Posted On: 12/22/19 3:36 PM
While we’ve had a 2023 “watch list” in place since June, on Friday, December 20th, we dropped our first pure rankings for the 2023 class, beginning with a Top-35. We will be following that with more rankings updates in 2020 through 2022, as well as positional breakdowns and analysis over the next ten days to two weeks. Rankings throughout the Prep Girls Hoops Network are typically updated on a quarterly basis. For Indiana, that means during the months of March, June, September, and December. We’ve found that those months give us the best chance to update lists at the beginning and during the mid-points of both the high school and grassroots seasons, allowing prospects time to grow and improve. With that said, each time we release new rankings there is about a two to three-week window where we receive numerous comments and questions. Most of the time it’s trying to figure out how a prospect is ranked “too low” in someone’s eyes, how we “missed” on someone, or why another prospect is ranked higher. So, I wanted to take the time to address how I at least organize and prepare rankings, because I think there is a lot more thought and preparation that goes into this than might be assumed.
To start with, there are many factors that go into the decisions I make on moving players around throughout a rankings list. It isn’t as simple as sliding kids up or down because they did or didn’t play well in the span between the old list and the new list. I actually take every prospect I consider and assign them a rating first…a rating and a ranking are very different. A RATING is a non-numerical value associated with a prospect’s projected level of college play. I assign this to prospects based on their “recruitability”. Several prospects in a single class might share the exact same rating, and I will detail that later in this article. A RANKING is the numerical value of simply organizing the final list, placing someone #1, someone #2, someone #3, etc.
When assigning a rating, a lot of it is the “eye test”, and me simply using my better judgement and experience in approximating what collegiate level a prospect fits into. I often attend close to ten college games at various levels each season, so I see firsthand how fast and physical the game is at different levels, and what those players are capable of athletically and skillfully. I also like to compare current prospects to players from the past, and look at how someone who maybe graduated in 2015 (or whatever previous class) fit in at their college destination. Additionally, I spend a lot of time speaking with college coaches and asking them what they are looking for, what they like/dislike about specific kids, and I’ll even ask them where I’m incorrect in my thinking on a specific prospect and why. I can say the rapport I’ve built with several Midwestern colleges has allowed me a great opportunity to receive their genuine opinions and candor.
Now, I think there are several misconceptions when it comes to organizing rankings as well. For example, statistics are not meaningless, but they are just a small part of what is to be considered for projecting a prospect to the next level. If a prospect averages, let’s say, 20+ points per game on a 300-level schedule during the Winter, it doesn’t hold as much water as a prospect who averages 15 points per game on a Top-50 schedule. Productivity is definitely important, but who are you being productive against? I also think it’s interesting when people tell me “well, we shut her down” or “when we played them, our player scored more”. Once again, perception is reality, and those two statements might be true, but in what context? Not in every case, but in most cases I come to find out that the player who was “shut down” still contributed in other ways, and she did so with the entire opposing team chasing her around all game long. In many cases, coaching and game-planning go a lot further during the high school season with days to prepare for an opponent than they do during the Summer when it’s usually a game every three to four hours, with straight up 1-on-1 man defense or a passive zone, and you can really see what a player is capable of offensively.
I also think in today’s day and age, we get so caught up in a player emotionally because they are a great kid or they work extremely hard at their game. Those are both important factors in the makeup of a basketball player, but they are also just pieces of what a college coach is looking for in a prospect to help their program be successful. You still have to be able to handle, shoot, pass, and defend, and you still have to be able to run and jump to some degree. Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment…if I came to you and said I had a kid who is the greatest kid on the planet, she works charity events, volunteers at the local children’s hospital, and she carries a 4.3 GPA, plus when she’s in the gym she practices and plays harder than anyone else on the team, dives on the floor for loose balls, takes charges, and is a great teammate…is that enough for you to recruit her? What if I followed that up by saying she is a 4-foot-8 Senior power forward? Does that change your thinking when it comes to a team being successful at the collegiate level? I exaggerate for effect, but hopefully you understand my point. Circling back, I just think there are several people today who get so emotionally attached to one specific player or a small group of players because they are hard-working, great kids, that we lose sight and completely forget there are other really good basketball players out there who might be more skillful and/or more talented athletically.
One other item that bothers me is when someone accuses me of “not liking” a player simply based on the numerical value I attach to them when I post a ranking list. I find that very curious, because I’ve even written in several past articles that certain players were favorites of mine to watch, and quite a few of them were ranked outside of the Top-50, with even a few of those being ranked in the 100s. Whatever numerical value I assign to a player has little to do with me “liking” them and everything to do with how I think colleges will recruit them.
Below I wanted to share with you my personal rating system, and how I organize prospects based on what I determine is their “recruitiability”. Each time I watch a prospect, even if I watch them multiple times throughout a single weekend, I write down a projection for them. The following week, I go back through my notes and compare what I have written about each prospect over time, and I assign an updated rating to them based on what I think their “recruitability” is at the current time. Below is a look at the projections I use, and a brief explanation for how I look at each projection.
HM+ D1 – these are prospects who I feel can play at any college in the country, and they are prospects who the elite programs like Notre Dame and UConn would offer…these are National Top-10 type of kids
HM D1 – these are prospects who will pick up several High-Major offers (Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, etc.), they fit at MOST High-Major schools, but they might not be a good fit for the most elite programs like a Notre Dame or UConn
MM to HM D1 – these prospects are either on the cusp of being High-Major D1, they are in my opinion talented enough but haven’t earned those offers yet, or they may have offers/interest from the bottom teams in High-Major conferences, and they probably have offers/interest from just about every Mid-Major D1 in the Midwest (like the MAC, MVC, Horizon League, etc.)
