Preseason 2019-20 FAB 50: Teams No. 16-30!
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 continue our 2019-20 preseason FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com countdown with an in-depth look at teams No. 16-30. These are the teams that can challenge for the mythical FAB 50 title with some big wins and the right bounces! We began with teams No. 31-50 on Sunday evening and our final installment will be teams No. 1-15 on Tuesday, October 29.
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 20 years ago.
Preseason 2019-20 FAB 50
National Team Rankings
Powered by Ballislife.com
By Ronnie Flores
(Final 2018-19 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 Tuesday, November 5 and for the preseason Mr. Basketball USA Tracker on Monday, November 18.)
16. (NR) Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia, Pa.) 21-8
Key Players: PG Hakim Byrd 5-9 2020, SF Jordan Hall 6-6 2020 (St. Joseph’s commit), SG Cam Young 6-6 2020 (Bowling Green commit), SF Che Evans 6-8 2020 (No. 174 247Sports.com, San Diego St. commit).
Why This Ranking: On the strength of three returning starters and eight returning lettermen, the Saints rate as the Philly Catholic League favorites over No. 35 Archbishop Wood. Neumann-Goretti has versatile players and depth to go along with that trademark Philly toughness. It starts with Byrd, a returning All-Catholic selection who can score and get up under and harass offensive players. Byrd has the heart of the Lion and makes coach Carl Arrigale’s team go. Hall is a versatile component who can play inside or out and Young is another D1-bound talent who is a terrific spot up shooter. Goretti can go to its bench for scoring punch and doesn’t have to worry about its perimeter defenders getting into foul trouble too much because of the depth on the wings. “The strength of our team in the versatility, shooting and depth,” Arrigale said.
The Skinny: With Imhotep Charter graduating a strong senior class, the Philly Public League is down, but the expectations surrounding the Saints are similar to Imhotep Charter’s in recent seasons because of the talent on deck and national schedule. Evans is a well-known player on the national grassroots circuit and if he can blend in with the other talented wings and excel in his new role, Neumann will have the ability to climb in the rankings. As is that’s not enough, Chris Evans (6-1, 2021) is another excellent shooter and big things are expected of Blaise Vespe (6-6, 2021). Neumann-Goretti takes on Wood January 24 in a Catholic League showdown a week after tangling with always-dangerous No. 42 Roman Catholic. The Saints have an early season test with highly-regarded Westtown School (West Chester, Pa.) and take on No. 30 Legacy Early College at the Governor’s Cup in Maryland after returning from the West Coast before Christmas, where it will compete in the Tarkanian Classic with the likes of No. 5 Gorman and No. 18 Mater Dei.
17. (NR) Grayson (Loganville, Ga.) 25-4
Key Players: PG Deivon Smith 6-1 2020 (No. 42 247Sports.com, Mississippi St. commit), SG Caleb Murphy 6-2 2020 (No. 55 Rivals.com, South Florida commit), SF Toneari Lane 6-6 2020 (Winthrop commit), PF Ian Schieffelin 6-7 2021.
Why This Ranking: The Rams’ faithful is enthusiastic and optimistic about this season after 2018-19 came to an abrupt end with a 68-53 GHSA Class AAAAAAA Sweet 16 loss to No. 38 Norcross. Grayson rates as one of the AAAAAAA favorites along with defending champ and No. 10 McEachern, highly-regarded Berkmar (Lilburn, Ga.) and Pebblebrook (Mableton, Ga.). With McEachern suffering heavy graduation loss from its No. 2 FAB 50 team, the Rams have to like their chances because of their ability to score and their depth. Smith (17.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 6.8 apg, 2.6 spg, 1.7 bpg) is one of the most complete guards in the Southeast Region and could be headed to All-American acclaim with a big season. Schieffelin (8.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and Taje Kelly (6-7, 2021) will be counted on to rebound and effectively guard the interior and if they have big seasons, Grayson will be dangerous in the ultra-competitive AAAAAAA post-season.
