We conclude our 2017-18 preseason FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com with an in-depth look at the nation’s top 15 teams. We began with teams No. 31-50 on November 5, continued with teams No. 16-30 on November 6 and now have published an in-depth look at the nation’s 50 best teams. Montverde Academy of Florida is the nation’s preseason No. 1 team as it seeks its fourth FAB 50 title in the past six years.
All 50 teams are written up with explanations for why they were placed in these positions. Top-ranked Montverde Academy was the nation’s No. 1 team for three consecutive seasons (2013-2015) and begins as preseason No. 1 for the fourth time (2013-15) in program history. Last season, Montverde Academy started the season ranked No. 5 and finished in that spot after falling to preseason No. 2 La Lumiere of Indiana in the Dick’s Sporting Goods National High School Tournament championship game. La Lumiere captured the prestigious tournament title for the first time ever and finished No. 2 in the FAB 50 behind undefeated Nathan Hale (Seattle). CLICK HERE to view the all-time list of mythical national champions.
Memphis East or Montverde Academy:
Who’s More Deserving To Begin The 2017-18 Season No. 1?
The high school basketball landscape has become big business in recent years. With so many elite players attending basketball academy-type programs, it’s nice to see public high schools still having a big impact on the credible high school team rankings published each year. In light of that, how awesome is it that one of the most recognizable and perennial strong academies has a brewing mini-rivalry with a public school in Tennessee?
That’s the case this season as Montverde Academy of Montverde, Fla., and Memphis East High School in Tenn., battle for national supremacy and bragging rights. Montverde Academy has long been a national power, first under current University of Pittsburgh assistant Kevin Sutton and the last six years under Kevin Boyle, who coached the Eagles to three consecutive mythical FAB 50 national titles between 2013-2015. Memphis East, meanwhile, burst onto the national scene in 2016 when it went 32-2 and finished No. 11 in the FAB 50 and followed that up with a second consecutive TSSAA Class AAA state crown and a No. 3 FAB 50 finish, the highest ranking ever for a Tennessee program in the FAB 50 era (since 1987-88 season).
On the way to their 33-3 season, the underclass-dominated Mustangs defeated Montverde Academy two out of three games and might even be better this season as they look to become the first TSSAA program to finish No. 1 nationally dating back to the 1951-52 when the National Sports News Service (FAB 50 precursor) began naming mythical national champions. Montverde only has two players returning, but it’s a supremely talented duo and Boyle has reloaded the roster for another championship run.
“Penny Hardaway is a legend in Memphis,” said Boyle. “He’s done a good job with that program and he’s got a good team.”
So which team will be better in 2017-18? If it can’t be decided on the court between the two clubs (and it likely won’t be) we’re going with Montverde Academy to open the 2017-18 season as the preseason No. 1 team in the FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com by the slimmest of margins over Memphis East.
The three main reasons are the personnel on Montverde’s roster, the changes on the Mustangs’ roster and the simple fact it’s a different season with a different outlook in terms of what results may transpire from preseason FAB 50 positioning to determine the rankings as the season progresses.
Boyle has 10 players on his roster that will contribute and only one isn’t considered a high major recruit. Even though only two players return, Canadians R.J. Barrett and Andrew Nembhard in the backcourt, Montverde’s proven track record and national schedule make it attractive to like its chances to finish No. 1. Trevin Wade, a 5-foot-10 senior and low to mid-major D1 prospect, is the only player on the roster under 6-foot-4. This Montverde team has the depth, size and versatility to challenge the 2012-13 Montverde FAB 50 title team as the most gifted (so far) in Boyle’s time at the Florida program.
“Obviously there are new faces, so we have to work on chemistry, but this is such a versatile team,” said Montverde Academy assistant Rae Miller. “All of them can do so many different things offensively and we shouldn’t have a problem putting the ball in the basket.”
Memphis East has a host of returnees off last year’s back-to-back state championship team and its most talented player might be newcomer James Wiseman. The 6-foot-10 power forward is arguably the best junior in the country and he relocated to Memphis after playing last season at The Ensworth School of Nashville. TSSAA transfer rules may force him to sit out the season, but until Memphis East submits its roster for the season to Tennessee’s governing body for athletics, it’s all speculation with regards to Wiseman’s eligibility. If we knew for certain Wiseman, along with 6-foot-5 senior transfer Ryan Boyce from Houston of Germantown, were eligible to play the entire season, Hardaway’s club would be preseason No. 1.
It was really difficult to ignore the fact Memphis East defeated Montverde Academy twice in three tries last season. The results of the games (by far the most important factor in determining in-season ranking position) from the previous season does factor into the preseason FAB 50 and Memphis East does have to personnel to play with and defeat any team in the country. The facts are the Eagles beat Memphis East 63-54 in the title game of the City of Palms Classic in Florida and lost on two buzzer-beaters in the January meetings. Those two games came down to the last possession and could have gone either way.
