• Mike Ricci

How High School Recruiting Classes Look Now: Part 1


I don’t know how I fell down this particular rabbit hole, but it happened. It started innocently enough last week while knee deep researching for college football’s National Signing Day. Next thing I know: I’m a few thousand words in and I’m reanalyzing how the basketball world could’ve been different without kids jumping from senior proms to the NBA Draft before 2006 or which high school recruiting class has been the best over the last 12 years.

For the purpose of this exercise, I’m using Rivals.com’s recruiting website and combing through the Rivals 150 (top 150 ranking, duh) year to year from 2003 until 2011 to determine which recruits within the 150 were the best values (something that is completely arbitrary and…it’s ok to admit…pointless?).

Maybe it’s because I’m someone who lives in the “what if” in sports. But the same thing that attracted me to doing an all-time NBA tournament beckoned me to look at previous high school graduating classes to make sense of history.

Before we start, however, let’s do some rough estimates on how many players play in the NBA. Give or take there are 450 players in the NBA in a given period of time (15 players on a roster x 30 teams). Out of those 450 players, 22 were drafted between 1995 and 2002. That leaves 428 (roughly an average of 30.5 players entering the NBA each season) players in the league that have entered since 2003 and are currently on a roster. I lay this out because there will be players who will be better values but will not be listed in this breakdown (for example, Stephen Curry wasn’t a heavily recruited player and isn’t included in the top 150 in 2006).

Hopefully this all makes sense. If it doesn’t…well, I’m tempted to give out my cell phone number to better explain it, but that could be a mistake. Let’s just get to it, shall we?

2003:

*Photo via NBC

Superstars (2):

1. LeBron James

14. Chris Paul

Right off the bat we have LeBron and CP3 ranked highly in the class of 2003. Over their NBA careers they’ve combined for 20 all-star appearances, 13 All-NBA First Teams, and 10 All-NBA Defensive 1st teams. Both players were named Rookie of the Year and will eventually be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

All-Stars (2):

2. Luol Deng

130. Paul Millsap

Luol Deng only lasted one year playing at Duke before entering the draft, while Paul Millsap lasted three years carrying on the power forward legacy at Louisiana Tech started by Karl Malone decades earlier.

Role Players (13):

3. Shannon Brown

5. Charlie Villanueva

6. Kendrick Perkins

10. Leon Powe

11. Brandon Bass

13. Travis Outlaw

15. Kris Humphries

17. Linas Kleiza

18. Trevor Ariza

29. Ronnie Brewer

34. Aaron Brooks

92. Renaldo Balkman

148. Aaron Gray

Other Notables (5):

4. Ndudi Ebi

60. Major Wingate

97. Patrick Ewing Jr.

103. DJ Strawberry

While the Role Player list is much longer, this list is far more interesting. The Timberwolves, entered the 2003 Draft coming off their best season in franchise history. 2003 was also the first time Minnesota would have a first round pick (see: Joe Smith’s illegal contract) since the 1999 Draft. The pick was Ndudi Ebi who was supposed to inject youth into a team within a breath of the NBA Finals. Ebi never panned out and was out of the NBA in 2005.

In 2000, Slam Magazine named the best players in each high school class that particular season and listed Major Wingate as the best freshman in the United States. Of course, this didn’t translate to stardom in college or the pros. Wingate played three seasons at Tennessee before being kicked off the team due to substance abuse.

Finally, Ewing and Strawberry both had moderately successful college careers but their bloodlines didn’t lead to the superstar careers of their fathers, NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing and baseball legend Darryl Strawberry.

2004:

*Photo via USA Today

Superstars (1):

1. Dwight Howard

All-Stars (4):

16. LaMarcus Aldridge

25. Rajon Rondo

28. Kyle Lowry

75. Joakim Noah

Role Players (16):

2. Shaun Livingston

3. Josh Smith

4. Al Jefferson

5. Rudy Gay

6. Sebastian Telfair

12. Dorell Wright

13. Glen Davis

22. Jordan Farmar

26. Arron Afflalo

29. Daniel Gibson

31. Corey Brewer

66. Toney Douglas

94. Anthony Morrow

104. Sean Williams

131. Rodney Stuckey

148. DeMarre Carroll

Other Notables:

10. Randolph Morris

14. Robert Swift

2004 was kind of a weird year. The best college player from this particular class is probably Joakim Noah. Florida went a long way to solidifying back-to-back National Championships by signing tournament heroes Noah and Corey Brewer. The only true NBA franchise cornerstone in this class was Dwight Howard who skipped college entirely and was the first pick of the 2004 Draft.

At the time, however, the biggest name in the class was Sebastian Telfair who had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school senior and on the cover of Slam as a sophomore (!) along with Lebron James. And while Telfair had an alright NBA career, he never matched the heights that were predicted for him. Maybe the hype came from being Stephon Marbury’s cousin…maybe because he went to the same Lincoln High School depicted in Spike Lee’s 1998 film “He Got Game”…for whatever reason, the hype and the legend never amounted to what was expected.

