Wing guard from FAB 50 No. 2 Montverde Academy Academy (Montverde, Fla.) named 2022 Mr. Basketball USA by Ballislife.com. The Duke-bound Whitehead is the fourth player from Montverde Academy to earn the nation’s highest individual high school basketball honor in eight years, joining Ben Simmons (2015), R.J. Barrett (2018) and Cade Cunningham (2020).
With the ever-changing landscape of high school basketball, we forecasted some unexpected results in the first full high school season since 2018-19. That, of course, was the last season unaffected by the COVID-19 Pandemic that changed the world in March of 2020. This season saw the return of state playoffs in every state and the return of the national all-star games.
In the race for national player of the year honors, the post-season and national all-star games are traditionally a big factor in deciding who earns the title Mr. Basketball USA, the production-based national player of the year honor selected by Ballislife’s 10-man panel of national scouts. This year’s national player of the year race was wide-open from the start and the results of the final Mr. Basketball USA Tracker reveal some surprising results.
Dariq Whitehead, the Duke-bound wingman who contributed to four excellent Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) teams over his career, capped off his four-year run by topping the voting tally in this season’s final tracker. Today, Whitehead is honored with the title of 2021-22 Mr. Basketball USA.
In his career, Whitehead helped the Eagles win back-to-back FAB 50 national titles in 2020 and 2021. In 2020, Whitehead was a reserve on one of the greatest teams of all-time and one of seven players to average between 8.3 ppg and 13.9 ppg. The team’s ringleaders were leading scorer and 2020 Mr. Basketball USA Cade Cunningham and third leading scorer Scottie Barnes (11.6 ppg), who was also second in rebounding (6.5), second in assists (4.6 apg) first in deflections (1.7 dpg), and first in steals (1.9 spg). Just this week, Barnes was named NBA Rookie of the Year for the Toronto Raptors, while Cunningham came in third in the voting behind 2020 Mr. Basketball USA runner-up Evan Mobley (Barnes was No. 5 in the final voting).
Last season, Whitehead averaged 10.4 ppg on a balanced team that won its second consecutive mythical national title. That team was led by national junior of the year Jalen Duren, who finished third in the final 2021 Mr. Basketball USA voting with 66 total points behind unanimous honoree Chet Holmgren of Gonzaga (100 points out of a possible 100) and runner-up Jabari Smith of Auburn (79 points). Duren, along with highly-regarded prospect Emoni Bates (the 2020 National Sophomore of the Year) both re-classed up and played for Memphis in 2021-22. The void they left helped create the wide-open race heading into 2021-22.
Whitehead came in No. 5 in the preseason balloting (40 points while appearing on six of 10 ballots). The leader in the clubhouse was 7-foot-1 center Dereck Lively of Westtown School (West Chester, Pa.), who appeared on all ten ballots, received seven first place votes and finished with 84 points.
Whitehead stepped up big-time after Duren left for Memphis and the Mr. Basketball USA panel took notice. Whitehead led Montverde Academy to a 22-4 season, including a GEICO Nationals title and final No. 2 FAB 50 ranking. Whitehead hit the big jump shot in the GEICO Nationals title game win over Link Academy (Branson, Mo.) and averaged 15.7 ppg, 5.7 apg, and 3.0 rpg in three games at the end-of-season event. For the season, Whitehead averaged 17.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg and 3.8 apg for the nation’s No. 2 team in the FAB 50.
Whitehead cemented his status as 2021-22’s top performer at the national all-star games, which allowed him to over take preseason front-runner Lively, his future Duke teammate as part of new coach John Scheyer’s top-rated recruiting class. Whitehead was named MVP at the McDonald’s All-American Game (13 pts, 7 rbs, 7 asts) and also shined for Team USA at the Nike Hoop Summit with a team-high 17 points, including 5-of-7 3-pointers.
Whitehead and Lively received all 10 first place votes, with Whitehead receiving seven, one second place vote (9 points), one fifth place vote (six points) and one sixth place vote (five points) for 90 total points. Lively didn’t appear at all on one ballot and, in addition to his three first place votes, received two second places votes, one third place vote, one fourth, one sixth and one 10th place vote for a total of 69 points.
“I’m so happy and proud of Dariq,” said Montverde Academy coach Kevin Boyle. “He started at Montverde Academy in the eighth grade and has matured to incredible heights as a person, player and student.”
Only one other player appeared on all ten ballots alongside Whitehead among 24 candidates: shooting guard Keyonte George of IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.). He garnered one second place vote and three third place votes and finished five points behind Lively with 64 points. Two of Whitehead’s teammates at Montverde Academy (Texas bound Dillon Mitchell and junior Kwame Evans) and two of George’s teammates at IMG Academy (Houston bound Jarace Walker and Alabama bound Jaden Bradley) also received player of the year votes. It speaks to the wide open nature of the balloting and the consensus opinion of the panel that there are no sure-fire top NBA Draft pick types at the level Holmgren and Smith were graded at the top of the 2021 class, which made the voting this season as difficult as any in the 15-year history of the Mr. Basketball USA Tracker.