Which brings us to our final point: This is a new season, and although both coaching staffs are motivated by past results, this year’s Montverde team has a different makeup and the results of those games have little meaning to the individual players on the Eagles’ roster.
Memphis East has arrived and is now a national name on the high school basketball scene. The Mustangs will take everyone’s best shot on a difficult schedule, something Montverde Academy has grown accustomed to over the past decade. Memphis East has the ability to get it done, but will results and other factors fall in its favor for the second consecutive season?
“It’s hard enough to beat those teams on the way up, but it’s super hard to be the one teams are coming after,” Miller said. “Hopefully they’ll do well.”
Preseason 2017-18 FAB 50 National
Team Rankings Powered by Ballislife.com
By Ronnie Flores
(Final 2016-17 ranking in parentheses; *Indicates forfeit wins, forfeit losses not included; **Indicates forfeits and defaults not included; Look for preseason Region-By-Region Top 20 Rankings on Friday, November 10 and for the preseason Mr. Basketball USA Tracker on Tuesday, November 21.)
1. (5) Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) 26-5
Key Players: SG R.J. Barrett 6-7 2018 (No. 1 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife First Team All-American, Ballislife National Sophomore of the Year), PG Andrew Nembhard 6-3 2018 (No. 23 247Sports.com, Florida commit), PF Makhi Mitchell 6-10 2019 (No. 28 ESPN.com, Maryland commit), PF Filip Petrusev 6-11 2018 (No. 77 Rivals.com), PG Mike Devoe 6-3 2018 (No. 56 ESPN.com, Georgia Tech commit).
Why This Ranking: Another big factor in giving the No. 1 nod to the Eagles is having an elite, game-changing talent in the lineup. Having that player was the difference in recent years for FAB 50 champs Nathan Hale (Michael Porter Jr.) in 2017, California’s Chino Hills (Lonzo Ball) in 2016 and the Eagles in 2015 and 2014 (Ben Simmons). That player for Montverde Academy is Barrett, named National Sophomore of the Year after averaging 22 points and seven rebounds for last year’s club. Over the summer, Barrett led Canada to the FIBA 19U World Cup title, including a 38-point, 13-rebound, 5-assists performance in a semifinals win over the United States. Barrett re-classed to 2018 and is now considered the No. 1 prospect in that class. “This is now his third year here, and every year he’s grown as a person, student and player,” Miller said. “He’s wants to win a national championship and he understands he’s the leader of this team and has that opportunity.” Nembhard has also reclassified from 2019 to 2018. The Florida commit can create scoring opportunities for others or him self and is eager to help this team after missing the end of last season with a stomach injury. Even though Carrington Davis (6-6, 2018) is not yet up to speed because of hip surgery, the Eagles won’t miss a beat with talents such as Devoe (a talented combo guard) and Wade (a terrific defender) ready to step up. Up front, there is terrific talent and skill with the likes of Petrusev (a top international prospect from Serbia) and Mitchell (who had great feet and hands according to Boyle). The pleasant surprise so far has been the improvement of Kevin Zhang (6-9, 2018), who played on last year’s La Lumiere team that defeated Montverde Academy in the Dick’s Nationals title game.
The Skinny: There is so much depth and talent, future high major players such as Makhel Mitchell (6-9, 2019), Makhi’s brother and a fellow Maryland commit, and Jordan Mitchell (6-7, 2019, no relation to the Mitchell brothers) will fight to see quality minutes. Outside of Barrett, Montverde might be the only team that can withstand an injury or misfortune to an elite player and not miss a beat. Montverde will be extremely tough to stop offensively and has different ways to slow down teams defensively, whether going big in the backcourt or allowing Wade to harass the ball-handler. The Eagles will play FAB 50 No. 29 Trinity Episcopal at the Hoopsgiving in Atlanta, travel to China in early December, participate in the Iolani Classic in Hawaii with the likes of No. 30 Jefferson and No. 40 Rainier Beach, will participate in the Beach Ball Classic along with No. 14 Moeller, No. 26 Imhotep Charter, No. 35 Long Island Lutheran and four other FAB 50-ranked teams, play No. 10 La Lumiere at the Cancer Research Classic, face No. 16 Simeon and No. 6 Mater Dei at the Hoophall Classic and take on No. 17 Roselle Catholic near the end of the regular season. In late January, No. 9 Findlay Prep and No. 12 Shadow Mountain will participate in the Montverde Academy Invitational. With that schedule, plus Dick’s Nationals, this program controls its own destiny to win a fourth FAB 50 crown in the Boyle era.
2. (3) Memphis East (Memphis, Tenn.) 33-3
Key Players: PF Chandler Lawson 6-9 2019 (No. 21 Rivals.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PG Alex Lomax 5-11 2018 (No. 70 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PF James Wiseman 6-11 2019 (No. 1 ESPN.com), C Malcolm Dandridge 6-8 2019 (No. 97 Rivals.com).
