Player Retention and Championships

Bumped. GO BRUINS. -N

In the comment's of bluebland's post on premature departures from the Ben Howland era,  Blue Me made this comment:

One is the recruitment of the "instant impact" type of player, the sure-fire NBA lottery pick. Howland has brought only one of this type of player (Love) during his tenure here, where other elite programs are bringing in this type of player, sometimes 2 or more of them, every year. (Holiday was also supposed to be that type of player, yet turned out to be vastly over-hyped). Guys like Tyreke Evans, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Xavier Henry, Harrison Barnes…just to name a few…are barely giving us a look.

The second issue is the retention of what I call the "NBA fringe" type of player…these are not instant impact players, but are players that with experience and a few collegiate seasons under their belt, can develop into collegiate superstars and work their way into a high 1st round draft pick. We have had several of these during Howland’s tenure. The problem is that these players are leaving before we can get their maximum impact, before they are actually good enough to get us over the hump.

While other elite programs are either attracting the "instant impact" player or retaining the "NBA fringe" type of player longer, we are whiffing at both of these type of players.

I believe this is a spot on assessment. We all know that we haven't been pulling in a ton of impact players (outside of Love), but we have had trouble retaining fringe players as well (Farmar, Afflalo, etc.). This prompted me to do a look back.

The top players recruited in the nation each year can be easily divided into two subcategories:

NBA "Impact" Players - These are the cream of the crop players each year. These are the guy's who everyone sees and knows is going to be playing in the NBA. They're naturally talented and will make an instant impact on the team in the time they play in college, which for most of these players right now, is just one year, occasionally two. They come onto the court playing like seasoned veterans. These guys are universally recruited, and since the one-and-done rule, a good chunk of them are mostly going to college only because they have to. In the past few years, these types include the likes of Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, etc. Almost universally, these guys are drafted high in the draft.

NBA "Fringe" Players - These are guys who are also acknowledged as talented players and are also highly recruited, but not in the same realm as those listed above. These guys can certainly come to dominate the college game, but it often take's them a few years playing in college to get to that level. That's not to say these guy's don't make an impact on the team immediately - but more often than not, they need seasoning and experience. Often times, these players have knocks against them in terms of NBA potential, or size and athleticism. In the past few years, these types include names like Tyler Hansbrough, Luke Harangody, D.J. Augustin, etc. Almost universally, these guys fall in the bottom half of the first round or fall into the second round, unless they orchestrate a great tourney run or have great workouts.

A few caveats:

1) This list does not mean that ALL recruits fit into these two categories. There are certainly other categories of player's in college basketball: the busts (such as Josh McRoberts), and the surprises (such as the Russell Westbrooks). 

2) This division of players is not clear until the player's step onto the court in college. Recruiting is not an exact science - sure, there are player's such as LeBron James that anyone can see and knows that he is on the fast track to being one of the all-time greats. Then there are the great player's that end up sticking around in college, and do eventually do great there, but take it to a whole other level in the pro's, such as Tim Duncan.

3) It is important to remember that the NBA loves drafting on potential - hence the Impact players often get drafted high. But, having a great season often pushes people up - and this applies often to the Fringe players. Unfortunately, there aren't any reliable archives I have found of pre-season draft ranks of players. Anecdotally at least, the team's that win the national championship often see their players drafted higher than they would otherwise. 

4) Finally, keep in mind that when I say Impact/Fringe, this is not based on what they went on to do in the NBA. Instead, this is based on how much of an impact and how fast this impact was given on the team. Hence younger star players tend to be labeled Impact players.

So how has UCLA done with regards to the two categories we listed above, and how do the Bruins compare to the champions of the past? 

First, I will list the year and the national champion. Then I will list the 7 player's with the most minutes played for that team that year, and the year in school those players were. The player type is also added based on the criteria above. Then I will list the draft position they were eventually drafted in and the draft year, and any relevant notes.

2009 - North Carolina
Wayne Ellington - Junior - Fringe - 28th (2009)
Ty Lawson - Junior - Fringe - 18th (2009)
Danny Green - Senior - Fringe - 46th (2009)
Tyler Hansbrough - Senior - Fringe - 13th (2009)
Deon Thompson - Junior - Fringe - Still playing, but as a senior, Fringe is appropriate
Ed Davis - Freshman - Fringe - Still playing but having a good year as a sophomore, so Impact could be proper too
Bobby Frasor - Senior - Fringe - Undrafted (2009)

A quick glance at the team shows that they were almost all heavily recruited players, and certainly talented, but not necessarily wanted by the NBA. In fact, the team was pretty much all Fringe players, with Ed Davis still to be seen. However, it is clear from the team that they had 3 stars in Hansbrough, Lawson, and Ellington, with solid role players in Green, Frasor, Thompson, and a freshman in Davis. Prior to the season, I recall a lot of talk about how Ellington and Lawson weren't 1st round material, but the championship run pushed them to the 1st round. ANd we all know Hansbrough's story - he was the Tim Tebow of college basketball.

