Two Guys


Robert
May 07, 2020
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2 Comments

I'm jumping the gun a little bit here. The final RSCI for the 2020 basketball class won't come out until all final lists are released, but with 247 updating their rankings yesterday, I think I can take a pretty good guess at the rankings. Which gives me a chance to compare the rosters of the last 20 Illini teams.

Before we get to that, a quick history of "following basketball recruiting". I've been obsessed with it for over 30 years, so it's not just something that was invented by Rivals and Scout once college recruiting websites became a thing. We Illini fans like to say that Marcus Liberty "was the #1 high school player in the country" (because he was, on one of the lists) and that means that in 1987, lists existed that ranked high school players nationwide.

I'll make this quick because I could go way down the rabbit hole with this, but I remember it like this. In the late 80's/early 90's, there were two ways to follow it: go buy one of those magazines at the grocery store which would list the top 100 recruits as part of their season preview (like Street & Smith's) or grab the Parade Magazine from the Sunday paper and check out the Parade All Americans (which listed the top-30 players in the country, later expanded to a top-50, I believe). These publications were also researched by the beat writers, so really, you could just wait for the beat writer in your local paper tell you what kind of players were coming in and where they ranked nationally.

There was also the McDonald's All American Game, which was the definitive "these are the top-24 players in this class" at the time (and probably still is, although it got political and will sometimes include a Duke recruit ranked in the 50's). Richard Keene was a big deal because he was a McDonald's All American (and was, as I recall, ranked #12 by Street & Smiths). I still remember the preview magazine (Athlon, maybe?) which had a list with Bryant Notree ranked in the 20's. And Notree is the last player I remember identifying as "well, see, he's a Parade All American so look out".

Then the internet happened. And magazines could be published online. There were lots of evaluators at the time (for both football and basketball), and they would often would sell their lists to coaching staffs as kind of a "here are the players you should be aware of". Those lists, especially on the football side, became the focus for lots of NCAA investigations as they became a place to hide payments for players (the school cuts a check for $20,000 to purchase a list of "names to watch" in Texas but it's really just a payment for a certain player). For basketball, the internet helped those services expand.

Hoops gurus who were connected to the summer basketball scene (like Bob Gibbons and Van Coleman) would crank out these top-100 lists for services with names like "Prep Stars" and "All Star Report". As those grew, the RSCI (Recruiting Services Consensus Index) came about. Why not take the Bob Gibbons list and the Van Coleman list and the Clark Francis list and the Brick Oettinger list and find the average ranking for every player? So in 1998, Jeff Crume (known around here as Jeff The RSCI Guy) started publishing the RSCI online. Back in 2013, I interviewed him for the website - if you want to read that, you can find it here.

Since 1998, it's really the only thing I check. Why look at one service when you can look at a consensus ranking? I guess it was inevitable that one of the recruiting websites would say "you know, we could take that idea and make money off it", so six or seven years ago 247 started doing what Jeff had done and the 247 Composite rankings were born. I use that now for football (since there's never been an RSCI for football), but I always use the RSCI for basketball. The original, the best. Also, Jeff has remained loyal to the independent evaluators even though the big recruiting websites have taken over everything - Van Coleman's rankings are still part of the 2020 RSCI.

(I said I was going to make this quick and here we are 500 words later and I'm still not getting to the point. I guess this is just quarantine me.)

My concept for this post: Both Miller and Curbelo are RSCI players. When the final rankings come out, I believe both will be in the top-50 (I'll get to that in a second). So how does that compare to other Illini rosters? We have RSCI information going back to 1998, so why not go roster by roster? Does "good Illini teams had a bunch of RSCI players; bad Illini teams didn't" track?

First, let's guess at the final numbers for Miller and Curbelo. With the updated 247 rankings yesterday, here's their rankings with the four services currently used by RSCI:

Miller: 27 (ESPN), 28 (Van Coleman), 30 (Rivals), 32 (247).
Average: 29

Curbelo: 41 (ESPN), 55 (Van Coleman), 43 (Rivals), 54 (247).
Average: 48

Other players will have moved around as well, so there's a chance those rankings move up or down, but once the final numbers come out, that's around where they'll be. Two top-50 recruits in one class. It's huge.

OK, so here's all of the RSCI players. Consensus top-100 players who chose the University of Illinois since 1998:

19 Dee Brown
20 Brian Cook
21 Frank Williams
24 Jereme Richmond
28 Richard McBride
29 Adam Miller
29 Meyers Leonard
32 Ayo Dosunmu
35 DJ Richardson
37 Jalen Coleman-Lands
43 Kofi Cockburn
46 Leron Black
48 Andre Curbelo
48 Deron Williams
49 Brandon Paul
49 Brian Carlwell
53 Brian Randle
57 Kendrick Nunn
62 Roger Powell
65 Mike Shaw
66 Myke Henry
69 Tracy Abrams
70 Malcolm Hill
71 Demitri McCamey
76 Crandall Head
77 Shaun Pruitt
77 Nick Smith
78 James Augustine
78 Nnanna Egwu
78 DJ Williams
86 Aaron Spears
90 Mark Smith

There's one other player who should be on here: Alex Legion, who transferred to Illinois from Kentucky (and then transferred to Florida International). He was #38 on the RSCI, so when I put these rosters together, he should be included. But I don't generally include him on my big list of RSCI recruits because he was a transfer who had busted elsewhere. The list above does include busts, but they busted at Illinois, not somewhere else.

We'll start with 2002 here so that we can do 20 seasons. I could start with 2001, but there were players on that roster who absolutely would have been RSCI top-100 (Sergio McClain, Marcus Griffin) but the RSCI didn't exist when they were seniors in high school. 2002 is the best representation because the 1998 class is included.