Why This Ranking: The Mustangs have the talent and experience to become the first ever Tennessee program to earn the nod as FAB 50 champion. They have the necessary ingredients in today’s high school game: length, good shooters and an experienced point guard in Lomax. He’s a bit under the radar as a prospect, but is already a two-time underclass All-American and similar to Montverde Academy’s Barrett -- the catalyst and irreplaceable cog for coach Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. He’s already a two-time Class AAA Mr. Basketball and last season averaged 16.4 ppg, 7.5 apg, and 6.4 rpg. Dandridge does the dirty work underneath and he, Lomax and Lawson all return after making the Class AAA all-tournament team. Lawson was particularly spectacular with 18 points and 15 rebounds in the state title win over Memphis Southwind and will be joined on this year’s team by younger brother Chandler Lawson (6-6, 2021) and two other standout freshmen. Chandler will play a lot and the coaching staff feels he’s the most versatile of the Lawson brothers who have come through the program. “The difference between this year’s team and last is the length and shooters on this team,” Hardaway said.
The Skinny: After the 2016 team started the preseason on the rankings bubble and finished No. 12, last year’s team began at that same position and finished No. 3 after No. 2 La Lumiere defeated the Hamilton Heights Christian Academy Memphis East lost to. This year’s team starts one spot higher, and the expectations are sky high. Last year’s team was the highest ranked ever in Tennessee, and the only reason it didn’t start No. 1 is some of the departures, including talented guard T.J. Moss to No. 9 Findlay Prep and talented forward Antavion Collum, and the uncertainty surrounding the eligibility of Wiseman. At the recent USA Basketball Junior National Team Mini-Camp, Wiseman was the most impressive junior in attendance. If the talented left-hander is eligible for the entire season, the Mustangs will be favorites to capture the prestigious City of Palms title against the likes of No. 4 McEachern, No. 5 Hudson Catholic, No. 6 Mater Dei, No. 7 Wesleyan Christian Academy, No. 8 Webster Groves, and No. 11 Archbishop Malloy and have a good chance as any of the preseason Top 3 of finishing unbeaten. Before that tournament, Memphis East takes on No. 9 Findlay Prep in Memphis and could face No. 16 Simeon two times, potentially in the City of Palms semifinals and for sure on January 6 at the Penny Hardaway Hoopfest. Memphis East had to turn in its eligibility roster the first week of November, but either way this team will be in the mix for the FAB 50 crown if Lomax stays healthy and the rest of the team doesn’t care whom fills the stat sheet. “Either way, the team will be prepared. We’d loved to have him in the lineup, but we don’t know at this point,” Hardaway said. The program attended Dick’s Nationals as visitors last year and it will be interesting to see how the TSSAA handles the eligibility ruling for Wiseman considering the team’s desire to play at that event. There was talk of a Memphis East and Montverde Academy regular season matchup, but it fell through. The rankings scenario nightmare would be if Montverde Academy won Dick’s Nationals with an unbeaten record and the Mustangs won the City of Palms and captured a third consecutive TSSAA Class AAA state crown with an unbeaten slate.
3. (11) Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 38-5
Key Players: C David McCormack 6-10 2018 (No. 20 Hoop Scoop, Kansas commit), SF Keldon Johnson 6-7 2018 (No. 7 ESPN.com), PG Will Richardson 6-4 2018 (No. 18 Hoop Scoop), SF Keyontae Johnson 6-5 2018 (No. 114 Rivals.com).
Why This Ranking: The Warriors have the talent, track record and play the schedule necessary to earn the program’s eighth FAB 50 crown. Most importantly, veteran coach Steve Smith (1,064-70) loves this team’s chemistry and makeup. Last season, Oak Hill began the season as preseason FAB 50 No. 1 for the eighth time in program history, but faltered in the 50-50 games and finished lower than No. 2 for the first time after entering the season at the top of the poll. Smith likens this team to his 2016 team that finished No. 2 at 45-1. “We are better at the point, McCormack is vastly improved and we have better chemistry,” Smith said. McCormack, whose physical conditioning has greatly improved, has improved his shooting range, can get off the floor better and will have plays ran for him. He could be headed for All-American acclaim while being surrounding by four talented perimeter players. Smith could have five players in double figures, with Keldon Johnson the most talented wing player. Keyontae Johnson (no relation), a talented athlete who doesn’t need a play ran for him to score, will keep teams from over-playing Keldon. Even though Smith doesn’t have Josh Nickelberry (a Top 50 ranked junior) on his roster as originally anticipated, there are plenty of talented reserves to spell the wings, including 15-year old Josh Hennings (6-8, 2020) and Maurice Calloo (6-8, 2018). One of the keys will be the play of B.J. Mack (6-8, 2019) because the Virginia Tech commit will be the one to spell McCormack in the middle.
