Preseason 2016-17 FAB 50: Top 15 Teams!
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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We conclude our 2016-17 preseason FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com with an in-depth look at the nation’s top 15 teams. We began with teams No. 31-50 on October 30, continued with teams No. 16-30 on November 1 and now have published an in-depth look at the nation’s 50 best teams. Oak Hill Academy of Virginia is the nation’s preseason No. 1 team as it seeks its eighth FAB 50 title in the past 25 seasons.
All 50 teams are written up with explanations for why they were placed in these positions. Top-ranked Oak Hill Academy was the nation’s No. 1 team in 1993, 1994, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2012 and is seeking its eighth FAB 50 mythical national title. No. 2 La Lumiere lost to Oak Hill by two points in last year’s Dick’s Sporting Goods National High School Tournament championship game. Oak Hill Academy captured the prestigious tournament title for the first time ever and finished No. 2 in the FAB 50 behind undefeated Chino Hills (Calif.). CLICK HERE to view the all-time list of mythical national champions.
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
La Lumiere or Oak Hill Academy: Who’s More Deserving To Begin The 2016-17 Season No. 1?
Oak Hill Academy of Virginia has been a major player on the national high school basketball landscape for nearly 40 years. The program earned its first national ranking in 1979-80. Coach Steve Smith took over the reigns from Larry Davis for the 1985-86 season and quickly took the program to the next level.
The Warriors went 24-1 and 25-1 in Smith’s first two seasons with top five finishes both years before capturing its first mythical national title in 1992-93 with one of the best teams in the annals of high school basketball. Since that first No. 1 finish in 1993, the Warriors have captured six more FAB 50 national titles and eight overall mythical national titles.
From a team perspective, Oak Hill Academy has accomplished just about everything there is to do in high school basketball after winning its first Dick’s Nationals tournament last year with an exciting 62-60 overtime victory over La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.). It was the Warriors’ first Dicks Nationals since the event’s inception at the conclusion of the 2009 season. That win, combined with other factors we’ll discuss, allows Oak Hill Academy to open the 2016-17 season as the preseason No. 1 team in the FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com.
It is the second consecutive season the Warriors will open as the No. 1 team in the FAB 50. Oak Hill has began as preseason No. 1 a record eight times since the FAB 50/National Prep Poll’s inception for the 1987-88 season, including that magical 30-0 season in 1992-93. A preseason No. 1 tag has been a good omen for Smith’s program, with a No. 1 or No. 2 finish in each of those seven seasons (1993, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2007, 2016), including last year’s 45-1 mark that landed Oak Hill No. 2 in the final FAB 50 poll behind 35-0 Chino Hills (Calif.).
In addition to winning Dick’s Nationals over La Lumiere, Oak Hill’s overall talent level and some player movement involving both teams tipped the scales in favor of the Warriors. Smith has at his disposal three returning starters and the nation’s best backcourt in 6-foot-2 Matt Coleman (who he compares favorably to the best true point guards he’s had over the years and likens to the Sacramento Kings’ Ty Lawson), Lindell Wiggington (a Ballislife Underclass All-American selection last season who stepped up in a big way), and Ole Miss commit Devontae Shuler (who is much improved according to his coach).
Creighton commit Ty-Shon Alexander would be an All-American candidate at nearly any other program and gives Oak Hill a two-deep backcourt that has no peer across the country. This season, Oak Hill can realistically split into two teams that would each be ranked in the FAB 50. Talent alone, however, doesn’t determine success at the highest levels of high school basketball.
“Ty-Shon is better when he starts while Devontae is the perfect sixth man,” Smith said. “I know they both want to start, but they’re sacrificing by being on this team; they all know that. Plus all four of them will play 20 plus minutes a game.”
La Lumiere’s Shane Heirman has done an excellent job taking the Lakers from a national program to a one with realistic mythical national title aspirations in just two seasons. Not only did the Lakers take Oak Hill to the brink in last year’s Dick’s Nationals final, they actually won their first game at the event after three previous unsuccessful trips to the end-of-the-season tournament.
Similar to Oak Hill, La Lumiere has three starters returning, but it’s the fourth who left that made it easier to give the No. 1 nod to Oak Hill. Jeremiah Tilmon is now back at East St. Louis (Ill.) High School and the top 50 national prospect would have been the anchor in the middle with big-game experience and familiarity with Heirman’s system. Ironically, Tilmon hurt his shoulder early in the Oak Hill game and the Lakers lost at the overtime buzzer on a tip-in by 6-foot-9 Khadim Sy. Would the game’s ending transpired as it did if Tilmon didn’t get hurt?
Park Tudor (Indianapolis) transfer Jaren Jackson Jr. is La Lumiere’s new cog in the middle and the Michigan St. recruit gives La Lumiere the inside presence it needs in order to compete with Oak Hill on a national level and capture the 2017 Dick’s Nationals title.