The Skinny: Grayson hasn’t been No. 1 at the finish line yet, but it isn’t hard to like the horses it brings to the race. Coach Geoffrey Pierce has a team that relies on its guard play and is wicked in transition. As if the returning perimeter players weren’t enough transfer Murphy can fill it up from the outside and transfer Lane (20 ppg) gives Pierce the ability to play lineups of various sizes. From a statewide perspective, Pierce is a bit concerned about his post depth. Last season all of Grayson’s losses were to in-state foes and from a national perspective, it can’t afford to drop more than one or two games to fellow Peach State foes. Grayson gets tested right away on November 16 when it faces Berkmar at the On The Radar Hoopsfest. The Rams play at the Holiday Hoopsgiving (November 29-30) in Atlanta versus highly-rgarded Memphis East (Tenn.) and Mountainbrook (Ala.) and also participate in the Atlanta Hawks Naismith Classic, the Wheeler TOC, the Peachtree Corners Invitational and face Wayne (Ohio) at the Flying To the Hoop Invitational before playing on MLK Monday at the Kevin Durant MLK Classic.
18. (35) Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) 29-5
Key Players: PG Devin Askew 6-4 2021 (No. 9 Rivals.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Kentucky commit), C Wilhelm Breidenbach 6-9 2021 (No. 33 ESPN.com), PG Ryan Evans 6-1 2020, PF Harrison Hornery 6-10 2021 (No. 141 247Sports.com).
Why This Ranking: The Monarchs opened up No. 48 in last year’s FAB 50, but were able to advance all the way to the CIF SoCal open final where it fell to eventual state open champ Sierra Canyon by a respectable margin (83-73). With an all underclass lineup, Mater Dei somewhat over-achieved and that’s actually happened more than a few times in the past decade under veteran coach Gary McKnight (1,136-110), the nation’s active winningest coach. Leading the pack of 13 returning lettermen is lead guard Askew, last year’s Cal-Hi Sports State Sophomore of the Year after averaging 14.0 ppg, 6.8 apg, and 2.1 spg in a balanced attack. Breidenbach (12.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg) made great strides and is quickly developing into one of the best post players in the state regardless of class. Five returning players averaged in double figures and Nick Davidson (6-8, 2021) just missed with averages of 9.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg. “We’re a veteran team with size and shooters,” McKnight said.
The Skinny: At times this summer and fall, the Monarchs didn’t look like world-beaters, but they have three key ingredients to challenge two-time defending open champion Sierra Canyon for the program’s 12th state title: size, outside shooting and a terrific point guard. There is some concern about the Monarchs’ foot speed and transition defense against national-level teams, but that could be offset if Hornery (11.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg) continues to improve and double-digit scorers Ryan Evans (6-2, 2020) and Aidan Prukop (6-4, 2020) hit timely post-season shots. The Monarchs will compete at the Tarkanian Classic before Christmas and at the Les Schwab Tournament after the Holidays and both events feature Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas, a team the Monarchs lost to this past summer. Mater Dei also has two key matchups with Bishop Walsh (Cumberland, Md.) and FAB 50 title contender DeMatha Catholic at the Cancer Research Classic (January 3-4) in West Virginia. Before the post-season begins, Mater Dei faces No. 34 Whitney Young at its own Nike Extravaganza (February 1).
19. (31) Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.) 34-4
Key Players: SG Samson Ruzhentsev 6-8 2020 (No. 53 247Sports.com), PF Bayron Matos 6-9 2020 (No. 157 247Sports.com), SF Anderson Garcia 6-7 2020, SG Drew Williams 6-6 2021 (No. 137 Rivals.com).
Why This Ranking: After the Hawks captured their second consecutive National Association of Christian Athletes D1 title, it looked like the program wouldn’t be back in the FAB 50 after it began 2018-19 on the bubble. It wasn’t because a lack of talent; more so a lack of students as HHCA had approximately 60 when it announced its closing at the end of the 2018-19 school year. Less than a month later, it was announced HHCA was back in business and with four returning starters and six lettermen that meant the first preseason FAB 50 spot in program history. Ruzhentsev (17.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg) may not be a national household name, but if the Hawks have a big season he could be in line for some All-American acclaim. Matos (9.8 rpg, 9.8 rpg) is an impact player inside with his physicality and a motor that never stops. Garcia (6.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg) is a talented boardsman and if Williams (8.0 ppg) can come close to doubling his scoring output, this team is going to be hard to beat.
