HLs & INSIDE Look at Top Mr. Basketball USA Candidates!
National Grassroots Editor
Ronnie has evaluated basketball talent for 20 years and has over 15 years of experience in publishing, editing and managing high school sports websites for companies such as Student Sports, ESPN and Ballislife. Ronnie compiles the FAB 50 National Team Rankings while serving as an account manager and consultant for grassroots event run by Ballislife and other companies, in addition to serving as a color commentator on high school broadcasts.
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Mr. Basketball USA is the title bestowed upon the National High School Player of the Year honor presented by Ballislife.com. The Mr. Basketball USA Tracker tracks the progress of the top player of the year candidates throughout the season. We examine the resumes of three early favorites, five others with strong cases and list other potential candidates. Now in its tenth year, the Mr. Basketball USA Tracker begins with its preseason voting results Nov. 22.
RELATED: Preseason 2016-17 FAB 50 (1-15) | Preseason 2016-17 FAB 50 (16-30) | Preseason 2016-17 FAB 50 (31-50) | Preseason East Region Top 20 | Preseason Southeast Region Top 20 | Preseason Midwest Region Top 20 | Preseason Southwest Region Top 20 | Preseason West Region Top 20
During the regular season, Ballislife.com will publish the Mr. Basketball USA Tracker, an inside look at the nation’s top on-court high school performers, according to a panel made up of 10 high school basketball and recruiting experts, including six McDonald’s All-American selection committee members.
Every season, the race for national player of the year is affected by different factors. Often times injury plays a big role, as it did in 2012-13 when current Los Angeles Laker forward Julius Randle (Prestonwood Christian Academy, Plano, Texas) suffered a broken foot and was unable to challenge eventual Mr. Basketball USA honoree Andrew Wiggins of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who recently dropped a career-high 47-point game.
Just last season, both injury and ineligibility were big factors, as point guard Dennis Smith Jr. of Trinity Christian (Fayetteville, N.C.) tore his ACL at the second-to-last major Grassroots event of the summer of 2015 (adidas Nations) and left early for N.C. State. Just as our 2015-16 preseason FAB 50 National Team Rankings were published, No. 1 Oak Hill Academy lost its best player, forward Harry Giles, to a torn ACL minutes into its first game. Oak Hill still went on to finish 45-1 and No. 2 in the final rankings. The Warriors again opened at No. 1 in 2016-17 and are currently 8-0 and, so far, no elite player has been lost to injury on any team.
Marvin Bagley III, the 2014-15 National Freshman of the Year at Corona del Sol (Tempe, Ariz.), did not play high school basketball at Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) last year and his absence was felt for a Trailblazers team that just couldn’t keep up with Chino Hills (Calif.) in the CIFSS Open Division title game. The Huskies’ Lonzo Ball (UCLA) went on to earn the title of 2015-16 Mr. Basketball USA. He was one of the top candidates going into the season, but very few, if anyone, predicted the kind of individual success Ball enjoyed and his team’s run to a 35-0 season and FAB 50 national title.
It’s not hard for scouts to pick out the nation’s best players, but it’s never easy to predict how the season will play out or forecast the one national player of the year award that is truly based on season performance.
For now, we present some of the eligible candidates who figure to factor in the 2016-17 Mr. Basketball USA race.
The Early Favorites*
DeAndre Ayton, Hillcrest Academy (Phoenix, Ariz.) 7-0 Sr. C
Resume: Averaged 29.2 points, 16.7 rebounds and 3.8 blocked shots per game for Hillcrest Academy and finished No. 4 in last season’s final Mr. Basketball USA Player of the Year Tracker with 56 points on eight ballots. As a sophomore, he averaged 21.1 points, 16.0 rebounds, 3.8 blocks, 2.6 assists and 1.6 steals for Balboa City School (San Diego, Calif.), a private institution that played mainly prep school and academy program competition as does Hillcrest.
Why He Could Win: This talented center has been class player of the year the past two seasons and many respected prep evaluators feel the Bahamian native might have the best long-term potential of any player in high school basketball regardless of class. After a lukewarm summer in 2015, Ayton was the only junior named first five all-american last season by Ballislife and he played well this past summer.
Why He Wouldn’t: Last season it seemed Ayton was a surefire national player of the year candidate with Ben Simmons moving onto college, but he exposure with Hillcrest is not the same as with elite players who compete for traditional high schools or programs eligible for the FAB 50. Many teams are reluctant to play prep schools or academy-types that can’t help them, only hurt, for a potential Dick’s Nationals berth. Even though his talent is undeniable, that scenario doesn’t help Ayton individually.
