Preseason 2020-21 FAB 50: Teams No. 16-30!

We continue our 2020-21 preseason FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com countdown with an in-depth look at teams No. 16-30. We began with teams No. 31-50 on Sunday evening and our final installment will be teams No. 1-15 on Tuesday, October 27.

RELATED: Preseason 2020-21 FAB 50 (1-15) | Preseason 2020-21 FAB 50 (31-50) |Preseason Regional Top 20 Rankings | A Season Unlike Any Other | “In The Paint” Podcast: FAB 50 Edition (Episode 86)

Preseason 2020-21 FAB 50 National
Team Rankings Powered by Ballislife.com

By Ronnie Flores

(Final 2019-20 ranking in parentheses; *Indicates forfeit wins, forfeit losses not included; **Indicates forfeits and defaults not included; ***Indicates season cut short due to COVID-19 Pandemic; Look for preseason Region-By-Region Top 20 Rankings on Thursday, November 5 and for the preseason Mr. Basketball USA Tracker on Monday, November 23.)

16. (NR) Legacy Early College (Greenville, S.C.) 22-10
Key Players: SG Bryce McGowens 6-6 2021 (No. 23 Rivals.com), PG Jacobi Wright 6-1 2021 (South Carolina commit), SF Ike Cornish 6-6 2021 (No. 77 247Sports.com, Maryland commit), PF Perry Smith Jr. 6-8 2022 (No. 145 Rivals.com).

Bryce McGowens
Bryce McGowens

6'5"   -   SG   -   2021

Why This Ranking: The Lions are a strong independent program and have one of the best rosters in the country. It begins with a skilled backcourt led by Wright, a talented scoring guard who averaged a team-leading 17.4 ppg along with 3.7 rpg and 5.3 apg. Cornish was one of three double-digit scorers last season (13.3 ppg), while McGowens is another big guard who creates mismatches. Smith (5.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg) has tons of potential and the presence of Jason Baker (6-9, 2021) should make him more productive. There is talent at each spot and coach B.J. Jackson will have the luxury of finding out what combination meshes best. It’s a problem many coaches would love to have. “We feel with our three high major senior guards that we can beat anyone in the country,” Jackson said.
The Skinny: This program opened last season at No. 30, but there were some concerns about its youth. Legacy Early did lose a high number of games against a strong schedule and fell out of the FAB 50. In order to move into the Top 15, the Lions have to close games and get Smith and Baker involved in the offense so teams don’t key on slowing down Wright and Cornish. The Lions return Tyrek Priestley (6-9, 2021), the team’s top returning rebounder (4.3 ppg), with depth added by Kidd Brizek (6-7, 2022) and Kam Little (6-6, 2021). Every player is a D1 prospect, and that doesn’t even include Randy “Deuce” Caldwell (6-1, 2022), who will be a Power 5 football recruit. “Our forwards are skilled and Priestley is strong as an Ox,” Jackson said. “This is our most skilled and deepest roster.” Last season, Legacy Early was a bit of an unknown on a national level, but with their college commits and talent level they won’t sneak up on anyone this year behind the backdrop of a daunting schedule. The Lions are scheduled to play at the Battle of the Rock, the Hoophall Classic (vs. No. 22 Blair Academy), the Montverde Academy Invitational, and the Metro Classic in New Jersey. Legacy Early has also been mentioned as one of the teams for an eight-team independent league along with Montverde Academy, Wasatch Academy, Sunrise Christian Academy, Oak Hill Academy, La Lumiere, Hamilton Heights Christian Academy, and Bishop Walsh (Cumberland, Md.). Those teams will compete in pre-existing events (DC Hoopfest, Hoophall West, Hoophall, Montverde Academy Invitational) along with the Bob Kirk Invitational that Bishop Walsh annually hosts. Then the eight teams would reportedly meet in their own tournament in Indiana the first weekend of March. If those league games are completed, then the Lions’ ranking threshold to survive some losses would grow, as it would for the other ranked teams in the league.

