The Flawed Means of Evaluating Basketball Prospects

By Steve DiMiceli

In a recent entry, I wrote how the incoming recruiting class might be different from previous recruiting classes at Duquesne. Today, I follow up with why I think the way I evaluated the class is better than many other means of evaluating players.

For those who know me outside of my Duquesne Dukes context and in the context of other sports, they know I'm a prospects and recruiting fiend. I have my own personal top 30 prospects list for the Pirates. Until my recent break up with NFL, I was a draft nut. I also follow Penn St recruiting very closely which I don't like to admit given the their controversies. It's only natural  that I'm also a Dukes recruiting sponge.

Over the years, I've realized just what kind of crap shoot basketball recruiting is and how little information there is out there about a player.  For baseball and the Pirates, there are countless publications from Baseball America to  the good folks at Pirates Prospects with writers who are pretty objective and well versed on scouting. With college football, there is a ton of money in recruiting services and their data bases are regularly updated. You also get better local coverage of football recruiting. With either of those sports, I feel a lot more comfortable commenting on players subjectively who I've never seen play. It's different with college basketball. Below I've ranked from worst to first, the best sources for information on in coming high school basketball players.

Big recruiting sites -- While they do a great job for football, the big recruiting sites like Scout and Rivals do much worse for basketball particularly for mid and high major schools. Big BCS schools get a little more attention, but even there it doesn't compare to football. Saying your team recruited a 3 star prospect looks good on paper but in reality it doesn't mean much. What it says is that a player looked like a prospect when he was 16. Rarely, do players get their  information changed or their status upgraded or downgraded on these sites based on later performance like they do on the football side. TJ was listed as 5'4'' on Scout until the middle of his senior year. Every Duquesne recruiting class has errors in them in terms of who actually came to school.

The Media and bloggers -- I'm sick of journalists who act like they know what they're talking about. This includes me. We aren't coaches and we don't have their tactical knowledge. If we did, many of us would not be writing, we'd be on the sidelines. I assume media have the same knowledge base of really educated and savvy fan but I wouldn't go beyond that. That's where I put myself. From the media and bloggers we get more up to date content than the recruiting sites but again the content may not be great because of the real expertise of the source. In my case, the content of my opinion may also be tainted by my inherently pro Duquesne bias and of course the fact that I've never seen most of these kids play in person makes it less valuable until I do. Local media however is a good source for box scores and recaps of games, but coverage can be spotty and limited to better matchups.

High School/Recruiting Coaches -- While I respect their understanding of the game and appreciate their comments, I don't always trust the evaluations of high school or recruiting coaches. Don't get me wrong, I have a powerful respect for what they do. High school and AAU coaches love their players. The more I'm around basketball, the more I realize this to be true and I applaud them for it. A child can never have too much real love and support in their life. The problem is that this love often creates a bias. It's difficult to get an accurate read on players from their coaches because that coach believes in the them so much and naturally wants them to succeed. It's like asking someone's mom for an honest criticism of their child (except TJ's mom, she'll give it to you :) ) Off the record, you might get a better account of where the player is. Never will they tell you that player might fail but I would call them a crap coach if they didn't believe in every player that they sent to the next level.

Recruiting coaches might be even less critical on the record. Their job depends on bringing in high quality players and they're not going on publicly reflect on a players shortcomings. That would be a negative reflection on their own job performance.

Local Recruiting Services -- We're starting to work our way into better sources. There are a number of regional basketball recruiting services springing up around the country over the past couple of years. For example, Triple Double Prospects covers Ohio and Kentucky and Pittsburgh Basketball Report covers WPIAL. These guys keep their data bases up to date, have seen most of the players they report on play. They keep in contact with players and coaches and the player evaluations are usually pretty objective, well informed and fair.

How Many Offers a Player Has -- It's a pretty simple formula. More coaches are going to compete for the best player. The more high quality offers, a player gets, the more likely that college coaches think they're talented and the more likely that player is to actually be talented. They certainly understand the level of ability it will take to play in their league and they know how to evaluate it. It does not mean they're always right, but where there is smoke, there is usually fire. This is how I determined that the incoming class is likely better than what we're accustomed to.

Observe for Yourself -- My opinion does not need to satisfy all of you, but generally, it does satisfy me. If you are interested in seeing how good a player is before they make it to campus, their is no replacement for seeing them yourself. I highly suggest going to Greentree for the summer league or scouting a high school game. While neither of those is true to the level of competition in NCAA basketball, it is great to see a player first hand.  Worse case scenario, your opinion is wrong but you got a fun cheap, night of entertainment.

Of course all of these methods of evaluating a player are flawed. People are wrong about recruits all the time. Look at Dante Taylor at Pitt or to a lesser extent Rodrigo Peggau here. We really never know if a player is going to be a success or failure until they are a success or failure. The problem with college basketball is the limited information we get on players only further distorts or perception on what they can and cannot be.