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With Cuonzo Martin, recruiting is always a moving target

We’ve usually been able to peg recruiting for Missouri Basketball, but under Martin the destination is largely unknown.

Missouri v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The offseason is a time where you spend the majority of the time talking about recruiting. I used to post recruiting updates with regularity, and overall it was pretty easy to track. It’s difficult to figure out Mizzou Hoops recruiting sometimes, though. Part of it is the secretive head coach, part is school history, but either way we need to understand what to expect to move the program forward.

Since the early splurge after Cuonzo Martin’s hiring at Missouri, when there seemed to be an endless supply of good news largely led by landing Michael Porter Jr. and friends, tracking the recruiting for Mizzou Basketball has been difficult. We do our best to track offers, but there are some truths about recruiting which may or may not need explaining. So I’m gonna enter a points for discussion before we proceed:

  1. If a player holds a Mizzou offer, it does not mean that Mizzou is currently recruiting that player. Some players require an “offer” in order to be recruited. They tend to be higher ranked guys and the recruitment may be completely exploratory. Case in point, Mizzou offered Chet Holmgren, the #2 ranked player in this current class who’s a 7’0 floor spacer and terrific rim protector. If you think there was anything more than an initial conversation when Martin stopped by Holmgren’s high school (where several other top level players play as well) then perhaps I’m not doing my job well enough.
  2. Most of the time the recruiting board is somewhere between 60-100 players, most of whom never get an offer and most we never hear about. Recruiting is about establishing relationships, identifying who is not just available but also receptive to your message. We found out days before Anton Brookshire was offered that Mizzou was even recruiting him. Shortly after he was committed. A commitment doesn’t happen without a relationship, at least not that early. So how long was Brookshire a target? I don’t know.
  3. We do our best to provide the picture, but because there are no moles on the staff, we don’t get the whole thing. Martin and his staff work very stealthily, and it’s been a topic on this site before. With previous staffs, coaches would typically talk off-the-record with reporters (and sometimes me) and you could learn about how the board really laid out. But with Martin, it’s guesswork and talking to scouts, AAU coaches, and sometimes the players (who aren’t always forthcoming). So this is my way of saying, we don’t really know who they are pursuing the hardest a lot of the time.

I wanted to lay this all out first so we can get a better understanding of how recruiting works before we talk about Martin’s recruiting. So hopefully by writing this we all have a better perspective on what to expect going forward.

Cuonzo Historically

I’m not going to entirely copy & paste Matt’s twitter thread from the other day, but he did a good job of explaining why we may have all been a little too excited about Martin’s recruiting potential when he first landed at Mizzou.

Perhaps this tweet might explain where Martin is coming from based upon the above context:

So where Martin is used to spending his time is around more developmental players. All the elite top 50 players he’s landed all had fairly extenuating circumstances. He landed Robert Hubbs and Jarnell Stokes at Tennessee. Hubbs, a Tennessee native, stuck with UT after Zo left, and Stokes was lined up for UT under Bruce Pearl.

At Cal, Ivan Rabb was a Bay Area native who wanted to play close to home, and we know the story of the Porters and Jeremiah Tilmon at Mizzou.

The one exception is Jaylen Brown. If there were ever a 5-star player who was conditioned to be a Martin-style recruit, it has to be Brown. The ultra-intelligent and ultra-athletic wing from Georgia knew he was near certain to be a one-and-done, and was attracted to Martin’s hyper introspective approach, and the lure of schooling himself at Cal-Berkeley for a year wasn’t easy to pass up.

In all, Martin’s recruiting at Missouri has been better than his previous stops. The issue, as Matt so rightly pointed out, was the higher ranked guys haven’t given him the production needed.

Mizzou Historically

So while Martin has been historically less of an ace recruiter than you thought, what about Missouri recruiting?

Here’s a chart to look at:

