By Joe Henricksen
When it comes to evaluating and ranking high school players, I sometimes find it difficult to truly rely on the national talent evaluators. I have just seen too many discrepancies when it comes to Illinois prep players over the years, the players the Hoops Report focuses on 12 months a year.
Really, it’s no fault of their own. When it becomes national, there are just too many players. It’s difficult enough to fully grasp and cover one individual state like Illinois. I can’t imagine doing the same on a national scope. Yes, when it comes to the top 25 or 50 players in the country, I don’t think it takes the wizard of basketball recruiting to identify the truly special talent. It doesn’t take long to realize where a Derrick Rose belongs — or a Julian Wright or Shaun Livingston, for that matter.
There are too many times when an Illinois prep player has “blown up” nationally — or been written off — by national evaluators due to one particular weekend event in April or even a couple of weeks of solid basketball in the middle of July. We saw the perfect case of this last spring when Oak Park’s Iman Shumpert had a big weekend of basketball. His fate was secure on the national level no matter what he had done during his junior season that had just passed or what he would do during his senior year.
And even at these AAU events, the national evaluators are getting only a taste of each of these individual players as they are trying to see every kid from around the country. The national evaluators may make a single trip to see a player the other 9 months of the year, but they are rarely watching a player during the regular season. They don’t always get to see how the player may fit in a particular system, how the player reacts to actually being coached with his high school team, how he is playing in what may be his “true” position, how he handles being “the man,” or what he is like in a team concept or playing team defense — or forced to play defense at all. It’s just another reason why college coaches do like to recruit their own state. There is no doubt that, when college coaches get outside that top 25 or 50 player nationally, there is a bit more of a comfort level recruiting state kids as they have seen and watched the players in their own state so much more than the out-of-state player.
When it comes time to predict the future of an Illinois prep prospect or a breakdown of one of those in-state players, I would feel much more secure as a fan reading up on players by those who have covered the state for years, focus on Illinois solely, and have gained respect along the way. Veteran evaluators like Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prepbullseye come to mind. You don’t think the Schmidts — or the City/Suburban Hoops Report after 13 years of publication — have a better grip on the state and the players in it than a national recruiting service? Again, there are the no-brainers, the top 10 kids, the top 25 or maybe even top 50 that can be identified by just about anyone who has been evaluating. But Illinois kids may or may not make that cut. And it may or may not be deserved.
That leaves the question — and the answer to the headline of this blog. The national evaluators do have a purpose. Simply put, there has to be some kind of national ranking. It’s fun — fun to see, fun to debate, fun to pick apart, justify and look back on four or five years down the road. And I do find it awfully interesting to see the reaction and thoughts of the national evaluators the few times they do get to see the top players from Illinois, the ones I have seen play dozens of times by the time they are a junior or senior. I do enjoy getting feedback from the national evaluators to see how on or off they are on our Illinois kids.