The next milestone for Oak Hill Academy to conquer would be an unbeaten season with a Dick’s Nationals title in tow. The last time Oak Hill won a FAB 50 National title (2012) it finished 44-0 but did not compete in the event. Can Oak Hill join 2008-09 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) as only the second unbeaten Dick’s National title-winning mythical national champion? It certainly has the talent and opportunity to, but may need a bit of lady luck on its side. Coach Smith believes this year’s Oak Hill team is better than last year’s, the one that played without Duke freshman Harry Giles, that is. Oak Hill lost its potential Mr. Basketball USA candidate for the season to injury minutes into its first game.
“We have more talent and are deeper than last year,” Smith said. “The chemistry has to be right and we have to have luck on our side. Hopefully we’re all on the same page.
“We know we’re going to take everyone’s best shot. Last year, it took us about four or five games to adjust without Harry, then we won 42 straight. At this same stage in the preseason, we’re probably a little further along to be honest.”
Preseason 2016-17 FAB 50 National
Team Rankings Powered by Ballislife.com
By Ronnie Flores
(Final 2015-16 ranking in parentheses; *Indicates forfeit wins, forfeit losses not included; **Indicates forfeits and defaults not included; Look for preseason Region-By-Region Top 20 Rankings on Thursday, November 10 and for the preseason Mr. Basketball USA Tracker on Tuesday, November 22.)
1. (2) Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 45-1
Key Players: PF Billy Preston 6-10 2017 (No. 5 247Sports.com), PG Lindell Wiggington 6-2 2017 (No. 40 Rivals.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PG Matt Coleman 6-2 2017 (No. 27 ESPN.com), SG Devontae Shuler 6-2 2017 (No. 100 Scout.com, Ole Miss commit), SG Ty-Shon Alexander 6-4 2017 (No. 64 ESPN.com, Creighton commit).
Why This Ranking: The Warriors have the deepest and most talented team with a combination of size and experience among ranked teams, in addition to the nation’s best backcourt. Preston is a versatile talent who can handle the ball and face the basket. At times, it will seem like Oak Hill has five guards on the floor. Smith, who enters the season with an all-time 1,026-65 win-loss mark, is a traditionalist in the terms of always wanting to play with a post and won’t two-platoon no matter how talented his roster is. When he goes big, 6-foot-10, 280-pound David McCormack (2018) will see the floor plenty since he moves well and can score. Kenneth Nwuba (6-9, 210, 2018) will also play often and gives the lineup a nice change of pace should McCormack play up to par. Sophomore Prince Toyambi (6-5, 2019) of the Congo is a bit short on experience, but he’s long on versatility with the ability to spell the guards or play a traditional wing spot. There is not a real weakness you can point to as long as Preston and McCormack don’t slack on the boards.
The Skinny: Oak Hill has all the ingredients to capture the FAB 50 national title with an unbeaten mark, and can survive better than most ranked teams should an injury occur. Shuler has All-American potential even though he may come off the bench, while Wiggington stepped up big-time after Giles went down last year, averaging 15 ppg at Dick’s Nationals. Preston’s production and consistency will be key to how the season unfolds for this team. Smith is counting on him to produce and he could go down as Oak Hill’s most talented forward of the last 10 years and be a Mr. Basketball USA candidate if he fulfills expectations. “I think in his mind and heart, he feels underrated nationally because he’s moved around,” Smith said. “He is buying in to the way we do things and he wants to play on a championship team.” In order to get that championship, Oak Hill will need to fare well at the Marshall County Hoopfest and defeat No. 9 Sierra Canyon on December 15 before flying out to the Iolani Classic in Hawaii on December 17. “It will be a long flight if we lose that game,” Smith said.
2. (4) La Lumiere (LaPorte, Ind.) 27-4
Key Players: SF Brian Bowen 6-8 2017 (No. 10 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PF Jaren Jackson 6-10 2017 (No. 15 Rivals.com, Michigan St. commit), PG Tyger Campbell 6-0 2019 (No. 23 Rivals.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SG Jordan Poole 6-5 2017 (No. 58 ESPN.com, Michigan commit).
Why This Ranking: This team is deep and versatile and came within a whisker of winning Dick’s Nationals in 2016 – and could conceivably be better in 2017. Losing starter Jeremiah Tilmon is a blow because he was a tremendous physical presence, but the addition of Jackson and Jacob Epperson (6-11, 2017) makes La Lumiere more talented and skilled upfront. Epperson is a bit unknown nationally but could be the breakout performer among top-tier clubs nationally. Jackson is oozing with ability and coach Shane Heirman feels he has the ability of a top five national prospect. Bowen, a big-time scorer who has gained 10 pounds of muscle this off-season, and Campbell, who has improved his outside shooting, bring experience and, most importantly, accountability to the program. Eleven of the 16 players on the roster have been with the program for two years or more and Heirman notices the difference it makes at practice each day.
