We conclude our 2018-19 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 October 30, continued with teams No. 16-30 on October 31 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 fifth FAB 50 title in the past seven seasons.
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 won its fourth mythical FAB 50 national title last season. The Eagles begin as preseason No. 1 for the fifth time in program history, as they have won the FAB 50 title in each of the previous seasons in which they began No 1. Last season, Montverde Academy won its first wire-to-wire FAB 50 title after defeating preseason No. 21 University of Florida in the GEICO High School Nationals championship game. CLICK HERE to view the all-time list of mythical national champions.
RELATED: Preseason 2018-19 FAB 50 (16-30) | Preseason 2018-19 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 | All-Time FAB 50 No. 1s | All-Time Preseason No. 1s
Does Any Program Besides Montverde Academy
Deserve To Begin The 2018-19 Season No. 1?
Every season there is plenty of change on the high school basketball landscape, as stars move on and new ones emerge. In recent years, the dominance of basketball academy-type programs has been profound, but the basketball programs at public and parochial schools around the country are still quite relevant, winning national-level games and impacting the FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com.
In fact, two public schools recently captured the mythical FAB 50 national championship in back-to-back seasons: Chino Hills (Calif.) in 2015-16 and Nathan Hale (Seattle, Wash.) in 2016-17.
Fueled by the play of Mr. Basketball USA honorees Lonzo Ball (UCLA/Lakers) of Chino Hills and Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri/Nuggets), both Chino Hills and Nathan Hale went undefeated. Both teams steadily rose in the rankings with big win after big win whereas recent preseason rankings have been dominated by two private academies known for basketball excellence: Montverde Academy of Florida and Oak Hill Academy of Virginia.
For the past six seasons, one of those two programs began as preseason FAB 50 national No. 1. Montverde Academy was preseason No. 1 for three consecutive seasons (2013-2015), Oak Hill started out No. 1 the next two years (2016-2017) with the Eagles gaining the No. 1 nod once again last season.
Since the advent of the FAB 50/National Prep Poll in the winter of 1987, Oak Hill Academy started out as preseason No. 1 a record nine times, but the past two times the Warriors couldn’t sustain that position, finishing No. 2 (45-1) and No. 11 (38-5), respectively. For Montverde Academy the preseason results have been a bit more to its liking. In each of the four seasons in which the Eagles started out No. 1, they finished as FAB 50 champions.
Which brings us to this season.
There is a tremendous amount of elite talent on the top academy programs, but it appears traditional schools playing for state titles have just as many game-changers doting their roster.
No program with a successful track record has a clear-cut talent advantage over the rest of the field, so it makes sense to begin the 2018-19 season with defending champion Montverde Academy as the preseason No. 1 team in the FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com over serious contenders Oak Hill Academy, DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) and IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.).
The Eagles’ talented roster, recent track record of success, and no other team clearly having more talent or that one game-changing player on its roster gives coach Kevin Boyle’s club the preseason No. 1 nod for the fifth time in the past seven seasons. Besides Oak Hill Academy and Montverde Academy, no other program has been national preseason No. 1 more than twice in the 32 years a version of this poll has been published.
This is a season where the race for No. 1 is wide open and as many as eight or nine programs are truly in the FAB 50 national title hunt. Another five believe with the right breaks they can be right there, too.
“It is a bit wide open this year and it should be interesting,” said Oak Hill Academy coach Steve Smith. “Montverde and IMG are going to be really good. I really don’t know who is No. 1, but it will all wash out in the end because all the top teams play strong enough schedules.”
We almost started the Warriors No. 1, but their candidacy was hurt when 6-foot-4 guard Jahmius Ramsey transferred out in late September after coming over from IMG Academy in the off-season. The talented combo guard is now at Duncanville High School in Texas (the 2007-08 preseason FAB 50 No. 1), which fields a potential FAB 50 team this season.
“Somebody is going to get Jahmius’ minutes and has to step up,” Smith said. “Because he played so hard, it hurts us a little. It hurts us defensively.”
As for Montverde, its coaching staff is confident this team has what it takes to bring home FAB 50 title No. 5, despite the graduation loss of 2017-18 Mr. Basketball USA R.J. Barrett (Duke).
“The standard remains the same…we think we can win every game,” said Montverde Academy Associate Head Coach Rae Miller. “I think this group is focused, together, has chemistry and incredible depth.”
Preseason 2018-19 FAB 50 National
Team Rankings Powered by Ballislife.com
By Ronnie Flores
(Final 2017-18 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 Wednesday, November 7 and for the preseason Mr. Basketball USA Tracker on Monday, November 19.)
1. (1) Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) 36-0
Key Players: PF Precious Achiuwa 6-9 2019 (No. 5 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), C Balsa Koprivica 7-0 2019 (No. 28 Hoop Scoop, Florida St. commit), PF Omar Payne 6-9 2019 (No. 35 ESPN.com, Florida commit), SF Cade Cunningham 6-5 2020 (No. 9 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SG Moses Moody 6-5 2020 (No. 20 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American).
