Greska: Recruit rankings overrated

Andrei Greska

The latest men’s basketball high school player rankings came out last week on ESPN and Scout.com and, as has been the norm for Marquette the last 30 years, none of our incoming players were near the top 25.

Steve Taylor of Simeon is the highest-rated player in the incoming recruiting class and is ranked the 11th best power forward by Scout.com and 85th best player overall by ESPN. The other three incoming Golden Eagles — Jamal Ferguson, Aaron Durley and TJ Taylor — are nowhere to be found in the top 100 of either site.

At first glance the lack of highly ranked prospects would appear to be a precursor for failure next season. It only makes sense that the better the ranking the better the player right?

Wrong.

If you are any kind of Marquette fan you know coach Buzz Williams runs doesn’t require burger boys — McDonald’s All-Americans — to succeed.

Strike that — Buzz’s program thrives on burger boys, but not in the sense we have come to associate high school phenoms.

“I like guys whose pre-game and post-game meals probably came from the same place, and the amount of that was probably less than five dollars,” Williams once said.

That is not to say this regime doesn’t actively seek high-profile, top-ranked recruits.

What I am saying is that Marquette has been as good as any team in the country in turning water into wine. Don’t believe me? Just look at the team the past two years.

If you had to pick the four best players on this year’s team, Darius-Johnson Odom and Jae Crowder would be no-brainers. Yet these two created less buzz than a Celine Dion concert at the men’s club when they chose to be Warriors.

They were great junior college players, but neither had a glut of high-major schools pounding on their doors. Now they are locks for postseason Big East awards and both have outside shots at playing in the Association.

The next best players may be debatable, but Davante Gardner and Todd Mayo have as good a stake as any. There is no doubt Gardner has been clutch since Chris Otule went down for the season, becoming a focal point of the offense and earning himself a great nickname — ox-in-the-box.

Mayo has also defied all expectations. His tear drop shot over the Wisconsin farmboys at the Kohl Center is one of the plays of the year, and his overall offensive game has seen him become only the second freshman under Buzz to average over 20 minutes per game.

These players are key cogs for a team in the Big East title hunt, yet recruiters predicted they wouldn’t amount to anything.

And as you may or may not know, Chicago Bulls forward James F. Butler spent three of his formative years at this institution playing a little basketball now and then.

Yet this first-round NBA draft pick was touted as highly as you or I would be. He didn’t show up on scouts’ ranking lists, making him either invisible or terrible. Yet there he was on Sunday, learning from basketball’s royalty in South Beach.

Paradoxically, the highest rated recruits to come to Marquette have been the ones that have underwhelmed the most. As Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Forward Jamail Jones was a three star prep player ranked 53rd by ESPN and featured in two SportsCenter top-10 plays. Guard Junior Cadougan was supposed to make us forget about Dominic James, a four star ranked as the ninth best point guard coming out of high school by Scout.

And then there’s señor Blue. Vander, ranked 31st best prospect by ESPN in the 2010 class, was the highest rated recruit to come to Marquette since 1981 when Kerry Troter, ranked No. 17 according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, chose to be a Warrior. All three have been solid, but not the stars they were pegged to be based on their rankings.

Now don’t get me wrong. This is not a shot at Jamail, Junior or Vander. I’m not trying to bash any of these players.

What I am saying is that players who were ranked under them have outplayed them to date. It’s a knock on the system that is dominated by corporate-run AAU clubs and ranking systems that reward you for going to high-profile schools.

So don’t worry about the numbers before their names. It’s a fun water-cooler topic and nothing more.

Buzz may not have a stable of burger boys like a Duke or North Carolina, but when it comes to diamonds in the rough, I’ll have what he’s having.

andrei.greska@marquette.edu

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