Blake’s Take: Why recruiting rankings are not destiny


As the summer days begin to wane and the college basketball season draws closer, the preseason chatter has already begun. Which teams will be in the top 10 to start the season? Is there anyone who can beat UConn? (Opinion: no). Which new faces will step up and make a name for themselves? As a former Division 1 coach myself and now, along with being a writer here and a broadcaster for the SEC Network, I also serve as a national evaluator for a scouting service. Something that always strikes me is the focus on the rankings of individual players and the stink that people raise over them. I recently got off the road after spending 16 days in July watching and evaluating talent (and listening to people complaining about rankings), so I decided to take to Twitter to dispel some of the falsehoods around rankings.

I would encourage you follow the thread (and if you have twitter and don’t follow me, I mean, why not start now?) as it breaks down the individual leaders in several key categories. I think it is important for me to note here towards the beginning that I don’t think rankings are by and large inaccurate; in fact, quite the contrary. If you look at the last few classes, starting with 2016 and going back to 2010, the number one ranked players in those classes are as follows: Lauren Cox (Baylor), Katie Lou Samuelson (UConn), A’Ja Wilson (South Carolina), Mercedes Russell (Tennessee), Breanna Stewart (UConn), Elizabeth Williams (Duke) and Chinenye Ogwumike (Stanford). Now, you could argue that maybe someone else in that class could be number one or that some of these players should be lower but the fact remains that if you told any program in the country they could have one of these players for four years, there would be zero complaints.

As you look at the top 5 in each category, you start to notice that while there are highly ranked players in some, often times there are low ranked players, or even ones that went unranked. Take the scoring leaders for example. I coached against Larissa Lurken of Kent State when she was averaging about 13 PPG. She was a great shooter, but other than that didn’t give us many worries. After a coaching change, and thus a change in system and style of play, Lurken exploded in her senior year, scoring 23.5 PPG in route to winning MAC Player of the year. Now, say she was ranked in the top 50 coming out of high school and decided to go to a big school. Would Lurken have averaged that many points if she played on UConn? No, probably not. But it doesn’t matter. If you go talk to Lurken now, I’m willing to wager that she wouldn’t tell you, “I really should have been ranked higher so I could have gone to a bigger school”. Rather, I would imagine she would tell you that she had a great experience and was glad she found the right fit.

As you get into the assists, blocks and steals categories, you’ll notice fewer ranked players. There is no direct correlation to this, but it does show you that in the right environment, you will be successful. It also shows that perhaps there are limitations in the ability to measure secondary skills. From an evaluation stand point, it is impossible to take into account all of the things that come into play when figuring out who will be successful at the next level. Coaching style, personality and roster construction are all things that the school’s actually recruiting a player can take into account, but the people doing the rankings obviously don’t have that luxury.

Often times, the people that take the rankings so seriously are people whose egos are too big to handle anything that they consider “disrespectful.” It is the lazy argument that anytime someone gives you a perceived slight it’s because of bias or politics, when really, its just someone’s opinion based on what they have seen. Take the 5’4 point guard that took the sports world by storm when she scored 41 points against Baylor to send her team to the Final Four, then hit the shot in overtime to end the greatest winning streak we’ve ever seen. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see too many people talking about how Morgan William of Mississippi State was ranked 143 in her class. No, instead they talked about her greatness and admired her overcoming adversity to arrive to the place she is today.

I sincerely hope this piece doesn’t come across as preachy or demeaning. My intentions are simply to show how in the end, it isn’t the rankings that matter, simply what you do on the court. There are so many examples to show this is true. Does it matter that Sabrina Ionescu was ranked 4th instead of 1st, or is it more important that she led her Oregon team to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history? Does the 38 ranking given to Jonquel Jones matter now that she, in just her second year, has become the best young post player in the WNBA? I wonder what answer we would get if we asked every WNBA general manager today if they would rather have Stefanie Dolson or Shoni Schimmel. Dolson was ranked 44 and Schimmel was 10, but I don’t think matters much now.

To any prospective student athletes reading this, I would simply advise you to work as hard as you can to achieve your goals. While a high ranking may feel good or validating at the time, the second you step onto campus, it no longer holds any meaning; of course unless you struggle, in which case your high ranking will then be used against you. Like the players I mentioned before, and countless others, your ranking is irrelevant. Do you remember what Diana Taurasi’s exact ranking was? Tamika Catchings? How about Rebecca Lobo, Kara Lawson or Dawn Staley? No, of course you don’t, but you remember their greatness because of what they were able to accomplish through hard work and dedication. The only thing that really matters is your legacy and there are no numbers in the world that can set a limit on that.