FAB 50: The Good & Bad!

The preseason FAB 50 rankings set the tone for the ensuing season. We put alot of effort into our preseason rankings because it makes it alot easier to justify moves as the season wears on. We won’t give away all our rankings secrets, but two rules we live by are one, we won’t ever drop the No. 1 team if it wins its final game, and two, the No. 1 team can never lose its final game. We’ve been compiling weekly rankings since the fall of 1987 when Miami Senior (Miami, Fla.) opened up as preseason No. 1 in the first National Prep Poll (FAB 50 precursor). Rankings have come and gone since then, or stopped and attempted to re-start. We’ve been doing them ever since and obviously we’re going to keep the FAB 50 going as long as possible. Our preseason No. 1 team has finished No. 1 14 times, so we’re pretty proud of the rankings job we’ve done over the years. On the flip side, no one is perfect and there are some preseason rankings we wish we had back. We take a look at three of our best moments, and three of the preseason decisions we’d love to take back.

RELATED: Preseason 2023-24 FAB 50 (16-30) | Preseason 2023-24 FAB 50 (31-50) | Preseason East Region Top 20 | Preseason Southeast Region Top 20  | Preseason Midwest Region Top 20 | Preseason Southwest Region Top 20 | Preseason West Region Top 20 | Preseason FAB 50 Show (REPLAY) |  Ballislife Podcast Network | FAB 50 Rankings Criteria | History of High School Team Rankings

Rankings To Be Proud Of

Montverde Academy (Fla.) at No. 1 in 2012-13
When things go wrong, more things seemingly go bad, and when things are going well in basketball, the breaks seem to go a program’s way for a long time. At the end of the 2011-12 season, it seems as if things were going right for Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.). After a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback in the National High School Invitational (now GEICO Nationals) title game led by Arizona recruit Brandon Ashley, it looked like the Pilots would dominate high school hoops in the near future. They had just won their third NHSI title in four years and the program seemingly was in good hands with Mike Peck and Todd Simon. Had Montverde Academy or Findlay Prep won convincingly it would have had a strong case for No. 1 over Oak Hill Academy of Virginia, which chose not to participate in the event. What was even more obvious watching that game was how good the Eagles were going to be in 2012-13. Point guard Kasey Hill was dynamic, the team added strongman Devin Williams (West Virginia) and center Dakari Johnson, who sat out the 2011-12 season after earning national freshman of the year honors in 2010-11 at St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.). They were a cinch preseason No. 1 and that’s before the program added Ben Simmons later on during the season. Montverde went on to capture GEICO Nationals at the end of the season, and the program was preseason No. 1 for the next two seasons and won three consecutive FAB 50 titles. More, importantly that 2012-13 team set the tone for what was to come for the program over the next 10 years, and no other credible rankings service had the Eagles preseason No. 1.

Bishop Montgomery (Torrance, Calif.) at No. 7 in 2016-17
Even though this team was a bit short-handed in its first game, it still didn’t look anything like a preseason No. 1 team from California and a top 10 team after it lost that opener at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic to unranked Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland, Calif.), 79-63. It certainly didn’t look better than preseason No. 9 Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) in its early season games. At least one poll had that team preseason No. 1 in the nation. If anything, the Trailblazers were one of those physically dominant teams, similar to the 2012-13 Montverde Academy team, that we evaluated in recent years. After we witness star forwards Marvin Bagley (Duke) and Cody Riley (UCLA) dislodge a backboard, we said to ourselves, “what in the world were we thinking” as Bishop Montgomery had no one taller than 6-foot-5. We knew the Knights would get better, and the big payoff came in the CIF Southern Section open semifinals at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, when coach Doug Mitchell’s club took down Sierra Canyon, 70-63, in a memorable contest played in front of 12,000 fans as part of the double-header involving Chino Hills and Mater Dei. Some pollsters still hadn’t learn their lesson, as the next week Mater Dei came in to the CIFSS open final as the higher ranked team both nationally and locally by everyone expect one poll. Bishop Montgomery had a memorable fourth quarter run to pull out a 70-55 win to capture its second CIFSS open crown in three seasons. The Knights went on to beat Chino Hills and Mater Dei a second time en route to their first and only CIF open state crown. They finished No. 6 in the FAB 50, but more importantly served as a stark reminder that sometimes great high school teams don’t need NBA-type size, or the highest rated individual recruits, to be considered one of the best in the country. Sometimes great high school teams have great chemistry and great high school players, regardless of what is expected of them at the collegiate or NBA levels.

Glenbard West (Glen Ellyn, Ill.) at No. 29 in 2021-22
We always like it when we’re ahead of the curve on a team without alot of fan-fare that has the potential to be a great team. That was the case with the Hilltoppers, who eventually got the national acclaim they deserved after a 13-1 season shortened by COVID-19 in 2020-21. Glenbard West captured the IHSA Class 4A state title with a dominant 56-34 win over Whitney Young (Chicago) with a group of seniors that got little to zero national acclaim until it kept winning. We wish we had placed them inside the Top 25 and it would have been even more interesting to see what would have happened had this club finished 38-0 instead of 37-1. This well-oiled unit led by center Braden Huff and Paxten Warden goes down as one of the best teams in Illinois history, but from a FAB 50 perspective it couldn’t finish higher than No. 13 in the final rankings. That’s because the Warriors lost to No. 32 Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, while No. 12 Camden (N.J.) defeated the Trailblazers, 66-62. Huff (16.8 ppg, 6 rpg, 3 apg, 1.5 spg and 1.5 bpg) was named the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year and earned a scholarship to Gonzaga, while three other teammates were D1 bound. Glenbard West built a national following in three months and its story is what high school basketball is all about.

