Today we honor our class players of the year led by Mr. Basketball USA Cade Cunningham. Other honorees are Pat Baldwin (Juniors), Emoni Bates (Sophomores) and D.J. Wagner (Freshmen) along with National Coach of the Year Thomas Ryan of Dorman (Roebuck, S.C.).
2019-20 Mr. Basketball USA: Cade Cunningham, Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) 6-7 PG Sr.
The Oklahoma St.-bound big guard is now officially Montverde Academy’s third National Player of the Year choice in the last six seasons, joining R.J. Barrett (2018) and Ben Simmons (2015). He’s also the fourth Mr. Basketball USA coached by Montverde Academy’s Kevin Boyle, who coached Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) in 2010-11 before leaving for the Florida boarding school that he helped transform from a national power into a worldwide brand that has captured five FAB 50 titles since in the past eight seasons.
6'7" - PG - 2020
Cunningham might have the most modest individual statistical output of Mr. Basketball USA in recent memory, but that alludes more to his team’s dominance than any perceived individual shortcoming. Cunningham was first in scoring (13.9 ppg) and assists (6.4 apg) for a 25-0 Montverde Academy club that is being compared to a select group of all-time great clubs in the annals of high school basketball. Only one of the Eagles’ opponents (FAB 50 No. 5 IMG Academy of Florida) played them within 20 points, as they won each game by an average of 38.9 ppg.
Cunningham, a Texas native, controlled the game’s tempo with his strong ball-handing, timely shot-making and ability to encourage unselfish play, as seven players on the club averaged between 8.3 ppg and 13.9 ppg. Two teammates earned national player of the year recognition from the Mr. Basketball USA Tracker panel: Florida St-bound forward Scottie Barnes (who finished No. 5 in the balloting) and North Carolina-bound big man Day’Ron Sharpe, who finished tied for No. 15 in the final Mr. Basketball USA balloting. Barnes was third on the team in scoring (11.6 ppg), second in rebounding (6.5), second in assists (4.6 apg) first in deflections (1.7 dpg), and first in steals (1.9 spg) while Sharpe posted norms of 12.1 ppg and 7.3 rpg.
Cunningham is one of the best big high school guards to come down the pike in many years and is the first ever Mr. Basketball USA selection to commit to play at Oklahoma St. His coach compares him favorably to retroactive Mr. Basketball USA honorees Jason Kidd (1992) and Oscar Robertson (1956) and he is an early candidate to be top three selection in the 2021 NBA Draft.
For all-time Mr. Basketball USA honorees dating back to 1954-55, CLICK HERE
6'8" - SF - 2021
2020 National Junior of the Year: Patrick Baldwin Jr., Hamilton (Sussex, Wis.) 6-8
From a recruiting standpoint, there is still plenty of debate at the top of the 2021 class and plenty to be decided, but there is no doubting Baldwin’s ability, consistency and production. He’s been named to the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association All-State team three times and has been a first team A.P. all-state selection the past two seasons. The smooth 6-foot-8 forward was one of two unanimous choices, along with AP Player of the Year Johnny Davis of La Crosse Central, after averaging 24.3 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 4.2 apg, and 1.7 blocks. Baldwin has upped his scoring average each season, from 16 ppg to 18.4 ppg, while his rebound and assists numbers climbed as well.
The son of UW-Milwaukee coach Patrick Baldwin led his team to a 22-3 mark and into the sectional finals against highly-regarded Brookfield Central, but that’s where the season ended as the WIAA didn’t finish its state tournament as a result of COVID-19. The Greater Metro Conference Player of the Year, Baldwin was also named Gatorade State Player of the Year. He’s the first player from Wisconsin to earn top honors among juniors dating back to the 1966-67 season.
