Best Visit List Ever?
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I wish there was a "re-rank" for every recruiting class. Go back five years after the class was ranked and see where players SHOULD have been ranked. Re-rank the 2013 class and Joel Embiid isn't going to be the 16th-best player in the class. He's going to be top-3, if not #1. Go to the 2012 class and Montrezl Harrell isn't going to be the 85th-best player in the country. He'd move up to the top-10.
There's different ways to do that - NBA success, college success - so you're never going to find a true "ranking". I mean, in a sense, the NBA Draft order is the true "ranking". My point: it's hard to evaluate the best players. Here's the AP first-team All Americans this year and their 247 Composite ranking in high school:
Jared Butler - 97th
Cade Cunningham - 1st
Ayo Dosunmu - 32nd
Luka Garza - 118th
Corey Kispert - 106th
The best player in his class, a high 4-star, and three guys ranked right around 100. Obviously "be on a good team" is a big part of this, and it's not like those five will go 1-2-3-4-5 in the NBA Draft, but I think you get my point. Jared Butler shouldn't have been ranked 97th. Re-rank the class and he probably moves up to the top-10.
The overall point: a coaching staff sinks or swims based on three things:
1. Can they identify talent.
2. Can they land the talent.
3. Can the develop the talent.
We always focus on #2. But #1 is really important.
The focus on #2 is usually something like "the 37th-best player is choosing between us and Louisville and Michigan State", and yes, gotta win those. But sometimes the 37th-best player is really the 189th-best player and you would have been much better off scouting and landing someone else. But if you only fight those low-level battles for three-stars because they're the only ones you think you can win, well, odds are you won't be able to evaluate well enough to win many games. The best way to do it: identify the true top-50 players in a class, even if some of them are ranked in the 100's. You're not going to land them all (you're probably not going to land 15% of them), but if you consistently hone in on the true impact players in a recruiting class, you can land one of your six targets and it's a huge boost to your program.
You know, like the Illinois staff did with the 2019 class. I got to thinking about this yesterday with the announcement that EJ Liddell was declaring for the draft. He might still pull his name back out, but his declaration plus the NBA Draft declaration from Syracuse's Quincy Guerrier on Tuesday (and the "will Drew Timme be named the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player?" tweet I saw this morning) made me think about the 2019 recruits who visited Champaign. From September 21, 2018 when Liddell visited until December 28th when Kofi visited, here were the on-campus visitors.
September 21-22: EJ Liddell, Oscar Tshiebwe, Terrance Shannon
October 5-6: Quincy Guerrier
October 19-20: Drew Timme
December 28-29: Kofi Cockburn
That's... so good. Incredible, really. What's the best way to contextualize this?
How about All-Conference/All-American teams this season?
EJ Liddell - 1st team All Big Ten
Oscar Tshiebwe - 2nd-team All Big 12 last year, sitting out this year with his transfer from West Virginia to Kentucky.
Terrance Shannon - 3rd team All Big 12
Quincy Guerrier - 3rd-team All ACC
Drew Timme - 1st-team All WCC, 2nd-team All American
Kofi Cockburn - 1st-team All Big Ten, 2nd-team All American
That's amazing, but that doesn't even tell the true story here. How else can I emphasize the insanity of that visit list?
Maybe NBA Draft? These are all class of 2019 players. So all six were sophomores this year. And it's possible all six declare for the NBA Draft? Well, Tshiebwe won't - he declared last year, pulled his name out, and then transferred in December so he'll have to play a year at Kentucky next year to prove his NBA mettle. But Liddell and Guerrier already declared, Kofi will declare, Shannon will certainly declare (some mock drafts have him as a first-round pick), and Timme, well, if he doesn't declare he'll return to Gonzaga next year as the favorite for National Player of the Year.
I should pause to note - this isn't really a "imagine what could have been" post. We had 2 of the 10 consensus 1st-team or 2nd-team All Americans this year. Elite talent was not an issue.
My point here is that we brought in six players for visits. Those players were ranked #31, #43, #44, #46, #90, and #121 on the 247 Composite list. And if you re-ranked the 2019 class after only two seasons, I believe all six players would be in the top-35.
Yes, the top-15 would remain the top-15. Most of those guys were one-and-done. But in the next 20 spots there's so many players who just haven't produced much in college their first two years (Will Baker at Texas, Samuell Williamson at Louisville, Bryan Antoine at Villanova, Josiah-Jordan James at Tennessee, etc). Which players would slide into those spots? Oh, you know, Drew Timme, Kofi Cockburn, Terrance Shannon, EJ Liddell, etc etc etc.
That's quite encouraging going forward. Yes, you have to land them and yes, we only landed one of the six (although that's probably an average visit hit rate). But this staff seems to be really good at homework. They landed the #32 player one year and he became a 1st-team All American. They landed the #46 player the next year and he became a 2nd-team All American. Andre Curbelo was also ranked #46 in the 247 Composite and.............
Again, it's ultimately about landing, not identifying. Visits (once they start up again) are great, but finishing second on Timme and third on Liddell doesn't do us much good. But as long as we keep identifying the true impact players in each recruiting class, we'll likely land our fair share and keep this train on the tracks.
No, I'm not saying "Luke Goode and Ramses Melendez might be ranked 94th and 97th in the 247 Composite but really they should be 5-stars". You're not going to hit on every single recruit the way we hit with Ayo (ranked 32nd, should have been top-10) and Kofi (ranked 46th, should have been top-15). But if your evals are strong, and you can find juco guards with zero offers like Andres Feliz and turn them into rock solid Big Ten players, then you can consistently put together a top-25 team.
It's funny. I've spent so much time the last 15 years batting down "if Bruce Weber wants CJ Jackson in orange and blue, I want CJ Jackson in orange and blue" opinions on the internet. And here I am, moving in the "Coleman Hawkins probably should have been a top-50 player because this staff just knows how to spot 'em" direction.
(Except this time it's true.)