Campus Corner

An analysis of Bill Self’s best basketball recruiting classes at Kansas

Kansas coach Bill Self
Kansas coach Bill Self The Kansas City Star

The project began with a comment, offered on a warm afternoon in May, just a few hours after Kansas coach Bill Self had topped off his 2014 recruiting class.

It was May 21 and Ukrainian teenager Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk had just become the fourth and final member of KU’s latest recruiting class. A precocious talent from Europe, Mykhailiuk had eschewed professional opportunities overseas and chosen to use college hoops as a springboard to a potential NBA career. If Mykhailiuk was in the American high school system, evaluators said, he would have likely been a five-star prospect.

Self already had signed two McDonald’s All-Americans (power forward Cliff Alexander and swingman Kelly Oubre Jr.) and a prep school point guard (Devonte’ Graham) rated as 36th-best prospect in the class. Now Self had an elite shooter, capable of playing multiple positions in the backcourt.

“This could arguably be one of the very best recruiting classes that we’ve had,” Self said. “I think of last year’s class, and I think of the class with Brandon (Rush), Mario (Chalmers) and Julian (Wright) — this class definitely rivals that.”

Self is not shy about anointing his latest class as one of his best. But measuring recruiting classes can be a murky exercise. There are myriad star ratings, and the noise of recruiting services, and there’s also a rather pressing issue in this era of college basketball:

Elite recruits beget elite recruiting classes, but the best recruits usually don’t spend much time on campus. Consider: After the institution of the NBA age rule in 2006, the 50 top-10 recruits in the next five classes spent an average of less than two seasons on campus, according to a CBS Sports study.

Kansas knows this all too well. Last summer, Andrew Wiggins was thought to be a once-in-a-generation recruit. He led Kansas to a 10th straight Big 12 title, set the KU freshman scoring record and could serve Self well in future recruiting after being selected No. 1 in the NBA Draft. But Wiggins also played just 35 games and left campus just a few months after his 19th birthday.

So as the three-week July recruiting period loomed — it officially started Wednesday — The Star set out to determine which recruiting class produced the biggest on-court impact during Self’s 11 seasons in Lawrence.

When Self is asked to name his best recruiting classes, he often mentions his 2005 class (Chalmers, Wright and Rush), and now he can point to last year’s class. But which class delivered the most return on the floor? We used a simple metric to compare classes: career win shares, a comprehensive statistic that attempts to estimates the number of wins a player produces for his team.

The results of the study were more illuminating than ground-breaking; the numbers illustrate what we should already know. But they also highlight a class that is often overlooked — a class that may just be Self’s best.

If you are the coach at Kansas, you will continue to recruit the top 10 players in America, because they are the most talented players, and coaches covet talent. And if you want to guide future pros, a coach would be wise to traffic in top-10 recruits.

But if you want to land future college standouts with the potential to make two-to-three-year impacts, you would be wise to find the prospects in the next cut — the 10 to 50 range. What you surrender in talent you might get back in years.

So here we go, a look at Self’s best recruiting classes, first by total win shares produced, and then by win shares per player.

Total Win Shares

1. 2008: 71.3

2. 2005: 44.6

3. 2004: 41.4

4. 2006: 36.5

5. 2007: 30.1

6. 2009: 24.7

7. 2011*: 20.1

8. 2013*: 13.7

9. 2012*: 7.9

10. 2010: 1.4

*Players still in program

Win Shares per player

1. 2006: 12.2

2. 2005: 11.2

3. 2007: 10.03

4. 2008: 8.9

5. 2004: 8.3

6. 2009: 8.2

7. 2010: 0.7

Here’s the class-by-class rankings:

