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Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Bill Self: Mid-majors best at evaluation

By Eamonn Brennan

Last week, Bill Self stopped by the Metro Sports/KC Prep Invitational in Kansas City, where he and Kansas State coach Frank Martin (and a bunch of other Division I basketball coaches) watched a handful of talented prospects in the comfort of their home state.

Bill Self
Self said mid-major coaches do a better job of projecting the talent of teenage players.
Since Self couldn't talk specifically about who he was recruiting -- that's against the rules, you know -- when he sat down for an interview with local radio station 610 Sports, he chose instead to talk about recruiting generally. And he made a rather interesting point in the process:
"The best recruiters in the business from an evaluation standpoint are at the mid-majors," Self said. "They do a great job evaluating their talent level when they (players) are 16, 17 and projecting them out to when they are age 21. At Kansas, we don’t get the opportunity to do that. The majority of kids we recruit want to be in school goal-wise, one, two, three years. Very rarely do the best of the best stay all four years in college basketball the way the landscape is. The real talent of recruiting is being able to dig those guys out who at age 21, 22 can whip those kids who are 18. The people getting that done are the ones having success."

That sentiment dovetails nicely with yesterday's discussion of the market inefficiencies in big-time college recruiting. The basic idea -- that mid-majors have done a better job than many high-major programs in recruiting and landing those hard-to-define-but-still-talented tweener players -- rings true.

Self is making a slightly different point, of course, but his quote is revealing all the same. There are imaginary tiers in recruiting: The Elites (like Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, and so on), The Sub-Elites (think, say Wisconsin, Purdue, Villanova, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Missouri, or any frequently good but non-dominant recruiting program), The Low-Highs (teams in the lower halves of big six conferences struggling to keep up with their superiors) and mid-majors. Not everybody fits into those simplistic designations, sure, but plenty of teams are close enough.

The Kansases of the world don't have to worry about finding hidden gems. It's the Low-Highs who have to make a choice: Try to compete with the Elites of the world in the same recruiting circles? Or find players whose indefinable skills have dropped them off recruiting boards and put them within reach of the smarter mid-majors?

Age and development, Self's harbingers, count as a market inefficiency, too. More of the struggling high-major programs out there would do well to incorporate what so many mid-major schools have done well for so long. If that means finding players who can develop into cagey veterans, great. If that means poaching a tweener or two from the mid-major ranks, even better.

Whatever the strategy, it sounds a lot easier than trying to do what Kansas does. That's a luxury few programs can afford.