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Is Missouri's basketball recruiting philosophy actually changing?

And does it need to?

Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday I wrote about Kim Anderson in his own words and how he answered the criticisms of this past year. In that Q&A session, Anderson talked about recruiting and how they were changing their philosophy from a year ago. Here is the segment on recruiting that I took out of yesterday's piece.

Kim Anderson On Recruiting:

One of our five mission statements that we came up with during the offseason was a targeted recruiting focus. When we say that, we still want to recruit the entire nation, but we are trying to focus a lot of our efforts on the middle part of our country. Obviously I want to recruit Missouri players. Kansas City fans are going to love watching Kevin Puryear. He's been here a week, and what a great young man from a great program over there at Blue Springs South. Cullen VanLeer is from down by St. Louis in Pacific. He's a Missouri guy. Martavian Payne, who came from John Logan Junior College is from St. Louis. So we want to recruit the middle part of the country. K.J. Walton is from Indiana. Russ Woods is from Chicago. Guys like that. So we want to recruit the Midwest and we want to recruit the state of Missouri.

The state of Missouri is our No. 1 focus. If you follow recruiting, you know that we're trying to recruit a lot of players from this part of the country. We've hired Corey Tate, and Corey is a highly successful junior college coach at Mineral Area, who has coached the St. Louis Eagles, one of the premier AAU programs in the country along with several in Kansas City. (If I name one, I'll leave one out.) There are some great programs around Missouri. Along with high school, there's also what we call non-scholastic basketball. So we think Corey will be a good person to recruit this part of the country. And not just Missouri, but around the Midwest.

My immediate reaction to this was... well, that makes sense. You obviously want to recruit guys you feel like you can land. Landing good players from the state of Missouri is smart, as fans will immediately identify with them.

Mizzou has reached the point of being a national brand, so there should always be a national effort. The national impact has limits however, and Mizzou should understand that, at this stage of the program rebuild, landing certain players will probably be difficult, particularly when Kentucky, Duke and Kansas are calling.

It's one thing to target a guy like Jayson Tatum and lose out, it's another to target a top-five player from the east or west coast and miss out. The financial investment of recruiting a top-five player from your own state or nearby is much lower than flying out to New Jersey or California. So you can say that I'm on board with this "change" in recruiting philosophy. A "targeted" focus. It makes sense, right?

This audio interview was from a few weeks ago. Since then more has come out.

From Dave Matter, via paywall (emphasis mine):

Lastly on hoops, further proof with this quote that Anderson has removed the Tim Fuller philosophy chapter from the team's guide to recruiting: "I think that what we're trying to do is recruit players that we can recruit, meaning that if we can get a top-ranked player, that's fine. We're trying to recruit a little bit more in the middle of the country. We did that (with this class): Indiana, Chicago, a couple kids from Missouri. Terrence was the difference, he's from California and played at Oak Hill. Tay's from St. Louis, too. You want to recruit the best players you can and try to develop them. We spent a lot of time last year recruiting guys for whatever reason we couldn't get. That's going to happen. I'm not saying that's wrong, but we have to be probably smarter in recruiting."

Matter's article came out on the June 26. A day later, Mizzou offered a top-10 2017 point guard from New Jersey. From that article, I said, "He doesn't fit into what Mizzou has stated they're looking for other than he's a great player. He's not regional, he's doesn't appear to have many ties to Mizzou or Missouri."

I mean, with no known ties to Mizzou or Missouri, I have a hard time understanding where the move away from this "Fuller philosophy" is when you're offering a 5-star kid from New Jersey.

So then, from Steve Walentik, on June 28:

With early signees Kevin Puryear and Cullen VanLeer, [Rob] Fulford likes the talent Missouri has assembled, even if the group lacks the star power the Tigers were chasing last October. That’s when Anderson and his staff brought McDonald’s All-Americans Isaiah Briscoe, Antonio Blakeney and Fulford’s former Huntington Prep standout Thomas Bryant to town on the same weekend for official visits.

