Following the transfer season very closely over the last half decade oftentimes, I’m struck by how excited fan bases are to get an end-of-bench former 4 or 5-star players. Many times when I look the player up they had a PER under 10 and a true shooting under.500% I’m kind of surprised this is an exciting addition to them.
The fans aren’t alone as I’ve seen some commentators, outlets, fan bases etc weigh these high school ranking from 2 or 3 years ago in some cases more highly than how they have performed on the court itself. While I agree having a nice pedigree coming out of high school is information, it’s near the bottom of important information I would look for when a player has a college resume. For us it’s the cherry on top if a player has been productive/efficient, even in limited minutes. Productivity per possession is key it seems.
If the NBA can have about a 40% bust rate in their top 5 draft picks I know a high school ranking can be wrong. There are millions on the line there and the highest level scouting for years on older more developed players by comparison. With 1700 transfers a year moving every which way obviously there are a lot of wrong assessments in coaching and recruiting.
More information is always better, and it’s true many of these players may only have played small sample sizes. I’ve found studying this when you get around 200 minutes that’s not insignificant. Even then stats at that level like we are talking about, (under 10 PER) vs mostly backups and walk-ons in garbage time it’s a redflag, especially if they shot reasonably well or over a .500 true shooting. That is the more noisy part.
What we will do in this study is take a look at some of the highest-ranking players of the last five years that were not big contributors at their first school and had very poor statistics and subsequently transferred. We will use this information to try to understand how their career played out and help inform our opinions. Hopefully, this continues to help develop our rankings so that we can continue to project the average outcome better for players that fall into this category.
Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI) Rankings
We’ll be using the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI) Rankings. From basketball reference for our exercise. We will be focusing on players that had under a 10 PER when they transferred from their first school as the cut-off. If you have above a 10 PER and were in the rotation that’s not the kinds of player we are referring to. Those have shown playable form. We choose the consensus top 100 players from the five classes between 2016-2020 classes. Those players have completed or are well into their careers at this point. It also coincided with the portal and free coivd year so many played 5 seasons giving even more information.
We identified 28 players in total. Eight players had varying levels of “success”, and 20 were what we’d classify as unsuccessful. I’ve listed them so you can judge how successful or unsuccessful you think they were for yourself.
|16||Bryan Antoine||Villanova, Radford||2019|
|28||Devin Askew||Kentucky, Texas, California||2020|
|39||Makai Ashton-Langford||Providence, Boston College||2017|
|42||Emmanuel Akot||Arizona, Boise State, Western Kentucky||2017|
|44||Gerald Liddell||Texas, Alabama State, Detroit||2018|
|55||Kamaka Hepa||Texas, Hawaii||2018|
|58||Casey Morsell||Virginia, NC State||2019|
|66||Donovan “Trey” Williams||Texas, UNLV||2019|
Never Found Much Success
|35||Mark “Rocket” Watts||Michigan State, Mississippi State, Oakland||2019|
|35||Brandon Randolph||Xavier, Utah Valley||2017|
|36||Taeshon Cherry||Arizona State, Grand Canyon||2018|
|38||Shareef O’Neal||UCLA, LSU||2018|
|39||Sam Cunliffe||Arizona State, Kansas, Evansville||2016|
|40||Seventh Woods||UNC, South Carolina, Morgan State||2016|
|43||Elijah Weaver||USC, Dayton, Chicago State||2018|
|47||Alonzo Gaffney||Ohio State, Arizona State||2019|
|49||Aidan Igiehon||Louisville, Grand Canyon||2019|
|52||Jalen Carey||Syracuse, Rhode Island||2018|
|61||Isaiah Washington||Penn State, Quinnipiac||2017|
|62||K.K. Robinson||Arkansas, Texas A&M||2020|
|68||Luther Muhammad||Ohio State, Arizona State||2018|
|68||JJ Caldwell||Texas A&M, New Mexico||2016|
|77||Zeb Jackson||Michigan, VCU||2020|
|77||Sidney Wilson||UConn, SIU-Edwardsville||2017|
|81||Khristian Lander||Indiana, Western Kentucky||2020|
|93||Chol Marial||Maryland, Oregon State||2019|
|98||Jethro Tshisumpa||Arizona State, Texas Southern||2016|
|99||Hameir Wright||Washington, North Texas||2017|
The most successful case we found is of Donovan Williams. He had a 6 PER in nearly 500 minutes at Texas but transferred to still a high level MWC played very well (in lower minutes still) but had a 2 game cup of coffee this year in the NBA.
The other successes are more debatable. Bryan Antoine averaged 11ppg on a 20 PER, but he was playing in the Big South. Gerald Liddell transferred from Texas to the SWAC where he initially still wasn’t good averaging 10ppg with a 14.4 PER at Alabama State. He transferred to Detroit Mercy this season and was very good in year 5 though. A normal career that doesn’t even happen. Devin Askew was one of the only ones to average 15ppg at in a power conference, but it was only in 13 games and for a bad team at Cal. He wasn’t very efficient (15.0 PER, .49% True Shooting).
Some of these success I have given credit for are still debatable how successful they are. I would say these were role player level players on above average teams out side of Williams and Makai Ashton-Langford . Even Williams only played 22 minutes a game. Unless we missed someone no one were really stars, all conference etc. Even a player like Emmanuel Akot I counted because he was a solid role player at Boise, had a very underwhelming 5th covid senior year. 10ppg .499 True shooting, 12 PER, on a below average Western Kentucky for example. Most of these guys weren’t 1st option type of players.
The players that were not successful or almost unplayable are far more extensive. Many times even transferring to lower levels didn’t do much for their career. Seventh Woods played in the national championship game as a freshman at UNC and got a ring, and averaged 4.7ppg as a 6th year senior at Morgan State. Mark “Rocket” Watts for example was very similar efficiency and shooting at Oakland as in the SEC and Big Ten. Isaiah Washington, Jethro Tshisumpa, Aidan Igiehon etc.
I think it’s safe to assume by the evidence, that players that don’t perform well, even in limited minutes will most likely struggle to find success at other schools regardless of what they were ranked. Even with the successes, several had to drop to some of the lowest levels of college basketball to finally find a staring, or even starting role in many cases. Even of the “success” nearly all of them were only role players on solid teams.
Anytime you see one of these examples of a player that was an end of the bench former 4 or 5 star player with an under 10 PER player you should probably be skeptical of the ceiling. Maybe we missed a couple of examples but it seems it’s far more likely they do not live up to the high school recruiting grade which isn’t their fault. That’s even with the natural progression of players improving over time and most of these players having 5 years to improve. The expectations should be managed.