Making the Grade With Recruits

With the nation's top talent hopping from one gym to the next, more than ever, fans crave the inside scoop on recruiting. While you'll get plenty of that info on this month, we've also decided to take a look at what goes into landing a 5-star recruit.

We’ll examine which factors give schools the biggest edge with the help of Sporting News College Basketball Expert, Mike DeCourcy. Once you’ve read the article, feel free to debate what you think is most important and figure out if your team makes the grade.

Name Recognition and Reputation

Prestige is everything and you know the names I’m referring to here; North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas. That’s what I like to call, my “All-Time Final Four”. These programs are jam-packed with tradition, history, and a win total that makes other schools salivate.

As a result, college basketball’s elite programs clearly have the upper hand in recruiting the country’s top talent. But they don’t just excel with the young prep stars of America because of their hefty names – there’s another reason -- television exposure. Even in a down year these schools receive it by the boatload.

The numbers don’t hurt either. Since 1986, at least one of these 4 powerhouses participated in each Final Four the lone exception being 1987 when NONE of the aforementioned teams competed. Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and Carolina accumulated 8 national championships during this span. Today’s high-schoolers grew up in an era where these 4 schools garnered plenty of attention.

If the numbers don’t “do it for you” then use this rather trivial way to gauge a program’s impact – take a look around you when you travel – in airports, malls, or even better at the Final Four every year – what school logos do you always see regardless of what area of the country you happen to be in?  

As a Red Sox fan I hesitate to make this next comparison but --- these teams are the New York Yankees of college hoops. People either love them or hate them and they’ve got the numbers to prove why. When these names talk, people listen.

Mike’s take: “The single biggest issue in recruiting is players being able to tell their friends about the important and high-profile school they’re attending. NOTHING is bigger. That’s how Sean May wound up at North Carolina instead of Louisville, for instance. If UL had been in the Big East rather than Conference USA four years earlier, the 2004-2005 season might have been a lot different.”

Recent National Championship and Final Four Success

We’ve already touched on Final Four and national championship success above but the key word here is “recent”. These programs might not possess the long, flowing basketball tradition of the above schools but they do fit the bill in the “what have you done for me lately?” category.

A couple of immediate examples come to mind.

The national spotlight was fixated on the Illinois basketball program for most of the year. The Illini resided on top of the polls with an unblemished record for most of the season. This team wasn’t just the talk of THE town – they were the “talk of EVERY town”. What a tremendous shot in the arm for Head Coach Bruce Weber’s recruiting efforts.  

Recent accomplishments have certainly worked in UCONN’s favor. 15 years ago Connecticut wasn’t even a blip on the radar for most McDonald’s All-Americans. Storrs, Connecticut was known more for the ice cream then the hoops. Now with 2 titles in 5-years, and a soon-to-be Hall of Fame head coach who regularly produces NBA products--things have changed. UCONN is on the tip of every prospects tongue. Assistant Coach Tom Moore confirmed one change in recruiting -- all recruits at least return the call, and some high profile players even pick up the phone first.

Grooming Talent for the NBA

Every time a school’s name is mentioned on NBA Draft night young prospects are listening. How a school’s NBA track record wouldn’t be a factor in a big name’s college choice is beyond me.

All high level recruits talk about the “NBA dream” so when they see a program that consistently makes players NBA-ready how can they ignore it? 

Imagine what it does for a school like Carolina, who really didn’t need much help recruiting, to produce 4 first round draft picks? Or when UCONN produces the NBA Rookie of the Year (Emeka Okafor), and the Sixth Man of the Year (Ben Gordon), then yet another lottery pick in ’05 (Charlie Villaneuva)?

Mike’s Take: “Not, in reality, a factor at all. There are high-profile coaches out there who are very successful recruiters even though their track record of turning out pros is not especially impressive. But they keep getting players.”

Playing Time

Nobody wants to sit on the bench and most elite players aren’t going to sit on the bench anywhere they choose to go. When a team loses quality players in a mass quantity then the gaping hole can work in a school’s favor. If it’s playing time is readily expect the marquee recruits to listen long and hard to a coach’s pitch.

It’s up to the recruit to figure out the system and the program that will give them the best chance to flourish as a player so it’s not strictly about minutes. It’s about QUALITY minutes.  

When two schools are pitted against each other in a recruiting battle coach’s refer to this issue often.

Mike’s take: “Certainly this is important for most players, but few elites really pay close attention to this issue unless they’re choosing among several premier schools. If a big-time kid wants Duke or Syracuse, he’s not worried about who else is there. If he’s torn it might become a factor because competing schools make it an issue.”

The Coach

This one is simple and easy to explain – coaches are crucial. For better or for worse, some players go to a particular school for the coach. In this nomadic age of coaching this can be a dangerous proposition, but no one chooses a school without factoring in who the coach is.

This includes the head coach AND his assistants. More and more players end up developing a more advanced relationship with the staff, but its usually the head coach who seals the deal.

Just like certain schools, coaches with name recognition and reputation have a leg up here. The bigger the name coaches who work for a big name program have less work to do to “sell” the product but if your coach isn’t a great salesman, you won’t be signing very many top-notch recruits.

Mike’s Take: “The coach and his staff are essential, because great salesmanship connects the school to prospects and creates that buzz factor.”

Top-Notch Facilities and Equipment

I’ll defer to the classic baseball movie “Field of Dreams” and use a modified quote: “if you build it THEY will come.”

Just like society in general, players are wowed by the latest high-tech equipment and facilities. In this day and age the relevance of a high class on campus facility cannot be understated.

Let me use this simple analogy…If I gave you the choice between a brand new shiny Porsche or a beat up old Yugo…which would you choose? It’s a no-brainer right?

That doesn’t mean every arena has to be newly built but you don’t want to be that Yugo either. If you compete with the Porsche you need to be a Ferrari or a Mercedes.

Renovations are vital to a place like Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Certainly you don’t want to lose that historic feel but you can’t lag too far behind in the technology department. The Kansas Athletic department was quick to recognize this.

Players want to play in the most famous arenas, use the latest scouting technology, and work out with the newest equipment. They want it all at their disposal – they like to be spoiled, if you will.

One school I can think of off the top of my head that benefits the most from their facilities is Texas. If you ever get a chance to see the set up in Austin you’d be impressed and you’d understand one reason it’s hard to say “no” to a career as a Longhorn.

Mike’s take: “It’s important that you not be one of the programs that doesn’t have good facilities.”


The scholarly approach is not lost on every recruit. Unfortunately when a future is directed at NBA dollars academics get lost in the shuffle.

Seattle Prep Star Spencer Hawes sports a 3.7 GPA and is one player who admits, for him, that’s simply not the case.

As much as I’m stressing the basketball side of things, I have to find a place that’s going to be strong academically. 

Mike’s take: “Please.”

It’s impossible to figure out which of these carries more weight so debate away. July is a good time to go through this checklist and answer how your school rates in each category.

Each individual situation varies and every recruit has a different theory. I will say this – the 3 recruits I spoke to about this article failed to choose one specific area over another – yet each one mentioned developing NBA players first or second in our discussions.

Hawes,’s #2 rated center from the class of 2006, volunteered his thoughts.

“It’s really hard because those are all things you have to consider and those are all things that are important and things you combine to make your decision” said Hawes. 

“It’s a combination. A school’s track record with their development, where the program’s at,” Hawes continued. “Is it a successful program that’s going to be winning and be in the title hunt every year?” Top Stories