’m getting at is this…if when someone evaluating you doesn’t see you do a certain skill or ability you claim to possess, or we don’t see you do it at a high enough level, then you don’t have that skill or ability. Your high school and grassroots coaches, your personal trainers, and even your family see you in the gym hundreds of times throughout the year. They’ve seen you do some advanced things a few times and claim “you can do it”, I’m sure of it, but if you can’t transfer that from a practice/workout setting to a game setting, it isn’t game-ready. For example, one of my favorite movie quotes is from ‘Moneyball’, when Brad Pitt is looking at a scouting report and statistics and says, “if he’s a good hitter, then why doesn’t he hit good?” He follows it up with, “so when we put him against major league pitching, he’s suddenly going to hit?” I feel that way sometimes. People tell me what a great shooter a kid is. If they’re a great shooter, why are they 23% from 3-point range and 57% from the free throw line? Again, yes, I’m sure your high school coach, etc., has seen you knock down shots in bunches at times in practice. But when those game lights come on, can you do it there? Can you make that multi-dribble-move into a hop-back against real defense? If you don’t have “P2G Transfer”, then you can’t do it.
– Statistics – This is one of the most overblown ideas when it comes to evaluating prospects. I hear a lot of “well he averaged this and that, how is he not ranked higher?” Listen, I would venture to say there are Sophomores and maybe some Juniors playing Junior Varsity somewhere, likely at a Class 4A school, who are more talented and better prospects than someone who ends up starting four years in a small school setting. You see that a lot in June…a 4A school enters its JV team in a shootout and they regularly compete/beat solid smaller school Varsity teams. Statistics are not meaningless, but they are a small part of evaluating a prospect for the next level. I will look at shooting percentages, turnover rate, and some other things, but I primarily look at how they faired against better competition. When a Class 1A prospect averages 23 points per game against Class 1A competition, but they average about 6 points per game against the handful of 3A/4A opponents they face, that says more than their season average of 18 points per game…if that makes sense. I’m also not a fan of head-to-head statistical comparisons. If I’m sitting and watching two comparable prospects play against each other, then I can judge for myself who I think outplayed who. But the argument “Player-1 had 23 points against Player-2, and Player-2 only had 10”, doesn’t hold water with me. You want to use the sample size of one game/one matchup? Plus, comparing point totals is only one part of the game. Whose team won? How well did they both take care of the ball? Were they even guarding each other? How was their defense? What other players did they have around them on their team? Jacque Vaughn (Kansas) was an NCAA All-American and averaged less than 10 points per game that year. He was a 1st Round Draft Pick and a 12-year NBA player and averaged 4.5 points per game for his NBA career. You don’t play on 12 years’ worth of contracts in the NBA if you can’t play. So no, statistics aren’t everything when it comes to recruiting.
– Competition – Who are you playing against? If you don’t know, I suggest you find out. I commend the high school teams who play tough schedules, especially the smaller schools who possess talent for a couple of years, so they schedule tough to prepare them for the state tournament. Blackhawk Christian was a good example of that this season. They had a Top-100 level schedule out of 400+ teams entering Sectional play, but they finished with the 127th toughest schedule after having to play seven Class 1A opponents in the state tournament. With regards to grassroots basketball, are you playing in your age group’s top division or the ‘B’ division? Are you playing ‘up’ at all? Are you playing against peers with equal or more talent, or are you playing against younger competition who is playing ‘up’ themselves? The same applies for how we as evaluators look at prospects during the grassroots season. I don’t want to see/hear stats about some big game against nobody. How do you do against the best? Grassroots trophies, statistics, and tourney awards mean zero to college coaches when they’re evaluating your ability to help their program.
– The “Fit” – I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again…recruiting is not mathematical. There is no magical formula to make sense out of it. Sometimes the “fit” wins out. Maybe a college needs a specific skillset or a specific type of prospect in a class. Yes, you might be more talented and more skilled, but maybe you don’t “fit” the way another prospect does. At times a prospect reminds a head coach of someone they had in the past who they had success with, so they recruit them. Sometimes there are relationships that are preexisting, so a prospect earns an offer because of that. There are a lot of variables in play, so don’t feel slighted if another prospect is getting opportunities that you aren’t, especially if you feel you are much more talented. Things happen for a reason, and oftentimes in recruiting we don’t know what all of those reasons are.
– Control The “Controllables” – Adding to my last point, the worst thing you can do is watch offers to other players without any context. In our rankings, at times you’ll see a small college commit ranked higher than a Division-I commit and not understand why. Maybe the small college commit turned down Division-I offers. Maybe the small college has a specific major they want, or they have a friend on the team, or they have family who lives in that town. Maybe the small college is 28-5 every year and competing for various titles, while the Division-I team is 3-25 every year and competing for nothing. Stay YOUR course, and don’t worry about what is going on with other prospects. This isn’t as much a topic for this article as just a general topic to consider.
At the end of the day, my final point is that when we prepare rankings for Prep Hoops (Eric for Prep Hoops Indiana), we are doing so based on who projects the best as a recruit, NOT who is the better basketball player today. I can’t speak for the other evaluators, but personally I take this task very seriously. When I have questions, I ask college coaches their opinion on a couple of kids to help me differentiate. Maybe they see something I don’t that can help me separate them. They are, for all intents and purposes, the ones ultimately making the decision as to whether a prospect is good enough or not, so why wouldn’t I listen to them? Their job requires them to win in order to maintain it. How do you win? With coaching, yes, to some extent, but a lot of it revolves around recruiting. Thanks for your time, and maybe you can come to understand why we do what we do as evaluators.