17. (17) Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) 30-4*** 
Key Players: SG Amari Bailey 6-3 2022 (No. 3 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), LeBron James Jr. 6-2 2023 (No. 24 ESPN.com), Harold Yu 7-3 2021 (No. 145 247Sports.com), SG Chance Westry 6-4 2022 (No. 26 Rivals.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American).
Why This Ranking: Montverde Academy might have fielded the most dominant high school team in 25 years last season, but Sierra Canyon was the most talked about and watched nationwide with a package of games streamed on the ESPN family of networks. The Trailblazers do return the player mostly responsible for that unprecedented coverage in James, the son of the L.A. Lakers’ superstar. James (4.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.1 apg) is expected to take a major step up after playing spot minutes as a freshman. He’s a high IQ player who can distribute or make the open shot and he’ll team up in the backcourt alongside Bailey (10.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4 apg), the team’s most talented player and an explosive talent whose individual numbers will go way up. Coach Andre Chevalier can go with a more perimeter-oriented attack with Shy Odom (6-5, 2022) as the key cog inside or big with Yu, who is a valuable weapon with his size and unselfishness. Odom (7.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg) had a big role last season until Ziaire Williams (Stanford) got eligible while Yu (6.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg) steadily improved as the season went along. Chevalier hopes Yu develops more into a rim protector in the big games. Westry, a transfer from Trinity (Camp Hill, Pa.), should take pressure off of Bailey and James with his scoring and play-making ability. There are plenty of weapons at Chevalier’s disposal and, as the past few years proved, his track record of handling egos and managing expectations makes this team the logical favorite to win another California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Open Division title.
The Skinny: In 2018 and 2019, the Trailblazers celebrated with back-to-back state open crowns, but the ending to last season was perhaps even more memorable, even though they didn’t win an on-court state crown. Last season Sierra Canyon won the SoCal open title with a dramatic, last-minute comeback win at the buzzer over FAB 50 ranked Etiwanda before COVID-19 shut down the CIF championships. Sierra Canyon took care of business among CIF teams, but dropped three out-of-state, showcase games to FAB 50 ranked foes and those results were reflected in its final ranking. Sierra Canyon begins this season in the exact same spot it finished last season, but has to begin lower than last season’s No. 6 start for three reasons. First, the CIF season doesn’t begin until March 12, when many other states presumably will be winding down their seasons, so that will limit Sierra Canyon’s opportunity to face other FAB 50 ranked foes. The Trailblazers are scheduled to play in some fall league events, but those won’t count against their official 2020-2021 won-loss record. Second, California has a weak senior class and that’s reflected in the amount of quality regionally ranked teams the Golden State has. Lastly, Williams and B.J. Boston, the state’s Mr. Basketball now at Kentucky, were part of California’s terrific 2020 class and their production won’t easily be replaced. California’s best team three seasons running may not have the dynamic play-making it did last season, but it does have good depth and a well-rounded roster with the likes of Ryan Grande (6-0, 2021), a good outside shooter, plus Evan Manjikian (6-8, 2022) and Max Allen (6-8, 2022) inside.

18. (19) Moeller (Cincinnati, Ohio) 25-1***
Key Players: PF Alex Williams 6-5 2021 (Furman commit), C Logan Duncomb 6-9 2021 (No. 63 247Sports.com, Indiana commit), SG Evan Mahaffey 6-5 2022 (No. 145 247Sports.com).
Why This Ranking: The Fighting Crusaders are a FAB 50 lock as one of the country’s most consistent parochial programs, with excellent coaching and a good system where role and JayVee players step up to fill the void left by graduating seniors. Coach Karl Kremer counts three returning starters and eight other lettermen back off a team that was gunning for a third consecutive OHSAA D1 state crown before the ongoing pandemic forced the cancellation of the state tourney with Moeller in the regional final. Duncomb (13.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg), an all-state choice as a junior, leads the way and makes teams pay with good patience and shot selection (.699). Williams (13.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg) is an excellent scorer and shot over 40 percent from 3-point range last season. Will McCraken (6-4, 2021) rounds out the trio of veteran starters and he’s an excellent all-around talent (8.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) who shoots it well and tied with Duncomb for the team lead in blocked shots (37). If recent seasons are any indication, a few of last season’s reserves will step up in a big way.
The Skinny: The Crusaders’ 50-game winning streak was snapped by No. 49 St. Vincent-St. Mary in their second game last year and Moeller didn’t lose again. Both clubs deserve to be preseason FAB 50 ranked with Moeller getting the benefit of the doubt as Ohio No. 1 because of its recent track record. In 2016-17, the Crusaders were unranked in the preseason and finished 28-1 with a controversial loss in the state title game. In 2017-18, they started out No. 14 in the FAB 50 and finished No. 16, while in 2018-19 they repeated as state champs despite returning only one starter and starting out unranked. Max Land (St. Francis PA) is a big loss off a team that began at No. 25, but Mahaffey is a prime candidate to make a big jump this season after playing in only 10 games as a sophomore. Aidan Noyes (6-6, 2021) and Aidan Turner (6-1, 2021) got valuable playing time as juniors and should continue that tradition of senior leadership and reliability with the game on the line. For now, Moeller is scheduled to play St. Vincent-St. Mary on December 5 at home and talented Lawrence North of Indianapolis at the Forum Tipoff in Indiana the following weekend. The Crusaders were preparing for a good showing at the City of Palms Classic, but that event is now cancelled. Kremer is hoping his unit will get to compete in the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina after Christmas against a field that includes at least three other FAB 50 ranked foes.

