Down a Bad Path
The big news in the world of recruiting this week revolved around football signing day. As usual there were surprises and de-commitments. In fact Cyrus Kouandjio even announced his commitment on television only not to sign and is now mulling his decision.
As someone who has covered both sports, the recruiting in football and basketball is a completely different animal. In football kids somehow commit with the intention of taking other visits to schools.
Sure in basketball there are situations like Willie Warren who seemingly committed to Baylor only to de-commit literally later that day after not informing his mom of the decision and then Eric Bledsoe who committed to Ole Miss only to de-commit two hours later after deciding he rushed into the pledge.
While those things happen on the basketball side, they are still the exception to the rule. In football it is almost normal to have at least one de-commitment or to commit and take four other official visits. Unfortunately as the 2012 class is beginning to prove, basketball is starting to go down the path of football.
Already in the 2012 class there have been some high profile de-commitments. Two of them, Ricardo Ledo and Elijah Macon, came to no one's surprise. Both of those commitments came out of virtually nowhere when they happened, and each kid had work to do in the classroom as well. While those two de-commitments were of no surprise to anyone, the bottom line is they still happened.
No matter why a kid decides to commit or de-commit, and every kid needs to go to the situation that is right for him so it is their right to take as long or short as they want in the process, the bottom line is right now basketball recruiting is headed down a slippery slope. Football can be an unmitigated mess where coaches don't know what to expect from their commitments and actively try to steal other schools pledges. Now basketball is beginning to head down that road It is obvious with the 2012 class, and all involved probably agree that it isn't a good thing for the sport.
Defining the Indefinable
Identifying a player such as Austin Rivers or Julius Randle as an elite level talent isn't all that difficult to do. Players who have that unreal natural ability, athleticism, and skill simply jump out at anyone watching a game. Now putting them in an order from one to 25 is far more challenging, but the task of identifying the elite level talent isn't tough. Where things get tricky is figuring out the intangibles.
One of the great things about the AAU circuit is that it gives evaluators and scouts a chance to see the same players in multiple situations some of which can be challenging. They play so often that they will have bad games, they will have adversity, and they will face personal challenges over the course of a summer. How a player reacts and responds to those circumstances is always interesting to see.
However because on the circuit if you lose, there is a game an hour or two later, it also means that kids can lack some of that competitive fire and hatred of losing. That in turn leads to the most difficult part of evaluating and predicting future success, judging a kids heart and toughness.
Indentifying and evaluating the intangible factors that are key to winning can be nearly impossible. In some kids such as current Ohio State freshman Aaron Craft or 2013 super prospect Jabari Parker that winning attitude comes to the forefront immediately, but that isn't normal.
Given that the NCAA in all their infinite wisdom has decided to limit evaluation days by taking away the April open period, coaches are now forced to get their "evaluations" on kids sometimes while they are at an open gym or even when in a weight lifting class. In those environments it is impossible to take anything away from a kid and his desire to be a winner and his ability to put his teammates on his back and make the clutch plays at the clutch times.
As odd as it is, being a winner and having that intestinal fortitude to refuse to lose is the single greatest predictor of success at the college level in the transition from high school. It is a combination of mental toughness, physical toughness, and the impossible to measure "it factor" that will lift a kid to great things. Because of the rules and the complex nature of finding such intangibles, college coaches rarely if ever can figure out if their targets have that toughness and it factor. It leads to kids being put in bad situations where they can't succeed, and in turn a very high transfer rate.
It is impossible to completely measure and define how great of a winner that a kid is, but when a coach finds a player who has that toughness, they know they have struck gold. That indefinable quality is worth far more than just being athletic or having natural talent.
What's Up Out West?
The talking heads on TV seem to continually be asking what is up with the Pac-10. After a down year last year, the conference might only have one ranked team again at the end of the week. The question is why is the conference so down?
What they attribute the down cycle to is the early defections to the NBA, while there is some validity to that argument, it is a very simplistic and short sited answer. The reasons go far deeper than just NBA attrition.
While NBA departures have no doubt something to do with it, the bottom line is the West Coast has gone through a massive down cycle in talent the past few years. The states of California, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon, which house all of the current Pac-10 schools, makeup roughly 18 percent of the U.S. population, however at no point from 2008-10 have those four states produced more than 16 players in the final Scout.com top 100, and it isn't getting better this year. Once again the area is under producing in the 2011 class. Only 13 players native to those four states are in the current top 100.
For comparison sake, the four states that make up the footprint of Big Ten country, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, which is only slightly larger population wise than California alone produced 16 top 100 prospects in the 2010 class and already has 18 prospects ranked in the 100 of the 2011 class, if you include Zach Price who played three years of basketball in Ohio before transferring to Kentucky as a senior.
With the West Coast underperforming talent wise relative to population and traditional norms combined with players such as Michael Snaer going to Florida State, Jordan Hamilton and Avery Bradley to Texas, and Terrence Jones to Kentucky it becomes very easy to see why the Pac-10 is in a down cycle right now.
The question then becomes when will the West rebound with their usual talent numbers. Things are looking better in the 2012 and 2013 classes where players such as Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett, Aaron Gordon, and Tyree Robinson have all emerged as legitimate top 10 type talents. If a few other players from the West can rise up and get to that level, things could begin to look better.
San Diego State and Gonzaga are getting some top players out of the region which further complicates things for the Pac-10 schools trying to rebound in a saturated talent market, but more than anything the schools in the conference simply need the states in their footprint to once again produce the talent that made them consistently one of the top three or four leagues in America.