1. 2008 class

Total Win Shares: 71.3

Per player: 8.9

Player, Rivals ranking, Career Win Shares

Marcus Morris, 29, 15.2

Tyshawn Taylor, 77, 15.2

Jeff Withey, 36, 13.2

Travis Releford, 70, 13.0

Markieff Morris, 49, 10.9

Mario Little, NR, 3.1

Quintrell Thomas, 149, 0.5

Tyrone Appleton, NR, 0.2

The class: A combination of needed quantity — KU lost five starters after the NCAA title team — and surprising quality, this class became an absolute monster. And it call came together after some fortuitous developments. The Morris twins and Kansas City native Travis Releford provided a strong base, but Kansas fell into Tyshawn Taylor after Tom Crean left Marquette for Indiana. We’ll also count Jeff Withey, who began his career at Arizona but transferred to Kansas in December 2008. (He could also be lumped into the 2009 class, when he was first eligible.) If there’s one class that’s responsible for Kansas’ streak of 10 straight Big 12 regular-season titles, you might pinpoint this one. Taylor started for parts of four seasons, the Morris twins played leading roles in 2010 and 2011, and Taylor, Withey and Releford started on the 2012 Final Four squad. Even if you remove Withey — and his 13.2 wins — this class lapped the field in producing victories at the college level.

2. 2005 class

Total Win Shares: 44.6

Per player: 11.2

Player, Rivals ranking, Career Win Shares

Mario Chalmers, 12, 18.5

Brandon Rush, 13, 14.9

Julian Wright, 8, 10.8

Micah Downs, 28, 0.4

The class: On paper, this could be the Self standard. Julian Wright was a consensus top-10 recruit, while Wright, Chalmers and Downs were all McDonald’s All-American. Brandon Rush would have been, of course, but he re-classified back a class and was not eligible. Downs would transfer after just one semester, and Wright left for the NBA after his sophomore year. But in terms of impact, this class still ranks at the top. It produced two starters on an NCAA championship team, including one that made a pretty big shot against Memphis, and Chalmers has a statistical case as the most productive player of the Self-era. While the 2008 class has more quantity, this class may edge it in pure quality.

3. 2004 class

Total Win Shares: 41.4

Per player: 8.3

Player, Rivals ranking, Career Win Shares

Russell Robinson, 27, 12.7

Darnell Jackson, 54, 11.9

Sasha Kaun, 34, 11.8

C.J. Giles, 62, 4.1

Alex Galindo, 65, 0.9

The class: Self’s first class at Kansas would lay the foundation for the 2008 NCAA championship team. Russell Robinson, KU’s first East Coast recruit in years, would grow into a three-year starter in the backcourt. Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson became key inside pieces during the championship run. C.J. Giles was a promising center before getting booted for off-court trouble, while Galindo played just one season before transferring. There were no future NBA regulars — though Jackson bounced around and Kaun settled into a lucrative career in Russia — but there were three top-60 recruits who stayed around for four years.

4. 2006

Total Win Shares: 36.5

Per player: 12.2

Player, Rivals ranking, Career Win Shares

Sherron Collins, 21, 16.5

Darrell Arthur, 16, 10.6

Brady Morningstar, NR, 9.4

The class: Pound for pound, the best class of the Self era — and the ideal complement to the two classes that preceded it. Arthur and Collins were both McDonald’s All-Americans and dynamic members of the 2008 team, while Morningstar — after a redshirt season — evolved into an underrated glue guy on No. 1 seeds in 2010 and 2011.

5. 2007 class

Total Win Shares: 30.1

Per player: 10.03

Player, Rivals ranking, Career Win Shares

Cole Aldrich, 30, 16.5

Tyrel Reed, 109, 10.4

Conner Teahan, NR, 3.2

The class: After two straight classes with multiple McDonald’s All-Americans, the focal point of this class was Aldrich, a Minnesota product. Reed became an efficient shooter and starter, while Teahan was a program player.

