If there's any area of basketball that might be impervious to any kind of stat-based analysis, it's high school basketball. Pro basketball is the least impervious - most teams are on an equal footing. College basketball is a bit more difficult, with the increasing unlikeliness that the best teams will play each other in a season. How do you determine which team really is the best out of the 345 or so teams?
For high school, magnify that final question several orders of magnitude. In America, high school basketball is a collection of little kingdoms and empires. Once in a blue moon someone hears of great champions and scouts and mavens go to visit these far-off realms and tell tales of a Diamond DeShields or a Kaela Davis, but we must depend on the judgments of a handful of people who might have seen both players play - and likely, not against each other.
Record keeping in high school basketball is spotty at best. Lee Michaelson at Full Court Press writes about the state of high school statistics, particularly at what she calls the "sub-prime" level.
That said, if I were named queen for a day, the first change I would institute would be to make the maintenance of a full box score the norm at the high school level. It amazes me that this is not already the case, but in my daughter’s league, scorers record only personal fouls, timeouts, made field goals and free throws made and missed. And that’s not unique to scoring in her league, or even in the California Interscholastic Federation. Years ago, I was astonished to find a similar absence of meaningful stat-keeping even at the pinnacle of girls’ basketball, the Nike Tournament of Champions.
Michaelson goes on to conclude that if the only thing really being counted is raw point production - not shooting accuracy - then players will continue to make (and miss) shots in volume and coaches will have a hard time remedying what is going wrong.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote about the case of a player who averaged 37 points per game. Unlike the schools that Michaelson visited, this player's high school did keep good statistics. From the stats we learned that she was undersized (5-9) post player (!) who had a shooting percentage of less than 50 percent.
Let's take a look at the physical qualifications for power forwards according to the National Collegiate Scouting Association:
* Should be at least 6'0 (high majors) or at least 5'11 (low majors)
* Should average 12 ppg (high majors) or 9 ppg (low majors)
* Should average 10 rpg (high majors) or 6 rpg (low majors)
* Should be able to play either back to the basket OR facing the basket
* Should have very good rebounding skills
* Low major players should be VERY athletic, and high major players EXTREMELY athletic
* Low major players should be able to run the floor well, and high major players EXTREMELY well
You could disqualify our mystery player above on height alone. She ended up at a low major school, and averaged 8.3 ppg and 5.5 rpg With a 64 percent free throw percentage and only starting 15 out of 31 games in DI last year. It's doubtful that this player will make a national impact over the next three years.
Clearly, it was that 37 points per game that got her noticed. But is there some other way to find the best players out there outside of either looking for players with ridiculous stats or attending every AAU event and subscribing to every scouting service in the country?
I then decided to look at Mystery Player's high school. How well did her high school team do while she was there? Very well, according to MaxPreps.com:
2008-09 - 28-0, state champions
2009-10 - 28-0, state champions
2010-11 - 28-0, state champions
2011-12 - 18-7
Since 2006, our mystery player's high school team has been state champion in her small division five times. That should be getting a look from any college recruiter. Clearly, somebody on that team is good - even if in Mystery Girl's case, there are other issues like height or playing out of position or playing against small schools that complicate things.
Could you find college prospects in high school merely by looking at the team's win-loss record? Unlike other statistics, the win-loss record is the one that drives teams into the post-season. It's the record that's probably going to be the most accurate.
Going back to FullCourt.com, I looked at each of the players on the 2013 Full Court Fresh 50 list. These are players who have all been evaluated by experienced scouts and the overwhelming majority of these players are going to high major schools. So how did their high school teams do? Did they overwhelmingly win state championships? Did they have high win percentages? Did they finish over .500?
One question always leads to another, it seems. As I looked up the team records of each of the players of the Fresh 50 list, I wondered if I would find any anomalies. Is it possible for a blue-chip girls basketball player to play for a bad basketball team - one that finishes at less than .500 on the season?
