High School Player Rankings and Reality

Our basketball culture in the grassroots level is descending more and more into an individualistic society. Today more than ever players are drifting further away from the “we” way of life to the “I” part of it. A big culprit is the technology that surrounds our world giving access to so much more information as well as video on players from all around the world. A big part of the individualization of the sport is player rankings.

Twenty years ago when grassroots basketball was at its peak there were very few scouts that traveled the country to watch players. I would say there were less than 15 scouts/scouting services that evaluated players. Also the scope of summer basketball was much different as there were about 1/20th of the amount of teams nation wide making the games much more competitive.

The culture of summer basketball was to field a competitive team and just win games. Players paid attention to rankings when you picked up a copy of The Hoop Scoop or Big East Briefs, but there were very few places where you can get your hands on rankings. The other big difference was that the player rankings weren’t updated daily like they are today as there was no Internet and everything was done by printed newsletter, magazine, or newspaper.

In today’s article I am going to breakdown today’s game and how player rankings can be very dangerous to a player’s career. There are good aspects of rankings and we will break that down as well, but I’d like to educate players as far as the insignificance of them in the grand scope of your basketball career.

How should we take player rankings?
Player rankings are simply a snapshot of where you are in a particular time in your basketball career. They change like the wind and where you are today will most likely not be where you stand a month from now , year, two years, etc. We live in a very competitive society. The competition for top rankings is a fierce one and everyone is competing for that top spot.

The one aspect that players and parents have to understand is that there are so many new players coming on the scene that you always have to be ready for it. Every year there are literally 750 new highly regarded basketball prospects that find there way onto the basketball scene as freshman. On top of that there are players in every class that are getting bigger and stronger hitting their stride sooner/later than others.

Players should feel good about being identified as one of the better players in their city,state, region, or country. You should treat it as the calm before the storm as people can celebrate your existence now, but totally forget about you within a year of that ranking.

How accurate are they?
This is my biggest gripe about rankings in high school players. I think it is impossible for anyone to clearly identify the best players nationally because of the clear numbers.

I don’t have exact figures in front of me but I can ball park it. I’d say there are 500 mid to high major division 1 players in each class in The United States. Out of that number there are probably 50-75 players that clearly are better than the rest. Usually scouts will attend events where these players are currently playing in high school, club, and AAU events throughout the year.

I feel as though you need to see a player 10-15 times in a full game to get a strong feel for them in a particular year. In scouting it is all about getting it right on a player, and watching that player 2-3 times can’t get you an accurate idea of where they are. Sure you can watch Dwight Howard,Kobe Bryant, or Kevin Durant in a high school game and say that kid is a big time player.

For evaluating the tweener, or that player that has potential, but your not quite sure of it is important to see them over and over until you can make a good view. So back to the numbers if there are say 2,000 players in the united states that are for the most part high level players in the four classes how can 1 person make an estimation of how good they can be?

Some of these players play on the same high school, club, and AAU team making it easy to watch multiple prospects. But most players are for the most part the only higher level player on their team making it tough to watch them over and over again. For even a group of 5 scouts to watch that many players that many games it would take millions of dollars of budget dollars.

Take NBA teams. I’d say in every draft there are probably 130 draftable prospects to be scouted. The numbers funnel out pretty easily. Every year from a freshman high school class to the year of that player’s NBA draft year those numbers drop considerably. Out of 4 classes in college and international prospects there are about 130 that have a chance to be drafted. That number is manageable, but even then it takes a fleet of 8-15 NBA front office people to evaluate these players. In the NBA draft out of the 130 players, 60 are drafted, and on the average 42 make the roster of a team.

So it takes 8-15 NBA experienced scouts to properly evaluate 130 prospects, how can someone properly have their pulse on over 2,000? The message that I am sending is not to shame the scouting industry, but for people left off these lists it is totally fine as not every scout is spot on as far as their evaluating.

Dangers in Player Rankings
I’d say the misconception that it leaves players and parents has a definite danger factor to it. Everyone wants to be the next LeBron James. They are battling for that top spot in the rankings. The biggest problem here is that rankings are only a list of names for schools to see. The list is a bank of players for them to evaluate off of. They don’t take those rankings and live by them. It is a way to identify some of the top players at a specific position or in a specific class.

Players tend to lose focus and their egos swell up once they are high on the rankings bard. They lose that competitive edge that got them to this spot in the first place. Parents tend to believe that because their son/daughter is ranked #5 in the freshman class that money and fame will automatically come with it.