MM D1 – these prospects might have some light High-Major D1 interest, but they likely aren’t going to draw any High-Major D1 offers (or maybe they get an offer or two from a bottom team in a Mid-Major+ to High-Major conference), but they do have multiple D1 offers/interest from the better teams in the MAC, MVC, Horizon League, etc.
LM to MM D1 – these prospects will have a lot of interest from good Mid-Major schools, they might even earn an offer or two at that level, but a majority of their interest/offers will come from the bottom teams in those conferences, the better teams in Low-Major conferences, and even interest from the elite D2, D3, and NAIA programs
LM to LM+ D1 / D2 – these prospects might have some light Mid-Major D1 interest, they might even get an offer or two from a bottom team in a Mid-Major conference, but they will have a lot of interest/offers from Low-Major D1 programs, most D2 programs, and the better NAIA and elite D3 programs
LM D1 / D2 / NAIA – these prospects will have some D1 interest, maybe even an offer or two from the bottom D1 teams in the country, and they will have interest/offers from most D2, D3, and NAIA programs
D2 / NAIA – these prospects might have some light D1 interest, no D1 offers, and they will have interest/offers from several D2, D3, and NAIA programs, but maybe not from the elite small college programs
D2 / D3 / NAIA – these prospects are leaning more towards mid-level D2, D3, and NAIA interest/offers, and they still may be recruited for full-scholarship opportunities at those levels, but they will likely be getting a mid to high percentage of an athletic scholarship offered to them
NAIA / D3 – these prospects are likely drawing just mid to low-level NAIA and D3 interest with fractions of scholarships offered to them at the NAIA level instead of full scholarships, or they may be offered roster spots without any compensation
Once again, this is a system I created that is best for me when evaluating as many prospects as I do and trying to group them into recruiting categories. It’s broad enough to not pigeonhole anyone into too specific of a level, but it’s also narrow enough to help colleges figure out who they do and don’t need to see depending upon what category they fall into as a program.
FINALLY…ASSEMBLING THE LIST
At the point I finally sit down and begin assembling the numerical rankings you see on PGH Indiana, I start by grouping players by their RATING as indicated above. Now, I want to walk you through a hypothetical class and ranking list. I am going to assemble a Top-125 list of kids in this hypothetical class. There are:
1 – HM+ D1 prospect
2 – HM D1 prospects
4 – MM to HM D1 prospects
1 – MM D1 prospect
7 – LM to MM D1 prospects
12 – LM to LM+ D1 prospects
11 – LM D1/D2/NAIA prospects
27 – D2/NAIA prospects
32 – D2/D3/NAIA prospects
86 – NAIA/D3 prospects
Now, that adds up to 183 prospects, so 58 aren’t going to make it into the Top-125. The one HM+ D1 prospect will be #1. The two HM D1 prospects will be #2 and #3. The four MM to HM D1 prospects will be #4, #5, #6, and #7…and so forth. Once I get through the 32 D2/D3/NAIA prospects, I will have ranked 97 prospects. From there, I’ll need to determine the most “recruitable” 28 prospects from the 86 NAIA/D3 prospects to fill spots #98 through #125 and fill the list. There are two more questions that will be posed at this point, so I’ll address them below.
(1) How do I differentiate which kids within a specific rating group will be ranked in what order?
This would be so much easier if I was a college coach, because I would likely have a need (we need a point guard, or we need a post player, etc.). That would create more value for specific positions. As an evaluator, though, I attempt to arrange prospects based upon who I think college coaches would prefer if they could take the best available prospect, regardless of position. It’s not easy, because these kids are all really close. In this rankings example above, Prospect #39 and Prospect #65 (and everyone in between) will share the same rating (D2/NAIA), so it really comes down to personal preference when putting them into numerical order. I like them all fairly equally in terms of “recruitability”, but in order to arrange them numerically to create rankings lists, I select who I think college programs would like more.
(2) Why do some kids move so far up and down the list each time the lists are updated?
There are a variety of reasons kids will move throughout rankings lists, and RARELY does it ever happen because they just aren’t as good as they were or as I initially thought. The 2020, 2021, and 2022 lists will likely change quite a bit this time around, because since September (the last time we posted new rankings), they have played at least half or more than half of a high school season. In some cases, especially with the younger classes like 2022 and 2023, new names pop up, and they turn out to be better than several prospects already ranked. In other cases, younger prospects improve quicker, and kids just develop their skillset or develop their physical ability and become taller, stronger, and/or more explosive. But in the end, a lot of movement comes from a player’s rating changing, even if slightly. For example, if a player was previously rated as a D2/D3/NAIA prospect and was #92 in the state, but I now consider them D2/NAIA, which isn’t a huge climb rating-wise, the lowest they could now be ranked is #65. So, from just changing one level in terms of rating, they will have climbed 27 spots (or more) in terms of their ranking.
Like recruiting, rankings aren’t a perfect science, and there is some subjectivity involved in it, but I try to do my best to remain objective and unbiased, to look at prospects as a college coach would, and I try to be thorough. Like I said at the beginning, this isn’t as simple as just sliding kids up or down because of how they played; research and analytics are involved, and I feel like it’s the best way for me to keep everything as fair as possible. I would never ask you to share the exact same opinions on every kid I rank, and at the end of the day there are usually going to be differences of opinion. But I do ask that you please understand and respect how we do this job before using words like “missed”, “overlooked”, or “dislike” in just assuming what we think about different prospects.
Happy Holidays to all of you, and enjoy some good basketball over the next couple of weeks!
Feature photo courtesy of Kelley L. Cox of USA TODAY Sports, and found at midmajormadness.com.