The Skinny: Oak Hill could drop a game and still be highly ranked because of the murderous schedule and should the Warriors go unbeaten it will have as strong as argument as any to be mythical national champ. The “Road Warriors” play in the Marshall County Hoopfest, the Chick-Fil-A Classic in South Carolina against the likes of No. 9 Findlay Prep, No. 15 Paul VI and No. 49 Cox Mill, the Les Schwab Invitational in Oregon that includes No. 6 Mater Dei and No. 30 Jefferson and will do the vaunted “Springfield Double” by playing in the Bass Pro Invitational in Missouri (Findlay Prep, No. 8 Webster Groves, No. 10 La Lumiere, No. 18 Brentwood Academy, No. 43 Wasatch Academy and No. 46 Christ the King await) and play No. 21 University on MLK Monday at the Hoophall Classic in Massachusetts. Despite the challenges, Smith believes Richardson, who had a terrific summer, gives the Warriors a chance in every game and brings this unit some of the intangibles last year’s preseason No. 1 team didn’t have. “This group all likes each other; there’s no fraction of groups and less ego,” Smith said.
4. (43) McEachern (Powder Springs, Ga.) 29-1
Key Players: SG Isaac Okoro 6-5 2019 (No. 11 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PG Sharife Cooper 5-10 2020 (No. 41 Rivals.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), C Babatunde Akingbola 6-8 2019 (No. 101 247Sports.com), SF Brandon Suggs 6-6 2018.
Why This Ranking: The Indians have the necessary ingredients for a high final FAB 50 ranking: talent, size and plenty of motivation after last season’s underclass-dominant unit fell just short of an unbeaten season. It starts in the backcourt, as Okoro (24.1 ppg) was chosen second team all-state and netted 27 points in a state quarterfinal win over FAB 50-ranked Wheeler of Marietta. Cooper (16 ppg) is another returning underclass All-American who is mature beyond his years. Akingbola is a rim-protector while Grid-Hooper Suggs brings athleticism and intensity to this club. Pebblebrook transfer Jared Jones (6-9, 2019) is one of the best forward prospects nationally in his class and gives an already loaded team even more frontcourt firepower.
The Skinny: Georgia was a hotbed for FAB 50 ranked teams last season and when the dust settled it was upstart Tift County that won the coveted GHSA Class AAAAAAA crown after four other teams in the classification were preseason FAB 50 ranked. McEachern was riding along at No. 9 in the FAB 50 before it all came crashing down in a 56-49 semifinal loss to the eventual champs. For a team that is returning its top nine scorers and adding Jones, it’s easy to suspect complacency and jealousy can creep in. That’s not the case according to Mike Thompson’s coaching staff, as the players are working hard towards a common goal. Another plus for Thompson’s group is all of them (minus Jones) have built tremendous continuity and chemistry from playing on various travel ball clubs together since they were in sixth grade. McEachern not only opens the City of Palms Classic with No. 39 Ranney School, it also faces No. 38 DeMatha Catholic at the Cancer Research Classic and highly-regarded Ohio clubs Trotwood and Pickerington Central at the Flyin’ To The Hoop Invitational in Dayton.
5. (BB) Hudson Catholic (Hudson, N.J.) 26-4
Key Players: PG Jahvon Quinerly 6-1 2018 (No. 9 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PF Louis King 6-8 2018 (No. 16 247Sports.com, Oregon commit), SG Luther Muhammad 6-3 2018 (No. 27 Hoop Scoop, Ohio State commit).
Why This Ranking: There’s a lot to like off a team that returns four of five starters and a strong bench that makes it the preseason No. 1 team in the powerful Garden State. It’s conceivable no team in America has a returning trio that coach Nick Mariniello has at his disposal. It begins with Quinerly, who is a returning first team all-state pick after averaging 20.4 ppg, 5.4 apg, and 3.1 rpg for a club that lost to No. 25 Patrick School in the NJSIAA Non-Public B state final. Muhammad compliments “Jelly JQ” nicely in the backcourt and King is a versatile talent that can dominate inside or step out on the wing. Depth is provided by up front by Danny Rodriguez (6-8, 2019), who is capable of big scoring outputs, and Precious Ikediashi (6-7, 2018).
The Skinny: This team is not only talented, but is battle tested, having bested teams from six states and finishing in fifth place at the prestigious City of Palms Classic last season. The Hawks, however, do have some concerns. According to ESPN’s Jeff Borzello, Quinerly and his family hired a lawyer in the wake of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recruiting scandal that rocked college basketball in early October. Nothing has transpired as it relates to Quinerly (and perhaps nothing will), but should his college eligibility be called into question at any point this season, there is no doubt the NJSIAA will take notice. The team also has to show they have what it takes to get it done locally and win their first state title since prep legend Mike O’Koren led the Hawks in 1976. If Hudson Catholic wins state and a New Jersey TOC crown, that double will assure a high national ranking, provided the Hawks have another good showing at the City of Palms Tournament. They have a monster opening round game with No. 8 Webster Groves.
