I'll be the first person to admit that this title is misleading. Obviously, the answer is "no". There are lots of cases - Elena Delle Donne at Delaware and Courtney Paris at Oklahoma stand out - where having one of the most sought-after recruits on your roster didn't guarantee championship success.
But what if you had two players on your roster that were #1 or #2 recruits in some given year? What about *three* such players? Has that ever happened? And if it has happened, did those teams ever hoist an NCAA trophy?
Defining a #1 or #2 recruit
So what do I mean by a #1 or #2 recruit? This would be a player who was either the most (or second-most) recruited player during some given year, a person who won major awards (Gatorade, Naismith) as a prep player and was considered by services that rank players (Blue Star, for example) as either the #1 or #2 overall ranked player in their graduating class.
We are NOT saying that these players were great players in college - we're not using the benefit of hindsight. We are simply saying that they were the top two recruits as high school players.
Determining those #1 and #2 recruits in some years is like nailing yogurt to the wall. In some years, there was no consensus #1 or #2 recruit. In later years, the information was easier to come by in early years, and I'm sure that some of my choices as #1/#2 would be subject to debate. For completeness sake, my list of #1/#2 recruits for the years 1995-2014 follows. If you have a choice that you think is better, you can re-analyze the results that follow for your own picks.
|2014||A'ja Wilson||South Carolina|
|Brianna Turner||Notre Dame|
|Diamond DeShields||North Carolina/?|
|Skylar Diggins||Notre Dame|
|2008||Elene Delle Donne||Delaware|
|Jackie Gemelos||Southern California|
|1997||Nikki Teasley||North Carolina|
|1996||Jamie Walz||Western Kentucky|
So now that we have a list, how well did teams that had these players do? We'll focus on those cases where a college team stockpiled talent. For teams that had exactly two (and only two) players that were ranked either #1 or #2.
There's pretty much a wash here. These teams are 8-7 overall. There was no case where there were two teams in a give year and one team was knocked out by the other team in the tournament.
Were there any cases where there were three players that had been ranked #1 or #2 overall that belonged to the same team? Yes.
|2000-01||Connecticut||(Williams, Cash, Taurasi)||L|
|2001-02||Connecticut||(Williams, Cash, Taurasi)||W|
|2007-08||Connecticut||(Hunter, Charles, Moore)||L|
|2007-08||Tennessee||(Parker, Hornbuckle, Bjorkland)||W|
|2012-13||Connecticut||(Mosqueda-Lewis, Stewart, Jefferson)||W|
|2013-14||Connecticut||(Mosqueda-Lewis, Stewart, Jefferson)||W|
The record isn't much better - 4-2 in championships. Note that the two losses come from a team that has dominated women's basketball - Connecticut. In 2001, a Connecticut team with Tamika Williams, Swin Cash and Diana Taurasi lost to Notre Dame 90-75 in the NCAA semifinals, itself a match of #1 (Connecticut) and #2 (Notre Dame). The Fighting Irish would go on to take the championship in a game where Taurasi went 1-for-15.
The other loss by a Connecticut team with three #1/#2 ranked players came in 2008, when a team with Brittany Hunter (a Duke transfer), Tina Charles and Maya Moore lost 83-72 in the semifinals to Stanford. This killed a possible UConn/Tennessee matchup in the finals, which would have been a matchup of two teams with three #1/#2 players (Candace Parker, Alexis Hornbuckle, and Angie Bjorklund.) Tennessee would beat Stanford for their eighth national championship and their final one (so far).
So the answer to the question, "does having at least two #1/#2 recruits on the roster guarantee a national championship?" must be "no". Three such recruits don't even guarantee a championship! But not so fast. The last two teams to have three #1/#2 recruits were the winners of the last two national championships, the 2012-14 Connecticut Huskies with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson. And for 2014-15 - those same players will be back, and the Huskies will likely claim another championship.
Indeed, the two best known women's basketball programs, Connecticut and Tennessee, have been the best at wrapping up commitments from the top of a given year's recruiting class. From 1998 to the present, the Huskies have had at least one #1/#2 player on their roster, and usually more. This year the Huskies didn't get either of the two top players - A'ja Wilson is heading to South Carolina and Brianna Turner will go to Notre Dame.
Other teams shouldn't feel too bad, though. Since 1995-96, four teams have won the national championship without having either a #1 or a #2 high school prospect on their roster.
But in the end, it's better to have a blue chip stud on your roster than not. Just ask Tennessee and Connecticut.