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Where do college basketball's top recruits come from?

Spoiler alert: It's different from the geography of elite college football recruits.

In football, these guys are probably overlooked three-stars.
In football, these guys are probably overlooked three-stars.
Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, SB Nation's main site published a breakdown of the nation's elite college football recruits by state, and it confirmed a lot of what we already knew: that a disproportionate number of blue-chip football recruits come from Florida, Texas, and California.  In fact, nearly 40 percent of four- or five-star football recruits come from those three states.

That's not really the case for basketball.

As you'll see in the chart below, Florida, Texas, and California still lead the way, though the order is different and Florida is tied for third with Georgia.

I'm using the ratings from ESPN -- while I might like to use the 247 Sports Composite, a quick look at that site's list of top recruits from New Hampshire quickly reveals the problem with that site: exactly zero of those six players (all but one of whom play for Brewster Academy, a basketball-factory prep school in the state) are actually from New Hampshire. ESPN may not be as accurate, but at the very least they list the player's actual hometown rather than simply listing the town in which his high school is located.

(Or at least for the most part; for international players, they may be listing the city their stateside guardian lives in. Kentucky freshman Wenyen Gabriel is from South Sudan, but he appears under New Hampshire in this chart.)

State 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 TOTAL Percentage Football
Texas 11 17 9 9 13 59 8.9% 13.7%
California 10 14 10 12 12 58 8.8% 12.2%
Florida 8 19 7 7 1 42 6.4% 14.0%
Georgia 13 11 5 3 10 42 6.4% 8.6%
Ohio 10 6 5 6 6 33 5.0% 4.8%
North Carolina 10 3 6 4 8 31 4.7% 3.1%
Indiana 3 8 4 4 11 30 4.5% 1.4%
New York 7 8 5 3 6 29 4.4% 0.4%
Illinois 2 10 7 5 3 27 4.1% 2.3%
Pennsylvania 5 7 2 5 5 24 3.6% 2.6%
Maryland 4 5 6 5 3 23 3.5% 2.1%
New Jersey 6 8 2 4 3 23 3.5% 2.4%
Michigan 3 4 4 5 3 19 2.9% 2.1%
Tennessee 3 5 3 7 1 19 2.9% 2.7%
Virginia 5 6 3 2 3 19 2.9% 3.4%
Louisiana 6 4 2 2 2 16 2.4% 4.5%
Massachusetts 2 5 4 2 3 16 2.4% 0.1%
Wisconsin 1 6 3 4 2 16 2.4% 0.3%
Alabama 1 5 5 1 0 12 1.8% 3.5%
Utah 4 1 2 2 1 10 1.5% 0.8%
Minnesota 1 4 3 1 0 9 1.4% 0.4%
Kentucky 2 3 3 0 0 8 1.2% 0.5%
Mississippi 2 2 1 1 2 8 1.2% 2.2%
Washington 1 3 2 2 0 8 1.2% 1.0%
Arizona 2 0 4 1 0 7 1.1% 1.6%
Connecticut 2 2 1 1 1 7 1.1% 0.2%
Kansas 0 0 2 2 3 7 1.1% 0.4%
Missouri 2 2 1 1 1 7 1.1% 0.7%
South Carolina 2 2 1 1 1 7 1.1% 1.7%
Colorado 2 0 3 0 1 6 0.9% 0.6%
Nevada 1 3 0 0 2 6 0.9% 0.7%
Arkansas 1 1 1 1 1 5 0.8% 0.9%
Oregon 1 1 1 1 1 5 0.8% 0.6%
Oklahoma 2 1 0 1 0 4 0.6% 1.2%
Iowa 1 0 0 0 2 3 0.5% 0.3%
Nebraska 0 1 0 1 1 3 0.5% 0.1%
New Hampshire 1 0 1 0 1 3 0.5% 0.0%
District of Columbia 0 0 0 2 0 2 0.3% 0.8%
West Virginia 0 2 0 0 0 2 0.3% 0.0%
Delaware 0 1 0 0 0 1 0.2% 0.1%
Idaho 1 0 0 0 0 1 0.2% 0.1%
Montana 0 1 0 0 0 1 0.2% 0.0%
New Mexico 0 0 0 1 0 1 0.2% 0.1%
Rhode Island 0 0 0 0 1 1 0.2% 0.0%
Alaska 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0% 0.0%
Hawaii 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0% 0.6%
Maine 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0% 0.0%
North Dakota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0% 0.0%
South Dakota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0% 0.1%
Vermont 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0% 0.0%
Wyoming 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0% 0.0%

The last column in the chart is the percentage of elite football recruits from each state, and you'll see that while California, Texas, and Florida combine to produce 39.9 percent of the country's elite football recruits. While those three are still at the top of the basketball list, they produce 24.1 percent of the country's elite basketball recruits. Adding Georgia and Ohio -- the fourth and fifth states in both football and basketball -- gets you 53.3 percent of the country's blue-chip football recruits and gets you 35.5 percent of the country's elite basketball recruits.

The big difference between the two is that while football recruiting tends to skew toward the Sun Belt states, the population centers in the Midwest and especially the Northeast more than punch their weight in basketball. New York and Massachusetts produce virtually no elite football recruits, but both produce a fair number of elite basketball recruits. While cold weather is a pretty big deterrent to practicing an outdoor sport in December in Massachusetts, it's not so much of a deterrent to practicing basketball in the winter months.