Why This Ranking: No other team possessing a clear-cut talent advantage over the Eagles is a big factor in awarding the defending FAB 50 champs preseason No. 1. The Eagles have won more head-to-head FAB 50-level matchups than any other program since the end of Kevin Boyle’s first season (2011-12) and that’s another key factor in this year’s preseason positioning. This year’s roster also features incredible depth and practice time will make the reserves ready in the big game. The frontline of Koprivica, Achiuwa and Payne could be America’s best, while Cunningham mans one backcourt spot with Moody (who has been slowed by a foot injury in the preseason) and Harlond Beverly (6-5, 2019) vying for the fifth starting position. Koprivica can stretch defenses to the 3-point line and Payne is a potential game-changer with his shot-blocking and intensity level. Miller thinks Montverde’s special freshman class that includes Caleb Houston (6-8, 2022), Ryan Nembhard (5-10, 2022) and Dariq Whitehead (6-2, 2022) will force its way into rotation minutes. Houston is a good shooter while Nembhard is every bit the prospect older brother Andrew (an All-American on the Eagles’ undefeated championship team last season and now at Florida) is. If his performance at the recent USA Basketball mini-camp is any indication, Whitehead might be the best freshman in the country. He’s got one of the best first steps you’ll see and is an explosive athlete, but on this team (as opposed to him playing on a state or regionally-ranked team), there will be much less pressure to produce. It’s the depth, coaching staff experience and expectation level for this program that makes them a deserving No. 1 to begin the season.
The Skinny: Without 2018 national player of the year R.J. Barrett, the Eagles’ roster doesn’t contain that one game-changing player capable of putting a team on his back and leading them to a mythical national championship. It will likely be a more collective team effort for this team to retain its rankings position, as championship level leadership is the only missing ingredient. “That leadership is going to fall to Precious,” Miller said. “He comes in with a lot behind his name (in terms of national acclaim). “Both Precious and Cade (Cunningham) have great leadership skill and can impose their will on teams.” “Practice is going great so far,” Cunningham said. “It’s a different level and the coaching staff will have us prepared.” There is no doubt if Boyle’s club enters GIECO Nationals with an unblemished record, it will enter the end-of-season tournament as the No. 1 ranked team in the country. With their daunting schedule, the Eagles could lose a game and still regain a foothold on the No. 1 ranking as their 2013-2015 teams did. Montverde will take on No. 17 Sunrise Christian Academy and No. 9 Paul VI at the ARS National Hoopfest in Washington D.C. (Dec. 7-8) and will travel to the Iolani Classic before Christmas before taking the post-Christmas event circuit off. The Eagles come back to play No. 11 Norcross and No. 6 La Lumiere at the Cancer Research Classic in West Virginia (Jan. 4-5) and face No. 8 Sierra Canyon and No. 7 Imhotep Charter at the Spalding Hoophall Classic in Massachusetts (Jan. 19-21). If they survive those games and their own Montverde Academy Invitational (Jan. 24-26), a potential No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown with Oak Hill Academy awaits on Feb. 2 at the ARS Hoopfest in Tampa, Fla.
2. (3) Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 44-2
Key Players: PG Cole Anthony 6-3 2019 (No. 2 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American), C Kofi Cockburn 6-11 2019 (No. 30 Rivals.com), SF Christian Brown 6-6 2019 (No. 41 Hoop Scoop), C B.J. Mack 6-7 2019 (South Florida commit), SG Cam Thomas 6-3 2020 (No. 29 ESPN.com).
Why This Ranking: The Warriors are in good position to capture the program’s eighth FAB 50 crown because of a combination of depth and a potential Mr. Basketball USA on their roster. Veteran coach Steve Smith (1,108-72) will rely heavily on one player just as Montverde Academy did with R.J. Barrett (26.7 ppg at GEICO Nationals) last season. That player is Anthony, who could develop into the best player in the country under Smith’s tutelage and because of the excellent supporting cast around him. “Cole has never played with a bunch of D1 guys around him; he’s always had to score on the teams he’s been on,” Smith said. “The guys we have make him harder to guard and I think he’s by far the best guard in the country. He wants to be on a championship team.” Smith likes the makeup of his backcourt and the fact he can go with a big or small lineup with little drop off. The defection of Ramsey is eased by the addition of Brown, a big-time scoring threat and an elite defender who can play multiple positions. Evan Johnson (6-0, 2020) can relieve Anthony at the point guard and is a good long-range shooter. Smith obviously has roster turnover every year, so the fact Mack, Johnson and Darrick Jones Jr. (6-5, 2020) return off last year’s team gives him a high comfort level when trying different lineups. In the paint, Cockburn has a bit more offensive skill than David McCormack (Kansas) brought to the table last season, makes good decisions with the ball in his hands and the coaching staff is working hard to get him in top-notch shape. Dylan Cardwell (6-10, 2020) can effectively spell Cockburn and his play will be important because Smith felt not having a true back-up post player last season hurt the Warriors against top tier FAB 50 teams.
The Skinny: There is plenty to like about this team, and having a potential difference-maker in Anthony could turn into a great omen if recent rankings history is any indication. Having that player was the difference for Montverde Academy’s last three championship runs (Barrett last season and Ben Simmons in 2014-15), for Washington’s Nathan Hale (Michael Porter Jr.) in 2017 and California’s Chino Hills (Lonzo Ball) in 2016. The Warriors have a rugged schedule and a margin of error slightly smaller than Montverde Academy when it comes to dropping a regular season game and getting back near the top of the rankings heap. The Warriors face No. 4 IMG Academy on Jan. 20 at the Hoophall Classic and the Feb. 2 showdown with top-ranked Montverde Academy could be titanic, but in order to win the mythical national crown Oak Hill likely needs to defeat either of those two clubs more than once and IMG at least twice in three potential meetings. For the first time since the 1991-92 season, Smith’s club will enter bracket play at the prestigious City of Palms Classic in Florida (Dec. 17-22), where 10 other FAB 50 ranked teams await. The Warriors will likely face highly-regarded Mountain Brook in the second round and are on the same side of the bracket as No. 5 University School with IMG Academy and No. 9 Paul VI on the other side. Back in December of 1991, Oak Hill lost in the City of Palms semifinals (losing to Franklin Learning Center of Philadelphia) and finished that season 32-2 and ranked No. 2, with its only other loss to No. 1 Dunbar (Baltimore, Md.). Having 16 games under its belt heading into the COP is a definite advantage for Oak Hill over some of the other teams in the event. Since the advent of the FAB 50/National Prep Poll in 1987-88, the only time Oak Hill failed to appear in the final poll was that first season when the rankings went 20 teams deep. In that same time frame it has finished the season ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the FAB 50 an amazing 15 times. Look for Oak Hill’s ranking streak to reach 31 seasons with a good opportunity to finish in the Top 2 for the 16th time provided it wins the City of Palms title, captures GEICO Nationals and at least splits with IMG and Montverde Academy.