Very rarely do I see the same top 20 players in a freshman class finish in the top 20 by the time they are a senior. If I had a nickel for every carnival barking scout that bragged about a “lottery pick” in a freshman class end up being a low major division one player. The biggest reason for the decline of this player was that many players that were way below them started to grow more, get faster, athletic, and skilled.

Most players tend to level off their potential by the time they are a freshman/sophomore. At the time they don’t think of that or the people around them won’t ever mention it. Some of the problem for the demise is the loss of the competitive edge. The feeling that they arrived way before the war is over. The reason why average players out perform more talented ones is because they never lose that competitive edge and chip on their shoulder.

Rankings tend to fill people with delusions of grandeur. Illusions of arriving when all they did was impress a scout for a game or weekend. It is a pass for them to believe their own hype and forget about the things that got them there in the first place.

Good Uses For Player Rankings
The obvious thing that player rankings does is it identifies the top players from a particular genre. Whether it is the top players in a region or class it gives college coaches an idea of what players they should recruit. From speaking to dozens of college coaches their use out of rankings is to give them an idea of players to evaluate.

No coach will take a kid based on a ranking. Any coach that is good at their job will see the player and give an evaluation on whether they can play for them. Coaches don’t have the time to scour the country for players, so they hire scouting services and rely on their data to identify players for which they can recruit. Instead of a bank of 25 point guards to look at by using rankings and a good scouting service it could narrow down their search to 7.

Players should use rankings for motivation. Understand that if you are highly rated that everyone knows about it and you have a bulls eye on your back. Everyone is gunning for you and wants a chance to take your ranking from you. If you are highly regarded it is good to want to defend that ranking and keep fighting every challenger while putting your team in position to win games.

Player rankings give a chance to some kids to get exposure to college coaches. No top 100 need a scout’s approval for schools to recruit them. The people who truly need scouts are the diamonds in the rough that aren’t being recruited by anyone from no name towns. Those are the people who truly gain advantage of getting a good rating/ranking from a scout. I think there are a number of scouts that really try to help the undervalued player find a school, although it is rare.

The Individualism Of the Game Of Basketball
I think our game has changed a lot in the past 15-20 years, not only of the style but also the mentality of those who play it. This isn’t a generalization of everyone, but definitely in the majority. The culture of the game is more “look at me” and “what I can do” rather than making the sacrifices necessary for my team to win.

Rankings play a big part of this problem. Kids jumping from team to team to play in events to get ranked higher is a big issue in summer club basketball. High school kids enrolling in shady awful showcases to fill the pockets of a scout to get ranked on their service is another disservice. These acts are not good for the game. Many scouts take advantage of their titles to run events just to make money. They know that they don’t have to put much work into the event because they’ll get their numbers based on every Johnny that wants to get ranked will be there

Players have to get back to the mentality of trying to help their team win games. Winning doesn’t solve everything, but it’s pretty close. Coaches like to recruit kids off winning programs. They can’t recruit all alpha dogs, and if they do good luck coaching that team. Without question they want to bring in a couple of high end players, but taking kids off winning programs where they played roles for that team’s success happens every day in recruiting.

Our player’s need to get back to worrying about how to make their team better rather than their individual accolades. Rankings do set players a part, but does increase the pressure for players to perform individually rather than on a team level.

Who Are The People Behind The Rankings
There are some very professional and knowledgeable people scouting games and ranking players. I don’t want anyone reading this to get the idea that people who rank players are not fit to do the job. What this article is about is some of the concerns that should be paid attention to due to rankings of players. I think there are a lot of people out there that work really hard at the profession of scouting and evaluating players. Their service is impeccable and service schools and help kids from all across the country

A big issue today that didn’t exist 20 years ago was that anyone can start a website and put rankings on a screen and there you go instant scout. When I started in the profession there were only a handful of scouts that covered basketball, now everywhere you turn there is a new service popping up ranking players.

This is a little bothersome because you should ask yourself did this person ever spend time in the realm of basketball? There isn’t a prerequisite to being a scout at the grassroots level. Being a past college coach could help because of having the experience evaluating players and seeing up close how the process works.

Scouts don’t necessarily have to have coaching or playing backgrounds, but should have spent time working under others that have had experience. Scouting is something that you can learn over time with a lot of trial and error. I do believe that you need to learn from others who have been through it to learn the process.

It is an industry that used to be a close knit group of people that were around for a long time. Today there is just so many new people to the industry that have little to no experience which tarnishes the industry.

