Preseason 2015-16 FAB 50: (16-30)
Flores, RonnieRonnie has scouted and evaluated high school basketball talent for 20 years (and counting) and has over 15 years of experience in publishing, editing and managing high school sports websites for companies such as Student Sports and ESPN. He also serves as a manager and consultant for grassroots high school events run by Ballislife, as well as other independent operators and major shoe companies. Ronnie also serves as an account manager and production supervisor for television and online streaming broadcasts while working with companies such as ESPN and Facebook. Ronnie has been quoted in numerous publications such as the Los Angeles Times and has appeared on radio sports talk shows to discuss high school and grassroots basketball, as well as serving as a color commentator on numerous high school broadcasts. The only scout/prep journalist to once serve on the prestigious Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Best of the West panel for both football and boys’ basketball, Ronnie has also served on the selection committees for the Gatorade Athlete of the Year program, the John Wooden Award for high school basketball players and as a player personnel director for the Ballislife All-American Game and Under Armour Elite 24.
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We continue our 2015-16 preseason FAB 50 national team rankings powered by Ballislife.com with an in-depth look at teams No. 16-30. We began with teams No. 31-50 on Monday evening and our final installment will be teams No. 1-15 on Wednesday, November 4.
Note: The FAB 50 powered by Ballislife.com is a continuation of the National Sports News Service ratings that began in 1952. These were the first national high school rankings and the late Art Johlfs of Minnesota compiled them. They were compiled for many years by the late Barry Sollenberger of Phoenix, who merged them into the FAB 50 16 years ago.
Preseason 2015-16 FAB 50
National Team Rankings
Compiled by Ronnie Flores
(Final 2014-15 ranking in parenthesis; *Forfeit wins-losses not included; Look for preseason Region-By-Region Top 20 Rankings on Tuesday, November 10 and for the preseason Mr. Basketball USA Tracker on Monday, November 23.)
Bryce Aiken and his teammates at The Patrick School (Elizabeth, N.J.) have plenty of incentive this season after the Celtics were banned from the state playoffs by NJSIAA officials for an incident at a holiday tournament in California. Photo: Scott Kurtz
16. (NR) Patrick School (Elizabeth, N.J.) 18-6
Key Players: PG Bryce Aiken 5-11 2016 (No. 100 Rivals.com, Harvard commit), C Nick Richards 6-11 2017 (No. 13 Rivals.com, Grassroots Hoops Underclass All-American), PG Jamir Harris 6-0 2017 (No. 136 Rivals.com), PF Cyril Langevine 6-8 2016 (Rhode Island commit), C Buj Ajang 6-9 2017.
Why This Ranking: The Celtics possess a dangerous combination of talent and incentive after last season and that gives them as much potential as nearly any team in the Top 15. Richards is a load underneath and one of the best underclass post players in the country. The tougher the competition, the better Aiken plays and he’s also a commanding presence on the court. With normal development, Ajang is going to give opponents fits and make Richards even more dangerous. Langevine is a sparkplug and Harris is going to have a host of colleges looking for his LOI next year. Patrick School (which was opened after St. Patrick’s closed in 2012) has about as strong an inside-outside combination of players of any FAB 50-ranked team with the exception of top-ranked Oak Hill Academy.
The Skinny: Patrick School didn’t necessarily underachieve or fail to meet its goals last season, it’s a case of coach Chris Chavannes and the players feeling the season was taken away from them after NJSIAA officials banned the program from the post-season in controversial fashion after an end-of-game brawl in a California tournament versus Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, Calif.). Video of the brawl went viral and though the majority of viewers felt the penalty was harsh, the NJSIAA upheld its ruling. With all but one player on the roster returning (a non-starter), the Celtics open as Jersey’s No. 2 team ahead of TOC champion Roselle Catholic and behind perennial FAB 50 contender St. Anthony. We’ll never know how the Celtics would have fared in last year’s post-season, but without the suspensions the Celtics might have dropped less games and the extra comparative scores the playoffs would have provided could of meant a higher preseason ranking.
