2019 NBA Draft Picks Who Defied Their High School Recruiting Rankings

Look no further than the top half of the lottery for proof that high school recruiting rankings aren't the end-all, be-all.
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The 2019 NBA draft is over, and there’s pick-by-pick analysis and plenty of reactions over at The Crossover for those who want to get into the implications of each move. But over here on the college basketball side, we see the draft through a different angle.

Every year, the draft spotlights players who had unlikely roads to hearing their name called, roads that started way back in high school. Not everyone is Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett, arriving at college with plenty of hype and a sterling recruiting ranking to match. This year alone, four of the top-10 picks (and five of the top 11) weren’t even top-100 recruits in high school. And, incredibly, two of the first six picks weren’t even top-300 recruits, showing that there’s no limit to how much one’s stock can improve with hard work and talent.

We looked through all 60 picks from Thursday night’s draft to see which were most overlooked as recruits (based on both recruiting ranking and school offers), and what they did in college to get to this point.

NOTE: All recruiting ranks are taken from the 247Sports composite ranking, which averages several recruiting services, including ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports’s own ranking. The NBA team listed for each player is the one expected to move forward with the player’s rights, to account for any draft-night trades that have been agreed to in principle but not yet officially executed.

Ja Morant, Murray State
No. 2 Pick (Memphis Grizzlies)
Recruiting Ranking: Unranked

Talk about a diamond in the rough. Morant once played on the same AAU team as Zion Williamson but was unranked as a recruit, receiving little attention until a Murray State assistant discovered him by chance at an event and immediately wanted the point guard. Morant would spend two seasons with the Racers, blowing up as a sophomore by averaging 24.5 points and 10.0 assists and throwing down dunks that went viral despite the school’s low national profile. But it was March Madness when Morant made his formal introduction to America, dazzling viewers with the first NCAA tournament triple double since 2012 and leading Murray State to a commanding upset of Marquette.

De’Andre Hunter, Virginia
No. 4 Pick (Atlanta Hawks)
Recruiting Ranking: Four stars, No. 91

Hunter wasn’t overshadowed as a recruit to the depths that Morant or many other names on this list were, but he still made an impressive climb from the 91st-overall recruit in the 2016 class to top-five NBA pick in 2019. Unlike the vast majority of players on this list, Hunter actually redshirted as a freshman at Virginia—and not because he was seriously injured. It was the idea of coach Tony Bennett, who felt the forward could get stronger and would benefit more from waiting a year. Once he finally hit the court, he was the ACC Sixth Man of the Year as a redshirt freshman before blossoming into a key cog in Virginia’s national championship team.

Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech
No. 6 Pick (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Recruiting Ranking: Three stars, No. 312

A native of Lubbock, Texas, Culver was outside the nation’s top 300 recruits but got an offer from his hometown school and signed to play for the Red Raiders. By mid-January 2018, he had worked his way into the starting lineup, part of a solid freshman campaign that saw Texas Tech make the Elite Eight. Culver then broke out as a sophomore, serving as the top offensive option on the defensive-minded Red Raiders and anchoring a defense that was the most efficient in the country en route to being national runners-up.

Jaxson Hayes, Texas
No. 8 Pick (New Orleans Pelicans)
Recruiting Ranking: Four stars, No. 102

Hayes wasn’t supposed to be a one-and-done; arriving from Archbishop Moeller (Ohio) High School, he was a solid four-star recruit but ranked far behind the normal profile for players who only spend one season on a college campus. Yet Hayes impressed early for the Longhorns, including a combined 26 points and 12 rebounds in November games against North Carolina and Michigan State, and NBA scouts were drawn to the 6'11" big man’s physical tools. He was extremely efficient in his one year in Austin, posting the nation’s seventh-best two-point percentage.

Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga
No. 9 Pick (Washington Wizards)
Recruiting Ranking: Three stars, No. 148

Hachimura had quite the ride to becoming a top-10 NBA pick. After being recruited to Gonzaga out of Japan, he had to learn not just how to adapt to the American style of play, but also the English language. After playing only 4.6 minutes per game as a freshman, Hachimura saw that grow to 20.7 minutes as a sophomore—but still started just two games all season. Pegged by many for a breakout year as a junior, the big man did not disappoint, averaging 19.7 points and being named an AP All-America first-teamer.

Cameron Johnson, North Carolina
No. 11 Pick (Phoenix Suns)
Recruiting Ranking: Three stars, No. 224

Johnson’s winding road to Chapel Hill started as a three-star recruit out of Our Lady Of The Sacred Heart (Penn.) High School, where he committed to nearby Pittsburgh. Johnson spent three years with the Panthers, receiving a medical redshirt for his freshman season, and averaged 11.6 points on the 2016–17 team that went 4–14 in the ACC. After eventually winning a full release from Pitt, he transferred in-conference to North Carolina, where he became a critical piece for two seasons as a Tar Heel. As a senior, Johnson averaged 16.9 points and shot 45.7% from three, turning himself into a player who was one of the biggest surprises of the lottery.