Marvin Bagley III, Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) 6-10 Jr. C
Resume: Bagley did not play high school basketball last season after leaving Arizona for California and enrolling at Sierra Canyon. He was a cinch choice for national freshman of the year honors in 2014-15 after leading Corona del Sol (Tempe, Ariz.) to the Division I state title. The freshman was named AZCentral Big Schools State Player of the Year after averaging 19.6 points and 10.3 rebounds for the No. 14 team in the FAB 50.
Why He Could Win: Simply put, he’s one of the most talented young players to come down the pike in recent memory and motivated to play well after sitting out last season. Sierra Canyon opens up No. 9 in the FAB 50 and plays a difficult schedule, so he’ll get plenty of opportunity to display his talents. Sierra Canyon also plays at least two nationally-televised games and that is always a plus for an elite player’s candidacy.
Why He Wouldn’t: Sierra Canyon is a talented team and has four returning senior starters who are all D1 bound players. They not only have to mesh to live up to expectations, Bagley has to get enough touches and put up some numbers because some of the other elite candidates clearly don’t have as much firepower surrounding them. Prolific numbers always help and it could be that teammate Cody Riley (UCLA) or Remy Martin (Arizona St.) leads the way at times.
Michael Porter, Nathan Hale (Seattle, Wash.) 6-9 Sr. F
Resume: As a junior, he averaged 28.6 ppg on 66 percent shooting along with 11.8 rpg, 3.3 apg and 2.0 spg while leading Father Tolton of Columbia to a Missouri Class 3 state title. He added to his resume by averaging 26.4 ppg and 11.4 rpg per game at the EYBL Finals in leading Mokan Elite to the Peach Jam title and enters his senior season with 2,449 career points.
Why He Could Win: He’s one of the nation’s top two prospects along with Ayton and some argue he is the best. Porter will have ample opportunity to lead Hale to big wins in big games. If he can lead his team deep in the Les Schwab Tournament in late December, that could give his Mr. Basketball USA candidacy the boost it needs.
Why He Wouldn’t: There’s work for Hale to do in order to move up in the FAB 50 and win the Metro League title over perennial powers Garfield and Rainier Beach. If the teams falters, it could negatively affect Porter’s candidacy. Hale will be plenty better than last year’s 6-18 mark, but what happens if they won’t win the Metro League title? Or someone else earns more local honors because of team success? That could play a factor.
Wendell Carter, Pace Academy (Atlanta, Ga.) 6-10 Sr. C
Resume: As a junior, Carter averaged 21.6 ppg, 13.6 rpg, and 5.5 bpg and led Pace to the GHSAA Class AA state title with 30 points and 20 rebounds in the state final game. Carter also was the leading rebounder on Team USA’s 2015 FIBA Americas U16 championship team.
Why He Could Win: Carter is one of the nation’s most talented and productive players. He’s also a winner and that also helps. He appeared on one ballot in the final 2015-16 Mr. Basketball Player of the Year Tracker, but expect him to be a legitimate candidate as a senior.
Why He Wouldn’t: Two factors could keep Carter from earning national player of the year honors. One, he may be overshadowed by other post players such as Ayton and Bagley and only one true post player earning this honor in the last 25 years (Greg Oden in 2005-2006) doesn’t help. In recent seasons, the game has been much more guard-oriented with some teams going to three and four-guard attacks. Two, Georgia has other talented players (i.e. Collin Sexton) and more highly-ranked teams than Pace and if someone else gathers more local honors, it could negatively affect Carter’s candidacy.
Trevon Duval, IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) 6-3 Sr. G
Resume: Duval was the top player on the UAA circuit, leading WE R1 to the UAA 17U title and one of the nation’s top underclass players last season at API of Dallas, Texas. He averaged 15.9 points per game as a sophomore in leading St. Benedict’s (Newark, N.J.) to the Prep A title.
Why He Could Win: Duval is the nation’s most explosive point guard and he’s highly-motivated to have a big senior campaign after not having the team or individual success he would have liked as a junior. He is capable of big-time individual performances and IMG, No. 16 in the FAB 50, does play in some showcases games where Duval will go heads up with another elite guard. Those head-to-head comparisons and matchups always help.