17. (40) Apple Valley (Apple Valley, Minn.) 30-2
Key Players: SF Gary Trent Jr. 6-4 2017 (No. 7 247Sports.com, Grassroots Hoops Underclass All-American), PG Tre Jones 5-8 2018 (No. 21 Scout.com), C Brock Bertram 6-11 2016 (No. 165 247Sports.com).
Why This Ranking: You have to like a team with just about everyone back from a championship club that knocked of previously unbeaten and nationally ranked Champlin Park in the Class 4A state title game. The Eagles are the overwhelming favorites to win their third state title in four years and potentially go down as one of Minnesota’s best teams ever. Of the five returning starters, Trent figures to get the most individual accolades, as he is one of the best scorers in the country regardless of class. Jones, the younger brother of Minnesota Timberwolves and 2015 NCAA Final Four MOP Tyus Jones, gained valuable experience and made clutch shots as a freshman starter. Bertram is improved and fields D1 offers from schools such as Wisconsin-Green Bay, Miami (Ohio) and Texas Tech.
The Skinny: This team is loaded, but it won’t be sneaking up on anyone and the expectations will be sky high. “We’re going to play wiser, smarter and stronger and go in with the mindset that we have to take it one game at a time,” Trent Jr. said. Trent Jr. and Jones both participated at the October USA Basketball Junior National team minicamp and Jones said the experience will help him be a better leader and avoid complacency. The highest ranked FAB 50 team ever from Minnesota is North of Bloomington in 1999-00 (No. 11) and if this team plays to its potential it could wind up in North’s range in the final FAB 50.
18. (NR) Greenforest Christian Academy (Decatur, Ga.) 27-2
Key Players: C Ikechukwu Obiagu 7-0 2017 (No. 10 ESPN.com), SG John Ogwuche 6-3 2016 (New Hampshire commit), PF Victor Enoh 6-9 2017, PF Bebe Iyiola 6-7 2017.
Why This Ranking: Somebody has to be No. 1 from Georgia and we decided to go with the Eagles. We also considered No. 27 Jonesboro and No. 31 Westlake, but G.C.A. has the best combination of returning talent with a proven track record. The GHSA Class A Private state runner-ups to St. Francis of Alpharetta is one of the biggest and most athletic teams in the Southeast region led upfront by Obiagu, a rim protector and strong rebounder. As he continues to improve his offense, that will only make Ogwuche, a big-time performer in last year’s post-season, more potent on the outside.
The Skinny: This is still a relatively young team and it could drop a game or two in the early portion of the season that would hurt its national ranking. On the flip side, coach Larry Thompson’s focus is to put his team in the best possible position to win a state title and let the rankings take care of itself. Still, there is a lot to like about this club and the motivation for the players to take the next step is there, too.
19. (16) Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) 29-5
Key Players: C M.J. Cage 6-10 2016 (No. 54 Rivals.com, Oregon Commit), SG Bailey Stout 6-2 2016, PG Spencer Freedman 6-0 2018.
Why This Ranking: The Monarchs have plenty of pieces back from a team that came within a whisker of capturing their fifth consecutive CIF state championship in the highest division. The difference was a last-second missed lay up and a timeout that wasn’t awarded that would have resulted in a technical foul in favor of Mater Dei. What veteran coach Gary McKnight (1024-90) likes about this team is having a talented post player in Cage and a veteran guard in Stout, not to mention the addition of Freedman.
The sophomore transfer is one of the best pure shooters in the country and Mater Dei’s offensive system will lead to scoring opportunities for his teammates.
The Skinny: Mater Dei has been in the position before where it must replace what seems to be an indispensable piece (last year it was Detroit Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson and this year it’s Notre Dame freshman Rex Pflueger) but remains a major FAB 50 factor. Pflueger is a big loss on both ends, but young players such as Harrison Butler (6-6, 2018), Miles Brookins (6-9, 2017) and talented newcomer Justice Sueing (6-7, 2017) will gain plenty of experience and have the opportunity to step up in the playoffs as Stout did last season. The early portion of the schedule isn’t overwhelming, so the Monarchs will be slow-played in the rankings. We’ll know exactly where they stand from a national perspective when they face Oak Hill Academy on January 18.
