2020-21 National Underclass POYs

Today we honor our underclass players of the year Jalen Duren (Juniors), D.J. Wagner (Sophomores) and Derik Queen (Freshmen) along with National Coach of the Year Ray Portela of Sunnyslope (Phoenix, Ariz.). These players along with 2020-21 Mr. Basketball USA Chet Holmgren will headline the 27th Annual Elite All-American Team.

2020-21 Mr. Basketball USA: Chet Holmgren, Minnehaha Academy (Minneapolis, Minn.) 7-1 C Sr.
The Gonzaga-bound skilled big man is officially the first national player of the year from Minnesota. To view the full Mr. Basketball USA release, the Mr. Basketball Tracker voting results, and comments from Minnehaha Academy coach Lance Johnson, CLICK HERE.

For all-time Mr. Basketball USA honorees dating back to 1954-55, CLICK HERE

2021 National Junior of the Year: Jalen Duren, Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) 6-10 C
In today’s game almost every elite player clamors to shoot the 3-point shot, but the most dominant interior player in the country stuck to his strength all season long, and the result was a national championship for his team. Duren’s discipline not only helped his team’s success, as the Eagles finished 24-1, it also helped his standing individually, as some recruiting experts now feel he is the No. 1 prospect nationally in the 2022 class.

After transferring over from Roman Catholic (Philadelphia, Pa.), Duren came in at No. 8 in the preseason Mr. Basketball USA Tracker, second behind Emoni Bates among juniors, but he made most of his opportunity playing national level competition nearly every game with his team part of the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC). After some dominant performances on national television and at GEICO Nationals, Duren finished in third place in the final Mr. Basketball USA tracker (voting process for national player of the year) behind runner-up Jabari Smith of Sandy Creek (Tyrone, Ga.) and 2020-21 honoree Chet Holmgren of Minnehaha Academy (Minneapolis, Minn.), both seniors.

On the season, Duren was the leading scorer (14.3 ppg) for a team with four players averaging over 10.4 points per game that captured Montverde Academy’s fourth FAB 50 crown in six seasons. He also added 8.4 rpg and 2.2 bpg while shooting 65 percent from the field.

Duren is Montverde Academy’s second national honoree among juniors, joining Ben Simmons in 2013-14. He is the third honoree from Florida in that time frame, joining 2017-18 honoree Vernon Carey Jr. of University School (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.). Simmons went on to earn Mr. Basketball USA honors as a senior.

Check out the video below for a breakdown of all the underclass players of the year, including interviews with Duren and Montverde Academy head coach Kevin Boyle.

For all-time Junior Player of the Year honorees dating back to 1966-67, CLICK HERE

2021 National Sophomore of the Year: DJ Wagner, Camden (N.J.) 6-3 G

New Jersey schools had an abbreviated season, but the son and grandson of former NBA players did more than enough to earn top honors among tenth-graders nationally. Wagner led Camden to a 13-0 mark, as “The High” finished No. 5 in the FAB 50, highest among New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) teams and public schools nationwide. An natural scorer with ability to score from deep range, mid-range and to the rack, Wagner went over 20 points in 11 of the 13 games and finished the season averaging 22.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 3.8 apg for the Panthers. He earned first team all-state honors.

His father Dajuan Wagner earned top honors among sophomores in 1998-1999 while also playing for Camden. The only other player from the Garden State to earn this honor in between father and son was Michael Gilchrist of St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) in 2008-09. Similar to Dajuan Wagner, Gilchrist went on to earn Mr. Basketball USA honors as a senior.

Despite leading Camden to a 42-1 mark in his first two seasons on the team, D.J. still has plenty of motivation heading into his junior campaign. There was no post-season in 2020-21 in New Jersey and the 2019-20 season was cut short by COVID-19 with Camden riding a 25-game winning streak. Ironically, Dajuan Wagner didn’t win junior player of the year honors, but that was the season in which he led “The High” to the New Jersey Tournament of Champions crown.

