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Recruit Rankings: Fact or Fiction?

The "Texas Tornado's" (also known as Billy Gillispie) seemingly ubiquitous presence at every available '08 players doorstep has caused much forecasting and debate about who would be the best player, or players for UK.  The traditional method of gauging a players worthiness to wear Blue and White, has been for many years, the recruiting services rankings.  For at least the last twenty years the services player rankings have been dissected, condemned, and embraced, all by a demanding and at times fickle fan base.  

Historically, a low player ranking by the services has caused much consternation among the UK faithful.  If an individual player is not to be found in the Top 75 or so, then he is almost automatically dubbed a "project".  Admittedly, I have engaged in such pre-judgment of players, but if one studies the rankings three or four years after the player graduates high school, then a clearer perspective comes to light.

Of the players on UK's radar most are nowhere to be found among Rival's Top 150 ( I am using Rivals because UK fans are very familiar with the service ) in the year of their high school graduation.  Josh Harrellson '07, Paul McCoy '08, and Maurice Sutton '08, all UK "leans", are absent from their respective classes Top 150.  UK signee Kevin Galloway is also absent from the Rival rankings, but was ranked 88th by Scout in 2006.  To give some perspective; Ater Majok is ranked #13 by Rivals, Verdell Jones is #127, DeAndre Liggins is #28, Darius Miller #43, Bud Mackey #67 and Roderick Flemings was # 26 in his senior year in high school.

Does this mean that McCoy, Sutton and Harrellson should be considered non or marginal contributors if they matriculate to UK?  I don't think there is a hard and clear answer to that question, but let's look at a few players who were not rated very highly out of high school, but went on to solid, and in some cases great college careers.

In the 2004 final rankings, Rivals had the following players rated as indicated:

Chris Lofton, UT, #146- Lofton scored 2,131 career points averaging 17.2 points per game for his career.

Trent Plaisted, BYU, #140- He scored 1,372 career points, averaging 1`4.0 points per game for his career.

Josh Heytvelt, Gonzaga, #120- In his last two years he has averaged 13.1 points per game.

Taurean Green, UFA, #105- Uh, no need to pontificate much on Mr. Green.  He only lead Florida to back-to-back National Championships.

James Mays, Clemson, #103- 11.5 points per game the last two years, as well as 6.6 rebounds per game.

Joseph Jones, Texas A&M, #102- He scored 1,679 career points averaging 12.8 points per game for his career.

Ramel Bradley, UK, #91- Bargain basement price.

Shan Foster, Vandy, #82- Foster is the reigning SEC Player of the Year.  He scored 2,011 points in his career.

The '05 Rivals Rankings had these guys rated outside the Top 75:

Terrence Williams, UL, #111- We know Williams.  He would be a great player if he would slash, and not jack 3's.

Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga, #105- He averaged 12 points per game along with 6 assists, and 4 rebounds this past year.  Not bad for a 6'2" point guard.

AJ Abrams, Texas, #103- The last two years he has scored 1,154 points, averaging 16.0 points per game.

Darren Collison, UCLA, #100- He has scored 1,135 points in his career, averaging 14.5 ponts per game and 3.8 assists.

Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis, #75- Over the last two years Douglas-Roberts scored 1,262 points, while averaging 18.1 points per game in the '07-'08 year.

Call them diamonds in the rough or late bloomers, but all of the above-listed players out-performed their high school rating.  

The point of this piece is not to belittle the various recruiting services, but rather to illuminate the fact that rating high school athletes is not an exact science.  As a matter-of-fact, once the services go beyond the Top 30-40 players their efforts can only be described as educated guesswork.  

Determining which players have peaked athletically is nearly impossible.  Determining which players will excel under their respective coach is nearly impossible.  Determining which players will accept coaching, and thrive in a particular system is nearly impossible.  Determining which players possess the all-important "upside" is nearly impossible.

Another issue: I think many times the services and coaches alike allow what a player CANNOT do to overshadow what the player CAN do.  That type of thinking is what allows players like Chris Lofton and Shan Foster to go virtually unnoticed on the national recruiting scene.  Examples: Player A has slow lateral speed, or just isn't very quick, nevermind that he can shoot like Maravich, and pass like Stockton.  Or player B can't jump over a piece of paper, nevermind that his fundamentals, positioning, and motor are without flaw.  

Keep all of this in mind as Gillispie goes forward in this recruiting cycle.  Sutton, McCoy, and Harrellson, while not rated highly out of high school, could become great players for UK.  Trust in Gillispie, but confirm.  But also remember, confirmation only comes with the passing of time.

So as you read the Rivals, Scouts, Five-Star, and Hoop Scoop rankings remember that somewhere in the bottom half of their ratings potentially awaits more than one Conference Player of the Year.  

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!