The Skinny: It’s no secret having quality guard play is one of the main keys for a successful FAB 50 ranked program and that’s the one question mark that has to be answered on this team. Jordan Rawls and his 23.0 ppg and 6.4 apg won’t be easily replaced, but Dominque Penn (6-1, 2020) can handle and score, while Reggie Bass (6-4, 2022) is oozing with talent and potential. “A huge key for us this year will be getting our new incoming guards acclimated to our style of play and system,” coach Zach Farrell said. The schedule requires a good on-court leader, as HHCA faces No. 27 West Oaks in the Signature Series at the City of Palms Classic in addition to matchups versus independent academy-type programs Hillcrest Prep of Phoenix (at Hoophall West December 7) and Prolific Prep of California.
20. (27) Long Island Lutheran (Glen Head, N.Y.) 23-2
Key Players: PG Andre Curbelo 6-1 2020 (No. 46 Rivals.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PF Zed Key 6-8 2020 (No. 117 Rivals.com. Ohio St. commit), SG Jalen Celestine 6-7 2020.
Why This Ranking: Last season, the Crusaders opened up at No. 33 and were extremely motivated after they felt the 2018 Federation Class AA drown was taken from them by a scorer’s table error. They left no doubt in last season’s Feds title game, downing New York City Catholic league champ Christ the King by 20 points. Coach John Buck returns three starters, six lettermen and one potential All-American. That’s Curbelo, who uses slick ball-handling and craftiness to control the outcome of games. Key is somewhat of a throwback; an excellent two-hand rebounder who excels at scoring around the basket without having a play run for him. Celestine is a big-time wing prospect and if he has a big season there’s no reason why the Crusaders can’t repeat as New York Federation AA champs.
The Skinny: LuHi has been in the FAB 50 mix for the past three seasons and this year has earned its highest ever preseason ranking. It’s because of a loaded national schedule and a deep roster that once again has a strong international flavor. Curbelo is a member of the Puerto Rico national team and Polish newcomer Kacper Klaczek (6-8, 2021) is one of the best prospects his age of European descent. Rafael Pinzon (6-6, 2021) is an excellent shooter and with his size on the wing, gives Buck plenty of lineup options. “We’re returning our core group from the 2019 state championship team and will be very strong defensively; we have plenty of depth with skill at each position,” Buck said. The Crusaders will travel to the Iolani Classic (which includes FAB 50 title contender Oak Hill Academy), the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina (December 26-31), the Montverde Academy Invitational (January 23-25), face FAB 50 No. 1 contender Sierra Canyon of California on February 8 at the Metro Classic in New Jersey and host talented Patrick School of New Jersey on February 13.
21. (39) Rancho Christian (Temecula, Calif.) 25-6**
Key Players: C Evan Mobley 7-0 2020 (No. 1 247Sports.com, Ballislife First Team All-American, USC commit), SF Luke Turner 6-6 2021, PG Dominick Harris 6-4 2020 (No. 59 ESPN.com, Gonzaga commit).
Why This Ranking: The Eagles have the best prospect in high school basketball and arguably the best player in the middle and the guard play to seriously challenge for the California Interscholastic Federation and CIF Southern Section open crowns. At first, it would seem the graduation of Isaiah Mobley (USC) would drop this team a notch, but what it does is put more emphasis on the unique talents of his younger brother Evan, a serious Mr. Basketball USA candidate after averaging 19.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 4.7 bpg, and 3.3 spg in 2018-19. The guards on last year’s team are also faster, bigger and more experienced for a prime post-season run. The Eagles have also added a nice piece in transfer Jayce Cathings (6-5, 2020), who helps on the boards and with defending the wings. Harris will be in the lineup for the whole season, which gives Rancho Christian its best chance to peak for the playoffs instead of altering lineups down the stretch. Turner can keep defenses from collapsing on Mobley and is another player who has displayed marked improvement since last season.