3. (5) DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) 32-5
Key Players: SG Justin Moore 6-4 2019 (No. 27 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Villanova commit), SG Earl Timberlake Jr. 6-5 2020 (No. 26 Hoop Scoop), C Hunter Dickinson 7-1 2020 (No. 15 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SG Carsten Kogelnik 6-5 2019 (Brown commit), PF Paul Smith (6-8, 2020).
Why This Ranking: This legendary program has an excellent opportunity to capture its fifth mythical national title and first in the FAB 50 era. DeMatha last won a national crown in 1983-84 and since taking over for Naismith Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wootten in 2002-03, this is coach Mike Jones’ (436-112) best opportunity to join his high school coach and mentor as a national championship-winning coach. The tremendous opportunity exists because Jones returns all five starters and top seven players off a young team that exceeded preseason expectations (No. 38 in FAB 50) and closed strong. After returning from a torn ACL as a sophomore, Moore (16.6 ppg) led DeMatha to its first Washington Catholic Athletic Conference crown since 2011-12. Moore is a prototype Villanova guard in the mold of two-time NCAA champ Jalen Brunson: not too flashy, but a total winner who comes up big in the key moments. In order for the Stags to remain in FAB 50 title contention, Moore must play as he did last season and with a good start, will make a strong McDonald’s All-American push. Dickinson is a wide-bodied inside player who grinds teams down and not many programs on the schedule have a traditional post willing to bang and stay disciplined against him. Dickinson had a breakout sophomore campaign, as did Timberlake, who shined in last year’s post-season run. Smith (6-8, 2020) will need to step up in order to keep teams from collapsing on Dickinson and when Jones decides to play small ball. “We have a good mix of perimeter and post players that can play at a high level,” Jones said.
The Skinny: At the recent USA Basketball mini-camp, we joked with Jones about his team potentially beginning the season as FAB 50 No. 1. “We don’t want to be No. 1, it jinxed us the last two times,” Jones said. In 1998-99, the Stags opened up No. 1 in the final pre-FAB 50 related National Prep Poll and finished No. 8 at 28-4. Coming off a national championship season, the 1978-79 Stags had realistic hopes of a repeat, but finished 28-3 at No. 12. This club has the talent and pedigree to finish No. 1, but navigating a murderous WCAC schedule and national showcases won’t be easy. Last season, DeMatha pulled together at the right time, capturing the WCAC Tournament title, the Alhambra Catholic Invitational and the Maryland Private Schools title after losing regular season WCAC contests to Bishop O’Connell (Arlington, Va.), FAB 50-ranked Gonzaga and twice to No. 9 Paul VI. The Stags could drop a WCAC regular season game and still be in FAB 50 title contention, but they couldn’t afford to get swept again by Paul VI or anyone else. The rest of the regular season schedule includes No. 4 IMG Academy and highly-regarded Roman Catholic (Philadelphia) at the ARS National Hoopfest DeMatha will host and No. 15 Guyer at the ARS National Hoopfest in Dallas a week later (Dec. 15). After the New Year’s, the Stags face No. 11 Norcross at the Cancer Research Classic and No. 6 La Lumiere at the Hoophall Classic over MLK weekend.
4. (39) IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) 22-5
Key Players: C Armando Bacot 6-10 2019 (No. 7 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American, North Carolina commit), SF Josh Green 6-6 2019 (No. 8 ESPN.com, Arizona commit), PF Jeremiah Robinson-Earl 6-9 2019 (No. 10 Rivals.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SG Jaden Springer 6-4 2020 (No. 7 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PG Noah Farrakhan 6-2 2020 (No. 36 ESPN.com).
Why This Ranking: The Ascenders were part of the national rankings equation the past two seasons and this year’s team could surpass the exploits of the 2016-17 club. That Trevon Duval-led club was No. 8 in the final FAB 50 and advanced to Dick’s Nationals semifinals. Second-year coach Sean McAloon has blinding talent at his disposal and the team should have more continuity after some roster shuffling last season. This team is deep, and returning starters Green and Farrakhan should greatly benefit from last year’s experience. Green is an excellent scorer, while the latter is an instinctual point guard who can really get in a stance and defend. McAloon is a bit worried about his defense, especially since 7-foot-2 Chol Marial and 6-foot-4 Jahmius Ramsey checked out. The reality is Marial was injury-prone and appeared in only 17 games and Bacot is just what the doctor ordered inside. A physical specimen who uses his wide body to dominate on the boards and position himself for touches, Bacot is hungry to play in FAB 50 championship level games. Robinson-Earl led regionally ranked Bishop Miege (Shawnee Mission, Kan.) to the Kansas Class 4A state crown while averaging 21.9 ppg and 8.1 rpg. Bacot and Robinson-Earl were also USA Basketball teammates that won the FIBA Americas 18U title in Canada.
