"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Autumn Sole-stice

We'd like to welcome back Dr. Blackheart with another high-quality contribution.  Please read it, and then go donate to Al's Run.  Also, we had a number of folks that were having credit card contribution errors, but we're hoping the firstgiving system is fixed today.  Help our community make it to the front page of the leaderboard! 

Seriously, if you have any interest whatsoever in college basketball recruiting, this may be the most original and important article you read all month.  It's that good.  Thanks, Dr. Blackheart!


With about a month to go before the start of the “Hoops Season”, Marquette will be hosting at least one prime recruiting target this weekend for the Al’s Run festivities--6’9”, Zach Auguste of the New Hampton School (Todd Townsend’s Prep school) and member of the Albany Rocks AAU team--in a push to close off Marquette’s 2012 class.  Building off the Sweet 16 run, the coaching staff has filled in MU’s basketball future very nicely, creating a deep and balanced team outlook with Top 100+ talent for both the 2012 and 2013 classes.  With a continuous focus on recruiting, staff continuity, a broadened national scope, roots within the JUCO ranks, and with Buzz’s now established prominence on the court, it appears that MU will put together five highly rated recruiting classes in a row.  But, there is one area that Buzz has worked hard to reestablish for Marquette, due primarily to strong legwork by Associate Head Coach Tony Benford, and that is the grassroots/AAU basketball pipeline.

Top 50 Hit Parade

While recruiting is a crapshoot, with success highly dependent on the maturity and development of teens into men, the overwhelming fact is that programs who consistently land Top 50 rated talent win national championships:  UConn, Duke, UNC (2), Kansas, Florida (2), and Syracuse of note over the past decade.  Each of these programs and a select group of competitive others (the Caliparis, the Pitinos, the Izzos) have established coaches at the helm--all known as long-time proven winners and gatekeepers for future NBA talent—which is obviously very appealing to highly rated recruits.  However, in reality, the number of Top 50 recruits over four years is just a small percentage of the 4485 Division 1 scholarships available last season to the 345 programs (maybe 4% tops, accounting for NBA and drop-out attrition).  

This scarcity of talent creates a Meat Market mentality as hundreds of teams go hard after this disproportionate pool of highly valued talent.  It is big business for the schools at the top:  for their enrollments and endowments, NCAA shares, for the coaches, for the players with NBA aspirations, for their athletic department budgets, and for their conferences and the NCAA.  It is also big business for their apparel sponsors and media partners.  With this can come the dirty underside of grassroots/AAU basketball (which has justly many overwhelmingly positive benefits)--the street agents, the posses, the pull of apparel/shoe merchandisers on their sponsored AAU teams and players, and the unscrupulous college coaches trying to grab an edge—all trying to influence and covet the riches that the Top 50 talent can yield.

The books Sole Influence, by Dan Wetzel, and Dead Coach Walking, the autobiography of retired coach Tom Penders, both delved into the influences in grassroots/AAU basketball.  As a result of this, I decided to take a deep dive into the 2011 Scout Top 100 recruit list to study the correlation of apparel/shoe associations to AAU and college teams to see what could be learned (despite the smaller sample sizes).  (Note:  I used the Scout revised ratings as the final summer RSCI weighted ratings did not include the late reclassified Andre Drummond to the 2011 class.  His late commitment to UCONN is a case study in itself.  Also, on a note of personal disclosure: I am not a recruiting guru by any means, just a fan and observer of the game—there are many more who can add to this discussion based on their experience and knowledge).

Tightening the Laces

Percentage of recruits that signed with a school that share AAU affiliation by recruit level
  • 76% of the Top 25 recruits signed with college teams that shared sponsors with their AAU team.  While there are misses in ratings at this level, this is usually the group where early entrants into the NBA are found.  There are usually some very strong suggestions of outside influence at this level (but allowable), and the reality is that most of these kids need close advisors to help them through the grinder. 
  • The direct connection of sponsorship to commitment waned to 50% for the Bottom 50, as the outside influence attention seemingly goes to the Top 50 and swings back to the parents, high school coaches, and lean-in potential seen by the recruiting school. 
  • The main exceptions to the sponsor to recruit connection are the great coaches who can draw across sponsorships (think the Coach K peer set).  
  • The other exceptions appear to be driven by close proximity to the recruiting college, Prep school sponsor affiliation, and past AAU roots to a recruiter on staff (think Faust).   Still the sponsor and AAU pull is very prevalent in most of these cases, although not as direct, it would appear. 
  •  The only Top 100 recruit not involved in AAU ball is #29 Otto Porter to Georgetown. 
  • Only a handful of independent AAU clubs (3) had recruits in the Top 100. 
  • Nike affiliated AAU team recruits comprised 58% of the Top 100, while Adidas had 34%.  But Nike’s conversion pull was much stronger.  Those teams converted 76% of the recruits within network vs. 34% for the Adidas sponsored colleges.  Jordan-Kobe-Wade-James vs. Howard-Rose-Garnett-Duncan (Sonny Vaccaro knew that guards sell shoes, not big men).
Conference Call

AAU / School affiliation by Conference
  • The sponsorship ties for the major conferences hover around the 60% conversion mark, and 50% or below for the dissolving Big 12 and the mids. 
  • The Big 10 conversion ties were the strongest at 67%, followed by the Big East at 61% and SEC at 60%.  This matches the geographies these schools recruit (urban or south where AAU is strongest), and the strong college media and sponsorship deals that help drive conversion.  
  • Coaches Self, Barnes, K, Roy, Calhoun, and Pitino were able to recruit beyond their shoe network with their strong pull and histories of success.  This is elite.
Tying It All Up (and looking at Marquette)

  • While scandals are sensational news stories, and there are documented bad apples, this AAU-Sponsorship dance is allowable and legal in the vast majority of cases, despite the many whispers.  Handler involvement is very heavy for the Top 25 especially it would appear.  The NCAA would be better off spending most of their time monitoring the recruitment of this group rather than focusing on the other 4385. 
  • Even the legends get caught in the trap of NCAA violations, whether the Izzo one game suspension over the Dawson recruitment or Calhoun’s recent violations.  
  • Whether Bo at Wisconsin (a roster of Adidas AAU players) or Marquette (Nike), AAU connections matter at this level.  So does Top 50 talent if high achievement is the game.  
  • Buzz is developing his AAU network to get in the game with these Top 50 recruits.  Burton allowed him to break-through a barrier, showing yet again that Buzz is building on MU’s Sweet 16 success (unlike Crean with the 2003 Final Four and the Larry Butler fall-out over Odartey Blankson).  Buzz clearly needs to hit the higher level of sustained on-court success to break-through to the Top 25 Burger Boys like the legends.  This will take time. 
  • Benford has been nailing it for Marquette, opening his AAU networks as he did with Burton and Taylor.   
  • Let’s see if Buzz can keep the momentum going against a strong list of finalists for Auguste (West Virginia, Florida, and Georgia Tech—two Nike and one Russell sponsor).  Zach has developing potential and is a great missing piece for the Marquette 2012 class.  Here is to a great visit!

1 comment:

greyCat said...

Terrific job putting numbers to what many suspected was more than a casual connection. Posted a link from Villanova by the Numbers.