I posed a question to twitter the other day.
Curious, who would #mizzou fans rather have given a choice: Blakeney or Whitt? High ranked local kid or 5 star?— Sam Snelling (@SamSnellingRMN) August 20, 2014
The responses leaned overwhelmingly towards Antonio Blakeney, which isn't surprising considering that many of us might still be a bit stung by the announcement that Whitt is headed to Arkansas from just a few days ago. My reason for asking the question was more about roster building. Would you rather have a local player who is going to give you high levels of production for 4 years? Or take the higher level of production for an assuredly shorter time period? With these two specific players I probably would take Blakeney like so many others, but it's not an easy choice because it's difficult to build championship level teams with a lot of young talent. Not everybody is going to stack their team the way Kentucky does. Schools like Mizzou need to win with a more balanced roster of youth and experience.
That conversation led to a different one. Every time a coach is hired, no matter the sport, they always bring up "locking down the borders" as part of their approach to recruiting. It sounds good but it doesn't happen much anymore. When Mizzou rebranded a few years back, Mike Alden talked about the national brand that Mizzou has become. And if you look at the basketball roster you see a national (and international) roster:
North Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, California, Texas, Washington, Michigan, Tennessee, Canada and of course, Missouri.
We like the idea of building a team of Missouri guys to win games for Missouri, but the truth is that winning matters most and it's what fills the seats. We tend to remember all the #TrueSons that played at Ol' Mizzou. But plenty of non-Missouri players have helped us along the way as well: Ricky Paulding, Arthur Johnson, Doug Smith, Kim English, DeMarre Carroll, J.T. Tiller (well, basically ALL of Mike Andersons team's). The Elite 8 team from 2009 only had Marcus Denmon and Steve Moore (two freshmen, one who didn't play) the roster.
Mizzou is now a national brand, the move to the SEC solidified that. We have two coaches on staff that are national coaches. Rob Fulford and Tim Fuller have zero connections to Missouri other than having jobs at the University. They are going to recruit kids from all over as long as Kim Anderson thinks they can help win some Championships. And before too long Kim Anderson will be a national coach. Basketball is just becoming more and more a national effort for coaches all around the country. Kansas has 2 players (non-walkon) from Kansas. Duke has zero from North Carolina. Kentucky has as many players from California as the home state. These days a roster is supplemented with players from the local area, not made of it.
The way Mizzou will start winning the local recruiting battles is by winning and wining a lot. The more they win, the more players like Jayson Tatum, Michael Porter and whoever else might be coming up, will view Mizzou as a destination. The good news is that Mizzou doesn't need Missouri players to be successful. They do need good players though. They can start with guys like Thomas Bryant and Antonio Blakeney. Players like that will make Mizzou fans forget that Jimmy Whitt was even from Columbia. Well, not enough not to boo him every time he touches the ball when the Razorbacks come to town.