The Skinny: Last season we took a wait-and-see approach as McAloon was in his first season, beginning his team at No. 24, but IMG quickly proved to be one of the country’s best teams until Silvio De Sousa enrolled at Kansas at the semester break. IMG Academy played more at the level expected of them during the preseason following his mid-season departure, but this team should benefit from better continuity, the on-court leadership of Farrakhan and the dynamic between Bacot and Robinson-Earl. Not having Ramsey could hurt defensively in the big games, but the silver lining is he’s not on the roster of one of IMG’s chief competitors for the FAB 50 crown (Oak Hill Academy) and Springer could be as or more talented than anyone on the roster. IMG grapples with Oak Hill Academy on Jan. 20 at the Hoophall Classic and that could actually be its second meeting of the season, as the two programs are on opposite sides of the bracket at the City of Palms Classic in Florida in December. IMG likely will play highly-regarded Olive Branch or Wilson of Washington, D.C., in the tournament’s second round and actually plays Wilson Dec. 7 at the ARS Hoopfest at DeMatha Catholic. The next night, IMG has a monster date with No. 3 and host DeMatha.
5. (2) University School (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) 35-2
Key Players: PF Vernon Carey Jr. 6-10 2019 (No. 1 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife First Team All-American, Ballislife National Junior of the Year), SF Scottie Barnes 6-7 2020 (No. 2 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PG Logan Alters 6-0 2019 (CAL commit walk-on), SG Roger McFarlane 6-3 2020 (No. 141 Rivals.com).
Why This Ranking: It was a landmark 2017-18 season for the Sharks, as they won the FHSAA Class 5A state crown and advanced to GEICO Nationals, avenging their only regular season loss to Oak Hill Academy before falling to Montverde Academy in the title game (76-58). Had University School upset the eventual FAB 50 champs, it would have been the first ever FHSAA program to capture a national crown. Returning from that team are three starters in Alters, the point guard, and the best 1-2 punch in high school basketball: Carey and Barnes. Carey is the returning Florida Mr. Basketball, was the only underclassman named first five All-American and is the most productive forward in the country. Carey (26 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 4 bpg) completely overwhelmed teams without a serviceable big man and is highly motivated after scoring 12 points in the loss to Montverde Academy. Barnes, who netted 24 points in the loss to the Eagles, is best described as a Swiss Army Knife and is the most versatile among the country’s elite players. He can defend the post, defend the perimeter, rebound and run the break, handle point guard duties and overwhelm smaller defenders in the post.
The Skinny: It’s quite rare for a single high school team to have arguably the best player in both the senior and junior class on their roster, so why are the Sharks not ranked higher after finishing No. 2 in the FAB 50 last year? The main reasons are a coaching change from last season, as former long-time college assistant Jim Carr replaces Adrian Sosa Jr. (who coached the majority of the previous season’s contributors on the Nike Team Florida EYBL team), and the graduation of their backcourt. Trey Doomes (West Virginia) and Drue Drinnon (New Mexico) were underrated nationally and took plenty of offensive pressure off Barnes. “I think we’re good, but different than last year,” Carr said. Carr really likes what he sees so far in David Perez (6-1, 2020) and McFarland, a transfer from Tennessee from a military background who is just as smart and disciplined as he is physical. Jace Howard (6-6, 2020) will also make an impact and his younger brother Jett Howard (6-4, 2022) is one of the top freshman in the country. University School will compete at the Les Schwab Invitational in Oregon (Dec. 27-30), where it could face No. 8 Sierra Canyon in the tourney final, and will look to become the third program following L.A. Westchester (2000-01) and Montverde Academy (2012-13) to defend its City of Palms championship since it became a national level event in the mid-1980s. “I really like this group and to have two potential NBA lottery picks at forward is special,” Carr said.
6. (12) La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) 23-4
Key Players: PF Isaiah Stewart 6-9 2019 (No. 3 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SG Paxson Wojcik 6-4 2019 (Loyola-Chicago commit), SF Keion Brooks Jr. 6-6 2019 (No. 12 247Sports.com), SF Gerald Drumgoogle 6-5 2019 (No. 139 Rivals.com), PG Desmond Polk 6-4 2020 (No. 132 Rivals.com).
Why This Ranking: This team has one of the best players in the country and a nice blend of returnees and talented newcomers that a fourth consecutive GEICO Nationals berth is highly probable. If University School’s Vernon Carey is the most productive player in the country, Stewart is right behind him. Stewart never takes plays off, loves to battle inside, doesn’t take bad shots and has a solid shooting touch. He averaged 20.2 ppg and 10.7 rpg and could develop into a serious Mr. Basketball USA candidate with a hot start. Wojcik (13.1 ppg), the other returning starter, is a deadly outside shooter (41 percent) and his big-game experience should help in crunch time. Four newcomers averaged 17.6 ppg or more at their old school, led by Brooks, a combo forward who combines quickness around the basket with an excellent mid-range shot. Obviously some of the transfers will have to adjust their roles, but look for Brooks (25.6 ppg, 11.4 rpg) to put up big numbers because of his versatility at both ends. “We have skilled players and will have the ability to really stretch the floor and make shots at a high level,” second-year coach Patrick Holmes said.
The Skinny: This independent power nearly won the end-of-season tournament in 2016 and captured it in 2017 when they finished No. 2 in the FAB 50, but last season slipped a bit and lost in the first round to Findlay Prep of Nevada. This group should get La Lumiere past the first round once again. Jakov Kukic (6-10, 2019, UCSB commit) gives La Lumiere that experienced piece in the middle the Lakers will need to beat the best teams on their schedule and put them in position to contend for the FAB 50 crown. Holmes is a bit concerned about breaking in eight newcomers, but the chemistry should be there because the coach has three key pieces that know his system. If the troops rally around Stewart and Brooks, and Kukic increases his production (6.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg), this team will be a dangerous out for other top-ranked teams. La Lumiere travels to Hawaii for the Iolani Classic (Dec. 17-21) where top-ranked Montverde Academy and No. 8 Sierra Canyon await. There will also be a key stretch in January where Holmes’ club takes on No. 14 Bishop Gorman and Montverde Academy at the Cancer Research Classic and No. 3 DeMatha Catholic at the Hoophall Classic.
