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Exploring the Recruiting Landscape: Florida

We take a look at the state of Florida 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.

Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to talent production, two cities have their names stitched in golden threads on Florida’s prep school ranks. Those would be, in case you’re not familiar with the context we move in, Montverde and Bradenton. The first one gives name to the school it hosts since 1912 (Montverde Academy), while the latter makes home to IMG Academy, founded less than 20 years ago in 2002. Between them, they account for more than 10% of the basketball recruits produced on Florida’s soil. The 90% of players left were spread over 285+ other high schools. Talk about disparity.

On this third installment on the ongoing “Exploring the Recruiting Landscape” and after having looked at California and Texas, I move to the Sunshine State. With such a powerhouse as Montverde being part of the state, it wasn’t hard to think of its marquee best-ever recruit. A few names come to mind, most of them from late years, and although the battle between RJ Barrett (2018 No. 1) and Ben Simmons (2015 No. 1) is as close as it gets, only RJ was a consensus No. 1 prospect by every recruiting service in the nation.

Actually, of the Top-50 best-ranked prospects on average by multiple services since 2003, Florida has produced five of them. Under Barrett and Simmons, we find the names of Austin Rivers (2011 No. 2), Nassir Little (2018 No. 3) and Vernon Carey (2019 No. 4). Not bad at all. The real problem for Florida, though, is that all five of them packed their bags and went to play college ball away from the peninsula as we will see in greater detail later.

Keeping with the format I followed during the first couple of articles, let’s start by taking a look at the last five years in terms of talent production to see how Florida has fared. First things first, I took every player from my database to play high school ball in FL from 2015 to 2019, of which there are 183 kids to work with. If we narrow the list to only those among the Top-50 players of their respective classes, we get 27 players, four more than those produced by the states of California and Texas. Of the 27, a staggering number of 17 were 5-star recruits and the rest 4-star prospects. What is a little depressing is the fact that, of the full group of 27 kids, only three of them picked a Florida-based college to play at the next level.

This is the breakdown of the colleges with players who opted to stay (no ranking limits applied now), among the 183 produced from 2015 to 2019, of which there are only a total of 27 occurrences:

  • The most successful school at keeping talent in-state during this five-year period has been Florida State, getting eight players to the Seminoles campus. The best name on the list is Jonathan Isaac, ranked No. 8 in the 2016 class. Far from him, there are another two players that ranked inside the Top-100 of their classes, Balsa Koprivica (2019 No. 58) and Trent Forrest (2016 No. 70). No more kids ranked 100 or better in the span.
  • Of course, on Florida State’s heels is the very own Florida with seven guys signing to play for the Gators during the period. In their case, there are two Top-50 players on the list and both of them belong to the 2019 class: No. 25 Tre Mann and No. 42 Omar Payne. No other of the 27 kids that picked a Florida-based college since 2015 elected to go play for Florida from 2016 (excluded) on, though.
  • The third college with most in-state recruits to its name is UCF. Although they have not been able to get any top-tier prospect recently (nor historically) they were able to snatch one-of-a-kind Tacko Fall (2015 No. 142) from other colleges around the state.
  • Miami’s success is great yet maybe too short. They only awarded scholarships to three FL-based players although all of them inside the Top-150 of their classes. They also can boast about having got the only one of the FL-nurtured kids to pick a Florida-based college to feature in the MCDAAG, as they signed Dewan Hernandez (formerly Dewan Huell) in 2016 as the No. 27 player of the class.
  • On a two-way tie with two recruits each, Florida Atlantic and Florida Gulf Coast close the file. None of them are factors in Florida’s recruiting landscape and the best they have done came in 2018 when Florida Gulf Coast got word from No. 328 Zach Scott.

That is what Florida has to offer to in-state kids and barring Florida State and Florida there is no one else to be considered a constant threat to the rest of schools around the state. Yes, colleges as Miami and UCF have been able to either get good-level guys and a good bunch of kids overall, but they have yet to cause panic on the other two.

As you can see, a lot of players leave Florida for other courts, and the best prospects from the Sunshine State don’t seem to find its coasts and sunny weather that appealing.

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Now let the fun begin! How? Easy, removing filters from our data set. I’m only restricting results to cover kids coming from Florida-based high schools from 2003 to 2019. Of the total 12,129 players in the database, 759 fit the bill. That is, 759 recruits played high school ball in Florida during this 17-year period, amounting for 6.25 percent of the total in that time span.