The Skinny: The presence of the Mobley brothers put a lot of pressure on Rancho Christian last season to live up to expectations and it came up short in its quest for state and section titles. Ironically, there is slightly less preseason pressure and expectations, even though the Eagles start three spots higher than they did last season, and that could pay dividends this time around. At times last season, having both brothers on the floor caused one to defer and allow the other to take charge, the ball to stall and decreased driving lanes for guards. This year, the formula is simpler: get the ball to the lone Mobley brother and let him create opportunities for Turner and Harris. During fall leagues, the opening of the floor also made Bryson Stephens (6-0, 2020) and Jayden Byers (6-0, 2021) more dangerous threats. The schedule is loaded, including a trip to Hoophall West for two games, and matchups with FAB 50 title contenders Sierra Canyon of California, DeMatha Catholic of Maryland and Gonzaga of Washington, D.C., in addition to Camden (N.J.). The Eagles could actually meet Sierra Canyon after Christmas in the championship of The Classic at Damien in Southern California.
22. (48) Scotlandville (Baton Rouge, La.) 35-2
Key Players: SG Reece Beekman 6-3 2020 (No. 41 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Virginia commit), PG Tai’reon Joseph 6-2 2020, PG Carvell Teasett 6-0 2020.
Why This Ranking: When a program has been a consistent winner and has the experienced talent the Hornets possess, there is no choice but to place them in the Top 25. The Hornets have won three consecutive LHSAA Division 1 state crowns and are an overwhelming favorite to capture a fourth (and fifth in the last six seasons) because of seven returning lettermen, including all five starters. It’s not just quantity, it’s the quality as Beekman (21.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 10.2 apg, 3.6 spg) not only puts up Russell Westbrook-type numbers, he’s already been named state title game MVP twice. Joseph (19.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg), who had 26 points in last season’s state title game, and Teasett (18.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg) would both be star players at nearly every other school in Louisiana. Both can step up in the scoring department or take a step back and do the little things necessary to win, such as playing lights-out defense or deferring to whomever has the hot hand.
The Skinny: The Hornets begin the season in the same rankings position they finished in 2018-19 with the potential to move up provided there is no complacency. It’s a great feeling for veteran coach Carlos Sample (555-183) to know he is basically guaranteed 60 points each night from three experienced guards. As if that’s not enough, his program has added transfer Emareyon McDonald (6-1, 2021), a 16 ppg scorer at Red River (Coushatta, La.), so the perimeter defenders have even less worry of foul trouble. “We are a senior-laden team and must rely on our defense and quickness because we are not a big team,” Sample said. From a national perspective, interior size is a bit of a concern, but we’ll find out if the Hornets can impose their will on bigger opponents at the City of Palms Classic in Ft. Myers, Fla. (December 18-23). Scotlandville opens with No. 37 Vashon and will face either No. 42 Roman Catholic or FAB 50 title contender McEachern (Powder Springs, Ga.) in the quarterfinals.
23. (28) Wasatch Academy (Mt. Pleasant, Utah) 26-4
Key Players: C Mady Sissoko 6-9 2020 (No. 35 247Sports.com, Michigan St. commit), SF Caleb Lohner 6-6 2020 (No. 72 ESPN.com, Utah commit), SG Richie Saunders 6-4 2020 (No. 142 247Sports.com), PG Michael Saunders 6-1 2020 (No. 155 247Sports.com, Cincinnati commit), PG Richard “Pop Pop” Isaacs Jr. 6-2 2022 (No. 15 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American).