7. (13) Imhotep Charter (Philadelphia, Pa.) 31-2
Key Players: SF Donta Scott 6-7 2019 (No. 72 Hoop Scoop, Maryland commit), SG Dahmir Bishop 6-4 2019 (No. 86 Hoop Scoop, Xavier commit), SF Chereef “Reefy” Knox 6-6 2019, PF Elijah Taylor 6-8 2020 (No. 64 Hoop Scoop), SF Jamil Riggins 6-6 2019.
Why This Ranking: Every respected national ranking will jump on the Imhotep bandwagon this season, but we’ve been far ahead of the curve when it comes to coach Andre Noble’s program. We started the Panthers No. 20 two years ago when it only lost one game on the court and finished No. 4 in the nation. Last season, the schedule was beefed up and despite losing three D1 seniors to graduation, Imhotep responded by finishing No. 13 in the FAB 50 after beginning at No. 10. With four returning starters, the Panthers begin the season with their highest ranking ever and with the coaching, experience, and personnel to meet expectations. This defensive oriented club is led by returning AAAA first team all-state choices Scott and Bishop with seven other returnees ready to step up when called upon. Scott, last year’s AAAA state player of the year, is a position-less monster who can slash and relishes in defending the opposition’s top offensive threat. Bishop can score coast-to-coast as well as anyone in the country and when he gets it going from the outside this club is nearly unstoppable.
The Skinny: Two years ago, there were some question marks up front, but Scott stepped up. Last year the backcourt was a potential weak spot, which Bishop filled. As if those two weren’t enough, Knox is a D1-bound wing and much is expected from transfer Cameron Roundtree (6-6, 2020). Bernard Lightsey (Lincoln University) is the lone starter lost to graduation, but Noble (344-77) feels good about handing the keys over to cat-quick Fatayn Wesley (5-8, 2019). The Panthers are overwhelming favorites to win a third consecutive 4A state crown, but in order to retain a high ranking there can be no letdown versus nemesis Roman Catholic on Dec. 16 in a battle of defending PIAA state champions. Imhotep is about as complete a public school team as you’ll find in the country, but its eyes are on more than just a state title and it starts with defense and unselfishness. After the Roman game, Noble’s club will enter the City of Palms Classic, with the University School (FL)-Vashon (MO) winner likely in the second round. In January, Imhotep faces highly-regarded Sunrise Christian Academy of Kansas, FAB 50 title contender McEachern of Georgia and top-ranked Montverde Academy.
8. (18) Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) 27-4
Key Players: PF K.J. Martin 6-7 2019 (No. 87 Hoop Scoop), PG Scotty Pippen Jr. 6-0 2019 (No. 237 247Sports.com), SG Cassius Stanley 6-5 2019 (No. 25 Hoop Scoop), SF Terren Frank 6-8 2020 (No. 31 ESPN.com), C Christian Koloko 7-0 2019 (No. 81 247Sports.com, Arizona commit).
Why This Ranking: For the first time in school history, the Trailblazers will open as the preseason No. 1 ranked team in California. Over the past five seasons, only one state No. 1, last season’s Mater Dei of Santa Ana club that started No. 6 in the FAB 50, did not go on to capture the CIF Open Division state crown. Mind you the Monarchs’ preseason ranking was published before Bol Bol (Oregon) left the team. Those statistics are a good omen for this year’s Sierra Canyon team, which bounced back from losing to Mater Dei in the CIF Southern Section Open Division final to win the CIF state open crown. With four returning starters and added depth, the goal of becoming the first ever back-to-back state champ in the CIF open format is definitely attainable. The improvement of Pippen (13.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.6 spg) over the second half of the season was key to the state title run and his presence is crucial against a difficult schedule. Stanley (16.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.9 spg) could explode this year after he was engrained into the lineup following a 30-day sit-out last season. L Simpson (6-1, 2019) can sub in at a variety of positions and provides a defensive spark while the playing time for Amari Bailey (6-2, 2022) may not be indicative of his talent level. No defending CIF open division champ brought back as much firepower as this club will.
The Skinny: Coach Andre Chevalier (who took over coaching the team in the playoffs two seasons ago when the Sacramento Kings’ Marvin Bagley was in the lineup) was a bit flabbergasted last year’s core didn’t receive more post-season national and state wide honors. The team sacrificed individual acclaim, particularly Frank and Stanley, for the ultimate prize and Chevalier again will have to reach into his bag to develop the chemistry on an even more talented unit. The graduation loss of Duane Washington (Ohio St.) will be felt because he was the most consistent perimeter performer and clutch in the big games, but the team’s leading scorer was actually Martin (17.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.2 bpg). The son of former NBA No. 1 pick Kenyon Martin plays big and now has Koloko to help ease his burden and keep him out of foul trouble against FAB 50 level opponents. During December, Sierra Canyon heads to the Iolani Classic and Les Schwab Tournaments with a big matchup looming versus top-ranked Montverde Academy at the Hoophall Classic Jan. 21. Sierra Canyon, which also plays CIF open title contender Rancho Christian during a regular-season showcase game, was literally a few possessions away from a double-digit loss or unbeaten 2017-18 season. In order for those close games to go the Trailblazers’ way in 2018-19, someone will have to step up and hit the big shots the way Washington did last year and continue to put individual accolades on the back-burner.
