The one-and-done era has been with us for so long in men’s college basketball, it’s hard to remember any other recruiting era.
It has been 18 years now since the NBA changed its eligibility rules to require, in effect, that prospects spend at least one season after high school playing college basketball before entering the draft. Beginning with the class of 2006, which included the likes of Kevin Durant and Greg Oden, we’ve now seen a total of 1,800 top-100 players make similar decisions.
What would it look like, we wondered, if we ranked the best recruiting programs over that entire 18-year span? The short answer is there are no surprises at the top of these rankings. On the other hand, it’s instructive to measure just how unmistakably the top two programs have separated themselves from the rest of Division I in this one respect.
Of course, there’s a case to be made that the very term “recruiting” has taken on an entirely new and more expansive meaning in the transfer portal era. Many programs now declare an affirmative preference for older and more experienced players who transfer in after one or more seasons in college. Nevertheless, there’s still descriptive value to be gained by measuring the extent to which programs rely on (or aim for) signing top-100 players straight out of high school.
To measure this reliance, we’ll use the “recruiting points” metric developed by Drew Cannon over a decade ago. Cannon has worked as an analytics staffer for the Boston Celtics since 2013. Prior to that, he came up with a sliding 1-10 scale for men’s college basketball recruits that is heavily and appropriately skewed toward the very top of the top 100 high school player rankings.
At a glance, the No. 1 player in the nation is a 10-point signing, while the No. 100 player nets out to one point. But the scale is decidedly front-loaded: No. 10 is equivalent to seven points, No. 25 is five and No. 50 is just three. Cannon’s scale tracks quite well with what we know from experience regarding how well top-100 players perform in their first D-I season. While recruiting evaluations are far from perfect and surprises occur all the time, players at the highest reaches of the top 100 rankings do tend to have the most productive college basketball seasons.
With that in mind, here are the top 20 recruiting programs of the one-and-done era.
Tubby Smith landed Kentucky’s first elite prospect of the one-and-done era when he signed Patrick Patterson in the recruiting class of 2007. Then John Calipari arrived in Lexington in 2009, and what had been a trickle became an absolute flood of talent suiting up annually for the Wildcats.
The entire population of elite recruits that has signed with UK under Calipari is too numerous to catalog comprehensively here, but just to cite a few prominent names in sequence: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Nerlens Noel, Julius Randle, James Young, Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Tyler Herro, P.J. Washington, Tyrese Maxey, TyTy Washington Jr., and Cason Wallace. That’ll do.
Whether by choice or happenstance, Kentucky initially came out of the pandemic being more active in the transfer portal than depending on its normal cycle of straight-from-high-school talent hauls. With his current complement of first-year players, however, Calipari once again has the No. 1 class in the nation.
Mike Krzyzewski didn’t choose the one-and-done route right away, and in fact he won a national title in 2010 with veterans like Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Brian Zoubek.
Speaking of 2010, Kyrie Irving suited up for the Blue Devils that fall. Though Irving played in just 11 games due to an injured toe, his arrival at Duke marked the beginning of a new approach to talent acquisition for Coach K.
You know the rest. Over the past 13 seasons 15 Duke players have become lottery picks after one college season: Irving, Austin Rivers, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, Paolo Banchero and Dereck Lively II. Lively of course played his one season for Scheyer, who now has at least two more players with lottery hopes: Tyrese Proctor and Kyle Filipowski.
See what happened there with the recruiting points earned from 2006 to this fall? In effect, Kentucky and Duke are playing a different talent game in the one-and-done era. From this point on in the rankings, though, we see programs that for the most part are seeking to incorporate elite recruits alongside multiple veterans rather than relying primarily on first-year talent.
To be sure, UNC has been known on occasion to beat UK and Duke at their own game. The 2006 recruiting class — featuring Ty Lawson, Brandan Wright and Wayne Ellington — ranked No. 1 in the nation. More recently the Tar Heels’ 2020 class with Day’Ron Sharpe, Walker Kessler and Caleb Love was notably potent in terms of recruiting rankings. In between those two groups, North Carolina brought in a steady supply of top-25 talent up to and including Ed Davis, Harrison Barnes, Isaiah Hicks, Justin Jackson, Tony Bradley, Nassir Little, Cole Anthony and Armando Bacot.
Jalen Wilson’s slick pass sets up Gradey Dick for a jam
Jalen Wilson drops a nice backdoor pass and Gradey Dick slams it home.
For one moment a decade ago, Bill Self jumped into the bulk-recruiting game with both feet. In the fall of 2013, Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden and Frank Mason III all donned Kansas uniforms that season. Not surprisingly, that class will continue to rank as KU’s most statistically impressive until further notice.
Nevertheless, Self has hardly been sitting on his hands since. Over the past 10 years, Kelly Oubre Jr., Josh Jackson, Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson, Christian Braun, Jalen Wilson and Gradey Dick have all beaten a path to the Jayhawks’ door.
The presence of UCLA this high in the rankings proves one thing. If the program’s name is sufficiently legendary, recruiting excellence can extend more or less uninterrupted across multiple coaching changes. Whether the coach in charge has been Ben Howland, Steve Alford or Mick Cronin, one-and-done-era elite recruits have been more than happy to sign with the Bruins.
Howland got the ball rolling in Westwood with the likes of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Jrue Holiday, Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine — who signed with Howland but never played for him. Alford came next and brought in Kevon Looney, Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, Moses Brown and Jaime Jaquez Jr. — who signed with Alford but never played for him. Cronin is keeping up this same tradition, most recently with his signing of projected 2024 first-round pick Aday Mara.