The Skinny: The loss to Oak Hill is a two-edged sword; sure the Lakers wanted to win that game and it likely cost them the No. 1 preseason ranking. What it did, however, was give the program confidence (La Lumiere was 0-3 at Dick’s Nationals before last season) and fire. “We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder and it brings a whole new passion to our gym that comes from the guys,” Heirman said. La Lumiere has 5 a.m. weightlifting and so far this fall not one player has been late, according to Heirman. The Lakers are not beefy inside, but that problem could be solved by the late addition of power forward Franklin Agunanne (6-9, 2018) if he’s healthy. La Lumiere faces No. 31 New Albany on December 15 in a nationally-televised game, comes home to take finals for a week, then plays in the Chick-Fil-A Classic against the likes of No. 4 Wheeler, No. 8 Hamilton Heights Christian Academy, No. 22 Greensboro Day, No. 32 Westlake, No. 42 Gray Collegiate Academy and No. 49 Providence Day. After a two-day Christmas Break, the team will travel by bus to the Mike Miller Classic in South Dakota and that stretch will be “make or break” time in Heirman’s eyes.
3. (34) Patrick School (Elizabeth, N.J.) 23-6
Key Players: C Nick Richards 6-11 2017 (No. 12 ESPN.com), PG Jamir Harris 6-1 2017 (No. 224 247Sports.com, Minnesota commit), PG Jordan Walker 5-10 2017, SG Myles Cale 6-4 2017 (No. 63 ESPN.com, Seton Hall commit), C Buj Ajang 6-9 2017.
Why This Ranking: We were tempted to place perennial FAB 50 title contender Montverde Academy or one of the Georgia powers in this spot, but we like the blend of returnees, newcomers, coaching and incentive for the Celtics. Patrick School returns three starters and 11 lettermen from last year’s team that took eventual FAB 50 champ Chino Hills to overtime in the City of Palms Classic championship game. New Jersey has five teams with great potential, but we’ll go with the one with the great big man and loaded backcourt as the Garden State’s No. 1. Richards wasn’t always healthy last season, but he’s one of the nation’s best centers and is primed for a big senior season. Harris (who scored 34 points versus No. 25 St. Anthony in a summer league tourney final) leads a backcourt with at least five D1 prospects. The balance on this team and the team defensive concept stressed by co-coaches Mike Rice and Chris Chavannes makes the Celts legitimate mythical national title contenders.
The Skinny: With a strong schedule and talented pieces, Patrick School is in prime position to make a run at the FAB 50 title, but it must defeat the likes of No. 5 Montverde Academy, No. 11 Neumann-Goretti and No. 12 Memphis East to capture the City of Palms Tournament title and take care of business locally. The Celtics fell to No. 35 Roselle Catholic, 67-54, in the NJSIAA Non-Public B semifinals, so there is work to be done. If Al-Amir Dawes (6-1, 2019) blossoms and newcomer Valdir Manuel (6-8, 2018) shores up the frontcourt to replace graduated Cyril Langevine (Rhode Island), Patrick School will be difficult to beat for the ultra-competitive NJSIAA TOC crown. The schedule is tough enough and the local competition good enough where a regular season loss to a FAB 50 ranked team won’t completely ruin its national ranking. Point guard Bryce Aiken (Harvard) is a big graduation loss, but anything less than a NJSIAA Tournament of Champions crown will be a letdown, according to Chavannes.
4. (NR) Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) 22-6
Key Players: PG Darius Perry 6-3 2017 (No. 58 ESPN.com, Louisville commit), SF Jordan Tucker 6-7 2017 (No. 38 247Sports.com), SG Jordan Usher 6-7 2017 (No. 97 Rivals.com, USC commit), PF E.J. Montgomery 6-10 2018 (No. 9 Rivals.com, Auburn commit), SF Terry Armstrong 6-5 2019 (No. 19 Scout.com).
Why This Ranking: This is the first team we’re going out on a limb a bit for, but it makes sense because the preseason No. 1 team in Georgia was automatically going to be placed high in this year’s FAB 50. The GHSA has also allowed one of its state champs to participate at Dick’s Nationals the past two seasons and that’s a factor, too, since the Wildcats will be in line for its second berth (2015) should it capture the Class AAAAAAA title. We give the edge to coach Doug Lipscomb’s club over No. 6 Greenforest Christian Academy because of its point guard play, led by Perry and his capable back-up, Stetson commit Kenny Aninye (5-11, 2017). The loss of Romello White (Georgia Tech) will hardly be felt, as Lipscomb has several transfers at his disposal who give him the talent to compete with any team in the country. Tucker and Usher are two of the best wing-types in the country and stalwarts such as Armstrong and Brandon Younger (6-6, 2018) give Wheeler as much frontcourt firepower as any FAB 50 ranked team. “My players have been in the gym working and I think it can be an exciting season not only because of our talent but who we play as well,” Lipscomb said.