Why He Wouldn’t: For the second consecutive season, Duval joins a strong nucleus of players at a brand new program. Last season playing alongside Terrence Ferguson (now a pro ball player) and Billy Preston (who is now at Oak Hill Academy and a Mr. Basketball USA candidate himself), the team was flat to begin the regular season and it killed Duval’s candidacy. IMG’s talented roster is going to have to quickly mesh and pick up some key victories in order for Duval to outshine the other top guards around the country.
Romeo Langford, New Albany (Ind.) 6-4 Jr. G
Resume: Langford averaged 29.3 points,9.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists for a 27-1 team that finished No. 31 in the FAB 50. He also had an excellent summer, with some big scoring outbursts during the adidas Gauntlet.
Why He Could Win: The only sophomore to make the overall All-American team by Ballislife, he was also the leading vote-getter on the Indianapolis Star’s prestigious all-state team, so there is no doubting his ability or his stance among media scribes. He plays in a region that receives plenty of publicity for accomplishment, so if he has a big statistical season and leads New Albany to another state title, he’ll be in the thick of things.
Why He Wouldn’t: New Albany opens No. 31 in the FAB 50 and it can’t falter in-state or else that will hurt Langford. Indiana public school teams can’t travel the country like some of the others from around the country and that could cost him if New Albany is not completely dominant against regional foes. New Albany has a big game vs. No. 2 La Lumiere on national television December 15 and he’ll need to be spectacular in that game to remain a front-runner.
Chris Lykes, Gonzaga College (Washington, D.C.) 5-8 Sr. G
Resume: Lykes averaged 3.7 rpg, 4.3 apg, and 2.7 spg in arguably the nation’s toughest conference (WCAC) while averaging 22.0 ppg while shooting 47.3 percent from 3-point range. He’s arguably the top overall player in one of the country’s basketball hotbeds.
Why He Could Win: Lykes was named first team all-met by the Washington Post and was named Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Player of the Year overall-met POY Anthony Cowan Jr. (St. John’s) and McDonald’s All-American and potential 2017 NBA Lottery pick Markelle Fultz (DeMatha Catholic), which shows just how dominant he is as a high school player. Gonzaga opens up the season No. 10 in the FAB 50 and plays tough foes at every turn. That, plus the media attention his team will receive, can only help Lykes’ candidacy.
Why He Wouldn’t: Lykes is not one of the nation’s top prospects (according to various recruiting services) and he may have less wiggle room so to speak than a Top 10 national prospect. The unflappable point guard and emotional leader for the Eagles is a great high school player, but if any of the Mr. Basketball USA panelists look at their ballot through the lens of future potential, it may hurt Lykes. There is also other great players in the region, so if DeMatha or another team takes the WCAC crown that team’s best player could bag more local honors.
Trae Young, Norman North (Norman, Okla.) 6-2 Sr. G
Resume: For his 24-4 high school team, Young averaged 33.4 ppg and set a Class 6A scoring record by dropping 60 points in a game. He also had two other games of 50 or more points. He also averaged 23.2 ppg, 7.1 apg and 2.3 spg in leading Mokan Elite to the NIKE EYBL Peach Jam Title.
Why He Could Win: Young is a highly-honored player in his region and a proven product on the national high school scene. Norman North also graduated some firepower, so Young will have the green light and will put up some outstanding numbers. That will help him get noticed and keep him in the lens of the Mr. Basketball USA Tracker panel.
Why He Wouldn’t: Norman North lost in heart-breaking fashion in the Class 6A state title game and that gives Young plenty of motivation going into his senior campaign. Should the team not perform up to par, however, that could cost him. His team success is especially important because Norman North is not traveling nationally and he won’t get many opportunities vs. FAB 50-ranked teams.