Matisse Thybulle, Washington
No. 20 Pick (Philadelphia 76ers)
Recruiting Ranking: Four stars, No. 104

Thybulle is the rare player on this list who made his bones on the defensive end, turning his status as one of the nation’s elite defenders over a four-year career at Washington into an NBA future. Thybulle, a late bloomer who told SI.com’s Greg Bishop he struggled to consistently make lay-ups until “like eighth grade,” was the anchor of the Huskies’ 2–3 zone defense and had the nation’s best steal rate as a senior.

Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga
No. 21 Pick (Memphis Grizzlies)
Recruiting Ranking: Unranked

Another true diamond in the rough, Clarke’s road to success in Spokane and becoming an NBA first-round pick is another fascinating one. After playing two seasons for San Jose State, one of only three mid-major schools to give him a Division I offer in high school, he elected to transfer. Coming off an excellent sophomore season that garnered him First Team All-Mountain West honors, Clarke got much more attention the second time around, and ended up picking the Zags. After sitting out 2017–18, he put together an utterly dominant junior season, trailing only Zion Williamson in Player Efficiency Rating and finishing with more blocked shots (117) than missed two-point attempts (106).

Grant Williams, Tennessee
No. 22 Pick (Boston Celtics)
Recruiting Ranking: Three stars, No. 191

Offered by only a small group of high-majors in high school, Williams opted for one of them, Tennessee, back in 2015. Despite coming into college weighing 260 pounds and needing to spend his first year going through what Williams called “fat camp,” he outperformed his ranking almost immediately, starting 29 games as a freshman while averaging 12.6 points. But it was his sophomore and junior years when Williams really took off, winning back-to-back SEC Player of the Year honors and capping his college career with First Team AP All-America honors.

Dylan Windler, Belmont
No. 26 Pick (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Recruiting Ranking: Unranked

Windler was so off the beaten path as a recruit that he doesn’t even have a page on 247Sports. That’s not necessarily unusual for players recruited to a mid-major like Belmont, but being taken in the NBA draft first round sure is. Windler underwent an impressive transformation over his four years in college, going from averaging 4.3 points and shooting 23.9% from three as a freshman to averaging 21.3 points and shooting 42.9% from three as a senior (and going absolutely wild in a first-round NCAA tournament loss to Maryland). In turning his weakness as a freshman (outside shooting) into his biggest strength, he completed the journey from unranked to NBA draft pick.

Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State
No. 27 Pick (Los Angeles Clippers)
Recruiting Ranking: Three stars, No. 270

Ranked outside the top 250 players in the 2016 class, Kabengele averaged a promising 7.2 points in just 14.8 minutes as a freshman before upping that to 13.2 points in 21.6 minutes as a sophomore in FSU’s traditionally large rotation. Despite establishing himself as Florida State’s best player in 2018–19, Kabengele did not start a game all year, instead being utilized as an invaluable sixth man. Fitting in seamlessly with the Seminoles’ collection of long and athletic players, he recorded 28 total blocks in his final 12 college games.

Nic Claxton, Georgia
No. 31 Pick (Brooklyn Nets)
Recruiting Ranking: Three stars, No. 231

Claxton was one of the biggest risers of this spring’s NBA draft cycle, going from someone who gave serious consideration to returning to school to being picked as the first selection of the second round. Ranked outside the top 200 when he committed to then coach Mark Fox and Georgia back in 2016, Claxton averaged just 3.9 points as a freshman before emerging in Tom Crean’s first season and recording averages of 13.0 points and 8.6 rebounds.

Carsen Edwards, Purdue
No. 33 Pick (Boston Celtics)
Recruiting Ranking: Four stars, No. 118

Edwards’s composite recruiting ranking was depressed by the fact that unlike ESPN and Rivals, which had him in the bottom end of their top 100, 247Sports had the 6'0" point guard as just a three-star and the No. 139 recruit. None, though, jelled with the college player Edwards became, building off a solid freshman season and strong sophomore year before becoming a Certified Bucket Getter in averaging 24.3 points as a junior. And while Edwards struggled with efficiency for stretches in 2018–19, he proved in the NCAA tournament—when he dropped 26, 42, 29 and 42 points—just how dangerous he is at his best. It certainly didn’t hurt his NBA draft stock, either.

