What are the greatest college basketball recruiting classes of the decade? The answer isn’t necessarily reflected in the rankings at the time.
While Duke and Kentucky have owned the top of the recruiting rankings over the last 10 years, it takes a deeper look to determine which incoming freshman classes had the greatest impact on their programs. We valued three things in building this list:
Contributions to team success at the college level
Players who emerged into NBA stars
Players who became NBA first round draft picks
There were a number of difficult cuts. An easy case can be made for Billy Donovan’s class of 2010 at Florida — Patric Young, Will Yeguete, Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Erik Murphy — a group that helped the program to three Elite Eights and a Final Four, but didn’t produce any real NBA talent. Michigan State’s 2012 class (Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes) was a tough omission. UConn was one of three teams to win multiple national titles this decade and had a case with its 2010 class of Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb.
With a decade of college basketball from 2010-2019 now behind us, let’s figure out the most impactful recruiting classes of the time period.
11. 2017 Texas Tech
Players: Zhaire Smith, Jarrett Culver, Davide Moretti
Texas Tech had never advanced past the Sweet 16 in the history of the program when Chris Beard’s class of 2017 stepped on campus. No one would have expected this group to change that at the time. Ranked as the No. 39 overall class in the country, the Red Raiders’ six-player haul included two JUCO transfers and just one top-100 prospect in Italian shooter Davide Moretti. Ultimately, it was a pair of in-state three-star recruits who would change the perception of the program forever.
Texas Tech ran all the way to the Elite Eight in the class’ first season behind the emergence of Zhaire Smith. Ranked as the No. 194 recruit in America, Smith blossomed into one of the most unlikely one-and-dones ever as a ridiculously athletic wing who helped create the foundation for an elite defense. The team only got better after Smith went to the NBA thanks to a star turn from sophomore guard Jarrett Culver. Culver, who entered the program as the No. 312 recruit in his class, blossomed into a superstar and the eventual No. 6 overall NBA Draft pick. His big year helped take the Red Raiders all the way to the national title game.
Don’t overlook the contributions of Moretti, either: he would go on to become the team’s second leading scorer this past season and still has two years of eligibility left.
10. 2016 Gonzaga
Players: Zach Collins, Rui Hachimura, Zach Norvell, Killian Tillie
Gonzaga’s 2016 class featured the program’s first ever McDonald’s All-American in center Zach Collins. Collins was only on campus for one year before becoming an NBA lottery pick, but he was a key piece in the team’s first ever Final Four run as a freshman. This class, ranked No. 20 in the country at the time, kept paying dividends for the ‘Zags long after Collins departed.
Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie continued the program’s proud and successful pipeline of international talent. Hachimura came over from Japan and eventually grew into one of the best players in college basketball as a junior. Tillie, who arrived from France, was a stud as a sophomore before enduring injury problems last season. He could be poised for a big year in 2019-2020 if he can stay healthy. Novell was also a key piece on teams that would go to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in consecutive years after being redshirted his first year on campus. He averaged 15 points per game last season before bouncing to the NBA.
9. 2012 Michigan
Players: Caris LeVert, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Spike Albrecht
Michigan hadn’t been to the Final Four since the Fab Five era until its class of 2012 showed up in Ann Arbor. In their first season, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, and Nik Stauskas were each among the top five scorers on a team that went all the way to the national championship game. It was there that Michigan’s lowliest recruit forged his own legend. Spike Albrecht, ranked as the No. 221 player in his class, scored 17 first half points on 4-of-4 three-point shooting against Louisville to forever etch himself into college basketball lore on the sport’s biggest stage.
The next season hit a snag when McGary’s sophomore year lasted only eight games amid back problems, but the Wolverines still went to the Elite Eight behind a breakout season from Stauskas that helped turn him into a top-10 NBA Draft pick. At the same time, LeVert was making his debut coming off a redshirt and immediately established himself as a burgeoning talent in his own right. LeVert was on his way to becoming a star before foot and leg injuries cut short his next two seasons. He was still a first-round pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
8. 2015 Villanova
Players: Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo
Villanova’s decade-long run of dominance is full of impressive recruiting wins, but we’ll give Brunson and DiVincenzo the slight edge over 2013’s Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins coup and 2012’s Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu haul. Brunson has a case to be the best player in the history of the program: a two-time starter on national championship teams and Villanova’s only national Player of the Year award winner. In his three seasons on campus, ‘Nova went 103-13.
DiVincenzo redshirted as a true freshman during the Wildcats’ 2016 title run, but made an indelible imprint on the 2018 championship team. Against Michigan in the national title game, DiVincenzo came off the bench to score 31 points and earn Most Outstanding Player honors. He is one of four first-round NBA Draft picks the program has produced since 2017.
7. 2018 Duke
Players: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish, Tre Jones, Joey Baker
Duke’s 2018 class was hailed as the greatest of the modern era when it formed, but it feels like the most controversial selection on this list in retrospect. It’s hard to get past the Blue Devils’ upset loss to Michigan State in the Elite Eight or just how shaky they looked in the two games before it. R.J. Barrett was undeniably productive, but his lack of efficiency and questionable shot selection made him feel like a slight disappointment given his recruiting hype. The same can be said for Cam Reddish, who struggled struggled immensely despite being the No. 2 overall recruit in the RSCI behind Barrett.
Still, this class makes the cut because it includes the superhuman phenomenon that is Zion Williamson. Williamson posted the best single season of the decade as a freshman, with his jaw-dropping highlights being matched every bit by his remarkable production and efficiency. Tre Jones’ surprising decision to return for his sophomore year, to go along with the debut of former top-50 Joey Baker, means this class still as a chance to add to its resume.
6. 2013 Kansas
Players: Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden, Frank Mason Jr.
Kansas’ 2013 class featured: a No. 1 overall draft pick, a national Player of the Year, and the best big man in the NBA today. That’s the easiest defense for how a group that will mostly be remembered for a Round of 32 loss to Stanford still makes this list.