For all-time Sophomore Player of the Year honorees dating back to 1967-68, CLICK HERE

2021 National Freshman of the Year: Derik Queen, St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, Md.) 6-8 F

In some years, there is a ninth-grader who is a clear cut choice among his peers or a talented one who puts up gaudy statistics, but this year neither scenario emerged. The 2024 group also didn’t have the luxury of playing in front of national media and college coaches during the summer of 2020, so we were admittedly a bit behind the eight-ball when it came to identifying the top freshmen on talented teams.

After evaluating all the resumes of all the FAB 50 ranked teams and the top players in the class, Queen is the candidate who best checks off all the marks of a great first-year player. He has a position-less versatile game and performed well against quality competition in the Baltimore Catholic League. He helped the Panthers to a 15-1 and the BCL Championship game where they were upset by John Carroll (Bel Air, Md.) and currently sit at No. 36 in the FAB 50. On a team with four college bound seniors, Queen averaged 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks per game. He was also assertive, a go-to player and not afraid to take the big shot. He even had a 56-point game versus Annapolis Area Christian School.

Other first-year players highly considered for this honor were guard Isaiah Eholim from Heritage Christian (Northridge, Calif.) and a pair of talented players from New Jersey: Naasir Cunningham of Gill St. Bernard’s in Gladstone and Elliot Cadeau of Bergen Catholic in Oradell. Queen is the first freshman selection from the state of Maryland since forward Barry Young of Mt. Hebron (Ellicott City, Md.) for the 1983-84 season. To find another choice from Baltimore, you have to go back to big man Larry Gibson from Dunbar in 1971-72.

For all-time Freshman Player of the Year honorees dating back to 1969-70, CLICK HERE

2021 National Coach of the Year: Ray Portela, Sunnyslope (Phoenix, Ariz.)

It’s ironic that Portela is this year’s national honoree among coaches because schools belonging to the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) nearly didn’t have a season. When the vote to cancel the winter sports season was rescinded in January, it opened up the door for the Vikings to take a crack at its third state crown in five seasons.

It wasn’t going to be easy, as the Vikings lost their big man to a national academy-type program in town and were moved up to Class 6A, the AIA’s top classification. Under Portela’s guidance, Sunnyslope overcame those obstacles, not to mention a quarantine period after the season began, to bring home the program’s first 6A state crown courtesy of a 63-62 win over Mountain Pointe (Phoenix, Ariz.).

Led by junior guard Oakland Fort, the Vikings went 21-1, losing only one game by two points in overtime. They will finish as the AIA’s only FAB 50 ranked team and currently sit at No. 44 in the nation’s longest-running weekly rankings. Sunnyslope opened it season with a victory over eventual Class 4A state champ St. Mary’s (Pheonix, Ariz.). It was that team’s only loss in 21 games. Catalina Foothills (Tuscon, Ariz.) won the Class 5a state crown with its only loss coming to St. Mary’s.

For Portela, it was his third state crown after winning titles in Class 5A two consecutive seasons in 2017-2018. Portela doesn’t like to focus on his career marks or winning percentage, instead giving credit to the close-knit nature of his players and staff. His mentor in coaching is former Sunnyslope boss Dan Mannix, who he played for at the school before going on to play at Pomona-Pitzer (Calif.).

This year’s team at Sunnyslope was the schools’ first FAB 50 ranked unit since Mannix’s 2001-02 team that won the Class 4A crown. Similar to this year’s Sunnyslope club, that Vikings team came within a hair of going undefeated, as they finished 29-1 and No. 32 in the FAB 50.

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 ronnie@ballislife.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores

One Reply to “2020-21 National Underclass POYs”

  1. Respecting sir
    I am not interested to bcome in front of telivision or any famous man it is not a achieve/real game winner.. I was real life game I play for to success my dreaming and I played my dream game as true player to fullfill my love dream hopefully but I am not clear my dream is surprise shine as succeeded or still not good time came to reach my dream?? 🤞🤟🙇

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