9. (7) Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.) 33-4
Key Players: SG Anthony Harris Jr. 6-3 2019 (No. 59 247Sports.com, Virginia Tech commit), PG Jeremy Roach 6-2 2020 (No. 11 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SG Josiah Freeman 6-3 2020 (No. 123 Rivals.com), SF Trevor Keels 6-4 2021 (No. 25 Hoop Scoop), PF Josh Oduro 6-8 2019 (George Mason commit).
Why This Ranking: There is plenty returning off a team that went unbeaten in the nation’s toughest basketball conference. Coach Glenn Farello (426-177) has basically his entire unit back that went 18-0 in Washington Catholic Athletic Conference play before being knocked off by then regionally-ranked Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.) in the WCAC tournament semifinals. Senior leader Brandon Slater (Villanova) actually missed the WCAC playoffs and part of the regular season with a broken bone in his hand, so the Panthers actually return five players with starting experience led by Roach (15.4 ppg). The returning all-Met point guard has a knack for the big play, is ultra-competitive and brings to this year’s team an improved outside shot. The talented Keels and Oduro were newcomers to the 2017-18 team who gained valuable experience while earning important roles. Oduro’s production will be key if the Panthers want anything near last year’s regular season performance because the WCAC is as tough as ever and other FAB 50 ranked teams in Paul VI’s range have more proven inside firepower.
The Skinny: The Panthers started No. 15 last season and finished even higher than forecasted even with Slater missing crucial games. Young players stepped up last season, but the intangibles Slater brought to the game will be missed. With seven of their top eight players back, however, there is no doubt the Panthers are FAB 50 title contenders and deserving of this ranking. For the sixth time in the past seven seasons, we place three WCAC teams in the preseason FAB 50 with DeMatha Catholic and Paul VI both cracking the Top 10. Paul VI is as much the conference favorite as the Stags, but from a national perspective, we rank DeMatha Catholic higher because it has a true big man in the middle for national level foes and fared better than the Panthers did versus quality, non-WCAC competition last season. We’ll see what Paul VI can bring against a top tier FAB 50 ranked team with size right away; the defending regular season WCAC and Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) D1 champs take on top-ranked Montverde Academy at the ARC Hoopfest on Dec. 8. It faces highly-regarded Nicolet of Wisconsin the next night before entering the City of Palms field for the first time since 2013-14. The Panthers open with No. 37 Immaculate Conception (another talented team with major league size) and could meet FAB 50 title contender McEachern in the quarterfinals.
10. (41) Wasatch Academy (Mt. Pleasant, Utah) 24-2
Key Players: C Mady Sissoko 6-9 2020 (No. 38 247Sports.com), PF Bernardo Da Silva 6-8 2019, PG Michael Saunders 6-1 2020, SG Tre’ Williams 6-5 2019.
Why This Ranking: The Tigers have been a middle of the pack FAB 50 program in recent seasons, but they’re our hunch team for 2018-19. Sure they have a new coach, as former Lone Peak (Highland, Utah) mentor David Evans takes over for Curtis Condie, but their nice blend of returning talent, skilled newcomers and an infusion of enthusiasm should lead to a GEICO Nationals return. Leading the way is Sissoko, one of the most intense and team-first post players in the country. His motor and enthusiasm are contagious, and even the Tigers’ bench accountability was off the charts in Fall League games we evaluated. Wing Leonardo Colimerio (6-6, 2020), a native of Sau Paulo, Brazil, is the other returning junior who should have a jump in production this season. Williams is primed for a big season and Saunders is just what the doctor ordered at point guard.
The Skinny: Wasatch missed last year’s GEICO Nationals after earning back-to-back berths in 2016-17 and a beefed-up schedule should help this team prepare for a run at its third berth. Richie Saunders (6-3, 2020) is the knockdown shooter that will keep teams honest defensively and Sissoko and Da Silva must learn to avoid cheap fouls to stay on floor because this team will rely on its defense and athletes to match the other top shelf teams. “Playing up tempo and our defense is the strength of this team,” Evans said. Wasatch will take on regionally-ranked Meadowcreek (Norcross, Ga.) at the Holiday Hoopsgiving in Atlanta Nov. 24 and has a three-game Northern California swing in between two December holiday tournaments. January results versus regional-level foes Fairfax (Los Angeles) and Clark (Las Vegas, Nev.) will be a good indicator of where this clubs stands entering the Montverde Academy Invitational Jan. 24. That tournament will prepare Evans’ club for its games with No. 6 La Lumiere at The Bob Kirk Invitational in Cumberland, Md., Feb. 1 and No. 17 Sunrise Christian Academy at the Heartland Hoops Classic in Nebraska Feb. 2.
11. (29) Norcross (Norcross, Ga.) 28-4
Key Players: PG Kyle Sturdivant 6-3 2019 (No. 55 Hoop Scoop, USC commit), SG B.J. Boston 6-6 2020 (No. 8 Rivals.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PF Issa Muhammad 6-9 2019 (No. 221 247Sports.com), PF Daniel Ramsey 6-8 2019 (No. 129 Rivals.com, Xavier commit).
Why This Ranking: The Blue Devils won their last state title in 2012-13 and were regionally-ranked, but not in the final FAB 50. That goes to show how much the profile of GHSA teams have risen over the past five years because if Norcross raises a banner at the end of this season it would assuredly mean a high FAB 50 ranking. The competition for the Class AAAAAAA state crown is fierce once again with major FAB 50 contender McEachern, regionally-ranked Meadowcreek of Norcross and Wheeler of Marietta major threats to the Blue Devils’ ultimate goal. There’s a lot to like with four starters and six lettermen returning, led by first team all-stater Sturdivant and second teamer Boston. Sturdivant, one of the nation’s top-rated point guards, can also play off the ball and averaged 17.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, and 3.9 assists for the AAAAAAA runner-up. Boston had a fantastic summer and is rapidly developing into one of the nation’s best shooters and scorers regardless of class. Backcourt depth and excellent perimeter size is provided by Isaac Martin (6-5, 2019), Caleb Murphy (6-4, 2020) and Kevon Eskridge (6-3, 2020).