6. (12) Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) 33-3
Key Players: C Bol Bol 7-2 2018 (No. 3 Rivals.com), PG Spencer Freedman 6-0 2018 (No. 144 Rivals.com, Harvard commit), PF Michael Wang 6-9 2018 (Penn commit), SG Harrison Butler 6-5 2018 (No. 233 247Sports.com, Southern Utah commit), SG P.J. Fuller 6-4 2019 (No. 43 ESPN.com).
Why This Ranking: The core of the Monarchs’ unit is seniors and they have enough returning pieces and newcomers to win the storied program’s first CIF state title since current NBA forward Stanley Johnson led them to the last of four consecutive in 2013-14. The leader and most consistent player is Freedman (14.5 ppg, 5.5 apg), who has great floor vision and can make the clutch pass or outside shot. Butler (8.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Wang (9.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg) are mainstays in the lineup and have expanded their overall offensive games since last season. Bol (16.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.9 bpg) is one of the nation’s best prospects and can take slower defenders outside. Co-captain Reagan Lundeen (6-6, 2018) and freshmen Wilhelm Breidenbach (6-9, 2021) and B.J. Askew (6-0, 2021) provide dependable depth.
The Skinny: The Monarchs have won a state record 11 CIF state titles and every league crown but one (1987-88) since coach Gary McKnight (1,082-98) took over in 1982-83. The Monarchs open up as the preseason favorites in California, but a twelfth state crown won’t be easy. Mater Dei added Bol mid-season in 2016-17 and No. 33 Bishop Montgomery still bested the team for section and state open division crowns. Bishop Montgomery suffered heavier graduation losses, but Bol had an inconsistent summer and the Monarchs will need him focused to defeat the likes of Montgomery, No. 37 Sierra Canyon, and regionally-ranked Fairfax of Los Angeles and Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland for the state crown. Mater Dei’s FAB 50 ranking will be dependent on the results of its games at the City of Palms Tournament, the Les Schwab Invitational versus the likes of No. 3 Oak Hill Academy and No. 30 Jefferson, versus No. 19 Gonzaga at the Cancer Research Classic and a key matchup with top-ranked Montverde Academy at the Hoophall Classic.
7. (41) Wesleyan Christian Academy (High Point, N.C.) 28-5
Key Players: PF Jaylen Hoard 6-9 2018 (No. 10 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Wake Forest commit), SF Aaron Wiggins 6-5 2018 (No. 39 ESPN.com, Maryland commit), C DeAundre Wilkins 6-10 2019.
Why This Ranking: The Trojans were our NCISA Class 3A favorites last year, but came up just a bit short in three tries against rival Greensboro Day, losing by a total of 10 points. We place the Trojans once again in the pole position, as they have a bit more firepower and fewer key graduation losses than their rival. Hoard and Wiggins form a dynamic 1-2 scoring punch and with a big season Hoard could develop into a legitimate Mr. Basketball USA candidate. Coach Keith Gatlin did lose David Caraher (Houston Baptist) to graduation and N.C. State commit Ian Steere to transfer, but have enough depth and experience to challenge for a Dick’s Nationals berth.
The Skinny: WCA had some questions at point guard last season, but that shouldn’t be an issue this time around with the addition of twin guards from Class 4A state champ Southwest Guilford committed to Virginia Tech. Keyshaun Langley (6-1, 2019) and Kobe Langley (6-1, 2019) are talented players and both can handle point guard duties. Keyshaun (14.9 ppg, 4.2 apg, 3.0 rpg) is especially potent and Wilkins gives a needed post presence necessary when the Trojans battle nationally-ranked teams. Gatlin’s club plays Gainesville and No. 41 Norcross at the Holiday Hoopsgiving in Atlanta, opens the City of Palms with regionally-ranked Orlando Christian Prep with the winner getting No. 16 Simeon and plays at the John Wall Invitational after Christmas which includes the likes of No. 21 University School and No. 24 IMG Academy. Last season, Greensboro Day finally broke through for the at NCISA at Dick’s Nationals by upsetting IMG and WCA will be looking to take it a step further this season. First, however, WCA has to take care of business in-state and get by its archrival in addition to regionally-ranked Providence Day.
8. (22) Webster Groves (Webster Groves, Mo.) 29-2
Key Players: PG Courtney Ramey 6-2 2018 (No. 33 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PF Carte’Are Gordon 6-8 2018 (No. 33 247Sports.com, St. Louis commit).
Why This Ranking: The Statesmen welcome back two of the better players in the country and nine lettermen off a team that closed strong, winning 23 consecutive games and capturing the coveted Class 5A state crown (the program’s first since 2008). The catalyst was Ramey, a two-time Suburban XII South Conference and 2016-17 St. Louis Post Dispatch All-Metro Player of the Year who averaged 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals as a junior. This season coach Jay Blossom will have Gordon patrolling the paint for the entire season, as he played in 17 games last season after gaining eligibility mid-season. Gordon's production will be key, as will staying out of foul trouble during the key games on the Statesmen’s monster schedule. R.J. Wright (6-2, 2019) will be the team’s outside threat, as Blossom will look to space the floor so Gordon can go to work inside. Ray Adams (6-3, 2019) will take on a bigger role and transfer Amorey Womack (6-2, 2019) is an athletic defender who fits nicely into Blossom’s system. “Our bread and butter is our half court and full court man-to-man defense,” Blossom said.