The Skinny: The Greenforest-Wheeler debate could be settled right away as the Wildcats host the adidas Explosion on December 3, where they will play the Eagles in a much-anticipated game. Wheeler’s schedule is loaded, as it will play No. 13 DeMatha Catholic at the National High School Hoops festival, compete in the Chick-Fil-A Classic, face No. 11 Neumann-Goretti at the Cancer Research Classic, battle No. 22 Greensboro Day at the Peachtree Corners Invitational and deal with No. 32 Westlake and No. 39 Pebblebrook in Region 2. Wheeler has won high-level events before (such as two years ago at the City of Palms Tournament with Boston Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown in the lineup), but has had a few letdowns when expected to win, so getting through this schedule unscathed will be extremely difficult. Lipscomb looks forward to the challenge and knows there will be no FAB 50 title aspirations if his team doesn’t win the AAAAAAA title. “Everyone in Georgia has the same mission, so we can’t put the cart in front of the horse,” Lipscomb said. “If we can win a state title with the teams on our schedule, we should be invited to Dick’s.”
5. (5) Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) 26-2
Key Players: SG R.J. Barrett 6-7 2019 (No. 1 Scout.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SF Rechon “Leaky” Black 6-7 2018 (No. 32 ESPN.com, North Carolina commit), PG Marcus Carr 6-2 2017 (No. 134 247Sports.com), PG Andrew Nembhard 6-3 2019 (No. 15 ESPN.com), PF Sean Mobley 6-9 2017 (No. 147 247Sports.com, Virginia Commonwealth commit).
Why This Ranking: Without a proven superstar type upperclassman and with wholesale roster changes, the Eagles begin with their lowest preseason FAB 50 ranking since opening No. 10 in Kevin Boyle’s first season with the program in 2011-12. There is plenty of underclass talent and with Boyle’s proven track record, the Eagles start in the same spot they left off at last season. Barrett, last year’s leading scorer, is a special talent who can play either guard spot and has displayed marked improvement in his outside shooting, intensity and leadership. Similar to Barrett, Black has the size and athleticism to play multiple positions and assistant coach Rae Miller likens him to former Montverde standout Justin Bibbins (West Virginia). The Eagles are smaller up front than in recent seasons, but Mobley and Sandro Mamukelashvili (6-9, 2018) give Boyle versatility and the ability to press and trap more than in recent seasons. “We have a dynamic group of workers, excellent guard play and are versatile on both ends of the court,” Miller said.
The Skinny: There is a lot to like about this Montverde team, but will it live up to expectations after losing so much firepower up front? No other program in America could lose the likes of Silvio De Sousa, Simi Shittu and E.J. Montgomery to transfer and be as good, but the Eagles potentially are. Coming off an injury-riddled season, Carr is underrated nationally and British Columbia native Grant Shepard (6-9, 2017) is a good athlete who can help take this team to the next level. Montverde is not as deep as recent seasons, but last year’s team wasn’t always on the same page and the coaching staff believes rectifying that will go a long way. “This year’s team will have better role definition, and a nice combination of closeness and chemistry; they play for and with each other,” Miller said. Montverde has an early season test vs. No. 39 Pebblebrook and plays Evanston (Ill.) at the Chicago Elite Classic. Montverde will also participate in the City of Palms Classic, make the Bass Pro TOC to Hoophall Classic trek over MLK weekend and host the Montverde Invitational January 26-28 against the likes of No. 20 Imhotep Charter, No. 23 Rainier Beach and No. 49 Providence Day.
6. (10) Greenforest Christian Academy (Decatur, Ga.) 30-2
Key Players: C Ikechukwu Obiagu 7-0 2017 (No. 34 Scout.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PF Victor Enoh 6-9 2017 (No. 163 247Sports.com, Memphis commit), PG Justin Forrest 6-1 2017 (Ballislife Underclass All-American), PF Abayomi “Baybe” Iyiola 6-7 2017.
Why This Ranking: The Eagles were Georgia’s highest ranked FAB 50 team last season after capturing the GHSA Private A championship, but Class AAAAA titlist Miller Grove was chosen for Dick’s Nationals and was deserving. Naturally, Greenforest felt snubbed, but it has enough firepower (three returning starters, eight lettermen) to get the nod this time around. We place Wheeler two spots higher because of its offensive firepower and tougher post-season bracket. The good thing is this rankings debate will play out on the court, as the two schools play each other early in the season and both face national competition to validate the winner of that early-season game.