The Skinny: If there is any club motivated to erase the memory of last season, it’s the Blue Devils. They have fallen in the state title game the past two seasons, including last season’s 56-43 Meadowcreek heartbreaker after defeating their crosstown Region 7 rivals three times during the regular season. When Norcross knocked off McEachern in the state quarterfinals, that team was No. 4 in the FAB 50. The untimely loss does create a situation of extreme motivation meeting elite talent, but veteran coach Jesse McMillan (253-59) is still a bit concerned about replacing what JoJo Toppin (Georgia) brought to the table and depth in the post. The inside production of Muhammad will be key and some of McMillan’s concerns were eased by the October addition of Ramsey, who averaged 16 ppg and 7.9 rpg at Deerfield-Windsor of Albany, Ga. Norcross plays Wheeler Nov. 17 at the On the Radar Showcase and closes out the regular season Feb. 1 with archrival Meadowcreek. In between the Blue Devils had a national schedule which includes key games at the Cancer Research Classic versus top-ranked Montverde Academy and No. 3 DeMatha Catholic and enter the Chick-Fil-A Classic in South Carolina (Dec 27-29) against a field that includes FAB 50 contenders Memphis East, Sunrise Christian Academy, St. Frances Academy of Baltimore, Holy Spirit Prep of Georgia, Roman Catholic of Philadelphia and Independence of North Carolina.
12. (10) Warren Central (Indianapolis, Ind.) 32-0
Key Players: SG David Bell 6-2 2019, SF Jesse Bingham 6-6 2019, SF Jakobie Robinson 6-6 2019.
Why This Ranking: The Warriors return three starters off a historic team that captured the coveted IHSAA Class 4A state crown with an unblemished record. Warren Central was the first Indiana team to finish with an undefeated record in nine seasons. A repeat is within reach, as Criss Beyers’ program stresses balance and breeds unselfishness. Six players averaged between eight and 12 points last season, led by Bell and Bingham, who both averaged over 12 ppg. Bell, one of the top Grid-Hoop athletes in the country, was chosen to the A.P. all-state third team. Not only does Bell make clutch plays, none bigger than his bank runner to knock of New Albany in the state semifinals, his football background produces a ton of 50-50 plays that go in Warren Central’s favor and his defensive effort rubs off on teammates. Bingham is an athletic wing who had a breakout junior season and is adept at slashing to the basket or scoring from mid-range. Robinson is primed for a breakout season and even though he’ll play on the wing at the next level, he’s an athletic post presence that sacrifices his own perimeter game to give the Warriors necessary inside punch.
The Skinny: This team has the ingredients for another championship run and an Indiana Class 4A state champ that is undefeated or has one-loss deserves a high FAB 50 ranking. Because Indiana teams have travel restrictions, the Warriors won’t be able to test themselves against a team from outside the Midwest region so, from a national rankings perspective, it can’t afford more than one bad outing. Warren Central’s defense, passing and unselfishness won’t take a day off, but there’s no doubt the backcourt play of graduated Dean Tate and Antwaan Cushingberry will be missed. The play of Shawn Beeler II (5-9, 2019), a reserve last season, is key and so is developing some reliable bench play. Last season, the play of other Indiana teams (there were three FAB 50 ranked teams at the state Final Four) helped Warren Central’s cause and there is no guarantee the rest of the Hoosier State’s top teams will be as highly-regarded in 2018-19. Warren Central controls its own destiny and despite being one of the top football players in the country, Bell is expected to lace them up for his senior campaign.
13. (BB) Ranney School (Tinton Falls, N.J.) 28-5
Key Players: SF Scottie Lewis 6-6 2019 (No. 4 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Florida commit), SG Bryan Antoine 6-4 2019 (No. 11 Hoop Scoop, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Villanova commit), SF Phillip Wheeler 6-8 2020.
Why This Ranking: With their returning talent and experienced-laden lineup, the Panthers are the preseason favorites to capture the coveted New Jersey Tournament of Champions after losing to last year’s eventual winner, FAB 50-ranked Roselle Catholic, in the NJSIAA Non-Public B title game. Roselle is formidable once again, with FAB 50 contender Immaculate Conception, Patrick School and Bergen Catholic also in contention. With four returning starters and two potential All-Americans, one has to like Ranney School’s chances. If University School’s Vernon Carey and Scottie Barnes isn’t the best 1-2 combo in high school basketball, Lewis and Antoine likely are. With his overall skill level and athleticism, Lewis is capable of stepping up against the FAB 50 foes on the rugged schedule. Last season, Lewis was a NJ.com first team all-state choice after averaging 16.4 ppg. With some big-time performances in the big games, Lewis could develop into a legitimate Mr. Basketball USA candidate. Antoine was second team all-state and though not quite as highly-regarded nationally, he’s actually been Ranney’s most consistent player the past two seasons. Antoine averaged 21.1 ppg and proved this summer he is capable of taking over high-level games.