Why This Ranking: The Tigers have established themselves as a legitimate national independent power and have the personnel to once again earn a GEICO Nationals berth. They are practicing and will play early in the season without Sissoko, the team’s top frontcourt player and All-American candidate. Sissoko (12.7 ppg, 8.9 rpg) is nursing a broken hand and if this take-no-prisoners power player ups his per game averages, it will open up the game for coach David Evans’ talented perimeter performers. If Sissoko isn’t the leading scorer, Lohner (9.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) likely will be with his combination of athleticism, size and outside shooting. Both Saunders (no relation) averaged approximately 11.5 ppg with Richie as a spot up shooter and Mike able to play both on and off the ball. This unit has plenty of ways to beat foes on a tough national schedule.
The Skinny: Sissoko will need to have a big season and the substitutes perform when called upon in order for this team to move up in the rankings. Evans likes the Tigers’ blend of inside prowess and scoring, but would like to see more consistent shooting from the outside. Isaacs is just what the doctor ordered, as he is a pass-first point guard capable of double-digit assists who has experience playing off the ball. Mike Saunders excels in transition and Isaacs compliments his scoring ability because he can hit the deep open man on the break or knock down the perimeter shot in a half court setting. Wasatch Academy has a tough schedule, participating at the Iolani Classic in Hawaii (December 17-22) along with FAB 50 title contender Oak Hill Academy, No. 20 Long Island Lutheran and No. 35 Archbishop Wood, face No. 42 Roman Catholic and FAB 50 title contender Paul VI at the Cancer Research Classic (January 3-4) in West Virginia. The Tigers also participate at the Bob Kirk Invitational (January 31-February 2) in preparation for another GEICO Nationals run. The program is 0-3 all-time at the event, but is talented enough to get off the schneid if the pieces jell when Sissoko returns to the lineup.
24. (45) Booker T. Washington (Tulsa, Okla.) 26-2
Key Players: SG Bryce Thompson 6-5 2020 (No. 15 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Kentucky commit), SG Trey Phipps 6-2 2020 (No. 224 247Sports.com, Oklahoma commit), SF Jalen Breath 6-8 2020.
Why This Ranking: The Hornets are a cinch pick as Oklahoma’s top-ranked team with three returning starters and a whopping 12 lettermen returning off a club that captured the OSSAA Class 6A state crown. Thompson gives third-year coach Conley Phipps the elite player he needs to carry Washington to wins against potential FAB 50 ranked foes in a upgraded national schedule. As a junior, the McDonald’s All-American candidate pumped in 19.6 ppg and 5.2 apg, including eight in the state title game win. Phipps II, the coach’s son, picked a great time to have a career game, scoring 42 points, including 8-of-12 3-pointers, in last year’s state championship game to deliver Washington its 16th overall state title. Breath, whose play was big in a comeback victory in the state semifinals, is a legit D1 prospect and his production will be important when the Hornets play the games that will ultimately determine their rankings fate.
The Skinny: This program just missed the 2018-19 preseason FAB 50, but played up to expectations and will be tough to beat in-state with its combination of experience and skill level at each position. Phipps hopes to develop the depth to be able to call upon a variety of players in case team’s use gimmick defenses on Thompson or he’s having a rare off-night. Washington’s depth and defense is bolstered by Grid-Hoop standout J.J. Hester (6-4, 2020) and guards Kam Parker (5-11, 2022) and Ijai Johnson (6-2, 2022). Washington’s prowess is not well-known nationwide despite producing players such as 1982 Mr. Basketball USA Waymon Tisdale, but that could change this year with solid performances at the Thanksgiving Hoopfest in Dallas, the Norm Stewart Classic in Missouri and the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Springfield, Mo., where at least four other preseason FAB 50 teams await, including seven-time FAB 50 champ Oak Hill Academy.
25. (7) Moeller (Cincinnati, Ohio) 29-0
Key Players: PF Alex Williams 6-4 2021, SF Max Land 6-4 2020 (St. Francis PA commit), C Logan Duncomb 6-9 2021 (No. 100 247Sports.com).
