The Incredible Derrick Williams and the Curious Case of College Basketball Recruiting

It’s been a while since I’ve used the most cliched title gimmick in blogging. Ahh…feels good.

Before I begin this post, let me state something right off the bat: I’m not going to break any new ground here with my overall point. We all know that recruiting, in both basketball and football and everything else, is an inexact science at best.

The history of big time college sports – where boatloads of time, effort, and money are spent by universities and “gurus” to scout and recruit high school players – is littered with highly ranked players who have flopped and lowly ranked players who have flown to the top. It is what it is and it always will be.

If you’re looking for some kind of profound statement about recruiting, you’re not going to find it here. But, with the furor that my fanbase and I whipped ourselves up into yesterday with the commitment of Jeremy Hollowell (top 40 prospect!) to play his college basketball in Bloomington, I think a quick recruiting reality check is worthwhile.

So here goes: how in the samhell did everyone (but Arizona, obviously) miss on Derrick Williams – who was rated lower than, wait for it…wait for it…Bawa Muniru.

Cue: facepalm.


In case you need a refresher about the great Derrick Williams, who is pushing himself to the top of NBA Draft charts with each scintillating Tournament performance, just look at his exploits against Duke last night:

  • 35 points on 11-17 shooting (including 5-6 from downtown, where he is shooting 60.3% on the year!)
  • 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals
  • Scored the majority of his points in the first half when Arizona was on the ropes before they blew Duke’s doors off in the second half

For the season, Williams is averaging 19.5 points per game, 8.4 rebounds, and his field goal percentage, like his 3-pt percentage, is an other-worldly 60.2%.

Needless to say, he won’t be playing for Arizona next year. He’ll be coming to an NBA city near you.

derrick-williamsGiven the incredible athletic ability, all-around basketball skill, obvious killer instinct, and leadership qualities that he is exhibiting just two years removed from his senior year of high school, you would think that Williams was probably a pretty highly rated player right?


Here is the Rivals Top 150 for the class of 2009. Scroll through there and look for Derrick Williams name. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

He is nowhere to be found. Derrick Williams was nothing more than a 3-star player coming out of high school. In related news, Shelvin Mack of Butler was also a 3-star player.

Here are a few local names you might have heard of who were ranked higher than Williams, and who, theoretically, you would have been more excited about your team signing:

  • Garrick Sherman, Michigan State (#75)
  • D.J. Byrd, Purdue (#102)
  • Derek Elston, Indiana (#103)
  • Bawa Muniru, Indiana (#112)
  • Mike Bruesewitz, Wisconsin (#118)

There are others, but I think the point has been made, and I think it’s a good one to remind ourselves of from time to time.

One reason why I am trying to exercise caution when it comes to Indiana’s impending recruiting classes is that you just never know how good a guy is going to be until he shows up on campus. Just because Jeremy Hollowell is ranked in the top 40 and Ron Patterson isn’t, doesn’t mean that Hollowell will be the better player. Just because Derek Elston was ranked in the top 150 and Derrick Williams wasn’t, doesn’t mean that Arizona got a stiff and Indiana got a future star or even contributor – obviously.

Also, it bears mentioning that on ESPN’s final top 100 list for 2009, Derrick Williams did make it. Granted, he was at #72, behind names such as Christian Watford and Royce White, but it goes to show that in addition to sometimes being inaccurate, recruiting rankings are always fluid. Just because a junior is a top 20 or top 100 player now, doesn’t mean he still will be in a year when he’s a senior. High school kids are growing and maturing rapidly; as athletic ability and physical maturity evens out, it can shuffle up the recruiting lists. Perhaps this is what happened in the case of Williams.

So, to my fellow Indiana fans and to everyone else whose teams are landing commitments from big time recruits: get excited, but maintain perspective. Not only will it make you a smarter and more sane sports fan, but more importantly it will help you to maintain realistic expectations for these 18- and 19-year old kids once they’re on campus.

This is not say that recruiting is irrelevant; no, not at all. College sports are still ruled by recruiting, and always will be. So unless you have a mastermind coach like Brilliant Brad Stevens you have to bring in highly ranked classes consistently to have the horses to win on a yearly basis. But, stories like Derrick Williams’ just go to show that superstars can come from anywhere on a recruiting rankings list – and sometimes even off the list altogether.

About Jerod Morris

I love words. I write for Copyblogger and founded MSF, The Assembly Call, & Primility. I practice yoga, eat well, & strive for balance. I love life. Namaste. Say hi on Twitter, Facebook, & G+.


  1. MidWest Fan says:

    Derrick Williams was a USC recruit before he and two others left for Arizona when the OJ Mayo sanctions hit the program. He was not unknown in LA, just not a realistic recruit as he'd been a Trojan fan since he was a child.

    • Ah, gotcha. Thanks for the insight. That makes some sense. Still, you'd think that considering the skill and athleticism he is showing now, that he'd have been a slam dunk top 10 guy. Just shows that some guys take longer to manifest their true potential.

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