The Skinny: This team will be difficult to beat with its experience and NBA size up front. As if Obiagu, Enoh and Iyiola aren’t enough, Muhammed Abdulsalam (6-8, 2018) is another big man with D1 offers at coach Larry Thompson’s disposal. If Obiagu or Iyiola develop into dependable 15 ppg scorers, Greenforest’s bench scoring concerns will be eased. Forrest’s playmaking makes this team go and transfer David Quimby (6-3, 2017) is just what the doctor ordered at the two-guard since John Ogwuche (New Hampshire) has moved on. Greenforest will compete at the Bass Pro TOC in Missouri against the likes of No. 5 Montverde Academy, No. 9 Sierra Canyon, No. 12 Memphis East and No. 29 Findlay Prep, will take on No. 16 IMG Academy and No. 35 Roselle Catholic at the Cancer Research Classic and No. 13 DeMatha Catholic at the Peachtree Corners Invitational. The Georgia pecking order will be decided right away, as No. 41 Norcross and No. 32 Westlake will be on the docket at the Hoopsgiving Classic before December even starts. Those games could be great resume-builders for the Eagles’ Dick’s Nationals aspirations, or have them playing catch up heading into the holiday tournament season.
7. (36) Bishop Montgomery (Torrance, Calif.) 28-3
Key Players: SG Ethan Thompson 6-4 2017 (No. 23 Hoop Scoop, Oregon St. commit), SF Jordan Schakel 6-5 2017 (No. 137 Rivals.com, San Diego St. commit), SG David Singleton 6-4 2018 (No. 37 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PG Gianni Hunt 6-2 2019.
Why This Ranking: The Knights begin the season in the same rankings position they had heading into last January’s showdown with top-ranked Chino Hills. Bishop Montgomery had a six-point lead late before a couple of poor possessions doomed it in an eventual 71-67 loss. With five underclass starters in that game, it wasn’t a secret coach Doug Mitchell’s team was going to start off the season highly-ranked, especially since Hunt and fifth starter Fletcher Tynen (6-5, 2018) have shown marked improvement since last year. Both Thompson and Singleton are legitimate California Mr. Basketball candidates, as the latter made a big jump in his game as a sophomore when he was named area player of the year by the L.A. Daily Breeze. This ranking may seem a bit high for a team without a true post presence, but as a unit they are physically stronger than last season and Mitchell (618-154) always fields outstanding defensive teams that know how to compete against taller teams.
The Skinny: Last season, Cal-Hi Sports had a rankings dilemma in determining its preseason No. 1 between Chino Hills and Sierra Canyon. The choice ended up being Chino Hills and it proved to be the correct one, as that team went on to an unbeaten national championship season while the Trailblazers lost their first game. Sierra Canyon starts two spots behind Bishop Montgomery this season and the difference between the two clubs in determining its preseason FAB 50 spot was miniscule. Sierra Canyon has a legit claim to start higher than Mitchell’s club; it beat the Knights 78-69 in the CIF Southern Section Open Division semifinals. Similar to Chino Hills last season, however, we have a hunch this year’s Montgomery team will live up to expectations. We’re going to take a wait-and-see approach with Sierra Canyon, which plays a tougher national schedule than does Montgomery, the latter which can’t afford a slow start to its season in order to maintain a lofty ranking. The country will get to see just how Mitchell’s undersized juggernaut stacks up nationally when it takes on No. 5 Montverde Academy in a nationally televised affair at the Hoophall Classic on January 16.
8. (14) Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.) 28-3
Key Players: SG Nickeil Alexander-Walker 6-5 2017 (No. 29 ESPN.com, Virginia Tech commit), PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 6-5 2017 (No. 43 247Sports.com), SG Therren Shelton-Szmidt 6-5 2017 (Middle Tennessee St. commit).
Why This Ranking: The Hawks have a great blend of returnees (three starters, eight lettermen) and newcomers to seriously compete for a Dick’s Nationals berth. Shelton-Szmidt is one of the many talented Canadians doting rosters around the country and is HHCA’s leading scorer from last season. Gilgeous-Alexander, who has international experience playing for the Canadian national team, is coach Zach Ferrell’s quarterback while his cousin Alexander-Walker was good enough to play in the Under Armour Elite 24 this past summer. Mark Tikhonenko (6-9, 2017) is a stretch four with high-major ability and Kaosi Ezeagu (6-10, 2018) will need to step up in HHCA’s big games this season. “We have arguably one of the best backcourts in the country returning and have added enough pieces that we have 10 or 11 future D1 players,” Ferrell said.
