Why college basketball recruits are choosing to stay local

SPRINGFIELD, MA - JANUARY 21: Federal Way Eagles forward Jaden McDaniels (2) during the high school basketball game between the Ranney Panthers and Federal Way Eagles on January 21, 2019 at Blake Arena in Springfield, MA (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SPRINGFIELD, MA - JANUARY 21: Federal Way Eagles forward Jaden McDaniels (2) during the high school basketball game between the Ranney Panthers and Federal Way Eagles on January 21, 2019 at Blake Arena in Springfield, MA (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

More college basketball recruits are choosing to play close to home. We investigate this recent phenomenon and how it’ll affect the 2019-2020 season.

James Wiseman, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, and Nico Mannion were all ranked as top-10 recruits — No. 1, 2, 8 and 9 according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings — in the Class of 2019. They also share something else in common, each one opted to stay home for college and attend the local university.

While they aren’t trendsetters they will be the latest group of high-profile prospects to continue the trend. In the previous two seasons, we saw Trae Young choose to stay in Norman and become a Sooner and Darius Garland (Vanderbilt) and Romeo Langford (Indiana) committed to play their lone NCAA season at in-state schools. Over time, more-and-more of the top players in the country have bypassed playing for the top programs but instead remained home.

This seems likely to have a direct correlation with the “One-and-Done” rule that has taken over college basketball recruiting and the NBA draft since it was instituted in 2005. Players are realizing they are only spending a year at a school and instead of going across the country, if there is an opportunity for them to play at a reputable program that happens to be a few blocks away from where they grew up then why not stick around for a few months longer?

In this era of social media and viral celebrities, the idea of players being their own brands has also taken off. Part of the reason Zion Williamson was a must-see player at Duke was he was already a superstar before he set foot in Durham. His Instagram following was bigger than some professional teams. Viewers were going to watch him regardless of where he attended school but he just happened to help form one of the greatest recruiting classes in the modern era.

Young had the opposite happen to him. He was a notable name and was named to the McDonald’s All-American roster but his explosive freshman season at Oklahoma helped turn him into a national name. His games were featured nearly nightly on ESPN and other highlight shows.

By spurning the blue blood schools of the nation, or being the lone five-star prospect to attend a school, there is more to be earned in terms of fandom, fame, and notoriety.

Edwards is the player to choose the lone wolf route as he will be the sun, the Earth, the moon, and the stars for the Georgia Bulldogs this year. Mannion will pair up with Josh Green in the desert, McDaniels will have Isaiah Stewart as his partner in Washington, and Wiseman is a top member of the nation’s number one recruiting class with the Memphis Tigers.

None of those programs have been powerhouse programs of late but each situation was vastly improved thanks to these premier players choosing to become hometown heroes.

All options are on the table this season as the landscape is wide open in college basketball for the first time in a couple of years.

The Tigers have the top-ranked recruiting class but the last time a program led by a group of freshmen won the NCAA title was in 2015 when Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones led the Blue Devils to the championship. Wiseman has been the clear-cut number one player for the majority of his high school career and the expectations are he has a major impact on the game. Like that Duke team, he has a good supporting class, which also features several Memphis-bred players — if everyone plays their role then Penny Hardaway’s promise of cutting down the nets should come true.

At Washington, McDaniels is actually the second-best incoming freshmen the Huskies signed as Stewart was the third overall recruit in 2019. It’s an unusual spot as often times the prospect elects to stay home is the headliner. There was pressure on him to stay home and now he did will he be overshadowed by a better player? It will be on Mike Hopkins to make sure the hometown kid gets the necessary spotlight to make the community and McDaniels happy.

Lastly, Mannion has been the prince of Arizona ever since he broke onto the scene as a freshman in high school. Getting him to stay home, even with the school being investigated as part of the alleged “pay-to-play” scandal perpetrated by the big shoe companies, was huge for Sean Miller. A former college point guard, Miller is a great tutor for an aspiring NBA player and that is exactly what Mannion is hoping to get done. The Pac 12 has been the ugly duckling in college basketball the past few seasons and if he can lead the Wildcats back to national prominence he will be loved forever.

As long as the rules still require players to spend a year out of high school before being eligible for the draft it is likely this trend of staying home won’t go away. The class of 2019 isn’t the first to do it, but they have the most top-tier talent that elected to take this path. Whatever the outcome is for these four programs could help shape college basketball for the foreseeable future.

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