Star Players: Lawson, Hansbrough, Ellington
Role Players: Green, Frasor, Thompson, Davis

2008 - Kansas
Mario Chalmers - Junior - Fringe - 34th (2008) 
Brandon Rush - Junior - Impact - 13th (2008) - Returned after an injury the prior post-season, or he would have jumped earlier
Russell Robinson - Senior - Fringe - Undrafted (2008)
Darrell Arthur - Sophomore - Fringe - 27th (2008)
Darnell Jackson - Senior - Fringe - 52nd (2008)
Sherron Collins - Sophomore - Still playing, and now a senior on a team that is likely to go to another Final Four
Sasha Kaun - Senior - Fringe - 56th (2008)

A look at KU shows a lot of also well recruited players, such as Rush, Chalmers, and Arthur. Rush's injury became a blessing in disguise as he didn't get the chance to jump a year earlier, hence I put Rush as a Impact player as he was considered quite draft-able before his injury. However, these star player's numbers were never mind-blowing in college and their championship run boosted a lot of their draft stock higher. We also see some role players in Jackson and Kaun. They also have a young star in Collins, who amazingly enough was convinced to stay around for a senior year after a great sophomore year, and KU looks poised for another run at the Final Four.

Star Players: Rush, Arthur, Chalmers
Role Players: Jackson, Robinson, Kaun, Collins

2006-2007- Florida (the year's will be based on 2007)
Taurean Green - Junior - Fringe - 52nd (2007)
Lee Humphrey - Senior - Fringe - Undrafted (2007)
Corey Brewer - Junior - Impact - 7th (2007)
Al Horford - Junior - Impact - 3rd (2007)
Joakim Noah - Junior - Impact - 9th (2007)
Chris Richard - Senior - Fringe - 41st (2007)
Walter Hodge - Sophomore - Fringe - Undrafted (2009)

Well we know the story with these guys, and they are certainly the exception to the rule. Brewer, Horford, and Noah all could have jumped after winning it all during their sophomore seasons - so they were certainly impact players. However, the team stuck around for another run to repeat and succeeded, which for the most part pushed their stock even higher. 

What's interesting to note is that these same 7 players were the same top 7 in terms of minutes received the prior year. And again, the breakdown is shockingly similar to UNC and KU - three star players (Brewer, Horford, Noah) with some senior role players, and a young player in the rotation.

Star Players: Brewer, Horford, Noah
Role Players: Humphrey, Green, Richard, Hodge

2005 - North Carolina
Raymond Felton - Junior - Impact - 5th (2005)
Sean May - Junior - Impact - 13th (2005)
Jawad Williams - Senior - Fringe - Undrafted (2005)
Rashad McCants - Junior - Fringe - 14th (2005)
Jackie Manuel - Senior - Undrafted (2005)
Marvin Williams - Freshman - Impact- 2nd (2005)
David Noel - Junior - Fringe - 39th (2006)
Melvin Scott - Senior - Fringe - Undrafted (2005)

Note that I listed 8 players, since Noel and Scott had essentially the same amount of time played that year. 

This team was a bit tricky to categorize. Felton and Williams were obvious Impact players - Williams being drafted after 1 year, and Felton having been a Naismith award finalist after his sophomore year. However, May, Felton, and McCants were all Wooden award candidates going into 2004-2005. For me, however, May was a borderline Impact player - he was certainly highly recruited, and got the starting job immediately, but he was not seen as big of an impact player until his 3rd year. What is amazing, however, is that yet again we see a team with impact and fringe players sticking around for more than 2 years. The team is again dominated by a core of stars and some role players, along with a young star thrown in there.

Star Players: Felton, McCants, Williams, May
Role Players: Noel, Scott, Williams, Manuel

2004 - Connecticut
Ben Gordon - Junior - Impact - 3rd (2004)
Taliek Brown - Senior - Fringe - Undrafted (2004)
Emeka Okafor - Junior - Impact - 2nd (2004)
Denham Brown - Sophomore - Fringe - Undrafted (2006)
Rashad Anderson - Sophomore - Fringe - Undrafted (2006)
Josh Boone - Freshman - Fringe - 23rd (2006)
Charlie Villanueva - Freshman - Fringe - 7th (2005)

Wow, what a star studded lineup. Gordon and Okafor were certainly talented and could've been drafted earlier, but their run at a championship solidified a 2-3 position in the draft. But these were the two clear stars. The rest of the players, however, were all fringe players. Villanueva was 7th player drafted the next year largely based on potential, but he along with Boone were mostly role players on this team. Again, these players did develop into greater players, but were not instant-impacts though Boone did  start and play significant time in the championship game. The rest, however, were all Fringe players and largely role players on the team. Again, however, we see that these Fringe players and Impact players were convinced to stick around.
Star Players:  Gordon, Okafor
Role Players:  Boone, Vilanueva, Anderson, Brown, Brown

2003 - Syracuse
Carmelo Anthony - Freshman - Impact - 3rd (2003)
Gerry McNamara - Freshman - Fringe - Undrafted (2006) - Can be classified as Impact based on the contributions he gave his freshman year, but on any other team, he would be considered a Fringe player
Hakim Warrick - Sophomore - Fringe - 19th (2005)
Kueth Duany - Senior - Fringe - Undrafted (2003)
Jeremy McNeil - Senior - Fringe - Undrafted (2003)
Craig Forth - Sophomore - Fringe - Undrafted (2005)
Billy Edelin - Freshman - Fringe - Undrafted (2005)

My first reaction at this roster was... wow, look at all those no-names. Syracuse 2003 was certainly a case where having the right impact young players can take a team to a championship game. In fact, this can be considered a poster-child example for a team with some impact freshmen to win it all. However, this team was almost entirely Fringe players. McNamara made a big impact his freshman year, but he would be classified as a Fringe player on basically any other team. Unlike other team's that have tried the uber-frosh method, such as Memphis with Rose, Carmelo is obviously on a whole other level in terms of talent and skill and the results show.

Star Players: Anthony, McNamara, Warrick
Role Players: McNeil, Forth, Edelin, Duany

2002 - Maryland
Juan Dixon - Senior - Fringe - 17th (2002)
Steve Blake - Junior - Fringe - 38th (2003)
Byron Mouton - Senior - Fringe - Undrafted (2002)
Lonny Baxter - Senior - Fringe - 43rd (2002)
Chris Wilcox - Sophomore - Fringe - 8th (2002)
Drew Nicholas - Junior - Fringe - Undrafted (2003)
Tahj Holden - Junior - Fringe - Undrafted (2003)

On the other end of the spectrum, Maryland is an example of a team full of no-name upper-classmen with no well-known star players that wins it all. However, they were obviously extremely experienced and bought into Gary Williams' system and played up to what potential they had. This is also a case where a successful tourney run puts a lot of players onto the NBA boards where they otherwise would not have (and in typical Clipper fashion, they draft a player way higher than he should be). It is interesting to note though that a star player (Wilcox) is a Sophomore on this team.

Star Players: Dixon, Mouton, Baxter, Wilcox
Role Players: Nicholas, Holden, Blake

2001 - Duke
Shane Battier - Senior - Fringe - 6th (2001)
Jason Williams - Sophomore - Impact - 2nd (2002)
Mike Dunleavy Jr. - Sophomore - Fringe - 3rd (2002)
Nate James - Senior - Fringe - Undrafted (2001)
Chris Duhon - Freshman - Fringe - 39th (2004)
Carlos Boozer - Sophomore - Impact - 34th (2002) - 2nd round?? Oops...
Casey Sanders - Sophomore - Fringe - Undrafted (2003)

Another team with big names, but people forget that many of them became bigger in the NBA than they were in college. Battier is a classic example of a Fringe player - his first two seasons in the NCAA were nothing to write home about, but he took off his 3rd and 4th years to become the star of the team. Williams and Boozer were obvious impact players (still no idea how Boozer fell to the 2nd round) from the get-go. This was a pretty star-studded team with a mix of young impact players and some senior leaders.

Star Players: Battier, Williams, Dunleavy, Boozer
Role Players: James, Duhon, Sanders


So what does this all mean? Well looking at the past 9 champions, we see a pretty obvious trend:


  • 2001 Duke, 2003 Syracuse, and 2006 Florida are the only teams to win where the majority of it's star players were underclassmen. In the case of Duke and Florida, however, they had a few key role players that were upperclassmen. Only Syracuse got by on basically star freshmen and sophomores, but the Carmelo Anthony's come around only once every decade or so.
  • 2002 Maryland is the perfect example of a team of no-namers that has the right combination of age, experience, coaching, leadership and chemistry that gets them to the championship without very much talent.
  • The championship teams these 9 years heavily favor those teams who retained a lot of Impact and Fringe players for 3 years or more. And, if one pays attention to the trend after the one-and-done rule was implemented, we see that they are almost always entirely the same combination of being heavily junior/senior laden with a sprinkle of freshmen and sophomore contributors.

So there may not be a "magical formula" for success at a championship team, but the trend is pretty clear fromabove: counting on uber-freshmen stars to win it all for you has only worked once these past 9 years. The rest of the teams were able to maintain impact AND fringe players for more than 2 years. 

Looking at that, is it any surprise that our best year's came when we were heavy in these fringe players?


So Blue Bland's assertion is correct - we might not be getting the high Impact recruits, but we aren't retaining our Fringe players either, and history suggests that having a lot of Fringe Players with some Impact players in is the likeliest path to success.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see which direction CBH heads. Obviously recruiting great player's will help, but we need to retain them.

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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