"I’m not sure Mizzou basketball has had a weekend of that magnitude in recruiting before, so it was great that we could get them all here on an official visit," Fulford said. "I think after the fact, when you sit back and you look at it, that’s a lot of time, effort and money that you spent just on a weekend that wasn’t overly productive, in hindsight. So we’ve changed our focus a little bit.

"Coach likes to call it targeted recruiting. We’re going to get more focused on kids that we feel that we have a chance of getting. That’s not saying that we’re going to stop recruiting Top 25-level kids, but we’ve got to be able to recruit the Top 25-level kids that we think we have a legitimate shot of landing."

I pulled out the word "chasing" when he talked about the players they brought in last October. For reference, here is the post I wrote on the big recruiting weekend.

A photo posted by (@powermizzou) on

It was an ambitious plan, and it got Mizzou into a lot of headlines for the weekend. People took note. Of course, it didn't work out for the Tigers as Blakeney pledged to LSU, Briscoe headed to Kentucky and Bryant picked Indiana. Here are all the players from that weekend and their Mizzou connection:

  • Thomas Bryant: Rob Fulford's former player at Huntington Prep.
  • Antonio Blakeney: Had been recruited by Tim Fuller and Frank Haith prior to Anderson tenure. Had Mizzou high on his list throughout his recruitment.
  • Isaiah Briscoe: None.
  • Ted Kapita (ended up not making that trip): Rob Fulford's former player at Huntington Prep.
  • Jayson Tatum: In-state player.
  • Kobi Simmons (ended up not making that trip): None (other than Tim Fuller).
  • Miles Bridges: Rob Fulford's former player at Huntington Prep.
  • Curtis Jones: Rob Fulford's former player at Huntington Prep (plus has family in Missouri).
  • Tyler Cook: In-state player.
  • Michael Porter, Jr.: In-state player.

The majority of the players already had a relationship to Mizzou. I would admit that chasing Briscoe was going to be a long shot, and Simmons was likely never going to pledge to Mizzou. At the time they brought Briscoe on campus I felt the odds were never better than about 20%.

So there was a lot of time and energy that went into bringing Isaiah Briscoe on campus. In hindsight, was it the best move? Yeah, maybe not. But the same could be said for any recruit you didn't sign. You get a lot more official visits than you get scholarships, so you are always going to try to capitalize on who you bring in.

I guess where the disconnect starts to happen for me is with the latest offer, to a top-10 point guard from New Jersey (sound familiar?). Trevor Duval is basically the same player that Isaiah Briscoe is. Same position and a high ranking. A guy that Mizzou doesn't have much of a shot to sign, yet you're using "targeted" recruiting and somehow landed on the same kind of player that we're now eschewing as a bad approach to recruiting? It's confusing if you ask me.

Rob Fulford went on to say to Walentik in a separate Blog post:

"You can’t recruit names and stars. You’ve got to recruit what you need," Fulford said. "You’ve got to get guys that are going to help you win games, and that’s what we have. I think when you start recruiting on the star system and ratings system, I think sometimes you lose sight of what you need. I think more so than ever now — I had a lot of five-star kids when I was at the prep school level, but I’ll take a three-star that wants to be a five-star any day of the week over a five that has the work ethic of a three. You give me those guys all day."

I agree. But the ranking and star system isn't made up out of thin air. It's there because analysts go out and scout players and assign grades and weights and scores to them to determine how good they are. Jayson Tatum is a five-star player because he's really good and is going to play one year in college before turning pro. If players are that good, they can help you. Once you get past the top, the difference between the #90 player and the #130 player is usually pretty thin. It would make sense to go after the player who fits what you need more.

I've said before that Mizzou doesn't need the Big Fish to be successful. The Tigers can succeed without landing five-star talent. I guess I'm just unsure about the "rebranding" of their recruiting approach when it really feels similar to previous approaches. There's nothing wrong with trying to land a top-flight guy. Maybe you land the five-star kid, maybe you don't. Very few teams that aren't Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Arizona are able to get those guys on a regular basis.

It just sort of feels weird to me that the coaches are trying to sell a new approach that has the same feel as the last staff. Go after the big fish early, when they head elsewhere, have a good backup plan. Hopefully the new staff's backup plans will work out better than the last staff's did.