Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Perspective on recruiting from George Mason

Thursday March 30, 2006

I’ve always appreciated college professors who can get over the institutionalized academic snobbery and realize how cool it is to have college athletics just a short walk away. In these professors you usually find a good sense of humor, sharp wit, intelligent observations, and the ability to relate to students much better than colleagues who resent athletics. Because they’re intelligent and typically experts in their fields, you sometimes get interesting perspectives on things when these professors apply their academic passions to questions of pop culture and sports.

George Mason’s law and economics programs are pretty well-known and regarded especially in conservative and libertarian circles. A couple of their more well-known economics professors, Peter Boettke and Alex Tabarrok, have an article in Slate where they compare the assembly of the GMU economics department, the GMU basketball team, and baseball’s “Moneyball” principle – the science (or art) of finding undervalued players.

Professor Todd Zywicki, of GMU’s law school, has further thoughts on the subject and a key observation:

Larranaga suggests that even now the big-time programs probably wouldn’t really want any of these GMU kids because they are not the individual superstars with brilliant talent that those teams are looking for. So it is not that somehow those programs “missed” these kids, but rather that those programs have a different model of talent acquisition. It is only when melded together in Larranaga’s system, with the emphasis on the way in which their individual skills complement one another within the system, that their total value is maximized.

I can see that. Especially now that you can’t even plan the composition of your program three or four years down the road, many schools just look to fill up on the best talent and see what happens from year to year. If you try to take a longer-term approach, your power forward has left for the NBA, the point guard has transfered to get more playing time, and the nice mix of players you were trying to craft has fallen apart. You’re stuck with marginal talent and no synergy.

This is the risk Dennis Felton currently must take at Georgia. He is recruiting post players for 1-3 years down the road hoping that they will fit into a program of established guards and role players. If the posts don’t pan out or something happens to the progression of guards currently in the program, the plan is seriously jeopardized. But this is the strategy Felton must use, because the superstars just aren’t coming to Georgia (for now). He’s got to trust his vision and hope their skills working together make the team better.

We come across this question often at Georgia, particularly during football recruiting. Georgia football is in a position to recruit both the nationally elite prospects (the superstars) and also the prospects who might not have as much talent but were leaders on winning programs or have some sort of exceptional work ethic or character. How often do we hear, “give me a three-star kid who wants to work hard and play for Georgia over some five-star prima donna?” (Of course, we usually hear that only when the superstar is considering another school and it’s time for the sour grapes.) Still, there have been plenty of examples lately at UGA (David Pollack and Thomas Davis come to mind) where above-average but not necessarily superstar prospects find a niche to maximize their value. We know how inexact the science of ranking prospects can be.

PS…This fact mentioned by Zywicki is just stunning: “Will Thomas (of GMU) and Rudy Gay (of UConn) both went to high school in Baltimore and…Thomas’s teams are now 8-0 playing against Gay’s teams in their careers.” Wow.

Comments are closed.