Questions that were raised about Arizona’s recruiting practices under the Sean Miller regime eventually resulted in Miller relocating to Xavier. By then the Wildcats had long since navigated a messy transition after the Lute Olsen era, all while bringing in recruits like Chase Budinger, Jerryd Bayless, Josiah Turner, Nick Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett, Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Lauri Markkanen, Deandre Ayton, Nico Mannion, Zeke Nnaji, Josh Green, Bennedict Mathurin, Dalen Terry and Azuolas Tubelis.
The Longhorns’ 2006 class with Durant, D.J. Augustin and Damion James still nets out as the program’s single most impressive group statistically, in terms of recruiting rankings. Nevertheless, Texas recruiting has been far more than a one-year phenomenon, as shown by a run of talent including Avery Bradley, Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson, Myck Kabongo, Myles Turner, Jarrett Allen, Mo Bamba and Jaxson Hayes.
In the beginning, it looked like Thad Matta and the Buckeyes might set the pace on this whole one-and-done thing. In the late aughts, Matta sent Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufos and Byron Mullens through to the first round of the NBA draft after one season apiece in Columbus. Subsequent elite recruits included Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, D’Angelo Russell, Malaki Branham and Brice Sensabaugh.
Memphis is lifted statistically by two widely separated eras of excellent recruiting. Back in the John Calipari days, the Tigers landed players like Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans. That level of recruiting resumed under Penny Hardaway with James Wiseman, Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis and Jalen Duren. In between, Josh Pastner put together an impressive 2010 class that included Will Barton and Joe Jackson.
On paper Tom Izzo’s current group of first-year standouts (Coen Carr, Jeremy Fears Jr., and Xavier Booker) ranks second only to his 2016 class (Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward). Then again, from Draymond Green, Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine to Deyonta Davis, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Max Christie, Izzo’s always kept a steady supply of talent coming through the door.
With the Cardinals we encounter our first program in these rankings that hasn’t brought in a single class in the one-and-done era that summed to 20 recruiting points or more. Louisville’s success in getting talent was instead built on a steady flow of recruits like Earl Clark, Samardo Samuels, Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Montrezl Harrell, Gorgui Dieng, Terry Rozier, Jordan Nwora and, perhaps most impressively, Donovan Mitchell.
Winning back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007 and then saying goodbye to all five starters paid big dividends for the Gators on the recruiting trail. The next two classes each ranked in the top five nationally, even if the results didn’t pan out on the floor as well as Billy Donovan may have hoped. Still, any program that claims Bradley Beal, Tre Mann, Scottie Lewis and Andrew Nembhard (who was originally signed by UF before transferring to Gonzaga) is doing something right with its recruiting.
Jim Calhoun’s recruiting success, of course, long predated the one-and-done era, but even within the timeframe we have set here, he landed Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson, Kemba Walker, Alex Oriakhi, Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier. As for current coach Dan Hurley, he has signed two lottery picks so far in James Bouknight and Jordan Hawkins. A third may be forthcoming in 2024 with Stephon Castle.
Naturally Carmelo Anthony predated the “true” one-and-done era, even though he went pro after one season for Jim Boeheim. Anthony doesn’t count in this particular ledger, but a whole host of eventual first-round picks do: Donte Greene, Jonny Flynn, Dion Waiters, Fab Melo, Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis, Chris McCullough, Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon.
Starting with Eric Gordon in 2008, Indiana has never gone more than four years without seeing one of its one-and-done-era recruits drafted in the first round of the NBA. That run includes Jordan Crawford, who started at Indiana in 2007 before being drafted out of Xavier in 2010. Throw in Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh, OG Anunoby, Romeo Langford and Jalen Hood-Schifino and you have yet another example of superb recruiting across multiple coaches (Kelvin Sampson, Tom Crean, Archie Miller and Mike Woodson).
Mobley brothers team up for powerful slam
Isaiah Mobley finds his brother Evan in the paint who then rises up to the rim for a one-handed slam.
If you ranked the top programs in recruiting points over just the last five seasons, Andy Enfield’s team would clock in at No. 4 behind only Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina. Over that five-year span USC has signed Evan Mobley, Onyeka Okongwu, Isaiah Mobley, Vincent Iwuchukwu and, most recently, Isaiah Collier and Bronny James. All of the above were consensus top-25 recruits coming out of high school.
Jay Wright rather famously reacted to his most successful run of recruiting by resolving to change his ways. After signing the nation’s No. 3-ranked recruiting class for 2010-11, he watched his team post a 34-31 record over the ensuing two seasons. Wright then regrouped and focused on signing team players like Ryan Arcidiacono, Kris Jenkins, Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman and Donte DiVincenzo.
Few head coaches have been as steady as Leonard Hamilton when it comes to bringing in a modest yet continuous number of highly-regarded recruits annually. Everyone from Chris Singleton, Malik Beasley, Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac to Mfiondu Kabengele, Devin Vassell, Patrick Williams and Scottie Barnes has embodied and extended this tradition in Tallahassee.
Scott Drew has actually done what all coaches hired into difficult situations talk about doing. Taking over a program that had bottomed out completely, Drew got results on the court first and then was able to translate the wins into excellent recruiting. Jeremy Sochan and Keyonte George have both been drafted no lower than No. 16 in just the last two years.
For a program that didn’t send a recruit to the first round in the one-and-done era until Troy Brown heard his name called in 2018, Oregon has certainly had more than its share of talent. For one thing, Brown’s teammates flooded the second round in 2017, when Jordan Bell, Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks all went between picks 38 and 45. (So too did Houston’s Damyean Dotson, who was originally signed by Oregon.) Brown set an example however, that’s since been followed by fellow first-rounders Payton Pritchard and Chris Duarte.