Why 6 High-Level Basketball Recruits Chose Small Colleges

A few weeks ago, Detroit dismantled St. John’s on national television. While this may have surprised a few people, it came as no surprise to hardcore basketball recruiting fans. Ray McCallum denied offers from the likes of Duke and Kansas to play for his father at Detroit. While it is unlikely that McCallum’s decision would have been for Detroit had his father not been the coach, his decision brought up an interesting question: should high-major recruits turn down big offers to play for lower-level schools?

We have seen players like Stephen Curry and Jimmer Fredette make it to the league from lower-level schools in recent years (although BYU isn’t all that low), but they weren’t recruited by high-major schools.

It is always interesting to see high-major level recruits turn down offers to help build a lower-level program up. For McCallum Jr., this strategy has had its ups and downs as the Titans, once considered contenders to win the Horizon League, are only 8-10 overall.

There is always a risk involved in choosing a lower-level school. The expectations will be high from the start. The recruit will be expected to be a leader from the start. For some kids coming straight out of high school, it could seem impossible to turn a program around.

We decided to look at recent recruits who have succeeded and failed in this in order to come up with a conclusion about whether it’s a good idea or not.


Klay Thompson – Klay Thompson had offers from Michigan and Notre Dame coming out of Santa Margarita Catholic High School in California. He was considered one of the top small forwards in the class of 2008, yet he chose to go Washington State. While it was a Pac-10 school, they were not exactly a Michigan or Notre Dame. Thompson, however, chose the Cougars because he knew that was a place where he could play right away. He ended up averaging 19.6 points per game as a sophomore and 21.6 points per game as a junior. After his junior year, he left for the NBA and was picked 11th by the Golden State Warriors.

Kyle Casey – Never in a million years would anyone have guessed that Harvard would be able to build a program that would bring in high-major level players. Tommy Amaker and Jeremy Lin helped build the program to what it is today but Kyle Casey helped take it to another level on the recruiting scene. Lin was under-recruited in high school but still had interest from Stanford, Vanderbilt and Providence. In the end, he decided to go to Harvard. He proved that a player of his caliber could be comfortable and play right away at Harvard. This helped them attract high-level recruits such as Agunwa Okolie and Mike Hall, both of whom will play for Harvard next year.