Tuesday, September 7, 2010

2009 Recruits in Retrospect

Probably more-so than any other fan base, the UK faithful obsess over recruiting rankings like there's no other joy in life. Coach Cal'll do that to ya. But it started way back when Billy G pulled in Patrick Patterson (Rivals' #17 ranked prospect in '07). Since then it's been a tradition to scour every recruiting service on the net and scrutinize its every change in ranking and selectively brag about our classes of players. I just wanted to take a look into the validity of these rankings, using 2009 as the prime example. Do the heralded top rankings hold up once these freak high school athletes step foot on campus?

Let's start with Derrick Favors. Raw numbers: 12.4 points on 61% shooting, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks in 27.5 minutes. His best performance was a 21/11 double-double in a close loss against the world champion Duke Blue Devils near the end of the season. He was distinctively option 1B to Gani Lawal's 1A on Georgia Tech. They combined to form a sizable front court tandem, thus somewhat explaining their extremely similar, neutralized statistical output. He was picked third in the NBA Draft by the 76ers.

Next is John Wall. All he did was become the Rupp National Player of the Year, a 1st Team All-American, the SEC Player of the Year, and the Freshman of the Year (from 5 different associations. Oh ... and become the top pick in the NBA Draft by the Wizards. That's all. Raw numbers: 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 1.8 steals in 34.8 minutes. He dominated the UK offensive attack for nearly the entire game, night in and night out. While it's arguable that Demarcus Cousins may have been the number 1 offensive option for large portions of the game, Wall created the majority of the opportunities for Cousins either directly (assists) or indirectly (adjusted defensive schemes). His top outing was a 22/10/8 near triple-double against Mississippi State in a close SEC win. Let's not fool around ... Wall was the absolute best freshman coming into college basketball. Hands down.

Third is Demarcus Cousins. Raw numbers: 15.1 points on 56% shooting, 9.9 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in 23.5 minutes. Cousins' early award catalog is headlined with him being a Consensus Second-Team All-American, SEC Freshman of the Year, and the fifth pick in the NBA draft by the Kings. His breakout game was a 27/18 monster double-double in the early going against Sam Houston State in only 27 minutes, but his most ferocious and impacting contribution was the 18/18 he rung up on Samardo Samuels and blood rival Louisville in only 26 minutes.

As default judgement electives, I'll use the following comparisons. The Sporting News All-Freshman Team was appropriately headlined by Wall, Cousins, and Favors in addition to Derrick Williams of Arizona and Xavier Henry of Kansas. The freshman drafted into the league went in the order of Wall, Favors, Cousins, Henry, Eric Bledsoe, Avery Bradley, Daniel Orton, Hassan Whiteside, Lance Stephenson, and Tiny Gallon.

My post-freshman 2009 prospect rankings:
1. John Wall (17/4/7) for Kentucky
2. Demarcus Cousins (15/10/1) for Kentucky
3. Derrick Favors (12/8/1) for Georgia Tech
4. Xavier Henry (13/4/2) for Kansas
5. Eric Bledsoe (11/3/3) for Kentucky
6. Avery Bradley (12/3/2) for Texas
7. Kenny Boynton (14/3/3) for Florida
8. Hassan Whiteside (13/9/0) for Marshall
9. Lance Stephenson (12/5/3) for Cincinnati
10. Tiny Gallon (10/8/1) for Oklahoma State

Of course, hindsight is always (enter cliche here), but I'm going to be judgmental anyway. The winner in the rankings system? Rivals. They had Wall, Cousins, Favors as their 1/2/3 while also ranking Bledsoe the highest of any site at #23. The loser? ESPN. They went with Bradley, Favors, and Henry as their top three, relegating Demarcus and John to mop-up duty at 4 and 5. Plus ESPN left Bledsoe off of their rankings altogether. The big strikeout, unless he breaks out during the remainder of his college career, is John Henson, who was relegated to 5 points per game in his debut NCAA season. And while Henson was getting all the top-10 love, Hassan Whiteside is now signing his NBA contract papers even though he was a forgotten commodity ranked #87 by Rivals and unranked by both Scout and ESPN. That's probably why he was stuck at Marshall while every other one-and-done was getting TV time playing for a premier program. But, honestly, for all we know ... Renardo Sidney may be the best out of everybody. Ha.

This is only a one-year-later judgement, though. This last season of basketball isn't the end-all, be-all of their careers. Going back to the earlier comparison, John Henson may very well be a strong player in the pros seven years down the road while Hassan Whiteside is forced into D-League obscurity. Only time will tell the whole story. But the big lesson I'm trying to get at is this: ESPN's high school rankings blow. I don't care if he has a championship ring, Mason Plumlee and his dumbly clumsy 3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds were not the #10 prospect last year. That's all. Oh, and don't freak out that Michael Gilchrist may have fallen allll the way down to number five in the Scout rankings. If our very own world-dominator John Wall can sport an undeserved #5 ranking on his chest, I'm sure Gilchrist can manage and still be a killer, too.

... and do the John Wall.

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