Can you put together a good night or good weekend?
I think the most frustrating thing about the business is trying to evaluate a player very limited times throughout the year. A scout can try to see a player one time all winter and try to make an evaluation. What if that player is a mid major division one prospect and has an awful night. In that one night the scout has to type up a true evaluation on what this player is about. If this scout is a regional scout that covers the area it is fine as he’ll probably see them another 7-8 times, but for a national scout that is a tricky path.

The opposite can also happen where a scout can catch a player having a great night or a weekend tournament and totally overrate the player. I remember about 12 years ago I was at a prep school showcase. A division 2 prospect participated in front of one of the biggest high school scouts in America at that time. I saw him before this event and thought he wasn’t very good. The player went on to have two great days and this scout called him the next Wally Szczerbiak. He had ACC teams inquire about the player. That player had one of the more miserable post graduate experiences that I’ve ever seen a player have because he was reading that he’s an ACC player, but never came close all year to performing like one. The player in question ended up playing at UMASS Lowell a division 2 school in Massachusetts.

High School scouting isn’t like college scouting where you have a lot less players to evaluate and all of your evaluating games on one court. A lot of the evaluating that goes on in high school scouting is at events with multiple courts. With the summer being filled with these mega tournaments with 500-600 teams in them how can any scout cover an event like that efficiently with so many players and so many games at one time.

How Young Is Too Young??
The most ridiculous part of ranking basketball players is some of the ages in which rankings are made for. Some websites are in the business of ranking the top 5th and 6th graders in the country. Talk about taking advantage of young people. How would one evaluate someone that young? For the most part they can’t even shoot with a regulation ball and some can’t even reach a 10 foot basket.

I think that people who rank these players take advantage of parents and prey on the weak in this business. Here is where people really need to get educated on the process. Stop wasting your money on showcase events for your young children and start investing in developing their skill. At this age no one can fairly evaluate a player to tell you where they will be 8 years from now.

Parents really need to be educated on the process of the development of a basketball player. Our game is messed up for the simple reason that skill development is non existent in players at the very young ages of 10-12 years of age. These are very formative years of their development and shouldn’t be wasting their time at showcase events.

Players shouldn’t be worried about their rankings before they enter their sophomore year in high school, but for all intensive purposes at least before they enter high school. Parents need to understand what is important for the development of their child’s game and trying to get on a list is nowhere close to important at this point. Take it for someone who’s been scouting for 15 years that it is a very irrelevant part of the business, especially before they get in high school.

I think most of the showcase events that are run pre high school is made to make people money. The people running these events understand that there are parents crazy enough to think that it is important to get their son or daughter on a list as the top 10 year old in the country. That is sort of like being the tallest midget. At this age it’s out of the players hands and blame has to be given straight to the parent. Stop the madness with these money making scam showcases for top middle school players in the country. They are totally irrelevant in the process.

In Closing
Ok lets pump the breaks a little bit. This wasn’t an attack on scouting or the profession of scouting at all. It is hopefully to educate players and parents that read this to take rankings in stride.

Rankings have almost zero impact on your basketball career. Yes it helps to have scouts tout you and get some buzz about you game to get some notice. But your game is what will define you not your ranking. So many players put so much effort into getting exposure and ranked that they neglect the development of their skill level.

Rankings are what they are a snapshot of where you stack up against your piers at that moment. The business of basketball moves very fast as one day you are being touted by every carnival barking scout in the business and the next day they wont even remember your name. You have to have a long -term plan of your development.

Rankings won’t save you and wont define you. My mentor once told me rankings didn’t belong in basketball. He told me they are for boxers, tennis players, golfers, and NASCAR. The translation here is basketball is a team sport comprised of players that fill certain roles in a team atmosphere. When you are only worried about individual accolades and rankings you lose all conception of how to be successful at this game.

The end of the day what colleges look for is what skill do you posses that will want to put you in a game. A ranking will not win your college coach one game, what will win him or her games is having players that can fill a role for them. This game is about talent you either have it or you don’t, nothing more and nothing less.

When I was with the Celtics scouting and even today you always come across those players that were ranked as the next can’t miss and never lived up to the hype. No one told him that just because he was ranked #5 in the country coming out of basketball that he would have to actually WORK for his playing time. Unfortunately they let their rankings and reputation do their talking instead of developing a skill. When you try to compete against good basketball players without any skill is like going to a gun-fight with a nerf slingshot.

Washed up player I’d like to introduce you to my friend called reality.

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