The Skinny: There is no doubt the Hawks, who don’t compete for a state crown, are one of the most talented teams in the country. They must display the ability to close out games against FAB 50-ranked opponents on their tough schedule in order to move up. Last season, two of HHCA’s three losses came against Oak Hill, and it has to win a vast majority of those 50-50 games in order to secure a Dick’s Nationals berth. HHCA will compete at the Lighthouse Thanksgiving Classic and will have the national spotlight when it takes on No. 12 Memphis East on national television at the Penny Hardaway Hoopfest on December 1. Big early wins could propel HHCA to a good showing at the Chick-Fil-A Classic, where it could meet the likes of No. 2 La Lumiere and No. 4 Wheeler.
9. (41) Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) 26-5
Key Players: PF Marvin Bagley III 6-10 2018 (No. 1 Hoop Scoop), PF Cody Riley 6-8 2017 (No. 30 Hoop Scoop, UCLA commit), PG Remy Martin 5-10 2017 (No. 91 Hoop Scoop, Arizona St. commit), SG Adam Sieko 6-3 2017 (No. 98 Hoop Scoop, San Diego St. commit).
Why This Ranking: This ranking gives the Trailblazers extra motivation since they field one of the most talented and experienced units in the country, but still sit No. 2 in California behind No. 7 Bishop Montgomery. Sierra Canyon returns four starters and adds Bagley, a legitimate Mr. Basketball USA candidate as a junior and one of the best players in the nation regardless of class despite sitting out his sophomore season. If Bagley flourishes with the veterans and they realize he’s the most talented player, this club could be scary good. In fact, more than one coach whose team is in FAB 50 nominated the Trailblazers as preseason No. 1. Sierra Canyon goes eight deep, as Terrence McBride (6-2, 2017) is a three-year starter who would be a star for a vast majority of California programs, while Michael Feinberg (6-3, 2018) has tons of experience in high-level games. As if that wasn’t enough, Marcus Bagley (6-6, 2020), Marvin’s younger brother, is an excellent offensive player who is pushing the starters.
The Skinny: Last season got off to a bad start when the Trailblazers lost before December and the season came to an end a few games earlier than expected when unranked Cathedral Catholic of San Diego knocked them off in the opening round of the SoCal Open regional playoffs. Coach Ty Nichols knows his team must finish off the close games in order to meet its goal of winning the CIF Southern Section and CIF State Open Division title. That loss in the regional playoffs is the reason Sierra Canyon is ranked lower than Montgomery because it beat that club 78-69 in the section semifinals in a game Riley dominated. Martin is the fastest guard in the state and Seiko is underrated nationally, so if the Trailblazers survive their schedule there is no reason why California can’t have the FAB 50 champion for two consecutive seasons. Sierra Canyon plays top-ranked Oak Hill on December 15 in Indiana, could face No. 5 Montverde Academy and No. 10 Gonzaga at the Les Schwab Invitational and will do the Bass Pro TOC-Hoophall Classic double dip MLK weekend.
10. (NR) Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.) 24-10
Key Players: PG Chris Lykes 5-8 2017 (No. 20 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife First Team All-American, Miami commit), SG Prentus Hubb 6-3 2018 (No. 18 Hoop Scoop), SF Myles Dread 6-5 2018 (No. 111 Hoop Scoop, Penn St. commit).
Why This Ranking: We almost went with Neumann-Goretti for the final spot in the Top 10, but the Eagles have a bit more firepower returning, plus help coming up from JayVee and freshman teams that went a combined 36-2. The Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) preseason favorite over No. 13 DeMatha and No. 34 Paul VI, the Eagles started off last season FAB 50 ranked as the third team in the WCAC and finished in third place and unranked because of the high loss total. Behind Lykes, coach Steve Turner’s club should cut that loss total more than half. The dynamic point guard was last year’s WCAC Player of the Year (over projected 2017 NBA lottery pick Markelle Fultz of DeMatha and all-Met POY Anthony Cowan Jr. of St. John’s) after averaging 22 ppg while shooting 47.3 percent from 3-point range. Lykes also averaged 3.7 rpg, 4.3 apg and 2.7 spg and was chosen fourth five All-American, the highest among returning players at programs eligible for the FAB 50.
The Skinny: There is plenty more to like about Gonzaga besides Lykes, as Hubb (10.5 ppg) has developed into one of the best underclass players in the country. He hit double figures 19 times, including a 26-point outing versus DeMatha, while Dread (9 ppg, 5 rpg) should greatly improve his output as his ball skills continue to develop. Eddie Scott (6-5, 2017, Pennsylvania commit) provides experience and toughness and there is a handful of young talent on hand, including highly regarded Myles Stute (6-6, 2020). Last year the main concern was team rebounding, but Turner is not so sure that will be a weakness this year despite the lack of a true big man because of his team’s maturity level. “Our strengths will be our ability to defend and score the ball,” Turner said. Gongaza not only has to survive the rigors of WCAC play, but defeat Simeon of Chicago at the Chicago Elite Classic, No. 32 Westlake at the Cancer Research Classic and show well at the Les Schwab Invitational in order to maintain its lofty ranking.
