September 16, 2020

High School Player Rankings: How Big is the Grain of Salt?


Warren Grimes

Yes, the ratings of high school basketball players matter.  Fans and the press pay a lot of attention to who has the best recruiting class, who has the highest ranked player, and what all of this means for the future success of the team.

The rankings are hardly meaningless.  A rating service like ESPN’s HoopGurlz uses experienced scouts to do the ratings.  And a statistician would tell us that a higher rating correlates positively with success in college.  But consider this Stanford example.

In the 2018 recruiting class, Jenna Brown was given a 5 star rating as the #20 player in HoopGurlz ratings (Brown was rated even higher in Prospects Nation - #13).   Lacie Hull, on the other hand, was given a 3 star rating and did not make the top 100 players.  After two seasons of basketball, Lacie Hull has been a frequent starter, always in the rotation, and has had a substantial impact on the team’s success.  Brown has been in and out of the rotation, partly due to injuries, and is still waiting to show what she can do.

In the 2016 recruiting class, the #4 overall player was Sabrina Ionescu.  The three players above her were Lauren Cox (Baylor), Joyner Holmes (Texas) and Crystal Dangerfield (U Conn).  Each of these three  are fine players, but none of them came close to the impact that Ionescu had on her team, her conference, and women’s hoops nationally. 

Let’s look at HoopGurlz high school class rankings for five recent Stanford classes.  Stanford was rated in the top 10 recruiting classes for each of these classes, achieving the #2 rating for the 2017 class and again for the 2019 class.  The team’s lowest rating was the #8 class of 2018.

Class of 1017   #2 Overall                                             Class of 2018  - #8 Overall

Kiana Williams -#8                                                           Lexie Hull - #16

Maya Dodson -#11                                                          Jenna Brown- #20

Estella Moschkau -#44                                                   Lacie Hull -(Not in top 100)

Alyssa Jerome (Canada)


Class of 2019  #2 Overall                                              Class of 2020   #5 Overall

Haley Jones  -#1                                                             Cameron Brink - #3

Ashten Prechtel - #16                                                     Jana Van Gytenbeck - #39

Fran Belibi  #23                                                             Agnes Emma-Nnopu  -(Australian)

Hannah Jump - #50



Class of 2021   (Uncertain Overall Ranking but likely top 10)

Brooke Demetre - #11

Kiki Iriafen - #19

Jzaniya Harriel  #78

Elena Bosgana  - (Greece)


                Based on performance so far, we can draw some general conclusions.  For example, the higher ranked Stanford players tended to do better at Stanford.  Kiana Williams is an outstanding example.  So far at least, the outlier has to be Lacie Hull, who was not even in the top 100 for her recruiting class.

But here are some reasons to take high school ratings with a large grain of salt.

-          The ratings services don’t agree.  A small example: Prospects Nation rated Ashten Prechtel #54 while HoopGurlz rated her as #16.

-          Not all recruiting classes are equal – My sense is that the 2019 class, for example, contained a larger sample of exceptional athletes (Fran Belibi was rated #23 -- #13 by Prospects Nation-- but has the potential to be one of the greatest to play at Stanford).

-          The rating services don’t fully account for the value of foreign recruits.  The 2021 class includes Elena Bosgana, potentially the best foreign recruit since Alana Smith, and maybe something beyond that.  How one rates the 2021 recruiting class depends a lot on Bosgana’s rating.

-          The rating services cannot predict injuries.

-          The rating services cannot fully assess factors such as heart, focus, and drive (Lacie Hull again being an example).

-          Finally, a team has to have role players that fit the team’s strengths and the coach’s strategies.  A player’s talents have to fit.  A player like Agnes Emma Nnopu, no matter her ranking, seems to fit a Van Derveer profile.  We'll see.

So, yes, to quote Coach Van Derveer, a team has to have the horses, and rating services do a fair job of predicting the thoroughbreds.  But it’s far from perfect process.  A top notch coach who evaluates a high school player may have quite a different assessment than the public rating services.  And a lot depends on the focus and hard work once the player starts playing in college.

Speaking of starting to play in college, we are all waiting for word about this season.


Anonymous said...

NCAA announces D1 Men’s and Womens basketball will begin November 25 with practice to start October 14th!

Stephen Perlman said...

Bob Kinder reminds me that Brooke and Kiki two of our 2021 recruits who were formerly ranked in ESPN's top 10 have dropped out. The likely reason- Dan Olsen, one of the top evaluators who primarily looked at recruits on the West Coast, is no longer doing this work and there are no ESPN replacements, so our California recruits suffer.

Let's hope Brooke and Kiki prove how wrong they were.