Why This Ranking: The Fighting Crusaders started the 2017-18 season at No. 14 in the FAB 50 and played tough against multiple FAB 50 ranked teams and finished at No. 16. The thinking going into the 2018-19 was Moeller lost too much firepower to break the preseason rankings. Our analysis proved faulty, as the Crusaders repeated as OHSAA Division I state champions with a 52-49 victory over regionally-ranked St. Vincent-St. Mary of Akron. We won’t make that same mistake this time around, as Moeller deserves the benefit of the doubt and has plenty of keg cogs returning to continue its in-state dominance. Williams (8.4 ppg) is ready to increase his production ten-fold as a starter and is a load to handle as an undersized forward who can hit threes. Land (7.7 ppg) should be another double-digit scorer and Duncomb (7.1 ppg) is oozing with talent and potential and is a good shot-blocker. Coach Karl Kremer has a nice blend of experience and players ready to step up and continue the championship tradition.
The Skinny: Can Moeller beat the odds once again and win another D1 state crown? Most in-state observers wouldn’t bet against it and either will we despite the graduation losses of Alec Pfriem and Miles McBride (West Virginia), the latter being the only returning starter last season. With two returning starters, Moeller deserves to be FAB 50 ranked until someone snaps its 49-game winning streak. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s when the Crusaders were the nation’s most dominant and well-known football program, they were known as the “Moeller Streamroller” and that exactly describes what this program is doing to in-state foes in recent seasons. The 2017 state title game is Moeller’s only in-state setback the past three seasons, and even that loss came in controversial fashion. In order to keep the streamroller churning, Kremer, last season’s Ballislife National Coach of the Year, will need players to step up and Will McCraken (6-4, 2021) and Michael Currin (6-3, 2021) are good candidates to do that up front, while Garde Thompson (5-11, 2020) and Carrington Valentine (6-0, 2020) are backcourt returnees with experience.
26. (NR) Greensboro Day (Greensboro, N.C.) 30-5
Key Players: SG Carson McCorkle 6-3 2020 (No. 121 Rivals.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Virginia commit), PG Cam Hayes 6-2 2020 (No. 47 Rivals.com, N.C. State commit), SG Brock Williams 6-2 2021, SF Bryce Harris 6-5 2021.
Why This Ranking: Last season, Greensboro Day started out at No. 40, but with its combination of a veteran backcourt, senior leadership and coaching could propel this team into the Top 25. That veteran backcourt is led by McCorkle, the 2019 News & Record Private School Player of the Year who averaged 15.9 ppg while shooting 52 percent from 3-point range and 89 percent from the line. Hayes was named all-state as a sophomore before both he and McCorkle decided to re-class up to the 2020 class. Harris, a transfer from Brentwood, N.Y., is a 20 ppg scorer, but the athletic wing will likely be counted on more to produce with less shot attempts while defending multiple positions. Cason Pierce (6-7, 2020) will be an important cog up front with his ability to score with his back to the basket or keep defenses honest with the jump shot. The Bengals crack the preseason FAB 50 for the fifth consecutive season.
The Skinny: While last year’s team was a bit stronger inside, this year’s team is stronger on the perimeter and veteran coach Freddy Johnson (1,049-295), now in his 43rd season at Greensboro Day, is optimistic his club can live up to expectations. Should the veterans mesh with the four newcomers, GDS will have an excellent chance to win four consecutive state titles. Johnson will look to players such as Christian Bailey (6-5, 2020) and Jackson Noble (6-7, 2022) to step up and produce when the Bengals take on their big opponents. GDS will play in the Chick-Fil-A Classic in South Carolina (December 19-23) and the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Missouri (January 16-18), once again at the HAECO Invitational after Christmas, and have some tough games against competitive North Carolina teams in November.
27. (NR) West Oaks Academy (Orlando, Fla.) 23-13
Key Players: SF Selton Miguel 6-5 2020 (No. 105 Rivals.com, Kansas St. commit), PG A.J. Neal 6-1 2021 (No. 79 Rivals.com), SG J.J. Harris 6-3 2021.
