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How do college basketball programs impact player development?

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Is college basketball about recruiting talent or producing it?

2019 California Classic - Day 3 - Miami Heat v Golden State Warriors Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

A common recruiting pitch for top basketball prospects is how a college program can put you in the position to be a successful NBA player. Most of them have strong examples of alums that have had strong careers in the league, but there are a few that are known for putting out more pros than others.

A big debate about colleges claiming credit for producing college basketball players is whether they are developing players into pros or simply recruiting players destined for greatness. If you ask Jay Bilas, colleges have much less to do with player development than they claim.

In response to a recent article on KSR by Sean Vinsel of Hoops Insight statistically breaking down players over-performing their expectations coming out of high school, Bilas tweeted:

“By that analysis, Oak Hill Academy “develops” and “produces” the most NBA players. Or, is the magic period of development limited only to the several months of college?”

Whether you agree with Bilas or not, Vinsel’s breakdown is compelling. Using the RSCI player rankings for high school players entering college from 2012-2018, he looks at the raw numbers of NBA players produced by schools, how those players perform going into the NBA Draft, and the impact of each school on how likely those players are to over-perform their RSCI expectations from high school.

Based on the RSCI Top 100 players during that time frame, Kentucky has both signed the most players (36) and produced the most NBA players (23). Duke is second in both categories.

But the really meaningful statistics introduced by Vinsel come when he uses a regression analysis to determine the actual impact a college program has a player’s chances of being drafted in three significant areas: being drafted at all, being drafted in the first round, and rookie salary.

Surprisingly, only two schools show a statistically significant improvement to their players’ draft chances: Kentucky and UCLA.

The impact of college programs on players being drafted.
Sam Vinsel, Hoops Insight

It was pretty shocking to see how well UCLA performs at helping players exceed their expectations. But given the sample size we are dealing with, these numbers are legit.

Breaking it down further, for players drafted in the first round, Kentucky remains at a statistically significant 15% effect. UCLA drops to 11%, and has too few players to be significantly significant.

Looking at rookie salaries, Kentucky again has a statistically significant effect as their players have earned $798,512 more than expected based on their RSCI player ranking. Duke is the only other school reaching statistical significance in this category, as their players have earned $419,761 more than expected.

To sum up Vinsel’s work, Kentucky has consistently helped their players outperform expectations in every major category. There are other schools doing good work, as well.

But when it comes to players leaving Kentucky better than when they came in, we now have statistical data to back up the arguments we often make about players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Tyler Herro.

Take that, Jay Bilas.

Read Sam Vinsel’s guest post on KSR here, where he shows the complete depth of his statistical analysis.