This past weekend, our resident NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babcock made a trip to Springfield, Mass., the birthplace of basketball, and the home of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, to attend two high school events: the HoopHall Classic and HoopHall Prep Showcase. Today, he outlined a few of the prospects from the events that caught his eye, how their styles of play could fit the modern NBA, and some of the changes within the evolution of basketball at the NBA level.
As an NBA Draft analyst, I routinely travel to evaluate top prospects worldwide. Although I usually focus on prospects likely to be eligible for the upcoming NBA Draft, I make a concerted effort to get ahead by evaluating younger prospects, too, which leads me to my latest trip. This past weekend, I visited a special place: Springfield, Mass., the birthplace of basketball. I attended two high school events: the Spalding Hoophall Classic, which was held at Springfield College, and the HoopHall Prep Showcase, held at MassMutual Center.
I evaluated top players in the Class of 2023, who will be college freshmen next season, and some who could become one-and-done at that level before entering the 2024 NBA Draft. I also evaluated many top prospects from the Class of 2024. I believe there were a lot of future NBA players in those buildings and playing in those games. However, several prospects especially caught my eye, but they weren’t in either of those classes; they were even younger. The players I’d like to highlight today are three of the top young prospects in the country: 2025 forward Cameron Boozer of FAB 50 No. 6 Columbus (Miami, Fla), 2025 wing forward Cooper Flagg of FAB 50 No. 2 Montverde Academy (Fla.) and A.J. Dybantsa, of St. Sebastian’s School (Needham, Mass.), a 6-foo-7 wing from the Class of 2026.
One thing I find interesting about Boozer, Flagg, and Dybantsa is they are somewhat similar. All three players are just 15 or 16 years old, 6-foot-7 or taller (and likely still growing), athletic, and possess well-rounded skill sets. They play inside and out, shoot threes, put it on the floor, perform highlight finishes above the rim, and have the potential to defend multiple positions effectively. They generally play faced toward the hoop, and they’re incredibly versatile. They’re positionless. Their physical builds, body movements, athleticism, and overall physicality are different. Still, they’re pretty much the same: they are do-it-all players with size and versatility. And most importantly, they’re dynamic and, subsequently, elite prospects.
Another player that would fit a similar description is the No. 1 pick from the 2022 NBA Draft, Paolo Banchero from Duke, who is currently playing well in his rookie season for the Orlando Magic. Banchero is listed at 6-foot-10 and 250 lbs — he’s an absolute brute. And despite his physical size and tools, he’s a versatile, do-it-all player without a strict penciled-in position, just like the three high school prospects I mentioned.
And this year’s No. 1 NBA prospect is a player from France, whom everyone’s likely heard of now, Victor Wembanyama, as he has seemingly set the world on fire this season with his talent and play. Wembanyama is an extreme version of this type of do-it-all player, as he’s 7-foot-4 with an 8-foot-wingspan. Still, despite his size, he shoots threes and crosses guys up off the dribble, in addition to dunking and blocking everything in sight. He’s a unicorn as an NBA prospect.
So after spending several days in Springfield, getting to know these young prospects better, I couldn’t help think about Dr. James Naismith, who invented basketball in Springfield in 1891. I thought about the origin of the game and the game’s evolution. Basketball has come a long way, and the game is changing rapidly, especially at the NBA level.
The days of predictable isolations on the low block, hand checks, and rough physicality are long gone, as today’s game is much more predicated on spacing, skill, and finesse. It’s often discussed that small guards and traditional bigs are a dying breed in the NBA. Due to extreme spacing in today’s game, NBA coaches prefer flexibility on the defensive end, with switchable players that can defend multiple positions and players that can shoot the ball with range on the offensive end. So players with size and versatility on both ends of the floor generally hold much more significant value across the board in the NBA. So naturally, Boozer, Flagg, and Dybansta check all the right boxes for what NBA scouts are looking for in young prospects.
So I left Springfield asking myself, “are Cameron Boozer, Cooper Flagg, and AJ Dybantsa future NBA stars?”
Well, I’m not going to make any bold statements about 15 or 16-year-olds. I think that would be reckless. However, I will say this: all three have the potential to become great and are on the right track. And although I’m admittedly being a bit vague, I can say one thing for certain; they are high-priority prospects for me to monitor, and I will track their progress very closely moving forward.