In fact, it might even be preferable.

(As an aside, who knew that Tennessee produced a slightly greater percentage of the country's elite basketball recruits than it produces of elite football recruits?  You might have guessed that Kentucky would, but even as a native Tennessean I'm surprised by that.)

Another possible explanation has to do with the structural differences between basketball and football recruiting.  Football recruiting mostly revolves around high school football, in which different areas of the country vary greatly in terms of both the quality of competition that recruits are competing against and the degree to which they're scouted.

Basketball recruiting, on the other hand, mostly centers on "showcase" events in which the best recruits in the country compete against one another.  If basketball recruiting worked like football recruiting, somebody like Willie Cauley-Stein (from Spearville, KS, population 773) either doesn't get noticed by coaches or recruiting services or, if he does, recruiting services have to rate him based on film of him dominating 6'3" high school centers.

Say what you want about basketball's grassroots circuit; at the very least, it allows recruits from out-of-the-way places a chance to get noticed and properly evaluated in a way that they simply are not in football.

But of course states with more people are going to produce more recruits.  What states are producing the most on a per-capita basis?

State Recruits Population Recruits/100000
Indiana 30 6,483,802 0.46
Georgia 42 9,687,653 0.43
Maryland 23 5,773,552 0.40
Utah 10 2,763,885 0.36
Louisiana 16 4,533,372 0.35
District of Columbia 2 601,723 0.33
North Carolina 31 9,535,483 0.33
Tennessee 19 6,346,105 0.30
Ohio 33 11,536,504 0.29
Wisconsin 16 5,686,986 0.28
Mississippi 8 2,967,297 0.27
New Jersey 23 8,791,894 0.26
Alabama 12 4,779,736 0.25
Kansas 7 2,853,118 0.25
Massachusetts 16 6,547,629 0.24
Virginia 19 8,001,024 0.24
Texas 59 25,145,561 0.23
New Hampshire 3 1,316,470 0.23
Florida 42 18,801,310 0.22
Nevada 6 2,700,551 0.22
Illinois 27 12,830,632 0.21
Connecticut 7 3,574,097 0.20
Michigan 19 9,883,640 0.19
Pennsylvania 24 12,702,379 0.19
Kentucky 8 4,339,367 0.18
Arkansas 5 2,915,918 0.17
Minnesota 9 5,303,925 0.17
Nebraska 3 1,826,341 0.16
California 58 37,253,956 0.16
South Carolina 7 4,625,364 0.15
New York 29 19,378,102 0.15
Oregon 5 3,831,074 0.13
Colorado 6 5,029,196 0.12
Washington 8 6,724,540 0.12
Missouri 7 5,988,927 0.12
Delaware 1 897,934 0.11
Arizona 7 6,392,017 0.11
West Virginia 2 1,852,994 0.11
Oklahoma 4 3,751,351 0.11
Montana 1 989,415 0.10
Iowa 3 3,046,355 0.10
Rhode Island 1 1,052,567 0.10
Idaho 1 1,567,582 0.06
New Mexico 1 2,059,179 0.05
Alaska 0 710,231 0.00
Hawaii 0 1,360,301 0.00
Maine 0 1,328,361 0.00
North Dakota 0 672,591 0.00
South Dakota 0 814,180 0.00
Vermont 0 625,741 0.00
Wyoming 0 563,626 0.00

It's probably unsurprising that the state where Hoosiers was filmed produces more elite basketball recruits than any other state. This is similar to why soccer-mad countries like Argentina produce a disproportionate number of elite soccer players. When basically everybody in your state is playing basketball, the odds that a guy who could be an elite basketball recruit but isn't playing basketball at all are proportionally low.

This happens more than you think in some places: how many wide receivers look like they could be good basketball players if they dedicated themselves to that sport?

But you also probably wouldn't guess that Georgia would be second on the list. The Peach State has seen a lot of in-migration from states further north in recent decades, and I suspect there's a lot more socialization into basketball in metro Atlanta than there is in most of the Deep South.

The rest of the list is interesting. Maryland's position at third on the list seems related to the fact that a disproportionate number of the elite basketball players in Washington, D.C. live in its Maryland suburbs. Virginia's slightly above the national average, but virtually none of its recruits are coming from the D.C. suburbs (they're mostly from the Hampton Roads and Richmond areas.) And you might not realize it, but Utah might rank only behind Indiana in terms of how big of a deal basketball is; there's a reason Utah's only major professional sports team is in the NBA.

A bit further down, I halfway wonder if North Carolina benefits from something similar to the "Bama bump" that football conspiracy theorists speak of; it's probably no coincidence that the state has two recruiting powerhouses on the hardwood (Kentucky and Kansas don't really recruit their home states much, so you wouldn't see this effect there.)

Meanwhile, per capita Florida and Texas are slightly above the national average, Illinois is basically producing prospects right at the national average, and California and New York are below it. That suggests that California is mostly producing a lot of recruits because it has a lot of people, while New York is weighed down by a lot of the premier prep hoops programs in metro NYC being in New Jersey. The idea that a disproportionate amount of top recruits come from New York and Chicago is at least 20 years out of date.

The main conclusion I'm coming to is that the SEC's struggles in basketball are unrelated to the Southern states not producing many good basketball players, however. That doesn't seem to be backed up by the data at all.