“I believe there is very little separation between No. 1 and No. 10 and no clear cut best combination of player talent and season production,” said panel member Van Coleman of Nothing But Net Magazine. This was the toughest voting in years, likely due to class hopping and pro opportunities.”
“This was perhaps the toughest selections ever; not just one (or even two or three) clear cut candidates for No. 1,” said panel member Frank Burlison of BurlisonOnBasketball.com. “I gave Whitehead the nod because Montverde ‘won it all’ on the prep school level, plus he was very good in all of his team’s key games, as well as during the all-star game circuit.”
The 10-man Mr. Basketball USA panel feels there is still time and room for this class to grow, which is exactly what Whitehead did during his five years at Montverde Academy. It will be interesting to see how the majority of these fine high school players develop and perform at the college level next season.
For now, Whitehead exhibited all the qualities and met the criteria to be named the nation’s best high school player. If history is any indication, Whitehead is one the path to a successful career at the next levels of the game.
Editor’s Note: Click on the “+” sign next to each player’s number to view how many first, second, third or fourth place votes he got and his overall point total. Previous tracker results are also listed (“Prev.”).
|1||5||Dariq Whitehead (10)||Montverde Academy (FL)||7||1||0||0||90|
|2||1||Dereck Lively (9)||Westtown School (PA)||3||2||1||1||69|
|3||4||Keyontae George (10)||IMG Academy (FL)||0||1||3||1||64|
|4||8||Nick Smith (7)||North Little Rock (AR)||0||2||1||1||45|
|5||3||D.J. Wagner (8)||Camden (NJ)||0||0||3||0||36|
|6||7||Cason Wallace (6)||Richardson (TX)||0||0||2||0||31|
|7||2||Amari Bailey (5)||Sierra Canyon (CA)||0||1||0||0||26|
|8T||NR||Gradey Dick (5)||Sunrise Christian Academy (KS)||0||0||0||1||24|
|8T||NR||Dillon Mitchell (5)||Montverde Academy (FL)||0||0||0||2||24|
|10||NR||Jarace Walker (4)||IMG Academy (FL)||0||2||0||0||23|
|11||7||Jaden Bradley (4)||IMG Academy (FL)||0||0||0||1||21|
|12||NR||Cam Whitmore (3)||Archbishop Spalding (MD)||0||0||0||1||18|
|13||9||Chris Livingston (6)||Oak Hill Academy (VA)||0||0||0||0||16|
|14||20T||Mark Mitchell (3)||Sunrise Christian Academy (KS)||0||0||0||1||12|
|15||20T||Kwame Evans (2)||Montverde Academy (FL)||0||1||0||0||11|
|16T||10||Collin Chandler (3)||Farmington (UT)||0||0||0||0||7|
|16T||NR||Kel’el Ware (1)||North Little Rock (AR)||0||0||0||1||7|
|18||11||Baye Fall (1)||Denver Prep (CO)||0||0||0||0||6|
|19||NR||Donovan Dent (2)||Centennial (CA)||0||0||0||0||5|
|20T||15T||Adem Bona (1)||Prolific Prep (CA)||0||0||0||0||4|
|20T||NR||Ronald Holland (2)||Duncanville (TX)||0||0||0||0||4|
|22||NR||Josh Phillips (1)||Link Academy (MO)||0||0||0||0||3|
|23T||NR||Anthony Black (1)||Duncanville (TX)||0||0||0||0||2|
|23T||NR||Brandon Miller (1)||Cane Ridge (TN)||0||0||0||0||2|
2021-22 Mr. Basketball USA Tracker Panel
Paul Biancardi, ESPN National Director of Basketball Recruiting
Frank Burlison, BurlisonOnBasketball.com Publisher
Van Coleman, Nothing But Net Magazine
Jordan Divens, Maxpreps.com National Basketball Editor
Ronnie Flores, Ballislife.com National Grassroots Editor
Chris Lawlor, Blue Star Media National Analyst
Jerry Meyer, McDonald’s All-American Voter
Horace Neysmith, AllMetroHoops.com
Patrick Stanwood, Patrick Stanwood Basketball
Dinos Trigonis, Fullcourt Press Editor & Publisher
About Basketball USA Tracker Panel
Ballislife.com’s panel of 10 experts, which includes six McDonald’s All-American selection committee members, casts its vote for the top national player of the year candidates. Each panelist lists his top seven candidates regardless of class. The votes are then tabulated on a 10-point scoring system with a first-place vote equaling 10 points, a second-place vote earning nine points and down to four points for a seventh-place vote. The number in parenthesis refers to the numbers of ballots on which a player appeared and previous rankings refers to position in the previous tracker.