The Skinny: Is Webster Groves the eighth most talented team, top to bottom, in the country? No, but there is the first spot where we’re rewarding a team for playing a monster national schedule and then ranking them as the results come in. Without Gordon, Webster Groves had a slow start and it can’t afford any in-state losses to remain in the top 10. The Statesmen play No. 2 Memphis East on national television December 14, play regionally-ranked Wheeler of Georgia at the Cancer Research Classic and then travel to the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions where five other FAB 50 teams await. This team will do the “Springfield Double” and opens the City of Palms Classic against No. 5 Hudson Catholic in one of the best holiday tournament opening-round matchups we’ve ever analyzed with regards to with how it relates to rankings position.
9. (20) Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) 33-4
Key Players: PF Reggie Chaney 6-8 2018 (No. 89 247Sports.com), PG Jamie Lewis 6-2 2018 (No. 88 247Sports.com, Wake Forest commit), SG T.J. Moss 6-4 2018 (No. 170 247Sports.com), Spencer Washington 6-6 2018.
Why This Ranking: Coach Paul Washington got a good chuckle out of Findlay Prep starting out at No. 29 in last year’s preseason rankings. The reason for the ranking was the program was on its fifth coach in six years, but the former Middle Tennessee player stepped up the Pilots’ schedule, and they performed, twice defeating preseason No. 1 Oak Hill Academy and losing only to top 10 ranked teams and advancing to the Dick’s Nationals semifinals before losing by two points to eventual champ La Lumiere. This year’s team begins at a spot more reflective of its overall talent level and tough schedule. Chaney, a physical specimen, has loads of experience and is an improved spot up shooter. Lewis, a Westlake of Atlanta transfer, is a scoring point guard and is completed nicely by Memphis East transfer T.J. Moss, who is a crafty operator who knows how to get in the key. The Pilots can go big with Memphis-bound Conner Vanover (7-3, 2018) and San Diego St.-bound Nathan Mensah, who can also stretch the floor with his shooting range. This is a lot to like about the lineup and a roster with 10 seniors.
The Skinny: The Pilots rose up in the rankings steadily last season, but this year have an opportunity to make a big splash early when they hit the road to take on No. 2 Memphis East on November 25. Washington has again scheduled aggressively, as the Pilots play in the Chick-Fil-A Classic in South Carolina, take on No. 24 IMG at the Cancer Research Classic, take on Huntington Prep of West Virginia at the Flying To The Hoop Invitational, and battle rival and No. 48 Bishop Gorman back home before heading to the Montverde Academy Invitational at the end of January. Washington will no longer have his son P.J. at his disposal, as the All-American has moved on to Kentucky, but he welcomes back son Spencer and other underrated players such as Maryland-Baltimore County commit Jack Schwietz (6-5, 2018) that will give the Pilots the necessary depth to fare well against the afore-mentioned clubs.
10. (2) La Lumiere (LaPorte, Ind.) 28-1
Key Players: PG Tyger Campbell 6-0 2018 (No. 41 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PF Isaiah Stewart 6-9 2019 (No. 20 247Sports.com), Charles Smith IV 6-5 2019 (No. 42 247Sports.com).
Why This Ranking: This team might be a notch down from last season when it won Dick’s Nationals, but the Lakers figure to be in the thick of the FAB 50 race with a nice blend of talented newcomers and a key returnee. Head coach Shane Heirman moved on to DePaul and former assistant and new head man Pat Holmes is blessed to have his coach on the floor in Campbell returning. The lone returning starter cut down on the turnovers and flashy plays to put together an outstanding performance in the Lakers’ championship run. He has legit All-American potential and will lead an under-class dominated unit that includes Smith, a talented scorer who could have a breakout season. The bouncy Stewart, a transfer from McQuad Jesuit in Rochester, N.Y. who missed his sophomore season with injury, commands double teams inside and has a good shooting touch.
The Skinny: Losing the type of firepower the Lakers did and undergoing a coaching change means the Lakers begin at the bottom of the Top 10. If returning role players such as power forward Franklin Agunanne (6-9, 2018) and shooting guard Paxson Wojcik (6-5, 2019) step up, the team will be ready for the meat of its schedule. After playing in the Chicago Elite Classic and Mike Miller Classic, the team will face a key stretch, playing No. 26 Imhotep Charter and top-ranked Montverde Academy at the Cancer Research Classic and then at the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Missouri the following week. “We have two top 50 juniors and a lot of new faces,” Holmes said. “If they figure it out, we have a chance to do something special.”
11. (NR) Archbishop Molloy (Queens, N.Y.) 20-8
Key Players: PG Cole Anthony 6-3 2019 (No. 2 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), C Moses Brown 7-0 2018 (No. 13 Rivals.com), SF Khalid Moore 6-6 2018 (No. 138 247Sports.com, Georgia Tech commit).
Why This Ranking: The Stanners are the highest preseason ranked team that wasn’t really in the FAB 50 equation last season. They are a factor this time around with three prime-time players, including Anthony, and plenty of motivation. Anthony, the son of former UNLV and NBA guard Greg Anthony, is the best underclass guard in the country and one of the best players in the country, regardless of class. He averaged 20.7 ppg, 7.0 apg and 1.9 spg in New York Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA) play, but would like to erase the memory of the 64-62 CHSAA title game loss to Cardinal Hayes of the Bronx in which he missed a late chippie.
The Skinny: Cardinal Hayes will be in the CHSAA mix once again, but we go with No. 46 Christ the King and the Stanners as the leaders in the clubhouse not so much because of Anthony, but because of the improvement around him. The other two prime-time players are Moses, who has developed into one of the country’s best pivots, and Moore, who has an improved skill set to go along with his raw athleticism. Players such as Jamal Watson (6-3, 2019) and Jade Tse (6-1, 2018) add experience and their contributions will need to be there in the big games. While Anthony is a reason to like coach Mike McCleary’s club so is the schedule. The Stanners, trying to win their first Catholic League title since 1989 Mr. Basketball USA Kenny Anderson was on the roster, will open the City of Palms Classic with No. 21 University (with the winner likely getting No. 6 Mater Dei in the second round) and take on No. 38 DeMatha Catholic at the Hoophall Classic. Malloy also has a tough slate locally, including two Brooklyn/Queens league matchups with CTK on February 2 and 9.
12. (16) Shadow Mountain (Phoenix, Ariz.) 27-1
Key Players: PG Jovan Blacksher 5-10 2019 (No. 150 247Sports.com), SG Jaelen House 6-1 2019 (No. 89 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SF Immanuel Allen (6-4, 2018).
Why This Ranking: The Matadors ran roughshod over AIA Class 4A competition last year, with their closest margin of victory in four playoff games being 33 points. That 81-48 victory came over Salpointe Catholic of Tucson in the state title game and this year Shadow is more talented. It begins with House, a dynamic scoring guard in the same mold of his father Eddie (a former NBA guard) and Blacksher, a tough-as-nails point guard who can will his team to victory with defense and clutch plays. What could potentially make this team special and a major Dick’s Nationals contender is its transfers. Allen (Lakeridge, Lake Oswego, Ore.) is an explosive and powerful athlete who recruiters will get to know well. He’ll likely start but the battle for playing time will be fierce and only make this team better.
The Skinny: Shadow Mountain, coached by 1996 Mr. Basketball USA Mike Bibby, played top-ranked Montverde tough for three quarters at Dick’s Nationals -- without House. Yes, the Matadors graduated State Player of the Year Marcus Shaver (Portland), but this team has more weapons and is a clear preseason state No. 1 over regionally-ranked Pinnacle of Scottsdale (December 15 matchup). Antonio Reeves (Kenwood, Chicago) is a 6-foot-3 scorer who can play both guard spots while Jalen Williams (Brookside Christian, Stockton, Calif.) is a 6-foot-3 lefty who tries to dunk everything. He plays baseball and is also a big-time prospect on the gridiron. He’ll ease into the lineup, as Shemar Morrow (6-5, 2020) is another big-time transfer athlete (La Mirada, Calif.) who should benefit immensely from the increased practice competition. Last year’s team, which had good chemistry because of familiarity, made a national reputation playing Montverde Academy on national television. This year’s team, which will play at the Montverde Tournament with the likes of No. 9 Findlay Prep, doesn’t quite have that continuity, but there is a noticeable uptick in the skill and talent level throughout the roster.
13. (18) Cypress Falls (Houston, Texas) 35-3
Key Players: SG Nigel Hawkins 6-4 2018 (Ballislife Underclass All-American), PG Trajan Wesley 5-10 2018 (Louisiana-Lafayette commit), SF DeShang Williams-Weaver 6-6 2018 (No. 143 247Sports.com).
Why This Ranking: You have to like a team that returns all five starters off its UIL Class 6A state title team. If we followed local consensus, the Eagles would be much lower in the FAB 50 and not the preseason No. 1 in the UIL ranks. Implementing the rankings formula we’ve used for 30 years, however, there’s no way we wouldn’t start Cy Falls No. 1 in Texas after winning the state’s most coveted title, no to mention one of the country’s most grueling playoff divisions, with what’s coming back. It begins with returning underclass All-American Hawkins, the team’s leading scorer who went for 33 points in two low-scoring state final four games. He was the Houston Chronicle Player of the Year and a TABC All-State choice. Wesley, who went for 23 points in the 3OT state semifinal win over Skyline of Dallas, has all-state ability and Andrew Nguyen (5-10, 2018) is another talented point guard who compliments Wesley nicely and gives the Eagles another player with experience handling ball-pressure in crunch time.
The Skinny: Coach Richard Flores (who enters his fourth season) and his players are well aware of the grind it takes to win a UIL Class 6A state title; sometimes the team that wins is the most fortunate. This year, Cy Falls will be more explosive, but that doesn’t guarantee the road to the state crown will be easier. No. 31 Austin Westlake and No. 44 Denton Guyer will be clipping at its heels, and South Garland and DeSoto also look like major 6A contenders. At some point, however, Cy Falls’ experience last season will pay dividends. Nguyen and Kendall Scott (6-7, 2018) are returning all-district players, and depth to withstand the grueling playoff haul will be provided by the talented Weaver and Zach Stephenson (6-7, 2018).
14. (37) Archbishop Moeller (Cincinnati, Ohio) 28-1
Key Players: PF Jaxson Hayes 6-9 2018 (No. 137 Rivals.com, Texas commit), PG Miles McBride 6-0 2019, SF Jeremiah Davenport 6-5 2018.
Why This Ranking: The Crusaders are the odds-on favorites to capture the Ohio Division I state title after coming up a point short in last year’s state title game. They got the talent, size and motivation to take care of the job this time around. Coach Carl Kremer, who has won three state titles and over 500 games since taking over the program in the 1989-90 season, will miss all-state Keegan McDowell (Liberty), but the team has more than enough firepower to bring home title No. 4 for the veteran coach. McBride is a rock in the backcourt and had big games in Moeller’s run to state last season and Isaiah Payton (6-1, 2018) is another ball-handler with experience and next level talent. Davenport had a breakout run during the state tournament and is a lockdown defender. Hayes backed up Riley Voss (Cornell) last season and hasn’t really made a varsity impact yet. That’s expected to drastically change this season.
The Skinny: Its tough to lose a Top 10 ranking and an unbeaten season in a state title game where the winner scores 39 points, but that’s what happens when less than 10 states around the country employ a shot clock. Moeller also was the victim of misfortune, as an intentional foul was called late in the ball game on an obvious fouling situation for the Crusaders. That will give this team plenty of motivation, and Hayes’ improvement could prove to be the difference. He’s gone from a player toiling on lower level teams to one recruited by the likes of Kentucky. If he has a breakout campaign, the Crusaders will have a good opportunity to hold off the likes of No. 34 Pickerington North and regionally-ranked Pickerington Central, Princeton and Garfield Heights to earn what some Crusaders’ fans feel was unjustly taken away from them last season.
15. (NR) Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.) 29-8
Key Players: SF Brandon Slater 6-7 2018 (No. 53 247Sports.com, Villanova commit), SG Anthony Harris Jr. 6-2 2019 (No. 77 247Sports.com), PG Jeremy Roach 6-2 2020 (No. 12 Rivals.com).
Why This Ranking: It’s no secret the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) is arguably, top to bottom, the toughest in the country. With that in mind, we’re going to place three WCAC teams in the preseason FAB 50 for the fifth time in the last six seasons. We like the Panthers as the conference favorites for the second time in four years because of the return of four starters and nine lettermen, while No. 19 Gonzaga and No. 38 DeMatha Catholic suffered a bit more graduation losses. Leading the way is Slater, who averaged 15.6 ppg in leading coach Glenn Farello’s club to the WCAC regular season championship and title game of the conference tournament, where it fell to Gonzaga in a rubber match. Slater is cut out to be a major college off-guard, but he can play almost anywhere for the Panthers and is still improving his overall game. Paul VI is well taken care of in the backcourt, as Harris and Roach are considered among the best nationally in their class at their respective positions.
The Skinny: The Panthers had six less losses last season than it did in 2015-16, but still didn’t crack the final FAB 50. A 95-78 loss to No. 29 Trinity Episcopal in the VISAA Division I title game was a main factor, but because of the conference it plays in, Paul VI has more leeway than clubs such as No. 12 Shadow Mountain, No. 13 Cy Falls and No. 14 Archbishop Moeller to endure a loss and not drop too far. Farello does lose guard Aaron Thompson (Pitt), but has excellent depth bolstered by newcomers such as Josh Oduro (6-8, 2019) and Trevor Keels (6-4, 2021). Paul VI opens the season with conference foe Bishop O’Connell then faces No. 7 WCA and regionally-ranked Oak Ridge of Florida at the National High School Hoopfest at DeMatha. The Panthers also travel to the Chick-Fil-A Classic in South Carolina, take on No. 2 Memphis East at the Penny Hardaway Hoopfest and once again play No. 17 Roselle Catholic (whom it beat last season) at the WCAC-NJ Challenge.