Rankings We Wish We Had Back

St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.) at No. 1 in 2004-05
By this time, Bob Hurley Sr.’s program at St. Anthony was a perennial contender and had already won two FAB 50 national titles (in 1989 and 1996). This club looked like it had the makings of one that could give the eventual Naismith Hall of Fame coach his third crown, so it was pegged as preseason No. 1 in a close call over Oak Hill Academy of Virginia, the defending FAB 50 national champs. We knew the Friars might start off slow because of injuries, but we never expected them to finish 21-6. The Friars ventured down to San Diego, Calif., for the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic and were upset in the semifinals by Steve Canyon (Spring Valley, Calif.), 67-65, behind a terrific performance by future San Diego St. guard Richie Williams (24 points). Hurley’s club never seemed to recover and the injury problems mounted. St. Anthony is the only preseason No. 1 team to finish unranked. Only two other preseason No. 1 teams have even finished outside the top 10, with the lowest being Findlay Prep (28-4) at No. 14 in 2010-11. Oak Hill Academy, led by senior Jamont Gordon (Mississippi St.) and juniors Kevin Durant and Ty Lawson, both future NBA players, was definitely the more talented team and probably should have been No. 1. The only returning starter from the 2003-04 team, K.C. Rivers (Clemson), missed the entire season and Oak Hill lost two games and finished No. 2. Oak Hill lost to South Gwinnett of Georgia and to Homewood-Flossmorr of Illinois, neither of which won state titles. The FAB 50 No. 1 team that season was Niagara Falls (N.Y.), which began at No. 48 in the preseason.

Flint Hill Prep (Roanoke, Va.) at No. 1 in 1988-89
Just as we had one St. Anthony club too high, we wish we had another higher back in our second year of doing a National Prep Poll. St. Anthony (which is now closed) finished No. 2 in 1987-88 and was the only team to defeat No. 1 St. Nicolas of Tolentine (Bronx, N.Y.). We tabbed talented Flint Hill Prep (Oakton, Va.) as preseason No. 1 in a close call over the Friars, as coach Stu Vetter had two legitimate McDonald’s All-Americans in Aaron Bain (Villanova) and George Lynch (North Carolina) and came into the season having won 74 of its previous 76 games. Flint Hill Prep finished 23-3 and No. 9, but the Friars were even better than advertised. That St. Ants unit is considered one of the best in high school basketball history even though Danny Hurley, the top player on the junior varsity team as a freshman who was expected to be the top guard off the bench as a sophomore, shattered his finger and missed the season and 6-foot-7 Sean Rooney, the team’s top rebounder, tore ligaments in his ankle after the season began. Regardless, this team didn’t miss a beat, capturing the Great Florida Shootout, defeating Flint Hill Prep in the finals of the King Cotton Classic in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, defeating teams from 10 states and capturing the first state Tournament of Champions title with a 62-55 victory over regionally-ranked Elizabeth to finish 32-0. The mainstays on the team were point guard Bob Hurley Jr. (Duke), shooting guard Terry DeHere and power forward Jerry Walker (both Seton Hall), while 6-foot-5 freshman Rodrick Rhodes rounded out the starting lineup. The New Jersey TOC was discontinued after the 2021-22 season.

Montverde Academy (Fla.) at No. 2 in 2019-20
If a defending FAB 50 champ has the ingredients to defend its national title, we almost certainly give it the benefit of the doubt in the preseason pecking order over another talented club. That’s what happened after IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) captured the 2019 GEICO Nationals title. It was a close call, but we gave it the benefit of the doubt over Montverde Academy, the club it took down in the tournament semifinals, 74-73. Has MVA won that game, it most certainly would have began No. 1 in 2019-20 and with the late addition of Scottie Barnes (FSU), it probably should have been anyway. It’s not as if IMG Academy was a bad choice; after all it finished No. 5 in the FAB 50 at 19-6. It’s a choice we want back because Montverde Academy ended up being the best team since the turn of the century. The Eagles defeated 12 FAB 50 ranked teams en route to one of the largest winning margins (39.0 ppg) among elite high school teams we’ve ever uncovered. Only one team played coach Kevin Boyle’s team in single digits and that, of course, was IMG Academy in the title game of the City of Palms Classic (63-55). Led by Mr. Basketball USA Cade Cunningham (13.9 ppg), Barnes (11.6 ppg) and a third McDonald’s All-American in Day’Ron Sharpe (12.1 ppg), MVA handed the Ascenders three of their six losses and no other team came within 20 points. IMG Academy played the Eagles within 20 points (76-64) and 10 so there is always that preseason nod that we’ll have to live with. Two other factors that make that preseason order even more poignant is the fact MVA didn’t have the luxury of closing out with a GEICO Nationals title, as the event was canceled because of COVID-19, and the fact IMG Academy didn’t have its most talented player, returning All-America Jalen Johnson, on the roster after Thanksgiving. Had Johnson not been on the club at all, or had MVA not blown that 16-point lead the year before against IMG, it would have been a wire-to-wire No. 1 club similar to its 2017-18 unit. Could IMG have pulled off an upset in one of the games with Johnson in the lineup?

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


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