Up next, the 10-best prospects to get themselves ready for the next level in Florida prep schools since 2003. As always, those in bold remained playing ball in-state:

  • SG | RJ Barrett | 2018 No. 1 | Duke
  • SF | Ben Simmons | 2015 No. 1 | LSU
  • PG | Austin Rivers | 2011 No. 2 | Duke
  • SF | Nassir Little | 2018 No. 3 | North Carolina
  • C | Vernon Carey | 2019 No. 4 | Duke
  • PF | John Henson | 2009 No. 5 | North Carolina
  • PG | Brandon Knight | 2010 No. 5 | Kentucky
  • PG | Trevon Duval | 2017 No. 6 | Duke
  • PF | Chris Walker | 2013 No. 7 | Florida
  • SF | Jonathan Isaac | 2016 No. 8 | Florida State

If you felt for Texas losing almost all of its talent to off-state schools, hold tight because Florida is in an even worse position. Of the considered 10-best recruits from the Sunshine State, only two of them remained in Florida. While Chris Walker is fighting through the pro ranks of the G-League trying to make it to the NBA, Jonathan Isaac was selected in the 2017 draft and is already a big part of the Orlando Magic’s future.

What first pops out of that list is how Duke features on a consistent basis in it. The Blue Devils have been able to poach a lot of talent from Florida, including four of the best eight prospects to ever (since 2003 at least) come out of FL, including a nationally ranked No. 1 prospect in RJ Barrett in 2018.

Something similar happens with North Carolina, LSU, and Kentucky, although those two latter trends don’t show in the list. In any case, all of the blue-bloods from outside Florida have aimed at top talent and got top-tier prospects to play for them yearly.

Keeping with the last section and talking about outside threats to Florida’s nurtured talent, there are a few names to explore that have gotten recruits from FL. Already introduced is Duke. The Blue Devils only have six players signed from Florida high schools since 2003, but four of them were Top-6 prospects while the other two were as important for the college as those four no matter their ranking, becoming four-year seniors at Duke. They were 2014 No. 26 Grayson Allen and 2015 No. 203 Antonio Vrankovic.

North Carolina has also been able to get six kids from Florida, and although they never landed a No. 1 from the state, the average ranking of those six players comes at No. 24. Actually, the worst-ranked prospect they went to Florida for was 2012 No. 61 Joel James, who also became a senior at Chapel Hill and although he went undrafted in 2016, is making a pro career in the Japanese leagues. Kentucky is another six-kid college, with an average rank of No. 163 among those who went to play for the Wildcats.

Both Kansas and LSU were able to get five players from Florida. LSU’s biggest coup was Ben Simmons, an almost-consensus No. 1 in the 2015 class and already one of the brightest young NBA players around. Kansas, although unable to get any Top-10 player from Florida, have more than interesting names to claim as successful recruiting stories in those of Joel Embiid (2013 No. 14) and Udoka Azubuike (2016 No. 33).

When looking exclusively at colleges from Florida, the recruiting file from 2003 to 2019 shows the following results (no restrictions applied to the data set, only featuring prospects from Florida high schools):

  • Florida: 31 total recruits from FL (5 five-star prospects)
  • UCF: 20
  • Florida State: 17 (2 five-stars)
  • Stetson: 15
  • USF: 13
  • Florida Atlantic: 12
  • Florida Gulf Coast: 12
  • Miami: 11 (1 five-star)

Obviously, the fact that colleges as Stetson or USF rank over others like Miami doesn’t mean they have gotten better players, only more. In fact, if we rank FL-colleges by the average ranking of the prospects they have kept in-state playing for them, the list changes and shows Florida State (average recruit-rank of 112) followed by Miami (117) and Florida (129).

All in all, and considering smaller colleges that don’t show in the list, the total number of recruits from FL high schools to opt to remain playing college ball in-state goes up to 154. Given that there are 712 kids from FL, that yields a 22 percent ratio of recruits remaining in their home state of Florida.

In a complete contrast to what happened with Texas-developed prospects, those from Florida don’t seem to avoid college and go the professional-route early upon finishing their high school years. In fact, of all of the FL-based prospects in the data set, only one Top-100 player never made it to the NCAA. We’re talking about 2018 No. 8 Anfernee Simons. The kid played high school ball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, and at the end of his fifth prep-season (he reclassified, thus played that extra year) he declared for the NBA draft skipping college altogether. He became a Portland Trailblazer and the first American to be drafted straight out of high school since the NBA banned the prep-to-pro path back in 2005.