Why This Ranking: With two big-time players returning, the Flame rank as the every favorite in the talent-laden Sunshine Independent Athletic Association (SIAA) after finishing as runner-ups last season. Veteran coach Kenny Gillion feels his team has the talent to return to the winners’ circle after capturing four SIAA titles between 2012-2018. Miguel (17.9 ppg) is the go-to scorer and Neal (9 ppg) mans the controls and will be counted on to successfully blend the returners and talented newcomers. Neal has high-major colleges on his tale while Harris was a reserve last season that will play a big role on this team and also go D1. As if that’s not enough firepower, Jadrian “Bam” Tracey (6-6, 2020) is another talented wing who transferred in from Oldsmar Christian and will be hard to keep off the floor. Gillion also has tremendous depth on the inside, led by Fray Nguimbi (6-8, 2022), a multi-dimensional talent who showed well in fall workouts.
The Skinny: According to Gillion, the X-factor on the team is Aderes “A.J.” Staton (6-5, 2020), a versatile talent who averaged 11.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg last season at Blanche Ely (Pompano Beach, Fla.). Kobe Gibbs (6-7, 2020) is super athletic on the wing and Mo Sabiu (6-8, 2022) compliments Nguimbi nicely. There is an abundance of scorers and speed in the backcourt, but the one concern Gillion has is chemistry. If Gillion can keep the troops motivated and find roles each excels at, this team could be special and move up in the rankings after the turn of the year. The Flame will participate at the Lighthouse Classic in Corinth, Miss. (November 29-30) and plays FAB 50 title contender Oak Hill Academy in Virginia on January 27. West Oaks also plays No. 19 Hamilton Heights Christian Academy at the City of Palms Classic with the winner taking on the winner between FAB 50 title contenders Sunrise Christian Academy of Kansas and St. Frances Academy of Baltimore.
28. (18) Duncanville (Duncanville, Texas) 32-7
Key Players: SF Micah Peavy 6-7 2020 (No. 32 ESPN.com), PG Ja’Bryant Hill 5-9 2020, SF Derek Luna 6-3 2020.
Why This Ranking: The Panthers take top billing in Texas’ University Interscholastic League (UIL) over fellow Class 6A state title contenders such as Katy Morton Ranch and Denton Guyer, Class 5A contender San Antonio Wagner along with Class 4A front-runner and No. 33 Houston Yates. Coach David Peavy’s club doesn’t begin as high as Guyer did as last year’s favorite, but the defending Class 6A champs have the talent and experience to repeat. After starting on the FAB 50 bubble and 7-7 to begin 2018-19, it clicked for Duncanville after all the players got on the same page and the result was a 25-game winning streak, including two wins over Guyer. The loss of Ballislife All-American Jahmius Ramsey will be felt, but Peavy (16.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.8 apg) is the talent the club could rally around this time around if everyone finds their roles as they did after last year’s slow beginning. Duncanville not being so reliant on one scorer might also end up being a benefit on the road to back-to-back UIL state crowns.
The Skinny: As we state every preseason, the road to the UIL Class 6A title is brutal and the most talented team doesn’t always take home the hardware. In fact, Duncanville had a major first round scare last season. Guard play is key and with Hill (10.4 ppg, 2.5 apg), the Panthers have the lead guard necessary to rattle off playoff wins. He’s much improved and should improve his numbers, as will Luna (9.7 ppg) and Robert Banks (6-5, 2020), a good trail shooter who does the dirty work on the boards. Local scouts label Damon Nicholas Jr. (6-4, 2021) one of the state’s sleeper prospects who brings some of the skills Ramsey did and could have a breakout season. Duncanville has two early tests against FAB 50 title contenders Montverde Academy of Florida and Sierra Canyon of California at the Thanksgiving Hoopfest (November 29-30) in Dallas. Coach Peavy will find out quickly who is capable of what in the big game and a split at that Thanksgiving event would give the Panthers a boost of confidence that could pay dividends in the post-season.
29. (NR) Etiwanda (Etiwanda, Calif.) 28-6
Key Players: PG Camren Pierce 6-0 2020 (Cal Poly SLO commit), SG Jahmai Mashack 6-4 2021 (No. 99 247Sports.com), SF Tyree Campbell 6-5 2020, SF Jaylen Clark 6-6 2020 (No. 61 Rivals.com).
