One of my pastimes is to read about college basketball recruiting. I like to learn as much about the details of recruiting players as possible – when they can receive calls, how many offers a five-star recruit can expect to get, etc. There are great sites like recruiting-101.com that can give the casual reader an insight into the recruiting world.
On one of these sites – unfortunately, I can’t remember which so I have no link – there was an admonition to future players that if players are choosing a school for basketball, players should play for coaches that will give them opportunities to play as freshmen.
To the individual player, the reason being was that if you (the player being addressed) know you’re going to be stuck behind someone in the rotation and that you’re only going to see limited time on the court at best, then imagine getting the chance for significant time in your sophomore year but in the first game you suffer a significant, career-ending injury. It’s not merely that your career is over, it’s also that you’ve basically thrown away a year that you could have been playing at some other school. Or, a year that you could have devoted to academics.
The philosophy espoused was that an athlete only gets to play a certain number of games – so play them. You never know when it will all be over. As said above, you’re not looking for a guarantee, you’re looking for the chance to earn the opportunity to play. You don’t want to go to a school where you’re not going to get that opportunity.
This led me to think about which schools during the 2012-13 season which gave the most minutes to freshmen out of the power conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, old/new Big East/AAC, Pac-12, SEC). I calculated an average minutes per freshman players at these schools using the data from wbbstate.com.
The list below is being reproduced for 2012-13 for these schools. Out of the 83 schools, we will remove the 24 schools from the list which only have 0 (California), 1, or 2 freshmen players getting minutes. The schools on the list which follows had at least three freshmen which clocked minutes.
Avg Min of School Freshmen Stanford 1.56 Michigan State 2.44 Iowa 3.20 DePaul 5.09 Seton Hall 5.11 Oklahoma 6.01 West Virginia 6.40 Butler 7.42 Arizona 7.77 Villanova 7.84 St. John’s 7.87 Georgetown 8.33 Baylor 8.49 Rutgers 9.27 Miami (FL) 9.38 Utah 9.47 Purdue 10.05 North Carolina 10.19 Missouri 10.34 Cincinnati 10.42 South Florida 10.62 Oregon 10.68 Colorado 10.71 Vanderbilt 11.28 Georgia Tech 11.46 Temple 12.20 UCLA 12.26 Southern California 12.40 Kansas State 12.41 Southern Methodist 12.58 North Carolina State 12.60 Pittsburgh 12.64 Wisconsin 12.87 Washington State 13.05 Iowa State 13.42 Georgia 13.43 Auburn 13.54 Minnesota 13.59 Tennessee 13.64 Louisiana State 13.85 Texas A&M;13.96 Virginia Tech 14.35 Northwestern 14.57 Arizona State 14.58 South Carolina 14.65 Memphis 14.72 Notre Dame 14.86 Clemson 15.47 Xavier 15.69 Houston 16.19 Syracuse 16.26 Oregon State 16.91 Washington 17.25 Connecticut 17.82 Florida 18.51 Texas Christian 20.56 Texas 21.22 Maryland 22.30
As you can see, there’s a large variance. The three freshmen at Stanford played very little. The three freshmen at Maryland, on the other hand, seemed to earn ample time.
Why is that? The question then becomes one of interpretation. There are lots of reasons a team might not play freshmen very much.
1. The philosophy of the coach might be that freshmen shouldn’t play, and minutes are artificially limited. If the coach isn’t going to put freshmen on the floor regardless of how good they are, this will skew the numbers.
2. The freshmen might not be very good. This might be a good way to gauge recruiting success – when you put your freshmen on the floor, how good are they? Did Seton Hall’s freshmen not play because Anne Donovan decided not to play them, or because it turned out that when she signed them they really weren’t good enough to contribute yet.
This almost begs another question – should we really expect freshmen to play? I once asked Fred Williams about the basketball knowledge of WNBA players and he stated that players still have gaps in what they should know even after eight-plus years of organized basketball. How much does a freshman learn in those four years, and are they that much worse in Year 1 than they are in Year 4, so much worse that they should only be given brief opportunities to participate?
Those rhetorical questions will have to wait for answers. Next year, we’ll see if these numbers change.