OTHER SENIOR CANDIDATES
FROM STRONG PROGRAMS
G — Jose Alvarado, Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.) 5-11
C — Mohamed Bamba, Westtown School (West Chester, Pa.) 6-10
G — Alex Barcello, Corona del Sol (Tempe, Ariz.) 6-2
F — Brian Bowen, La Lumiere (LaPorte, Ind.) 6-6
G — Troy Brown, Centennial (Las Vegas, Nev.) 6-5
G — Jalek Felton, Gray Collegiate Academy (West Columbia, S.C.) 6-2
G — Jordan Goodwin, Althoff Catholic (Belleville, Ill.) 6-3
G — Quade Green, Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia) 5-11
G — Jaylen Hands, Foothills Christian (El Cajon, Calif.) 6-3
F — D.J. Harvey, DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) 6-6
F — Kevin Knox Jr., Tampa Catholic (Tampa, Fla.) 6-8
C — Brandon McCoy, Cathedral Catholic (San Diego, Calif.) 6-11
G — Jaylen Nowell, Garfield (Seattle) 6-5
C — Ikey Obiagu, Greenforest Christian Academy (Decatur, Ga.) 7-0
F — Chuma Okeke, Westlake (Atlanta) 6-8
F — John Petty, Mae Jemison (Huntsville, Ala.) 6-6
F — Billy Preston, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 6-10
C — Nick Richards, Patrick School (Elizabeth, N.J.) 6-11
F — Cody Riley, Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) 6-7
G — Daron Russell, Imhotep Charter (Philadelphia, Pa.) 5-10
G — Paul Scruggs, Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.) 6-3
G — Colin Sexton, Pebblebrook (Mableton, Ga.) 6-2
G — Devontae Shuler, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 6-2
G — Ethan Thompson, Bishop Montgomery (Torrance, Calif.) 6-4
C — Jeremiah Tillman, East St. Louis (Ill.) 6-10
G — Gary Trent Jr., Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.) 6-5
F — Jordan Tucker, Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) 6-7
G — Jarred Vanderbilt, Victory Prep (Houston) 6-7
F — James “M.J.” Walker Jr., Jonesboro (Jonesboro, Ga.) 6-5
G — Lonnie Walker IV, Reading (Pa.) 6-5
F — P. J. Washington, Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) 6-8
G — Lindell Wiggington, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 6-2
G — Nick Weatherspoon, Velma Jackson (Camden, Miss.) 6-2
F — Kris Wilkes, North Central (Indianapolis, Ind.) 6-7
JUNIORS TO WATCH
C — Jordan Brown, Woodcreek (Roseville, Calif.) 6-10
F — Silvio De Souza, IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) 6-9
G — Devon Dotson, Providence Day (Charlotte, N.C.) 6-2
F — Kamaka Hepa, Jefferson (Portland, Ore.) 6-9
F — Jaylen Hoard, Wesleyan Christian Academy (High Point, N.C.) 6-9
G — Prentiss Hubb, Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.) 6-3
F — Brandon Johns, East Lansing (Mich.) 6-7
F — Gerald Liddell, Steele (Cibolo, Texas) 6-7
G — Foster Loyer, Clarkston (Mich.) 5-11
G — Jordan McCabe, Kaukauna (Wis.) 5-10
F — E.J. Montgomery, Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) 6-9
G — Luther Muhammad, Hudson Catholic (Hudson, N.J.) 6-4
G — Immanuel Quickley, John Carroll (Bel Air, Md.) 6-3
G — Courtney Ramey, Webster Groves (Mo.) 6-3
F — Naz Reid, Roselle Catholic (Roselle, N.J.) 6-10
G — David Singleton, Bishop Montgomery (Torrance, Calif.) 6-3
G — Javonte Smart, Scotlandville Magnet (Baton Rouge, La.) 6-3
F — Zion Williamson, Spartanburg Day School (Spartanburg, S.C.) 6-6
F — Robert Woodard, Columbus (Miss.) 6-5
F — Precious Achiuwa, St. Benedict’s (Newark, N.J.) 6-7
G — Bryan Antoine, Ranney School (Eatontown, N.J.) 6-3
G — Cole Anthony, Archbishop Malloy (Queens, N.Y.) 6-2
G — La’Melo Ball, Chino Hills (Calif.) 6-1
G — R.J. Barrett, Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) 6-6
C — Charles Bassey, St. Anthony (San Antonio, Texas) 6-11
G — Tyger Campbell, La Lumiere (LaPorte, Ind.) 6-0
F — Chandler Lawson, Memphis East (Memphis, Tenn.) 6-9
F — Scottie Lewis, Ranney School (Eatontown, N.J.) 6-5
C — Onyeka Okongwu, Chino Hills (Calif.) 6-9
G — Cassius Stanley, Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood, Calif.) 6-4
F — Trendon Watford, Mountain Brook (Birmingham, Ala.) 6-7
*Editor’s note: Listed alphabetically; The Mr. Basketball USA honor is based on high school accomplishment, not future college/pro potential. Ballislife.com does not knowingly select fifth-year players, and those ineligible due to age or academics, as Mr. Basketball USA or to the various All-American teams it publishes.