Mizzou Recruiting Since 2012

Year Signed Player 247 Ranking 247 Rating Z-score Ranking Z-score Rating
Year Signed Player 247 Ranking 247 Rating Z-score Ranking Z-score Rating
2017 Michael Porter Jr. 2 0.9998 -1.76 1.86
2017 Jontay Porter 25 0.991 -1.53 1.70
2014 Montaque Gill-Caesar 35 0.9856 -1.44 1.59
2017 Jeremiah Tilmon 43 0.9845 -1.36 1.57
2013 Johnathan Williams 44 0.9835 -1.35 1.55
2014 Jakeenan Gant 53 0.9795 -1.27 1.48
2014 Namon Wright 71 0.9709 -1.09 1.31
2013 Wesley Clark 75 0.9689 -1.05 1.27
2019 Tray Jackson 85 0.9673 -0.96 1.24
2018 Torrence Watson 112 0.9498 -0.70 0.91
2017 Blake Harris 121 0.9266 -0.61 0.46
2015 K.J. Walton 131 0.9197 -0.52 0.33
2019 Mario McKinney 166 0.9185 -0.18 0.31
2021 Anton Brookshire 148 0.9162 -0.35 0.26
2013 Torren Jones 146 0.8979 -0.37 -0.09
2017 C.J. Roberts 172 0.8979 -0.12 -0.09
2015 Terrence Phillips 165 0.8951 -0.19 -0.14
2014 D'Angelo Allen 158 0.894 -0.26 -0.16
2018 Xavier PInson 248 0.8814 0.61 -0.40
2019 Kobe Brown 251 0.8806 0.64 -0.42
2012 Ryan Rosburg 202 0.875 0.17 -0.52
2012 Stefan Jankovic 204 0.8745 0.19 -0.53
2016 Frankie Hughes 204 0.8709 0.19 -0.60
2016 Mitchell Smith 212 0.8687 0.26 -0.64
2018 Christian Guess 343 0.8678 1.52 -0.66
2016 Willie Jackson 228 0.8651 0.42 -0.71
2018 Javon Pickett 292 0.8616 1.03 -0.78
2013 Shane Rector 216 0.8583 0.30 -0.84
2016 Reed Nikko 281 0.8469 0.93 -1.06
2012 Dominique Bull 259 0.8444 0.71 -1.11
2020 Jordan WImore 429 0.8422 2.35 -1.15
2014 Tramaine Isabell 274 0.8385 0.86 -1.22
2015 Cullen VanLeer 313 0.836 1.23 -1.27
2015 Kevin Puryear 387 0.8193 1.95 -1.59
2016 Jakoby Kemp 0 0 -1.78 -17.27
Ranking Rating
Mean 184.64 0.9023666667
STD. Dev 104.01 0.0522
Median 172 0.8940

For this exercise I opted to just look at the years since Martin has been coaching at high majors (mainly for time constraints). We know there’s some dragging down of the numbers thanks to Kim Anderson’s lackluster recruiting (though he did sign a really nice first class).

Despite our very clear memories of Mizzou reeling in top level talent... it actually hasn’t happened very often.

In the last 10 years, Mizzou has signed 14 top 150 players, or less than 2 per class. Four of those came in the 2017 class (Porter, Porter, Tilmon, Harris), meaning just 10 for the other 9 classes. Five of those commitments came from Frank Haith (two retained by Kim Anderson), and two jumped on board for Kim Anderson. The remaining three have committed in the last three classes to Martin.

Click the link here to look at Mizzou’s all time recruits on 247sports, which goes back to 2003. The pattern seems to be that Quin Snyder recruited well, Mike Anderson had a few hits, Haith had some highs, KA had more misses, and Martin has been steady.

So what is the ceiling for Missouri recruiting?

It’s hard to know, because recruiting success is typically tied to on the court success (or well-financed assistance). Missouri landed a top five class in 2017 by hiring Michael Porter Sr, and Oklahoma State landed a top 10 class this past year by hiring Cade Cunningham’s brother.

Mizzou, for far too long, has been mediocre. We remember the highs and standout seasons far more than the mediocre and bad seasons, despite there being FAR more of the latter than the former.

In 1990, Mizzou was ranked number 1 in the country. Since then, Missouri has an average record of 19 wins and 13.34 losses. So basically 19-13. If you drop out the Norm Stewart years you get to about 18.7 - 14.0. Any and all recruits in the 2021 class have been alive for 17 years at most, and in that time Mizzou is slightly worse... just 18.1 - 14.4. So, aside from a 31 win season in 2009 (when these recruits were six years old), and another 30 win season in 2012, when they were 9, Missouri has been largely forgettable.

I think it’s safe to say Martin’s time at Missouri hasn’t gone as we’d hoped. But perhaps the road up is a tougher one than we anticipated. When the Porter experiment didn’t yield the patched-over results everyone hoped, we were left with a rebuild in a league which has drastically upgraded.

I still think Martin can be the guy to get this going. I’m more impressed with his scouting and coaching than I expected to be, and I do firmly think he’s in the top half of the league in that regard. But that isn’t enough. He needs his guys to A) be healthy, and B) perform.


Next week I’ll get more into the targets and players we think could be the kind of class builders which will get Mizzou back to where we want them to be.