20. (NR) Westerville South (Westerville, Ohio) 26-3
Key Players: C Kaleb Wesson 6-9 2017 (No. 56 ESPN.com, Ohio St. commit), SF Andre Wesson 6-6 2016, SG Ennis Thomas 6-2 2016 (Lake Erie College commit), SF Jordan Humphrey 6-3 2016, PG Jelani Rogers 5-10 2016.
Why This Ranking: The Wildcats have the talent, coaching and motivation to warrant a Top 20 spot. Veteran coach Ed Calo returns all but two seniors from last year’s team that lost to nationally-ranked Huber Heights Wayne in the Ohio Division I state title game. Kaleb Wesson is a load inside and could develop into one of the best underclass players in the nation this season. He averaged 11.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg, and 3 bpg while his older brother Andre is a talented wing-type. Rogers is an elite ball-handler, while Humphrey is a talented all-around player who also doubles as a receiver on the football team.
The Skinny: Coach Calo mentioned how strong and athletic Huber Heights Wayne was following last year’s state title game and it’s probably what the Wildcats’ foes will say about Westerville South this year. Westerville South should be able to play at the pace it wants and will be able to defeat teams in a variety of ways. Westerville South’s depth and experience will help it wear down lesser teams, but it will need a perimeter player to step up and knock down big shots in the big games. Calo’s club will test itself nationally in December when it travels to Ft. Myers, Fla. to take on some of the nation’s best teams at the City of Palms Tournament.
21. (26) Sacred Heart (Waterbury, Conn.) 28-0
Key Players: SF Mustapha Heron 6-5 2016 (No. 6 Hoop Scoop, Grassroots Hoops Underclass All-American), PF Tyrn Flowers 6-8 2016.
Why This Ranking: The Hearts return plenty from an unbeaten state champion and have one of the nation’s best players in Heron. Only the second junior ever to be named New Haven Register State Player of the Year, Heron is focused on a 3-peat after averaging 22 ppg and 5.3 rpg. Over the past year, Heron has improved his perimeter skill and there are only a handful of players in high school basketball who can keep him from finishing around the rim – and fortunately for Sacred Heart none of those players are at Connecticut schools.
The Skinny: Even more so than No. 19 Mater Dei, the Hearts will be slow-played in the FAB 50. There is simply not enough in-state competition for Sacred Heart to make drastic moves up. Last year’s 64-51 win over eventual CHSAA Class AA champion Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.) put the Hearts in the national rankings conversation. It will take another similar out-of-state victory for Heron and company to make serious noise in the Top 20 – and they cannot afford any off-nights.
Brooklyn’s finest player, guard Shamorie Ponds of Thomas Jefferson (Brooklyn, N.Y.), is the leader of an Orange Wave team looking for their first PSAL crown since 1954. Photo: Kelly Kline/Under Armour
22. (NR) Thomas Jefferson (Brooklyn, N.Y.) 26-4
Key Players: SG Shamorie Ponds 6-1 2016 (No. 40 Hoop Scoop, St. John’s commit), PG Rasheem Dunn 6-0 2016, SF Isiah Deas 6-6 2016.
Why This Ranking: The Orange Wave begin the season as New York City’s top ranked team because of their returning talent, but it was a close call over No. 30 Cardozo and Wing’s Academy (Bronx, N.Y.). Lincoln (Brooklyn, N.Y.) also could be a major player in the Public School Athletic League (PSAL) with former coach Dwayne “Tiny” Morton back in the fold after a year in college and if talented wing Jahlil Tripp is granted another year of eligibility.
For now, we like Jeff because it returns nine lettermen and three starters. Ponds was the arguably the best player in Brooklyn last year after averaging 25 ppg, 9 rpg, and 6 apg. He has the ability to run a team or slide over to a scorers’ role because of the presence of Dun. Deas has boatloads of talent and is a smooth operator, but he needs to improve in the consistency department in order for Lawrence “Bud” Pollard’s program to get to the next level.