11. (23) Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia, Pa.) 27-4
Key Players: PG Quade Green 6-0 2017 (No. 6 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PF Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree 6-9 2017 (No. 39 Hoop Scoop, Villanova commit), C Marcus Littles 6-9 2018 (No. 84 Rivals.com).
Why This Ranking: It only makes sense to begin Goretti one spot behind Gonzaga in the rankings. Goretti, after all, fell to that Washington, D.C. club, 71-70, at the Cancer Research Classic and two of its four losses came against WCAC clubs. Coach Carl Arrigale’s club is similar to Gonzaga in that it’s led by a dynamic Mr. Basketball USA candidate in Green, who gets tougher and plays better the bigger the game is. He’s a pure point guard in the mold of Kyle Lowery who was first in both assists (8.1) and steals (3.7) at the Nike EYBL Finals. Cosby-Roundtree runs the floor well, has soft hands, good shot-blocking ability and scores plenty of points around the basket. Although that inside-outside duo are the only returning starters, Arrigale likes his depth, which includes Temple football commit Emil Moody (6-6, 2017) and Mike Milsip (6-5, 2017), the latter who should slide into a starting spot on the wing.
The Skinny: The Saints start just a shade lower in the preseason than they did last season, as we ranked Pennsylvania’s top team (No. 3 Roman Catholic) just a shade too high in 2015-16. We’ll wait and see how the results fall before we place a Philly Catholic League team in the top 10, but with six state titles in the last seven years, Goretti is deserving of lofty preseason accolades. Arrigale (432-94) is a bit concerned about inexperience at some spots and replacing the scoring of Zane Martin (Towson), but Littles is just what the doctor ordered when the Saints compete against national level teams. Goretti plays at the Slam Dunk To The Beach in Delaware, faces No. 4 Wheeler at the Cancer Research Classic, No. 22 Greensboro Day at the Hoophall Classic and could face a number of ranked teams at the City of Palms Classic.
12. (11) Memphis East (Memphis, Tenn.) 32-2
Key Players: PF Chandler Lawson 6-8 2019 (No. 18 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SG T.J. Moss 6-4 2018 (No. 53 Rivals.com), PG Alex Lomax 5-11 2018 (No. 127 Rivals.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American).
Why This Ranking: The Mustangs have major talent and plenty of depth returning from their Class AAA state championship team and the ability to quickly move into the Top 10. Lawson and Lomax are returning underclass All-Americans, while Moss is quickly developing into one of the better guard prospects in his class nationally. Lawson was a key cog last year and is barely scratching the surface of his potential, while Lomax had 14 points and seven rebounds in the state title game. Moss and Lomax form one of the best backcourts in the nation and there is plenty of depth up front with the likes of Malcolm Dandridge (6-8, 2019) and newcomer Antavion Collum (6-7, 2019).
The Skinny: While coach Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway has balance, his team is still relatively young and is facing a much tougher overall schedule than last season. We had the Mustangs in the Southeast Regional rankings to begin last season and should have had them in the FAB 50, but they won’t surprise anyone this time around. The young players must develop consistency and Moss and Lomax must avoid injury and foul trouble in order for East to survive its schedule and retain a lofty ranking. It will match wits with No. 8 Hamilton Heights Christian Academy on December 1 and play No. 5 Montverde Academy on January 7. In between, the Mustangs travel to Ft. Myers, Fla. to play in the City of Palms Classic where seven other FAB 50 ranked teams await in the traditional bracket.
13. (7) DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) 32-5
Key Players: SF D.J. Harvey 6-6 2017 (No. 25 Hoop Scoop, Notre Dame commit), C Josh Carlton 6-10 2017 (No. 192 247Sports.com, Connecticut commit), PG Ryan Allen 6-2 2017 (Drexel commit), SG Justin Moore 6-3 2019 (No. 40 Rivals.com).
Why This Ranking: The legendary Stags program begins a bit lower than it did last season and that’s because it’s chasing Gonzaga in the WCAC, whereas last season they were hunted as opposed to being the hunter. Coach Mike Jones (379-97) returns three starters and eight lettermen and has two talented newcomers in Hunter Dickinson (6-11, 2020) and Paul Smith (6-7, 2020) that should help his interior. Harvey is a four-year starter who can score in a variety of ways with the tools to be an excellent defender. Allen has big-game experience, while Moore has stepped up in summer and fall league and could lead the team in scoring. There is enough experience and talent on the perimeter that the graduation loss of Markelle Fultz (Washington) should have minimal impact if the seniors play to expectations.
