DePaul announced last week that coach Dave Leitao is hiring Shane Heirman to join his staff -- at which point the Blue Demons became the favorite to eventually land Tyger Campbell, if only because Campbell played for Heirman at La Lumiere School in Indiana. So it wasn't too much of a surprise when the four-star point guard publicly announced his commitment to DePaul late Monday.
Naturally, this development once again led to a debate on social media about whether it should be OK for a school to employ a parent or guardian or coach (or anybody) strictly for the purposes of securing a commitment from a player or two -- as if this kind of thing hasn't been going on for decades. Either way, my opinion remains consistent: Of course it's OK.
It's OK and mostly smart.
Athletic directors often talk about graduation rates and APR scores and blah, blah, blah. But don't ever get it twisted. College basketball remains a bottom-line business. If you win, you get to keep your job and make millions of dollars. If you lose, you don't. And the best way to avoid losing is to enroll talented prospects. So if there's a technically legal way to do it -- and hiring a high school coach connected to a talented prospect is a technically legal way to do it -- then I'm all for it.
That said, what we've learned in recent years -- from Ben Simmons at LSU and Markelle Fultz at Washington -- is that no one player, regardless of how great he might be, can turn a high-major loser into a high-major winner. So while Campbell is a nice piece who has created positive headlines for DePaul, I wouldn't expect him to make the Blue Demons a Big East power unless Leitao and his staff surround him with other four-star and five-star prospects. Simply put, one four-star or five-star prospect, in a league like the Big East, won't take you from the bottom to even the middle of the conference standings because almost everybody else will also have multiple four-star or five-star prospects on their rosters -- proof being how eight of the Big East's 10 schools have signed at least two four-star prospects in the past two recruiting classes. The lone exceptions: DePaul and Georgetown -- which is among the reasons why DePaul finished last in the Big East this past season and why John Thompson III is no longer Georgetown's coach.
Bottom line, hiring somebody to get somebody isn't usually a game-changer at the high-major level. That's the long and short of it. But you know where it could be a game-changer? At the so-called mid-major level, which is really the point of this column.
I've never questioned why high-major coaches make hires to get players. What I've always wondered, though, is why more mid-major coaches don't. I mean, think about it. That's where one or two elite prospects could really be game-changers. Enroll a five-star or four-star prospect at a SEC or Pac-12 program, and they might not change anything just like Simmons and Fultz didn't change anything. But if you enroll a five-star or even a couple of four-star prospects in, say, Conference USA, you can overwhelm the rest of the league because nobody else has them.
Which brings me to Rick Stansbury.
He seems to be one of the few who understands this.
Not long after getting the Western Kentucky job last year, Stansbury hired Shammond Williams, who just so happened to be the godfather of five-star Class of 2017 prospect Mitchell Robinson. A month later, Robinson committed to Western Kentucky. And Stansbury surrounded him with two four-star prospects -- Jordan Brangers and Josh Anderson. So now guess who has the most talent in C-USA? Yep, Western Kentucky. In fact, the Hilltoppers signed more four-star and five-star prospects from the Class of 2017 than the entire rest of the league combined to sign from the Classes of 2016 and 2017, according to 247Sports. And that's because the rest of the league combined to sign ... zero.
To be clear, I'm not suggesting every mid-major program could make a hire and get a five-star prospect like Robinson; this WKU thing is unique and an extreme example. But what I do believe is that a mid-major program could hire a person -- some AAU coach or prep school coach -- in a transparent attempt to land a couple of four-star prospects and immediately have pieces unlike anything anybody else in the league possesses.
Take the Missouri Valley Conference, for instance.
No current MVC school has signed a four-star or five-star prospect since 2014. So if you could make a hire in that league that led to multiple players ranked somewhere between 50th and 100th enrolling, you'd immediately have superior talent to everybody else. And considering those types of prospects aren't usually one-and-done candidates for the NBA Draft, you'd actually end up getting more bang for your buck than LSU got for hiring Simmons' godfather -- or than Missouri is likely to get for hiring Michael Porter Sr. to get Michael Porter Jr. -- because they'd make a bigger impact in the league and probably also stay in school longer.
That's why, if I were a mid-major coach, I'd 100 percent hire at least one person who could and would automatically bring me prospects a level above the type of prospects everybody else in my league typically enrolls. At the high-major level, doing so guarantees nothing. But it would, at the mid-major level, likely lead to league titles and then some.