Players use rankings as motivation

Troy Williams of Oak Hill (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) was shocked that he had dropped to No. 42 from No. 6 in the ESPN rankings, but he says the shift forced him to focus more and play smarter. Scott Kurtz

Roughly two weeks ago, Troy Williams underwent a mental metamorphosis which caused him to develop a rather sizable chip smack-dab on his shoulder.

When ESPN RecruitingNation released its updated hoops class rankings, Williams learned he’d plummeted from No. 6 all the way to No. 42 in the ESPN 100, a drop that he said he “never saw coming.”

“I was shocked that I dropped that low,” said Williams, a rising senior swingman who runs with Boo Williams Summer League’s AAU squad. “I don’t get it at all, but that’s someone’s opinion, and it’s up to me to prove them wrong. It definitely bothered me though.”

Williams’ sentiments were shared by plenty of players on the AAU circuit, who felt their ranking fell short of their production thus far this AAU season.

“I think most players think they should be ranked higher,” said Tyus Jones, a rising junior point guard who runs with the Howard Pulley Panthers and is ranked No. 3 in the ESPN 60. “I wouldn’t want the job of rankings players. Too many people would be mad at me.”

It’s no cakewalk for ESPN.com recruiting analyst Dave Telep and Co.

Not when the reality is that every player who isn’t the top player in his respective class thinks he’s underrated to some degree.

“It’s extremely challenging,” Telep said. “Rankings should be taken as a snapshot for where the players are and help them size-up the competition for where they want to go. If it motivates them, great, if they don’t care, even better. The best players just put their heads down and go about their business. I’ve never had a conversation with John Wall (No. 5 in the ESPN 100 in 2009) about where he was ranked.”

Added Jones: “I’ve never had a coach mention anything about where I’m ranked. They don’t care about that stuff so that tells you all you need to know about rankings getting you to the next level. Most coaches don’t even look at rankings.”

Neither do players. Or so they say.

Most players are reluctant to even admit that they pay attention to rankings; a “defense mechanism” according to Xavier Rathan-Mayes.

“Guys try and say that they don’t look at rankings, but they do,” said Rathan-Mayes, a rising senior combo guard with CIA Bounce who is ranked No. 20 in the ESPN 100. “We all look at them; it’s the difference between the guys that use rankings as motivation to get better and the guys who don’t.”

Rodney Purvis was definitely part of the former.

Purvis always felt slighted when the rankings were updated, but eventually developed the mindset that he’d just have to prove why he should’ve been ranked higher. He focused particularly on one aspect.

“Any time you play a person ranked above you, you’ve got to destroy them,” said Purvis, a shooting guard who will play at N.C. State next season and finished his senior season ranked No. 20 in the ESPN 100. “That’s a must, but you also have to destroy the players ranked below you. Use it as fuel and build on that. That’s what I did.”

Purvis’ result?

Roster spots in both the Jordan Brand and McDonald’s All-American games.

“You can turn it around,” Purvis said.

Still, it’s important to keep rankings in proper perspective.

Jahlil Okafor doesn’t concern himself with ascending from No. 2 in the ESPN 60 to No. 1 because the way he sees it “anyone of the top six players could be No. 1.”

“Most times you dropping or not moving up doesn’t mean you were bad, it just meant some other players were great,” said Okafor, a rising junior center who runs with Mac Irvin Fire. “Rankings, for most players, are like adversity because we all want to be the best. So you’ve just got to approach it like you would a tough situation on the court. You just have to respond.”

Williams is responding.

Two days after his fall from grace, he led BWSL to a 6-0 record in the fourth session of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, averaging 14 points per game.

“I think dropping like that helped me focus more and play smarter,” Williams said. “I definitely learned a valuable lesson, and that’s to go hard at all times and everything else will take care of itself. That’s what’s gonna make you a winner.”

A fail-proof plan no matter where you’re ranked.