Why This Ranking: The Eagles have consistently been one of SoCal’s best teams for 15 years plus and this team should fall right in line with coach Dave Kleckner’s best units in that time frame. Etiwanda has a ton of experience and firepower coming back off last season’s club that lost in the CIF SoCal Division I regional final at home to Baseline League foe and eventual state champ Chino Hills. In trademark Etiwanda fashion, this team is perimeter-oriented and will be lights out defensively with its suffocating man-to-man defense. Pierce is the lead guard and ringleader, known to be a blur with the ball and equally adept at scoring or dishing off to open teammates. He was a Cal-Hi Sports all-state underclass selection along with Mashack, who continues to improve his offensive game and provides toughness, rebounding and accountability. Brantley Stevenson (6-3, 2020) can excel on and off the ball and Campbell provides athleticism and the ability to guard inside or out.
The Skinny: Simply put, there is a lot to like about this team, and it will be in the thick of the race for a coveted CIF Southern Section open championship with the likes of No. 21 Rancho Christian, No. 18 Mater Dei and defending champion Sierra Canyon. Last year’s young club exceeded preseason expectations, winning the tough Baseline League outright before coming up one game short of the state D1 title game. With the league a bit down this year, a league title will be expected and favorable playoff positioning will be key in the CIFSS’ open division pool play format. Transfer Clark is one of the state’s most talented small forwards and could give this team a shot in the arm with his rebounding and transition play. In fact, Clark’s play could turn out to be key in Etiwanda’s quest to erase the ghosts of its 0-4 record in regional finals, including blowing last year’s contest, 49-47, after giving up 13 unanswered points over the final four minutes of the game. This year’s club has the ability to get Kleckner, and the Eagles’ faithful, over the hump but the road to section and state open crowns remains difficult.
30. (32) Legacy Early College (Greenville, S.C.) 34-5
Key Players: PG Jacobi Wright 6-1 2021, SG Ray’Shon Harrison 6-3 2020, PF Perry Smith Jr. 6-8 2022.
Why This Ranking: Another strong independent club is the Lions, which won the USA National Prep Tournament it hosted to close their season and has a demanding enough schedule and enough talent to warrant this spot. Coach B.J. Jackson stamps Wright as a power five conference point guard who will only get better as the season wears on. Harrison didn’t start last season, but has tons of ability and the coaching staff labels him the Lions’ best all-around player. Smith also got plenty of experience last season, and is the key inside. He could be in line for a break out season and is complimented by Tyrek Priestley (6-9, 2021). If this unit can rebound and run, the Lions should be roaring by January.
The Skinny: Jackson did lose a lot of firepower, namely 29 ppg, with the graduation of forward Jalyn McCreary and center Rodney Howard, but this unit is stronger on the perimeter and a terrific shooting team. Transfer Ike Cornish (6-6, 2021) is another big-time perimeter scorer and likely a Top 100 player when it’s all said and done. Another huge addition who will make the guards even more dangerous is Nate Tabor (6-5, 2020), who played at Sacred Heart (Waterbury, Conn.) last season and was previously committed to St. John’s. If all the perimeter players can find their optimal role, there is no reason why this team can’t climb towards the Top 25. The one main concern is youth, and early losses would knock the Lions down a notch in the FAB 50. The coaching staff likes the position this young team sits in: talented but not with a lot of fanfare that puts a bulls-eye on its chest. “Honestly, my favorite part about this team is we have the talent to beat anyone in the country, but no one has ‘hype’ which gives us an edge,” Jackson said. The schedule includes matchups with highly-regarded First Love Christian Academy of Pennsylvania and Hillcrest Prep of Arizona at the Holiday Hoopsgiving (November 29-30) in Atlanta, a trips to the Chick-Fil-A Classic in South Carolina and Slam Dunk To The Beach in Delaware (December 27-29) and a big challenge at the St. James Invitational in Maryland (January 30-Febuary 1), an event that includes FAB 50 title contenders Montverde Academy and IMG Academy of Florida.