My tentative answer to this question would be that it is extremely unlikely. Let's assume that a team's wins can be divided up among individual players. How many wins per year would a blue chip high school player earn for her squad? Let's be generous and say that you could attribute ten wins to the presence of a blue chip player in a thirty-win season without any proof. Even if the rest of the squad pales in comparison, the other ten players or so ought to be able to scrape up five wins between them in a thirty-win season. That gets you to a .500 record under minimum circumstances.
This excludes the possibility of good players looking for good schools and transferring, it excludes the factor that a good coach for a blue chip player will raise the level of other players, etc. Undoubtedly, a lot of the great players are discovered in AAU tournaments, which have nothing to do with high school win-loss records. There are tales of great players being on horrible teams, but those appear to be just that - exceptions.
(* * *)
Looking up the winning percentage of the 2013 Full Court Fresh 50 list, you get 4401 wins and 1128 losses for a 79.6 percent winning percentage - this was the winning percentage of the teams for which these Fresh 50 players played. If you limit this list to just the top 25 players, you get an 80.1 percent winning percentage (2244-557). Top 10 players? A 953-235 record, or 80.2 percent.
I'm calling this The Eighty Percent Rule:
1. "If you want to look for good high school basketball players, look at girls high school teams that have won at least 80 percent of their games".
2. After you find these teams, identify the top players on those teams.
3. Exclude players who don't meet the requirements of height, athleticism, or the effective skills needed to play the position you're recruiting for.
What's left over should be a very good pool of players. Mystery Girl above met the first part of the rule - she played for a very good team. She might have also met the second part - who could have been better than she was on that team? It was only the third part that excluded her from the elite pool, as she was undersized for her stated position and a post player that shot under 50 percent.
For the 2012-13 season in MaxPreps, there were 535 high schools that played girls basketball in their database. Removing the ones that didn't play at least 15 games and removing the ones that didn't win at least 80 percent of their games yields this list of 53 high schools.
|Schools Winning over 80 Percent of their Games, Georgia, 2012-13|
|1||North Gwinnett (Suwanee)|
|5||North Cobb (Kennesaw)|
|9||Miller Grove (Lithonia)|
|10||St. Pius X Catholic (Atlanta)|
|14||Redan (Stone Mountain)|
|16||Southwest Atlanta Christian (Atlanta)|
|18||Stephenson (Stone Mountain)|
|30||Tattnall Square Academy (Macon)|
|38||Crisp Academy (Cordele)|
|42||Washington County (Sandersville)|
|46||Cross Creek (Augusta)|
|48||Dawson County (Dawsonville)|
|49||Mary Persons (Forsyth)|
|51||North Oconee (Bogart)|
|55||Cedar Shoals (Athens)|
|59||McIntosh (Peachtree City)|
|63||Chapel Hill (Douglasville)|
|66||Briarwood Academy (Warrenton)|
|74||Bulloch Academy (Statesboro)|
|86||Arlington Christian (Fairburn)|
|88||Effingham County (Springfield)|
|112||South Effingham (Guyton)|
|113||Towns County (Hiawassee)|
|133||George Walton Academy (Monroe)|
|138||Flint River Academy (Woodbury)|
|147||Calvary Day (Savannah)|
|183||Appling Christian Academy (Baxley)|
|199||Citizens Christian Academy (Douglas)|
|294||Oak Mountain Academy (Carrollton)|
(Note that Randolph-Clay is inexplicably listed twice.)
Some of these schools would be pretty well known as power schools in the Georgia prep circuit. St. Pius X. Norcross. Buford. Southwest Atlanta Christian. But some of these other schools should be at least worth looking at. You don't win 80 percent of your games as a high school unless someone is doing something right. The next question is "where are the wins coming from?"
The eighty percent rule isn't a perfect rule. It reduced the number of teams to look at in Georgia from around 530 to somewhere over 50 - it didn't provide a perfect dozen school, much less identify the talented players on them. But if I were looking for Georgia girls hoops talent, I'd look there. Someone has to be doing something right there, and we just have to figure out who it is.