Justin James, Wyoming
No. 40 Pick (Sacramento Kings)
Recruiting Ranking: Three stars, No. 386

James was probably one of the most unfamiliar names to basketball fans on draft night, and the former three-star recruit didn’t get much national attention at Wyoming. But the 6'7" James put up big numbers over each of the last three years and did a little bit of everything, culminating in averaging 22.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.5 steals as a senior. He ended his college career with seven straight games of 20-plus points.

Eric Paschall, Villanova
No. 41 Pick (Golden State Warriors)
Recruiting Ranking: Three stars, No. 210

Another player whose journey included multiple schools, Paschall started his college career at Fordham after being a three-star recruit out of St. Thomas More (Conn.) High School. After a strong freshman season, he transferred to Villanova, then sat out as the Wildcats won their first of two recent national titles in 2016. The second time ’Nova won it all, Paschall played a key role as a starter, averaging 10.6 points and 2.2 assists. When he returned for his senior year, it was clear the team now belonged to him and fellow senior Phil Booth, and the two carried the bulk of the Wildcats’ offense as they won 26 games and reached the NCAA tournament second round.

Admiral Schofield, Tennessee
No. 42 Pick (Washington Wizards)
Recruiting Ranking: Three stars, No. 251

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Tennessee’s 2018–19 season was that its Sweet 16 team didn’t have a single top-100 recruit on its roster. Like Williams, Schofield was overlooked in high school, drawing high-major offers from only the Vols and West Virginia. Following a decent first two seasons in college, Schofield took the next step as a junior, averaging 13.9 points and 6.4 rebounds. After testing the NBA draft waters, he returned for his senior year and improved further, teaming with Williams to lead Tennessee’s best team in years.

Isaiah Roby, Nebraska
No. 45 Pick (Dallas Mavericks)
Recruiting Ranking: Three stars, No. 133

Roby never recorded overwhelming numbers in three seasons for the Cornhuskers, posting his best line as a junior with 11.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, but he showed his value in other ways, including his versatility and effort. And in what turned into a season to forget for Nebraska in 2018–19, he was a bright spot in his last year in Lincoln.

Jarrell Brantley, Charleston
No. 50 Pick (Utah Jazz)
Recruiting Ranking: Unranked

The fourth player drafted among the first 50 picks who was completely unranked by the 247Sports composite coming out of high school, Brantley is another player who faced long odds to hear his name called. But he steadily improved his production over each of his four seasons at the College of Charleston, including averaging 19.4 points and 8.4 rebounds as a senior, and drew attention as a sleeper prospect after working out for NBA teams.

Jalen McDaniels, San Diego State
No. 52 Pick (Charlotte Hornets)
Recruiting Ranking: Four stars, No. 120

Unlike his younger brother, consensus five-star Washington signee Jaden McDaniels, opinions on the elder McDaniels were split coming out of high school. While Rivals had him at No. 98 in its 2016 national rankings, 247Sports ranked him 221st. He didn’t draw a ton of high-major offers (Washington, Arizona State and Nebraska were the three) and eventually picked San Diego State, where he went on to have two productive seasons for the Aztecs.

Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra
No. 53 Pick (Utah Jazz)
Recruiting Ranking: Unranked

Like Brantley, Wright-Foreman was a CAA star who was not ranked in high school. Unlike Brantley, he was much more of a known commodity nationally heading into the draft after turning into a super-scorer at Hofstra. After seeing just 4.1 minutes as a freshman, the 6'2" guard went on to pour in 24.4 points per game as a junior before upping that to a whopping 27.1 as a senior, good for second in the nation behind Campbell’s Chris Clemons. He was efficient as well, shooting 42.5% on 254 three-point attempts in 2018–19 and making a tidy 56.8% of his twos.

Jordan Bone, Tennessee
No. 57 Pick (Detroit Pistons)
Recruiting Ranking: Three stars, No. 171

Yet another Volunteer who was a three-star recruit-turned-NBA-draft-pick under Rick Barnes, Bone played a key role in leading Tennessee’s backcourt in 2018–19. After averaging 13.5 points and posting the SEC’s third-best assist rate as a junior, the point guard tested well at the NBA combine to help secure a selection in the draft.

Miye Oni, Yale
No. 58 Pick (Utah Jazz)
Recruiting Ranking: Unranked

Another player with an unlikely road to being an NBA draft pick, Oni originally committed to a Division III college and received no attention from Division I schools until, as Forbes details, his tape was noticed by Yale coach James Jones. By that point, the university couldn’t admit him for 2015–16, so he went to prep school for a year and gained further attention and offers, but stuck to his Yale commitment.

After two solid seasons, he became the Ivy League Player of the Year in 2018–19, averaging 17.1 points and 6.3 rebounds while leading the Bulldogs to their first NCAA tournament in three years. He’s the first Ivy League player to be drafted since Jerome Allen in 1995.