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Does having a #1 or #2 recruit guarantee an NCAA championship?

If a college team has a recruit that was ranked #1 or #2 nationwide as a senior, does that guarantee champion success? Swish Appeal looks at the #1 and #2 recruits since 1994-95 and how well the schools that signed them have done.

Chris Graythen

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
2013 Mercedes Russell Tennessee
Diamond DeShields North Carolina/?
2012 Breanna Stewart Connecticut
Moriah Jefferson Connecticut
2011 Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis Connecticut
Elizabeth Williams Duke
2010 Odyssey Sims Baylor
Chiney Ogwumike Stanford
2009 Brittney Griner Baylor
Skylar Diggins Notre Dame
2008 Elene Delle Donne Delaware
April Sykes Rutgers
2007 Maya Moore Connecticut
Angie Bjorklund Tennessee
2006 Tina Charles Connecticut
Jackie Gemelos Southern California
2005 Courtney Paris Oklahoma
Abby Waner Duke
2004 Candace Parker Tennessee
Alexis Hornbuckle Tennessee
2003 Brittany Hunter Duke/Connecticut
Tiffany Jackson Texas
2002 Ann Strother Connecticut
Seimone Augustus LSU
2001 Shyra Ely Tennessee
Kara Braxton Georgia
2000 Shereka Wright Purdue
Diana Taurasi Connecticut
1999 Nina Smith Wisconsin
Nicole Kaczmarski UCLA
1998 Tamika Williams Connecticut
Swin Cash Connecticut
1997 Nikki Teasley North Carolina
Tamika Catchings Tennessee
1996 Jamie Walz Western Kentucky
Keisha Brown Georgia
1995 Stephanie White Purdue
Chamique Holdsclaw Tennessee

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.

1997-98 Tennessee (Holdsclaw, Catchings) W
1998-99 Connecticut (Williams, Cash) L
1998-99 Tennessee (Holdsclaw, Catchings) L
1999-2000 Connecticut (Williams, Cash) W
2002-03 Connecticut (Taurasi, Strother) W
2003-04 Connecticut (Taurasi, Strother) W
2005-06 Connecticut (Strother, Hunter) L
2005-06 Tennessee (Parker, Hornbuckle) L
2006-07 Connecticut (Hunter, Charles) L
2006-07 Tennessee (Parker, Hornbuckle) W
2008-09 Connecticut (Charles, Moore) W
2009-10 Connecticut (Charles, Moore) W
2010-11 Baylor (Griner, Sims) L
2011-12 Baylor (Griner, Sims) W
2012-13 Baylor (Giner, Sims) L

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.

Notre Dame 2001
Baylor 2005
Maryland 2006
Texas A&M 2011

But in the end, it's better to have a blue chip stud on your roster than not.  Just ask Tennessee and Connecticut.