The Skinny: The PSAL is a bit ahead of the CHSAA right now and it’s likely to be a roller coaster ride until the post-season with regards to teams beating each other up. We’re cautiously optimistic about Jefferson (the program is seeking its first PSAL title since 1954), but with the presence of Ponds we’re pretty confident the Orange Wave can compete with the nation’s best teams. They’ll get an opportunity to at the City of Palms Classic in Ft. Myers, Fla. where they open against talented Chino Hills, Calif.
23. (18) Mustang (Mustang, Okla.) 28-0
Key Players: SG Jakolby Long 6-4 2016 (No. 126 247Sports.com, Iowa St. commit), SF Curtis Haywood II 6-4 2016.
Why This Ranking: The Broncos would have ranked right where they left off last season, or perhaps higher, if Austin Meyer didn’t transfer out of the program. The 6-foot-9 center moved to Texas for his senior season and will play at Rouse (Leander, Texas) and that dropped Mustang down five spots. Still with Long and Haywood II back and the momentum from last year’s historic run to the Class 6A state title, you have to rank Mustang until it drops a game. Long, the son of Mustang coach Terry Long, averaged 15 ppg, 8 rpg, and 6 apg to lead a balanced attack and was a The Oklahoman Super 5 selection.
The Skinny: The Broncos deserve to be ranked ahead of No. 28 Norman North because they have enough returning talent and beat them three times last season, including a 101-68 rout in the second round of District play. Norman North has more returning firepower, but if the Broncos’ returnees convince the newcomers to sacrifice individual numbers and accolades and buy into the team concept the way last year’s team did, you can’t count Mustang out.
24. (NR) Bentonville (Bentonville, Ark.) 21-9
Key Players: SG Malik Monk 6-4 2016 (No. 5 247Sports.com, Grassroots Hoops Second Team All-American), SF Tyler Robinson 6-5 2016, PG Jordan Hemphill 6-3 2017.
Why This Ranking: Last preseason, the Tigers were No. 42 in the FAB 50, 13 spots behind Arkansas Class 7A playoff favorite North Little Rock. The Charging Wildcats ended up defeating Bentonville in the state title game, 66-59. This season, the roles are reversed as Bentonville is in the driver’s seat with a majority of its firepower back, most noticeably Monk. He averaged 26.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, and 2.6 apg and if he steps up against Bentonville’s top foes, he’ll put his name in the Mr. Basketball USA conversation.
The Skinny: Bentonville showed what it could do last season (owning a win over Jayson Tatum and his team at Chaminade of St. Louis), but the loss count is a bit high for Top 25 team. We inserted coach Jason McMahan’s team in the Top 25 because of the talented supporting cast and the opportunity it has against its schedule. To start off, McMahan loves his team’s speed and skill. Hemphill will take on a bigger role after starring as last year’s sixth man and though the team will miss the dirty work done by Ben Smith, Robinson is a relentless rebounder who can play inside and out. Bentonville will compete in the Penny Hardaway Hoopfest, Maxpreps Holiday Classic in California and will meet No. 23 Mustang at home, in addition to facing St. Anthony of New Jersey at the Hoop Hall Classic.
25. (NR) High Point Christian (High Point, N.C.) 19-14
Key Players: C Edryce “Bam” Adebayo 6-9 2016 (No. 6 ESPN.com, Grassroots Hoops Underclass All-American), PG Ty Graves 5-11 2016 (No. 214 247Sports.com, Boston College commit), SF Ben Robertson 6-4 2016 (Bucknell commit).
Why This Ranking: The top-ranked private school in North Carolina was going to be a shoe-in for the NCISAA Class 3A title, but with its newcomers the Cougars could develop into a national force. Every season, plenty of elite players transfer schools but few, if any, will have Adebayo’s impact. He’s just a load underneath and few schools have a player than can slow him down on the blocks. As a junior, the Mr. Basketball USA candidate averaged 32.1 ppg and 21 rpg. Graves brings a wealth of talent and big-game experience over from defending FAB 50 champion Montverde Academy and Jalen Seegars (6-5, 2016) is another talented newcomer over from Greensboro Page. Robertson and Amidou Bamba (6-7, 2016) bring versatility to coach Brandon Clifford’s lineup.