For all-time Junior Player of the Year honorees dating back to 1966-67, CLICK HERE
6'8" - SF - 2021
2020 National Sophomore of the Year: Emoni Bates, Lincoln (Ypsilanti, Mich.) 6-8 F
There wasn’t any question whether or not the 6-foot-8 forward was going to take home top honors among tenth-graders; the suspense is whether or not he will be the first sophomore since LeBron James in 2001 to earn first five Elite All-American honors. Already the 16-year old prodigy has been named Gatorade National Player of the Year, the first-ever sophomore to earn that athletic-academic based honor since its inception for the 1985-86 season. After averaging 28.7 ppg and 10.2 rpg as a freshman, Bates upped his scoring output to 32.3 ppg, while adding 9.0 rpg, 3.0 apg and 2.1 spg for a 19-3 team that advanced to its district title game. Despite being the attention of opposing defenses, Bates shot 50 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3-point range for a team that was seeking its second straight MHSAA D1 state crown before COVID-19 concerns ended its run.
For the second consecutive year, Bates was named AP D1 State Player of the Year and Gatorade State Player of the Year and could join the likes of Magic Johnson (Lansing Everett) and Chris Webber (Detroit Country Day) as one of the best prospects the state of Michigan has ever produced. He’s the state’s first Gatorade National Player of the Year since Flint Northwestern’s Kelvin Torbert in 2000-01 and the state’s first tenth-grade honoree since Josh Jackson (Detroit Consortium College Prep) in 2014.
For all-time Sophomore Player of the Year honorees dating back to 1967-68, CLICK HERE
6'3" - CG - 2023
2020 National Freshman of the Year: DJ Wagner, Camden (N.J.) 6-2
Makes history as the first father-son combo to earn this honor, as his father, Dajuan Wagner, was the 1998 choice out of Camden High School as well. D.J.’s father went on to earn class player of the year as a sophomore and was named Mr. Basketball USA in 2000-01. Similar to Californian Mikey Williams, Wagner came into high school with plenty of fan-fare and lived up to the advanced billing, averaging 18.5 ppg along with 2 rpg and 1.5 apg. Williams had bigger numbers, but the main difference was Wagner played against tougher competition and got better results, as “The High” went 29-1 and finished No. 18 in the FAB 50. Behind its leading scorer and versatile senior All-American Lance Ware, Camden won the South Jersey, Group 2 crown and its final 25 games before COVID-19 concerns ended its run at the New Jersey TOC title. Wagner, a consistent scorer whose single-game season high was 32 points, is the first New Jersey freshman to earn this honor since big man Dakari Johnson of St. Patrick of Elizabeth in 2011.
For all-time Freshman Player of the Year honorees dating back to 1969-70, CLICK HERE
2020 National Coach of the Year: Thomas Ryan, Dorman (Roebuck, S.C.)
The Cavaliers were supposed to dominate in-state does and did just that, and a whole lot more, after opening up No. 39 in the preseason FAB 50. Ryan’s club made history in winning its fourth consecutive SCHSL Class 5A state crown with a dominant 65-46 victory over Dutch Fork (Irmo, S.C.). Dorman matched the feat of Calhoun County (Matthews, S.C.) in 2006-09 for most consecutive state titles in the modern era. Along the way, Doman captured the Chick-fil-A Classic and became the first South Carolina team to win the Beach Ball Classic since 1986 (Eau Claire) while compiling a 30-1 record and No. 10 FAB 50 finish. The Cavs’ only loss was to No. 9 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.)
A former standout at Lexington High School (S.C.), Ryan just completed his 13th season with the Cavaliers after six at Aiken (S.C.). Although his team captured another SCHSL title, his program was one of many nationally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cavs could have moved up in the final FAB 50 as they received an invite to play in GEICO Nationals, originally slated for New York City. When the crisis worsened in the Big Apple, the event was actually going to be hosted by Dorman, but it eventually had to be scrapped. Under Ryan’s leadership, Dorman is now 84-4 vs. in-state competition during its run of state championships and he is the first coach from the Palmetto State to earn this national honor dating back to 1969-70.
For all-time National Coach of the Year honorees dating back to 1969-70, CLICK HERE
Ronnie Flores is the national Grassroots editor of Ballislife.com. He can be reached at [email protected]. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores