What can we make of Shaka’s recruiting to date?

(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

It’s been just over 17 months since Shaka Smart became Marquette’s head coach, and in that time he has locked up 3 full recruiting classes for 2021, 2022 and 2023.

While we only have 30+ games worth of data, and results are still TBD long term, it isn’t too early to make some pretty broad generalizations about Shaka’s recruiting philosophy.

He is who he said he was.

In a must-read profile from the Athletic last October, Shaka laid bare exactly what he wanted to do at Marquette.

“Some internal acknowledgement occurred before he even had the job, which partly explains why he pursued it. During the interview process, one inquiry from Smart intrigued athletic director Bill Scholl above all, such that Scholl still recalls it six months down the line: The prospective coach described the sort of player he wanted to recruit to Marquette, and he wanted to make sure his potential future bosses were comfortable with that profile. “And he said, it’s maybe not always a five-star guy, and he wanted to make sure we were supportive of that,” Scholl says now. “The goal of winning at the highest level is still there, but I think he’s a believer that that doesn’t mean you need five five-star guys in your lineup.””

Hamilton continued with the most important paragraph of Shaka’s tenure to date:

“Essentially, Smart has permission to be discerning, instead of battling against the pressure to impress in talent acquisition. That’s what he was after when he sought clarity from Scholl on the path forward. That was self-awareness taking over. Smart is quite simply best equipped to coach players with some natural serration, who have the requisite ability but who also might not be gem-mint out of the packaging. Those are the kinds of players who don’t believe they have it all figured out, who will execute a system predicated on pressure and energy most effectively because they’re more than willing to do so. And those are the kinds of players who will stick around long enough to benefit from Smart’s brand of relationship-building — which, in a perfect world, translates to performance on the floor.”

I think it’s fairly straightforward, but to put even more concisely, Smart wanted to build a program based on multi-year players growing, not quick fixes, and wanted to make sure Scholl was on board before agreeing to take the job.

That doesn’t seem too strange or offensive on its face, but if you can find me another high major D1 coach who explicitly swears off high end talent as a prerequisite to landing a job, it will be the first time. This game is all about amassing as much talent as possible (maybe while limiting headcases and hellish handlers).

With 3 full classes in the bag, it’s time to see what that theory looks like in practice.

Out of the 11 high school players committed, only Stevie Mitchell and Tre Norman have been hailed as consensus top-100 recruits, with Norman being a very late riser, not appearing in the top-200 in the March composite rankings. This is also giving Ben Gold the benefit of the doubt, because of the 4 major recruiting sites, only 247 rated him at all, meaning he didn’t even get a composite ranking.

The average Shaka Smart recruit has then been ranked outside the top-140.

Now to put that into context, let’s see what former coach Steve Wojciechowski’s first 3 classes looked like:

Out of the 9 high-school players Wojo brought in, 6 were top-100 players and 5 were better rated than Shaka’s best-rated recruit to date. This isn’t a case of Henry Ellenson’s top-10 status tilting the scale, the median recruit was ranked 83rd in the composite, 8 spots higher than the average. 

Of course, the point of this exercise isn’t to fall back in a Wojo trap, goodness knows I do that enough on Twitter, but to emphasize that Shaka Smart is building his program exactly the way he promised he would, with talent that will take a few years to reach full potential.

And in case you were curious, this is what Shaka’s recruiting looked like in his first 3 classes at Texas:

The differences couldn’t be more stark and it has nothing to do with Shaka forgetting how to recruit or Marquette not having Texas’ cache. It is by design.

Now, rankings are not necessarily indicative of college success outside the top 15 or so players. They are simply guideposts for gauging what might be expected. So I’m not here to say it would be better to get higher rated players as a foundation.

And to state the obvious, this isn’t meant to be a qualitative analysis. We only have a very limited sample of one year of results and half of these players have never even played in a game. It’s too soon to say whether this strategy is good or bad.

Marquette has been mentioned with some higher rated 2024 players, which would jive with the strategy to establish a foundation of 3 or 4 year players and then sprinkle in upper echelon talent as needed, but being listed as having interest and actually landing players are very different things.

For now, it is enough to state Shaka Smart has brought in his type of player by design, just as he told us he would last October.

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Categories: Recruiting

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