How college basketball teams recruit by position
Some programs do their best recruiting for certain positions on the court — in some cases far surpassing their team-wide recruiting scores
Georgetown basketball is known for its big men. Over a period of roughly two decades, the program featured five top-notch centers when Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutumbo, Alonzo Mourning, Othella Harrington, and Roy Hibbert suited up for the Hoyas. Ewing led Georgetown to a National Championship; the first three players on that list would go on to have NBA Hall of Fame careers.
Georgetown’s proclivity for top-ranked big men may be matched only by Villanova’s knack for guards. The program was at one point so laden with talent that coach Jay Wright started four guards during the 2005–06 season, when Kyle Lowry, Allan Ray, Randy Foye, and Mike Nardi took the Wildcats to the Elite Eight. That legacy lives on, most recently carried by point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, the 2016 Final Four Most Outstanding Player who led Villanova to its second National Championship.
Like Georgetown and Villanova, some college programs have a tendency to do their best recruiting for certain positions on the court. There may be some kind of domino effect at play in the minds of recruits — Hibbert, for example, is known to have watched the great centers of “Big Man U” growing up as a Georgetown fan. From the team perspective, a recruiting strategy may favor certain skillsets or types of players when they go out on the hunt for talent. Or, as may be the case now that Ewing leads the Georgetown program, players may be drawn to an experienced team coach or assistant capable of passing on the tricks of their trade.
With a record of every college basketball recruit since the class of 2007 and their corresponding grade on a 1–100 scale, ESPN’s college basketball recruiting database is an authoritative source on school recruiting success by position. While some programs have maintained top grades across the board over the past decade, others more clearly favor centers, guards, or forwards. In some cases, a school’s grades for a specific position surpass its overall, team-wide recruiting average.
Despite the school’s historical success, Georgetown narrowly missed the top 10 list for average center recruiting grades since 2007. The University of Kentucky, which ranks second in overall average recruiting score among the 75 schools in the “Power Six” conferences, leads the way. The team has signed the number one center in the class three times out of the last eight years: DeMarcus Cousins in 2009, Nerlens Noel in 2012, and Skal Labissiere in 2015. The team has also recruited a top-10 center in seven of the eleven years the ESPN database covers; Enes Kanter (who never suited up for the Wildcats after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA) in 2010 and Karl Anthony-Towns in 2014 were each the third-ranked center in their respective classes.
Kansas, another recruiting powerhouse, ranks second for centers. The school boasts an average center grade of 95, bolstered by a handful of top recruits in Cole Aldrich, number three in 2007, Joel Embiid, the top-ranked center of the 2013 class, and Udoka Azubuike, 2016’s number four center.
Pittsburgh, next on the list, comes as more of a surprise — as do Baylor and Washington at fourth and seventh. Those three schools do exceptionally well in their recruitment for centers compared to their overall team recruiting average, and all three have recruited better centers than any other position on their rosters since 2007.
Of the schools on this list, Baylor has the biggest gap in recruiting grades: the school’s average of 94 for centers since 2007 is a nearly eight-point difference compared to its overall average of just over 86. The team’s success with two top-25 centers in 2012 is the explanation here, when number two center Isaiah Austin and number twenty-one Chad Rykhoek both came on board. Pittsburgh can point to top recruits DeJuan Blair in 2007, Khem Birch in 2011, and Steven Adams in 2012, while Washington owes its high average to Aziz N’Diaye from the class of 2010.
The power forward category is led by a program that far and away does its best recruiting at the position. Georgia Tech, while still a recruiting power at number 24 overall among Power Six schools, has signed PFs with an average grade nearly nine points better than the school’s average for all positions. The team’s hot streak began with number five power forward recruit Gani Lawal in 2007, followed by Derrick Favors and Kammeon Holsey in 2009, Julian Royal in 2011, and Robert Carter in 2012, each of whom carried a grade of 92 or above.
North Carolina and Texas also punch above their weight at the power forward position; John Henson and James McAdoo are UNC’s highest-rated PFs over the time period. Gary Johnson and Tristan Thompson, both graded at 97, lead the way for the Longhorns.
The usual suspects round out the power forward list. Duke has landed the top-ranked PF in each of the past two classes (Harry Giles and Wendell Carter), while Kentucky is also a consistent contender for top talent (Anthony Davis, Julius Randle). Ohio State and Kansas can also each boast a number-one PF recruit to their name, with OSU’s Jared Sullinger in 2010 and the Jayhawks’ Cliff Alexander in 2014.
The top of the small forward list goes back to a blue-chip program, North Carolina, which has had an abundance of SF talent in recent history. Harrison Barnes, the top overall recruit in his class, joined UNC in 2010 after a much-publicized recruitment process. Top recruits J.P. Tokoto, Theo Pinson, and Justin Jackson followed in 2012 and 2014. Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State, and Kansas — each of which has landed a top-five SF since 2007 — round out the upper half of this list.
The two surprises on the small forward list are St. John’s and Texas Tech, which rank at number 40 and number 52 respectively among the Power Six in overall recruiting grades. From 2010 to 2012, St. John’s signed five small forwards rated 92 or above, including top-ten SFs Maurice Harkless and Dom Pointer. The program appears to value the small forward position over power forward in the frontcourt; its average recruiting grade for PFs is below 80.
Texas Tech can also point to a successful run with top small forwards, signing seven players graded 88 or above from 2007 to 2011. Like St. John’s, the SF position seems to be a focus for Texas Tech staff, as no grades for other Red Raiders positions are above an average of 84.
Duke, Kentucky, and Ohio State, three schools that rank in the top ten for average grades for all positions, lead the way in the race for shooting guards. Each program has landed at least one top-ranked SG in the last eleven years: Duke with Austin Rivers in 2011 and Gary Trent in 2017, Kentucky with Aaron Harrison in 2013 and Malik Monk in 2016, and OSU with D’Angelo Russell in 2014.
North Carolina State, which ranks at number 20 in average grade for all positions, comes in at number four on the SG list. The program’s average shooting guard grade of 92 sits nearly five points above its overall average, powered by players such as Lorenzo Brown, Jaqawn Raymond, and Rodney Purvis, the fifth-ranked SG in the class of 2012.
The remaining schools on the list — Florida, Villanova, UCLA, Syracuse, Alabama, and Maryland — all recruit above their team-wide average for SGs.
With its track record of success at the position, it comes as no surprise that Villanova ranks second on the list of average grade for PG recruits. Four top-ten point guard signings since 2007 — Corey Fisher, Maalik Wayns, Arcidiacono, and Jalen Brunson — have contributed to a PG grade average of 92, three points higher than the team’s overall recruiting average.
A long history of top-tier PGs puts Duke a step ahead, though, at the top of this list. The Blue Devils have signed the top point guard in three of the last eight classes: Kyrie Irving in 2010, Tyus Jones in 2014, and Trevon Duval in 2017. Dating back to 2007, they have not signed a PG graded below 90 by ESPN. UCLA, buoyed by the top PG recruit in the 2016 class, Lonzo Ball, rounds out the top three.
Alabama and Oklahoma remain as the two schools on the list that over-index on their PG recruiting by more than a one-point average. Alabama has landed a top-10 point guard three times, in 2007, 2010, and 2017; Oklahoma signed the number four PG in the 2009 and 2017 classes.