The Skinny: On paper, the Cougars appear to be a force to be reckoned with, but we’re not going to go overboard because the team did have 14 losses and it may take a few games for the newcomers to mesh with Clifford’s veterans. Of the teams outside the Top 20, High Point is one of the best bets to eventually move up. The Cougars will get that opportunity at the City of Palms Tournament and when they play Findlay Prep at the Hoop Hall Classic.
26. (NR) Rainier Beach (Seattle, Wash.) 24-4
Key Players: SF Keith Smith 6-7 2016 (No. 83 247Sports.com, Oregon commit), SF Sam Cunliffe 6-7 2016 (No. 35 247Sports.com, Arizona St. commit), SF Kevin Porter 6-5 2018.
Why This Ranking: The Beach’s three-year reign as WIAA Class 3A state champ was ended last season by cross-town Garfield, which will open the season in the Top 15 of the FAB 50. Veteran coach Mike Bethea (484-115) will break into the 500-win fraternity this season with this talented group. The two veterans back are Smith, a terrific pull-up shooter who gets better against tough competition, and Porter, a lefty with an expanding perimeter game who excels on the break. Cunliffe transferred in from Bishop Blanchet and is capable of putting up 20 plus ppg.
The Skinny: Rainier Beach has a chance to be better than last season, but so does the Garfield team that beat The Beach two out of three times. Bethea always has a plethora of 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-8 athletes at his disposal who can run and defend on the perimeter and this unit is no different. What he’ll need to find is consistent shooting and teamwork in the big games. Rainier Beach will participate in Hoop Hall West in Phoenix and the Bass Pro TOC in Missouri against the likes of No. 39 Bishop Gorman, Chaminade of St. Louis, Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, Calif. and Oak Hill Academy.
27. (13) Jonesboro (Jonesboro, Ga.) 32-1
Key Players: SF M.J. Walker 6-6 2017 (No. 24 Rivals.com, Grassroots Hoops Underclass All-American), SG Jamari Smith 6-4 2018, PG Latavious Jenkins 6-1 2016.
Why This Ranking: There is a problem with Georgia teams – but it’s a good problem. There are so many good teams it’s nearly impossible to come up a perfect pecking order. We decided to place the defending GHSA Class AAAA state champs No. 2 behind Greenforest Christian Academy. GCA and No. 31 Westlake do have better personnel on paper, so we decided GCA did enough last year as a state runner-up to start ahead of the Cardinals, who must begin ranked ahead of a team that finished last season with a sub .500 record. Besides, with Walker (17.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.6 apg) back in the fold, Jonesboro might not miss a beat if its role players step up this season. Smith (7.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg) could double his production and Jenkins should provide a boost after missing two-thirds of last season. Tariq Jenkins (5.1 ppg, 2.1 apg) is another veteran that will play a big role in Jonesboro’s quest for a 3-peat.
The Skinny: The Cardinals are gunning for their third consecutive state and the road won’t be easy. They did defeat teams from four different states last season, but when Jonesboro went up against eventual FAB 50 champ Montverde Academy, it lost by 20 points (92-72). This team may not quite be at the level of the national elite, but is definitely deserving of a national ranking. Jonesboro has a strong track record, an elite player and enough pieces around Walker to warrant a Top 30 spot. If won’t be an easy climb up, however, as an early loss to a lower ranked team will cause them to fall in credible local and state rankings.
28. (NR) Norman North (Norman, Okla.) 21-6
Key Players: PG Trae Young 6-2 2017 (No. 13 Hoop Scoop), SF Lindy Waters III 6-6 2016, PG Marcus Dickinson Jr. 6-1 2016, PF Winston Nelson 6-7 2017.
