Mather: Are international recruits the key to men’s basketball’s success?

Feb. 14, 2017, 11:15 p.m.

This column reflects the opinion of the writer and does not in any way reflect the views of The Stanford Daily.


If you listen to the 247Sports recruiting page for Stanford men’s basketball, the team’s 2017 class has two commits. One is an impressive but unsurprising blue chip recruit from the Los Angeles area. The second, Isaac White, is an under-scouted Australian who plays for a club in the city of Adelaide.

The Cardinal have a third commit too, however, who doesn’t even make it onto the team’s recruiting profile. Head coach Jerod Haase has also obtained a pledge from Oscar Da Silva of Munich, Germany — a player so far away from the average recruitment radar that 247 doesn’t even have enough information to generate a composite score.

Da Silva and White are Stanford’s first international recruits since Stefan Nastic in the class of 2010 (unless you count Rosco Allen, who was born in Hungary but went to high school in Nevada). The search for hidden gems abroad is hardly a new practice within Pac-12 basketball, however, and a number of the league’s best players have come from overseas in recent years. Utah’s Jakob Poetltl became last season’s conference’s player of the year and was named a second-team All-American despite the fact that he’s actually from Austria. Lauri Markkanen, who is the top scorer on the conference-leading Arizona Wildcats this season, had played his entire career in Finland until he made the trip to Tuscon in the summer of 2016.

The surging popularity of basketball abroad and the growing number of “one and done” players have simply changed the college basketball recruiting landscape, affecting established programs and up-and-comers alike. Of all the programs in the country, few have been hit more sharply by these forces the Cardinal. Stanford’s academic requirements make it difficult to seriously compete for players, many of whom have little interest in completing a degree before heading to the NBA (admission aside, there just wouldn’t be that much of a point to it). The fight over athletes who do not fall into that category has forced the team to take on juggernauts like UCLA and even Duke.

Stanford has tried to evolve into the “one and done” market, but thus far it has yet to receive much of a reward for its efforts. Fans were briefly abuzz when Jabari Parker named the school in his top five or when Justice Winslow tweeted about meeting Condoleezza Rice, but in the end it seemed little had all that much interest in coming to the Farm.

The pitch for international players to make a trip to Palo Alto seems a lot stronger, however. The Stanford name is well known in many foreign countries where the difference between “Butler” and “Baylor” might get lost. And, while internationally born “one and done” players certainly exist, they do seem to be a bit less prevalent for whatever reason. Poetltl’s much lauded 2015-16 season was actually his second season at Utah, which he played in full even though he would have been a clear first-round draft pick after his freshman year.

Offering overseas prospects can be risky, but Stanford needs to look no further than the other side of the bay to see the potential payoffs. Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett recruited a single Australian player in 2001 and has since funneled a near continuous stream of talent onto his team’s roster (the likes of which including Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavadova). Even if neither Da Silva or White materializes, starting relationships abroad may lead to increased payouts as the sport continues its globalization. As more courts are constructed in Australia and more TVs are tuned in France, it’s growing increasingly likely that the next Lebron might get his start outside the U.S.

It’s possible that this year’s heavily international class on the Farm is more a coincidence than anything else. Haase had less than a year to pull together his 2017 recruiting crop, and many of the American players who might have otherwise considered Stanford had probably started to develop relationships with other schools. But it seems like most of the key components are in place for the Cardinal to attract recruits from abroad, and if White and Da Silva can realize their potential then others may begin to follow. Regardless of how it fairs in the heartland, Stanford may want to keep its recruiting sights turned to the seas.


Contact line Andrew Mather at amather ‘at’

Andrew Mather served as a sports editor and as the Chief Operating Officer of The Daily. A devout Clippers and Iowa Hawkeyes fan from the suburbs of Los Angeles, Mather grew accustomed to watching his favorite programs snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He brought this nihilistic pessimism to The Daily, where he often felt a sense of déjà vu while covering basketball, football and golf.

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