Flipping the page and moving onto the average type of player Florida produces, in terms of their position, here is the breakdown since 2003:

  • Point Guards: 149 players (Top-3: Austin Rivers, Brandon Knight, Trevon Duval)
  • Combo Guards: 10 (Anfernee Simons, Elijah Weaver, Harlond Beverly)
  • Shooting Guards: 169 (RJ Barrett, Kenny Boynton, Antonio Blakeney)
  • Small Forwards: 132 (Ben Simmons, Nassir Little, Jonathan Isaac)
  • Power Forwards: 212 (John Henson, Chris Walker, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl)
  • Centers: 87 (Vernon Carey, Fab Melo, Joel Embiid)

Although the power forwards dominate the ranking with 20 extra players over the second-most produced position, the best players to ever come out of Florida in terms of pro potential have probably been those slotted at the small forward position. Not only do the three best prospects for the group have turned into great young players lately, but there are more that didn’t make the cut as good or better than them (Kevin Knox and Chandler Parsons, among others).

To keep finding insights into the data I turned to search for the most productive cities and high schools in the Sunshine State to see where around the peninsula things have been happening.

I already spoiled you about what is next at the start of the article. Yes, I’m talking about the separation between Montverde and IMG Academy and the rest of the field of high schools around Florida. Montverde Academy has produced 52 recruits since 2003 (led by RJ Barret and Ben Simmons) and IMG Academy has nurtured the talents of 44 prospects (the best being Trevon Duval). It must be acknowledged though, that IMG has gotten to that number while being established in 2002 and thus having a lesser reputation than that of Montverde.

After those two, Arlington Country Day School in Jacksonville has produced 23 prospects (including 2009 No. 19 Wally Judge) while Oldsmar Christian School has 18 kids to their name (with 2016 No. 140 Eric Hester as the best one). Winter Park (2011 No. 2 Austin Rivers) and Orlando Christian Prep (2018 No. 3 Nassir Little) join Montverde as the high schools to ever produce a national Top-3 prospect from Florida.

In terms of cities, there is not a single one clearly ahead of the pack. Fort Lauderdale has produced a total of 65 recruits, followed by Orlando (61), Jacksonville (59), Bradenton (58), Montverde (55) and Miami (52). There is quite a jump to the next one, Tampa, with 32. The best kid to play in Fort Lauderdale other than Vernon Carey was Brandon Knight (2010 No. 5).

Bradley Beal

To round things out, I filtered the database entries to see only recruits that went on to play for Florida-based colleges. I left prospects from Florida high schools among those fetched, so I could see if they were part of the best groups of talent to go play NCAA ball in Florida’s top colleges or if the latter ones were successfully poaching talent from anywhere else. These are the five-best recruits that fit those requirements and the college they picked (in-state prospects highlighted in bold):

  • SG | Bradley Beal | 2011 No. 4 | Florida (from Saint Louis, MO)
  • PF | Chris Walker | 2013 No. 7 | Florida
  • SF | Jonathan Isaac | 2016 No. 8 | Florida State
  • PG | Kasey Hill | 2013 No. 8 | Florida
  • PG | Nick Calathes | 2007 No. 8 | Florida

Of course, it is Bradley Beal, and of course, he’s more than a bit ahead of Chris Walker although the ranks may not give that impression. The shooting guard out of Chaminade in Saint Louis, MO, went to Florida and is one of the best NBA players to currently feature in the Association. Other than that, though, the state of Florida’s colleges have had a rough time getting good players from other places.

Although the list only shows the best-five prospects, there are only five out-state recruits in the Top-10, and of those, the highest-ranked (other than Beal) are 2009 No. 12 Kenny Boynton and 2019 No. 12 Scottie Lewis (both chose Florida).

In terms of actual colleges, and as the list shows, Florida trumps every other school in getting the best talent from its own state and around the nation. Inside the Top-50 players to ever play for an FL-based college, Florida got 27, Florida State 16, Miami 6 and UCF 1. Things are a little more balanced lately (during the last five years), with all Florida, FSU, and Miami battling a tight fight for the best recruits and getting a balanced share of them, though.