Why This Ranking: The Timberwolves return all five starters and all their lettermen off a team that was just a notch below No. 23 Mustang. This team is just as talented as it is motivated and that’s saying a lot. Young (24.0 ppg) proved this summer he’s one of the best underclass guards in the country and is a likely McDonald’s All-American in 2017. Waters III (16.5 ppg) and Dickinson Jr. (18.4 ppg) are returning all-conference players and future D1 guards.
Nelson has experience up front and when you consider Cameron Martin (6-8, 2017) already has D1 offers, you’re talking about a potential juggernaut.
The Skinny: Only a handful of teams have a backcourt as potent as the one coach Bryan Merritt has at his disposal. The Timberwolves will play in the Nike Thanksgiving Hoopfest in Duncanville, Texas and the Bishop McGuinness Tournament, but ultimately the games versus Mustang will decide their fate. Young has already said he’s likely to leave to one of the top national academy-type programs next season after his childhood friends graduate in 2016. The added incentive to get the job done now should pay dividends.
29. (24) Roselle Catholic (Roselle, N.J.) 28-4
Key Players: PF Naz Reid 6-8 2018 (No. 5 247Sports.com), SF Andre Rafus 6-9 2017 (No. 67 Rivals.com), PG Leondre Washington 5-10 2017, SG Nate Pierre-Louis 6-3 2017, SF Matt Bullock (6-4, 2016).
Why This Ranking: The Lions are defending New Jersey Tournament of Champions winners and have enough veterans and newcomers to warrant a Top 30 ranking as Jersey’s No. 3 team. Roselle Catholic’s chances of winning its third TOC crown in four years was bolstered by the arrival of Baltimore native Rafus, one of the nation’s top juniors with offers from schools across the country. Washington and Pierre-Louis are talented newcomers who will shore up the backcourt and help ease the loss of first five all-american Isaiah Briscoe (now at Kentucky).
The Skinny: Roselle Catholic has had St. Anthony’s number in recent seasons, but in addition to Briscoe, the Lions lost plenty up front with the likes of Chris Silva, so they start a notch below where they left off last season. On the other hand, coach Dave Boff has plenty of firepower at his disposal, including unsung talents such as Bullock (8.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and in recent seasons, the Lions have played their best ball in February. Reid (4.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg) is a big-time talent, but his immense potential has to translate into an equal amount of production for another TOC crown to become reality.
30. (42) Cardozo (Bayside, N.Y.) 29-3
Key Players: PG Rashond Salnave 6-1 2016 (Monmouth commit), PG Aaron Walker 6-2 2016, SG Tareq Coburn 6-5 2016.
Why This Ranking: The Judges will be a typical Ron Naclerio-coached team – tough, undersized, and able to play with just about anyone. The only team on last season’s schedule it didn’t beat was CHSAA Class AA champ Christ the King. Cardozo is right there with No. 23 Jefferson and Wing’s Academy as front-runners in the Public School Athletic League race, as the latter won its first-ever PSAL title in 2015. Salnave (15.4 ppg) is a good reason why Cardozo could win its second PSAL title in three years. Naclerio feels he’s one of the most accomplished players in school history and with Walker (15.2 ppg) back in the fold, Salnave is even more dangerous because the duo is interchangeable in the backcourt. Coburn (13.7 ppg) is another mid-major level recruit who can play on the inside and knock down perimeter shots.
The Skinny: Naclerio (721-175), two wins from becoming the all-time winningest coach in PSAL history, likes ‘Dozo’s chances to win its third PSAL title since he became coach 35 seasons ago. He knows it won’t be easy, especially if Jahlil Tripp becomes eligible at Lincoln of Brooklyn. Naclerio is a bit uneasy about his lack of overall size, but said, “it won’t affect us as much as it might have in the past, because nobody in the city has any size.” That’s where Malachi Lewis (6-7, 2016), a newcomer from Baltimore, could be the X-factor. If Lewis and sixth man Tahiyr Zines (6-5, 2016) step up, the Judges will be in business.