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Exploring the Recruiting Landscape: California

We take a look at the State of California from 2003 to 2019 in terms of recruiting, the prospects it has produced, where they have played college ball, and which cities and high schools have nurtured the best young talent across the state.

Russell White/Daily Bruin

Just when you thought Duke couldn’t get a better class than they already had, Cassius Stanley made his announcement. He, out of the very own Sierra Canyon HS, will be a Blue Devil for at least a year before turning pro, playing in Durham during the 2020 collegiate season.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, given that Stanley is considered a Top-30 player (No. 29 per 247Sports Composite) among his peers and Duke is, well, let’s say some college that tends to do well in this recruiting thing.

What is not a surprise either is the fact that another kid from Cali is bolting to play out of the state. The past five recruiting cycles (2015 to 2019) have seen the Golden State produce 23 Top-50 players including LaMelo Ball, whose NCAA eligibility is still up in the air and he may never make the D-I ranks. Every one of those 23 players was either a 4- or 5-star recruit. The sad news for the state and its colleges is that only 11 of those 23 remained within California’s borders.

The breakdown of those who stayed goes as follows:

  • The University of California got one recruit, Ivan Rabb (No. 3 in 2015) and had him on the roster for two seasons before he turned pro.
  • Stanford was able to get No. 42 KZ Okpala in 2017, and he was part of the Cardinal for two seasons, with him entering the NBA draft this summer.
  • UCLA is the most successful of Cali’s colleges when convincing recruits to remain in-state. The Bruins have been able to get six Top-50 players to come out of high schools across the state during the past five seasons. Led by Lonzo Ball (No. 3 in 2016), they also were able to grab No. 18 TJ Leaf (2016), No. 22 Jaylen Hands (2017), No. 41 Shareef O’Neal (2018), No. 46 Ike Anigbogu (2016) and No. 48 Cody Riley (2017) during that span.
  • USC trails only UCLA with three recruits of their own. The Trojans’ best Cali-bred prospects are part of the 2019 class. They are No. 16 Isaiah Mobley and No. 20 Onyeka Okongwu. They were also able to land 2015 No. 38 Chimezie Metu.

While 11 of 23 (22 if we don’t count LaMelo) is not bad, it also means half the best recruits to come out of California left the state for other colleges.

It must be said, though, that of the 5-star players in the group of 23 (10 of them), six players remained in-state. Only three left for UNLV, Duke and Nevada, while LaMelo would be expected to get out of California too had he the chance to pick a college himself.

Casey Sapio/USA TODAY Sports

Let’s expand our sample a little by taking an overall look at every prospect to play high school ball in California since 2003 not taking rankings, stars, etc into account (I only limited my search to the Top 500 prospects in each year’s class). My database has 743 such recruits among the 8643 total players to feature on the classes ranging from 2003 to 2019. That means 8.5 percent of the recruits ranked among the Top-500 for the last 17 years have been nurtured in California high schools, the highest number in all of the nation (Texas is second with 695 players and Florida third with 546).

Here are the 10-best recruits from California, years 2003-2019. Those in bold remained in-state:

  • PG | Jrue Holiday | 2008 No. 3 | UCLA
  • SF | Aaron Gordon | 2013 No. 3 | Arizona
  • SG | Stanley Johnson | 2014 No. 3 | Arizona
  • PG | Lonzo Ball | 2016 No. 3 | UCLA
  • SG | DeMar DeRozan | 2008 No. 6 | USC
  • SF | Chase Budinger | 2006 No. 6 | Arizona
  • PF | Ivan Rabb | 2015 No. 7 | California
  • SF | Jordan Hamilton | 2009 No. 7 | Texas
  • C | Enes Kanter | 2010 No. 8 | Kentucky
  • PF | Leon Powe | 2003 No. 8 | California

Half remained, half flew away. Three were pre-2010 recruits, two post-2010. Of those that pursued collegiate careers out of California’s colleges, there is most of a present-day trend that guys from the mid-early aughts.

Arizona is a constant threat for California’s colleges, and that is something that has happened since 2003 and is still a trend. Not only did Gordon, Johnson, and Budinger leave Cali for Zona, but some more top-tier prospects and good-to-be college players and pros also took the same path, such as Solomon Hill, Derrick Williams, and Grant Jerrett. Another schools to have poached talent from California are mostly Oregon and Oregon State (33 players between them, the best being Jabari Brown), Washington and Washington State (19 players in total, led by Klay Thompson), and Arizona State (13 players, highlighted by James Harden).

And what about the prototypical player California produces? Well, in terms of position, here is the breakdown:

  • Point Guards: 173 players (Top-3: Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Josiah Turner)
  • Shooting Guards: 185 (Stanley Johnson, DeMar DeRozan, Michael Snaer)
  • Small Forwards: 145 (Aaron Gordon, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hamilton)
  • Power Forwards: 170 Players (Ivan Rabb, Leon Powe, Renardo Sidney)
  • Centers: 70 (Enes Kanter, Onyeka Okongwu, Robin Lopez)

By the look of things, the distribution is actually very even and there is not one position getting way ahead of the rest. Only the centers lack in number, although that is not surprising considering not many players come out of high school with that label attached to them. Without a doubt, though, the best players Cali has produced (both as prospects and then pros) are those slotted in guard positions.

To round things up, let’s take a look at how different high schools across the state have done while producing basketball talent. The school with the most prospects to their name is, as could be expected, Mater Dei (Santa Ana) with 25 players, the best of them 2014 No. 3 Stanley Johnson. Following it are a couple of Los Angeles’ high schools: Fairfax Senior with 15 (led by 2009 No. 8 Renardo Sidney) and Westchester Senior with 12 (its highest rated being 2003 No. 20 Trevor Ariza).

In terms of actual cities, Los Angeles is resoundingly leading the pack having produced 93 prospects, followed by Santa Ana (27), San Diego (23), Oakland (21), and Sacramento (20). Things take another shape if considering the level of those talents, though. While LA has the most kids to its name, the city’s best prospect ever by rank was 2009 No. 8 Renardo Sidney.

Looking at the full body of 743 Cali prospects, and judging by 247Sports Composite ranking average ratings (they average multiple rankings to give each prospect a number that tops at 1 for a consensus No. 1 nationally ranked prospect among the different scouting services considered), the best kid to ever learn the game in California belongs to Campbell Hall School, in Valley Village. He’s no other than 2008 No. 3 Jrue Holiday (average of 0.9991 out of 1), and he played ball for UCLA.