6. 2009 class

Total Win Shares: 24.7

Per player: 8.2

Player, Rivals ranking, Career Win Shares

Thomas Robinson, 31, 10.6

Elijah Johnson, 24, 9.7

Xavier Henry, 8, 4.9

The class: Based on advanced metrics, this class gets short shrift. Why? Well, Thomas Robinson and Elijah Johnson had minimal opportunity to pile up numbers during their first two seasons, playing on loaded teams. And Xavier Henry had an underrated freshman season before leaving early for the draft. Still, Robinson became an All-American as a junior and Johnson started on a Final Four squad. So, yes, history will remember this class more fondly than the cold calculation of its win shares.

7. 2010 class

Total Win Shares: 1.4

Per player: 0.7

Player, Rivals ranking, Career Win Shares

Josh Selby, 1, 1.3

Royce Woolridge, 120, 0.1

The class: The biggest flop of the group. Selby battled injuries during his freshman season and then left early for the NBA. Woolridge was an early commitment that couldn’t earn playing time before transferring. Given the state of the roster at the time, Kansas didn’t need a big class. But the all-out miss put an added burden on the next few classes.

Too early to call

The last three recruiting classes still have players on the current roster. Here’s how they stack up … for now.

2011 class

Total Win Shares: 20.1

Player, Rivals ranking, Career Win Shares

Ben McLemore, 34, 6.5

Jamari Traylor, 141, 2.9

Naadir Tharpe, 92, 4.8

Merv Lindsay, NR, 0.0

Kevin Young, NR, 5.9

The class: A makeshift group, and a needed class after the Morris twins and Selby left early for the NBA after the 2011 NCAA Tournament. McLemore and Traylor were deemed partial qualifiers and were ineligible to play their first seasons, while fellow freshman Braeden Anderson was ineligible altogether. After sitting a year, McLemore had one of the most productive freshmen seasons in school history, while Young, against most conventional wisdom, grew into a reliable starter on a team that earned a No. 1 seed in 2012-13. Tharpe never materialized into a viable answer at point guard, but he did have some highlight moments as a junior. Three years later, the whole class is gone — save for Traylor, who will be a redshirt junior this season.

2012 class

Total Win Shares: 7.9

Player, Rivals ranking, Career Win Shares

Perry Ellis, 24, 7.6

Andrew White, 51, 0.0

Landen Lucas, NR, 0.3

Anrio Adams, 98, 0.0

Zach Peters, 137, 0.0

The class: On its surface, Self’s 2012 group looked like another foundational class, built on players that would likely be around three to four years. But two years later, only Ellis, the highest ranked recruit, and Lucas, a redshirt sophomore, are still on the roster. Peters, White and Adams were all, at one point, thought of as top 100 recruits. But the injury-riddled Peters never played a game; Adams had a tumultuous freshman season before transferring; and White could never overcome some athletic deficiencies and crack the rotation. He announced his transfer in the spring. For the moment, Ellis looks to be the only impact player in the class, but the final judgment won’t be rendered for a few years.

2013 class

Win Shares: 15.1

Player, Rivals ranking, Career Win Shares

Andrew Wiggins, 1, 4.9

Joel Embiid, 25, 3.4

Wayne Selden Jr., 12, 2.3

Conner Frankamp, 34, 0.6

Frank Mason, 76, 1.5

Brannen Greene, 29, 0.4

Tarik Black, TR, 2.0

Hunter Mickelson, TR, 0.0

The class: Upon arrival, Andrew Wiggins and friends were bestowed the following tag: Best recruiting class in school history. After one season, the class did become the first Kansas class to produce two one-and-dones. Wiggins and Embiid helped lead the Jayhawks to a 10th straight Big 12 title, but their time Lawrence would be measured in months. Still, this class should still have an opportunity to leave a long-term legacy. Selden will play a prominent role this season, while Frankamp, Greene and Mason will likely be on campus for the foreseeable future.

So here’s the recruiting question again, playing out in one class. For one season, Wiggins and Embiid were the headliners. But over the long haul, players like Selden and Frankamp could provide more return on investment.

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to Follow him on Twitter @rustindodd.