Every year you can usually count on the top five national basketball recruits choosing from a list of traditional powers. For some reason, in 2017, that was not the case. According to 247’s rankings, four of the top five recruits in the country signed with schools that aren’t typically basketball powers, while 17 of the top 50 also went to teams not considered traditional powers.
Now that’s not to say players didn’t pick major conference schools, but the usual suspects (Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, etc.) didn’t land as many of the top prospects as usual. In addition to that, it’s not like these kids just chose their local schools, they’re picking non-basketball powers that aren’t in their back yard. Here’s a look at what I’m talking about:
No. 1 Michael Porter Jr., a Seattle-based kid (originally from Columbia, Missouri), is headed to Missouri, following his father who will be an assistant on head coach Cuonzo Martin’s staff. So that one is pretty understandable. No. 2 recruit Mohamed Bamba, a center based in New York will go to Texas. No. 3 recruit Collin Sexton is a point guard from Georgia and he chose Alabama. The No. 5 recruit in the country, Chalmette, Louisiana center Mitchell Robinson is going to Western Kentucky. Western Kentucky???
Some of these aren’t too shocking, but still raise some eyebrows. No. 11 recruit, forward Troy Brown out of Las Vegas is headed to Oregon and Pennsylvania shooting guard Lonnie Walter (No. 13) is going to Miami. Brandon McCoy (No.15) a 6’11” power forward from San Diego is headed to UNLV. Ethan Thompson (No. 24), a shooting guard from Torrance, California is going to Oregon State. Makai Ashton-Langford (No. 40) signed with Providence; Belleville, Illinois guard Jordan Godwin is going to Saint Louis, and the list goes on.
Don’t cry for those traditional powers though as Kentucky, Duke, UCLA and Arizona all signed great classes. But the kids who might make up a significant portion of the 2018 NBA Draft lottery went elsewhere. That’s pretty shocking.
So why did this class eschew the traditional route to the NBA? Well, we’ve seen similar decisions recently. Ben Simmons went to LSU, Markelle Fultz chose a Washington program that was floundering. It didn’t seem to harm either guy. They were allowed to shine individually, and their team’s lack of big-time success clearly didn’t impact their stock negatively.
In fact, it could be argued that not having to face top-level competition on a nightly basis and not having top-level teammates taking shots away from you is a great thing. If the team winds up not being good, it can’t be blamed on one player, even a spectacular one. And if the team ends up in the tournament, the best player will get the lion’s share of the credit.
In the end, this strategy actually makes sense. If a player is going to spend only one or two years in college, why not go to a lesser school and dominate? Clearly that road is becoming a more and more attractive option.