OK, so here's the RSCI players on every roster since 2002:

2002
Frank Williams
Brian Cook
Roger Powell
Nick Smith

2003
Brian Cook
Roger Powell
Nick Smith
Dee Brown
Deron Williams
James Augustine
Aaron Spears

2004
Roger Powell
Nick Smith
Dee Brown
Deron Williams
James Augustine
Aaron Spears
Rich McBride
Brian Randle

2005
Roger Powell
Nick Smith
Dee Brown
Deron Williams
James Augustine
Rich McBride
Brian Randle
Shaun Pruitt

2006
Dee Brown
James Augustine
Rich McBride
Brian Randle
Shaun Pruitt

2007
Rich McBride
Brian Randle
Shaun Pruitt
Brian Carlwell

2008
Brian Randle
Shaun Pruitt
Brian Carlwell
Demetri McCamey
Alex Legion

2009
Demetri McCamey
Alex Legion

2010
Demetri McCamey
Brandon Paul
DJ Richardson

2011
Demetri McCamey
Brandon Paul
DJ Richardson
Jereme Richmond
Meyers Leonard
Crandall Head

2012
Brandon Paul
DJ Richardson
Meyers Leonard
Crandall Head
Tracy Abrams
Mike Shaw
Myke Henry
Nnanna Egwu

2013
Brandon Paul
DJ Richardson
Tracy Abrams
Mike Shaw
Myke Henry
Nnanna Egwu

2014
Tracy Abrams
Nnanna Egwu
Malcolm Hill
Kendrick Nunn

2015
Tracy Abrams
Nnanna Egwu
Malcolm Hill
Kendrick Nunn
Leron Black

2016
Tracy Abrams
Malcolm Hill
Kendrick Nunn
Leron Black
DJ Williams
Jalen Coleman-Lands

2017
Tracy Abrams (6th year!)
Malcolm Hill
Leron Black
DJ Williams
Jalen Coleman-Lands

2018
Leron Black
Mark Smith

2019
Ayo Dosunmu

2020
Ayo Dosunmu
Kofi Cockburn

2021
Ayo Dosunmu (?)
Kofi Cockburn (?)
Adam Miller
Andre Curbelo

The big thing that jumps off the page there: top-50 players. They were very prevalent in the early 2000's (Frank Williams, Brian Cook, Dee Brown, Deron Williams), then they faded and we landed mostly players at the bottom of the top-100, now they've made a resurgence. Let's just look at the last eight years and I'll bold the top-50 players.

2014
Tracy Abrams
Nnanna Egwu
Malcolm Hill
Kendrick Nunn

2015
Tracy Abrams
Nnanna Egwu
Malcolm Hill
Kendrick Nunn
Leron Black

2016
Tracy Abrams
Malcolm Hill
Kendrick Nunn
Leron Black
DJ Williams
Jalen Coleman-Lands

2017
Tracy Abrams (6th year!)
Malcolm Hill
Leron Black
DJ Williams
Jalen Coleman-Lands

2018
Leron Black
Mark Smith

2019
Ayo Dosunmu

2020
Ayo Dosunmu
Kofi Cockburn

2021
Ayo Dosumnu (?)
Kofi Cockburn (?)
Adam Miller
Andre Curbelo

Other interesting things of note:

  • Obviously, there are more busts in the lower half than the upper half, and that 2011 class (Abrams, Shaw, Henry, Egwu) just didn't provide what we thought they would provide. The same can probably be said for what we thought JCL and DJ Williams would provide. And it can certainly be said for Jereme Richmond and Crandall Head. This isn't just about finding names who land on that list. Obviously, evals are everything.
  • This is probably a good trivia question. There are three Illini teams that had eight top-100 recruits: 2004, 2005, and... 2012.
  • Which means that the most frustrating roster on there has to be 2012. Even though Richmond only lasted one year and was already gone, that team still had three top-50 guys (Richardson, Paul, and Meyers Leonard the season before he was a lottery pick). AND that team had five more guys ranked 51-100. Eight top-100 players, 17-15 (6-12).
  • Part of this is probably "when the team is successful, the best player is seen as a star", but a list like this really shows that you need a Guy. As those lists began to shrink after 2005, there were still top-100 players but just weren't any Guys. 2020 shows that if you put two Guys on one team, you win.

I think I'm going to go change the title of this post to "Two Guys". Because that seems to be the key. Obviously, 2005 had five Guys - four were top-100 recruits and the fifth (Luther Head) was a fringe top-100 guy who developed into a superstar. But when I look across this list, the great teams always have two Guys. Frankie & Cook. Deron & Dee. BP3 & DJ in 2013. And then Ayo & Kofi this season.

Add Miller & Curbelo to that list in the future? That's the hope. It probably won't be immediate (not every freshman will Kofi), but sophomore year for as long as they're here, that looks two be the next set of Two Guys.

Really hope Kofi joins them next season. And if Ayo comes back....

Comments

Efremwinters84 on May 07 @ 05:29 PM CDT

Good post, Robert. I absolutely agree with you --- the Top 50 guys are much more of a sure thing. Hence, Duke, UNC, MSU, Arizona, Kentucky and Kansas currently rule the roost.

3 GUYS are better than 2 guys: And in the NBA, executives consistently say they need three Guys to make a run to the title.

Groundhogday on May 07 @ 11:25 PM CDT

I'll agree with the 2 guys thesis. In basketball, you need a couple of real difference makers, then good players around them that fill needed roles. Weber recruited a lot of top 100 guys who were busts, but more importantly didn't recruit (a) enough elite difference makers; and (b) the right role players. Add a legit role-playing point guard to Weber's last team and they probably make the tournament!

So far, Weber has been able to land a few real difference makers, but has also build teams with guys like Feliz, a not-so-heralded recruit who played an essential role.

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