The Skinny: After an uncharacteristic sub. 500 season in 2012-13, the Stags have been one of the nation’s best programs and played up to expectations the past three years. A funny trend has occurred in that time frame. DeMatha has finished with the best regular season record in the WCAC gauntlet, only to lose in the WCAC championship game in each of those seasons. DeMatha last won the WCAC Tournament in 2011 when it finished a run of three consecutive titles. Jones’ program plays a tough enough schedule that a WCAC crown won’t make or break its national standing, but he hopes to have his team peaking at the right time this season. DeMatha hosts No. 4 Wheeler at the National High School Hoopfest, takes on No. 6 Greenforest at the Peachtree Corners Invitational, battles No. 35 Roselle Catholic at the Cancer Research Classic and takes on No. 26 Bishop Gorman at the Hoophall Classic.
14. (1) Chino Hills (Chino Hills, Calif.) 35-0
Key Players: SF Li’Angelo Ball 6-5 2017 (No. 147 247Sports.com, UCLA commit), PG La’Melo Ball 6-1 2019 (No. 18 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, UCLA commit), C Onyeka Okongwu 6-9 2019 (No. 7 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SF Eli Scott 6-4 2017 (LMU commit).
Why This Ranking: It was a magical ride to the 2016 mythical national championship for the Huskies, which pulled out some tough, close games at the City of Palms Tournament to springboard an unbeaten season. By the time the section and state Open Division playoffs rolled around, Chino Hills was completely dominant against strong competition, defeating eight opponents by an average of 29 points. So with four starters back, including its leading scorer and anchor in the middle, why isn’t the defending champ ranked higher? The loss of 2016 Mr. Basketball USA Lonzo Ball (UCLA) is big despite the returning talent and experience. He dictated the outcome of high school games more than any individual player last year and replacing 23.9 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 11.7 apg, 5.1 spg, 2.0 bpg and a state record 25 triple doubles is impossible. Chino Hills also has a new coach in former assistant Stephan Gilling, but the strategy will be the same: force turnovers, create havoc and let it fly. Gelo Ball (27.5 ppg) is taking more of a point forward role this season, but is still letting it fly at a moment’s notice. His younger brother Melo Ball (16.1 ppg, 4.0 apg) has grown three inches since last season and will improve in the rebounding and defense department this season.
The Skinny: Watching Chino Hills in summer and fall league, it will win many games because of its style and experience, but its press and offensive attack isn’t as formidable minus the oldest Ball brother. With Cal-Hi Sports State Freshman of the Year Okongwu (7.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.1 bpg) back in the fold, however, this is a national level team because he’s so disciplined on defense and unselfish on offense. If he’s utilized in the offense more and if Scott (14.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg) is dominant like he’s been in the fall, this team could challenge for another CIF Open Division title. The development of Andre Ball (6-8, 2018) and the bench contributions of guard Phaquon Davis (5-9, 2019) and two-way player Ofure Ujadughele (6-3, 2018) will be key in order for the Huskies to remain among the Top 15 and challenge for a second consecutive state title.
15. (18) Althoff Catholic (Belleville, Ill.) 32-2
Key Players: SG Jordan Goodwin 6-4 2017 (No. 42 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, St. Louis commit), PG C.J. Coldon 6-0 2017, SF Marvin Bateman 6-4, 2017.
Why This Ranking: None of the respectable polls had the Crusaders on their radar last preseason – expect the FAB 50. We started coach Greg Leib’s club No. 32 and it lived up to expectations, capturing the Class 3A title behind the play of Goodwin (18.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 3.2 apg). Althoff Catholic is not big, but with Goodwin and three others with starting experience (and toughness) returning, it’s the early Class 4A state title favorite. Goodwin, an All-American candidate and Illinois Mr. Basketball favorite, averaged 9.6 rpg on the NIKE EYBL circuit, Bateman is rugged on the defensive end and can shoot and score in double figures, while Edwyn Brown (6-5, 2017) brings that same type of mentality from the school’s football team. Most of the teams ranked in this range are bigger and might be more talented, but there isn’t a tougher one.
The Skinny: The locals and the basketball-crazed fans of Chicago knew all about the Crusaders; now the country does so they won’t sneak up on anyone this season. Leib has the horses to win the state title in Class 4A, but the all-around contributions Tarkus Ferguson (Illinois-Chicago) brought will somehow have to be replaced. “You don’t replace a player like Tark, you just build on the replacement’s skills and adapt your game plan,” Leib said. “We basically start five guards with length, size and speed and they are unselfish.” It will be a battle of defending state champions when the Crusaders take on No. 21 Curie at the Marshall County Hoopfest on December 3. One team will get a boost of confidence and own a signature victory, but the road to a repeat state title will have just begun for the Crusaders.
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
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 17 years ago.