2005:

*Photo via USA Today

Superstars (0):

All-Stars (1):

6. Andrew Bynum

Role Players (19):

1. Gerald Green

2. Josh McRoberts

3. Monta Ellis

4. Andray Blatche

5. Martell Webster

7. Lou Williams

8. Julian Wright

10. Tyler Hansbrough

12. Mario Chalmers

13. Brandon Rush

15. Shawne Williams

29. Amir Johnson

31. Danny Green

33. Alonzo Gee

44. Wilson Chandler

71. Sam Young

75. Chris Douglas-Roberts

105. Jeremy Pargo

111. Terrence Williams

Other Notables:

11. Greg Paulus

124. Anthony Mason JR.

141. Taylor Griffin

While the 2003 and 2004 featured players that would go onto decorated NBA careers, the 2005 class, while prestigious at the time, fell flat. Several of these players still play in the league today, with class headliner Gerald Green enjoying a career renaissance after being out of the league from 2009-2012. While Andrew Bynum experienced the highest highs out of anyone in this class winning the 2009 and 2010 titles as a major piece with the Lakers. (along with all-star appearance in 2012 to go with an All-NBA Second Team spot that same year) His career flat lined in 2014 after a disastrous cup of coffee with the Indiana Pacers.

Greg Paulus would play four seasons at Duke before switching gears and playing quarterback for Syracuse in 2009 (Paulus was the 2004 Gatorade National Player of the Year in football and the 2005 Gatorade National Player of the Year in 2005). Taylor Griffin is best known for being the Tito Jackson to his brother Blake’s Michael.

2006:

*Photo via USA Today

Superstars (1):

2. Kevin Durant

All-Stars (1):

10. Brook Lopez

Role Players (21):

1. Greg Oden

3. Brandan Wright

4. Chase Budinger

5. Thaddeus Young

6. Spencer Hawes

7. Javaris Crittenton

8. Wayne Ellington

9. Ty Lawson

11. Gerald Henderson

13. Daequan Cook

16. Darrell Arthur

18. Mike Conley Jr.

28. Robin Lopez

32. Taj Gibson

39. Jodie Meeks

46. Greivis Vasquez

48. Quincy Pondexter

49. D.J. Augustin

51. Marreese Speights

65. Patrick Beverley

150. Dexter Pittman

I waivered on how to properly categorize Greg Oden. In the end, I probably should’ve labeled him as an Other Notable but I didn’t have the heart and his story has been so sad. Most NBA fans remember the Oden over Durant draft moment and maybe you even remember their respective college careers (all two years combined) but while they were ranked first and second in their high school class, the ranking didn’t do Oden justice—Oden was the second coming of Kareem, Wilt, and Shaq rolled into one. Had Oden been able to be drafted out of high school, he would’ve gone first overall in 2006 and probably 2005 if high school juniors were able to declare (look, no NBA team was taking Andrew Bogut or Andrea Bargnani over Oden). But in retrospect, Durant was the crown jewel NBA-wise in this class. A decade later he’s well on his way to a hall of fame worthy career with an MVP, scoring title, and NBA Finals appearance.

From a college perspective, I’m not sure who had the best collegiate career in this class. While Durant’s freshman campaign was historic (provided you ignore the poor coaching from Rick Barnes that led to a first weekend exit in the tournament) he only lasted one season.

In the end, I have a difficult time getting over the lost potential of Greg Oden. However, if there’s a silver lining for Oden, it’s that he doesn’t even have the saddest ending in this particular class. That honor would go to Javaris Crittenton who is currently serving 23 years for voluntary manslaughter with a weapon and aggravated assault with a firearm.

Finally, I would be remissed if I didn’t mention that Steph Curry graduated in 2006 but failed to be listed as a top 150 recruit. Just goes to show you how this is such an inexact science.

2007:

*Photo via Getty Images

Superstars (4):

3. Derrick Rose

6. Kevin Love

11. James Harden

23. Blake Griffin

All-Stars (2):

8. DeAndre Jordan

57. Jeff Teague

Role Players (21):

1. Michael Beasley

2. Eric Gordon

4. O.J. Mayo

5. Kyle Singler

9. Donte Greene

10. J.J. Hickson

12. Anthony Randolph

13. Jerryd Bayless

16. Kosta Koufos

17. Patrick Patterson

19. Chandler Parsons

30. Cole Aldrich

35. E’Twaun Moore

42. JaJuan Johnson

49. Evan Turner

59. DeJuan Blair

62. James Johnson

75. Robbie Hummel

82. Jon Leuer

102. Robert Sacre

145. Festus Ezeli

Other Notables (1):

19. Jonny Flynn

I know that if I considered Greg Oden a Role Player I should probably have done the same with Jonny Flynn—both were drafted one spot before a transcendent talent (Flynn before Steph Curry). Unfortunately, I write by my rules!

The 2007 class is quite top heavy with

Several players from this class was featured in a documentary by the late Beastie Boy Adam Yauch titled Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot (which you can watch for free with this link).

This class is quite top heavy with four superstars but there is a clutter of players who never quite lived up to their high school hype (and professional hype, for that matter). Beasley, Gordon, and Mayo were all considered potential franchise building blocks when they were drafted into the NBA. One could argue that Kyle Singler had the best college career having played four seasons at Duke including a National Championship in 2010.

Coming next week: we will take a look at the classes from 2008-2011.

#NBA #College #HighSchool #MikeRicci

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