The Skinny: This is far from a two-man team and how well the role players do will determine just how high the Panthers can climb in the FAB 50. Ahmadu Sarnor (6-2, 2019) is an experienced point guard with D1 offers who must knock down some big perimeter shots when the defense focuses on Lewis and Antoine. Chris Autino (6-6, 2019) has plenty of experience battling big players in the post and New Jersey had plenty of them last year and more this season. Coach Taj Holden is a bit concerned about Ranney’s interior defense and inside scoring punch, but Wheeler will help on the boards, can knock down the deep perimeter shot and won’t mind taking a back seat offensively, if necessary. The schedule includes a trip to the John Wall Invitational in Raleigh, N.C., Dec. 26-29, and a matchup with No. 31 Federal Way at the Hoophall Classic. Ranney and Roselle Catholic will tangle on Jan. 30 at the Jersey Shore Challenge and the Panthers get their crack at top-ranked Montverde Academy Feb. 8 at the Metro Classic.
14. (17) Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) 29-4
Key Players: SG Noah Taitz 6-4 2020 (No. 30 Hoop Scoop), PG Zaon Collins 6-0 2021 (No. 26 Hoop Scoop), C Isaiah Cottrell 6-9 2020 (No. 44 ESPN.com), SG Will McClendon 6-4 2021.
Why This Ranking: The Gaels are an overwhelming favorite to capture their eighth consecutive NIAA state title and with this group should make noise on a national level. With an extremely young core last season, Gorman began the season ranked No. 48 in the FAB 50. The Gaels exceeded expectations, however, getting past a talented Clark of Las Vegas team (which was ranked higher in the preseason) four times en route to another state crown. State Player of the Year Jamal Bey (22.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg), now at Washington, will be missed but sophomore Noah Taitz (17.5 ppg) hit just as many key shots and will have no problem easing into the lead scoring role. Collins is the catalyst and head coach Grant Rice (446-94) was impressed by how his young core developed last season. “We had one D1 senior and it was his team, but the younger guys stepped up and our chemistry was real good.”
The Skinny: The Gaels were expected to be this highly-regarded in the preseason in 2019-20, but there is no reason they can’t compete for a FAB 50 crown a year early if the egos (which weren’t there last season) remain in check, the role players such as Chance Michels (6-2, 2019), Mwani Wilkinson (6-6, 2020) and Braden Lamar (6-4, 2020) do their job, McClendon develops consistency and Cottrell produces in the big games. He didn’t have to contribute much offensively last season, but Cottrell will be key against the top teams on a loaded schedule. This fall Gorman was lights out defensively when it captured the Ron Massey Memorial Fall Classic in Southern California and it will need similar type defensive efforts to capture the Tarkanian Classic for the second consecutive season against the likes of Rancho Christian and Sheldon of California, Whitney Young of Chicago and Federal Way of Washington. Gorman faces No. 15 Guyer and highly-regarded Gonzaga Prep of Washington at Hoophall West in Phoenix Dec. 7-8, takes on No. 6 La Lumiere and WCAC power Gonzaga of Washington, D.C. at the Cancer Research Classic with the annual showdown with Findlay Prep set for Jan. 19.
15. (31) Guyer (Denton, Texas) 25-6
Key Players: PG De’Vion Harmon 6-0 2019 (No. 24 247Sports.com, Oklahoma commit), SF Jalen Wilson 6-8 2019 (No. 30 247Sports.com, Michigan commit), PF JaKobe Coles (6-6, 2020), SG Tyler McGhie (6-3, 2020).
Why This Ranking: In last year’s preseason rankings, we started the Wildcats No. 2 in Texas behind 2016-17 UIL Class 6A state champ Cy Falls, as Guyer didn’t fare well in the playoffs that season. Last year, coach Grant Long’s club was rolling along and got as high as No. 8 in the FAB 50, until falling in a UIL Class 6A regional final. This season, the Wildcats have enough firepower (three returning starters, eight lettermen) to warrant top billing, but we also seriously considered FAB 50 ranked South Garland with Katy Morton Ranch and re-loaded Duncanville other major Class 6A title contenders. Harmon and Wilson (who shared District 6-6A co-MVP honors in 2017-18) have been Guyer’s leading scorers the past two seasons and as seniors there is no reason to believe their production level and decision-making won’t be even better. Harmon (15.7 ppg, 5.2 apg, 1.7 spg) is a lefty combo guard who can attack the basket with a vengeance and plays with a competitive edge. Wilson (16.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.2 apg) is an excellent spot-up shooter who can run like a deer and is also an excellent defender. “We have good size, good skill and our players have a high basketball IQ,” Long said.
The Skinny: This is far from a two-man team and a tough schedule will have Guyer battle-tested in the program’s quest for its first state final four appearance. Coles (12.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg), who was Guyer’s only sophomore starter last season, is an interior player with better skill than he gets credit for who must stay out of foul trouble in big games. McGhie is a sharp-shooter who can play both guard spots and gives Guyer versatility while newcomer C.J. Luster (6-4, 2021) eases some of Long’s concerns about backcourt quickness. Guyer plays loaded Sunrise Christian Academy of Kansas at the Thanksgiving Hoopfest (Nov. 24) in Duncanville, and has a tough three game stretch where it faces No. 14 Bishop Gorman and Hillcrest Prep of Phoenix at Hoophall West in Phoenix (Dec. 7-8) then No. 3 DeMatha Catholic at the ARS National Hoopfest in Waxahachie the following weekend (Dec. 15). Those are big tests from a national rankings perceptive, but it all boils down to being healthy and peaking during the UIL Class 6A state tournament, which is a battle of attrition where the team with the most steady guard play is likely to come out on top. The only thing surpassing Guyer’s confidence is its motivation after bitter playoffs losses the past two seasons.
RELATED: Preseason 2018-19 FAB 50 (16-30) | Preseason 2018-19 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 | All-Time FAB 50 No. 1s | All-Time Preseason No. 1s