19. (6) Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.) 28-3
Key Players: SG Reggie Bass 6-4 2022 (No. 137 Rivals.com), C Felix Okpara 6-10 2022 (No. 39 Rivals.com), PF Jaret Valencia 6-8 2022 (No. 127 Rivals.com), C Bretner Mutumbo 6-10 2021 (No. 38 247Sports.com).
Why This Ranking: The Hawks are the three-time defending National Association of Christian Athletes D1 champs and have the talent to make a push toward the Top 10 of the FAB 50 for the second consecutive season. It will be tough to replace what All-American Samson Ruzhentsev (Florida) and point guard Dominiq Penn gave HHCA, but new coach Steve Cook (who previously coached on the NAIA level) does have a nice blend of returnees (two starters, four lettermen) and talented newcomers to begin in the same rankings position it did last season and make a GEICO Nationals run. Bass (6.8 ppg, 2.9 apg, 1.1 spg) is a good all-around guard who can play off and on the ball and defend multiple positions. Okpara (7.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.6 bpg) is a load inside who should improve his scoring output. Regardless of what he does offensively, he’s one of the nation’s best shot blockers and teaming with Mutumbo will make HHCA a tough out in any environment. “We will be one of the best defensive teams in the country with Felix and Bretner,” Cook said. “They both are elite shot blockers and rebounders.”
The Skinny: HHCA earned its first preseason FAB 50 ranking last season and got key victories to move up from their preseason No. 19 position. This team has to adequately replace the perimeter ball-handling and firepower it lost in order to once again move up in the rankings. Cook believes he has the answer in Duarte, a versatile scorer who brings energy to both ends of the floor. The first-year coach is also high on another transfer, Jahsemar Olembe (6-5, 2023). The Canadian transplant is an elite three-level scorer and Cook loves the edge he plays with. HHCA plays a loaded schedule that will give them plenty of opportunity to prove their rankings’ worth. If it performs well in the eight-team independent league set to take place this season at various stops in the country, HHCA will be a good bet to make a move up in the rankings.

Paolo Banchero
Paolo Banchero

6'9"   -   PF   -   2021

20. (BB) O’Dea (Seattle, Wash.) 23-6
Key Players: C Paolo Banchero 6-10 2021 (No. 2 Rivals.com, Duke commit, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SG John Christofillis 6-4 2021 (Creighton commit), SF Jermaine Davis 6-3 2021, PF Max Debiec 6-8 2021, PG Dezjay Perkins 6-0 2021.
Why This Ranking: The Fightin’ Irish are the preseason team to beat in the Pacific Northwest for the second consecutive season. Last year, O’Dea wasn’t able to overcome the talented team at Eastside Catholic of Sammamish, but with that team and Garfield of Seattle suffering key losses and the Irish returning their big gun, it makes sense to tab this team No. 1 in Washington. Banchero is that gun and after posting 22.7 ppg, 11 rpg, 4 apg and 2 bpg, he rates with Chet Holmgren of FAB 50 ranked Minnehaha Academy as the nation’s two most impactful big men. He’s simply too strong and relentless for high school big men and is a patient passer and post play-maker. That will pay dividends this season, because O’Dea returns all four other starters and 10 lettermen in all. Christofilis (12.0 ppg), a terrific jump shooter who can also play above the rim, is looking forward to a big senior campaign after battling injuries as an underclassman. If he’s consistent, this team will be tough to beat. Davis (9.0 ppg) is a three-year standout who can contribute on all three levels and guard multiple positions. Perkins (5.5 ppg) is the returning point guard while Debiec (9.1 ppg), a hard throwing southpaw who should be a high MLB Draft choice next year, should have a huge jump in production playing off Banchero after being a part-time starter last season. There is simply no glaring weakness in the lineup, especially since Debiec has decided to play the entire season.
The Skinny: Last season, O’Dea opened up ranked No. 32 in the FAB 50 and were ranked most of the season until falling to Garfield in the WIAA Class 3A title game. The 69-44 score was a tough pill to swallow after beating the Bulldogs two times earlier in the season and winning the title in 2018-19. The Irish do deserve a higher preseason ranking than last season because eight of the 10 returnees are seniors and they have been gearing towards this season for three years. We couldn’t place them any higher, however, because it will be a slow play up in the rankings because of how COVID-19 will affect WIAA scheduling. According to coach Jason Kerr (375-136), WIAA programs have a start date of December 28, with two non-league games and 14 regular season games allowed followed by a full playoff bracket. It goes without saying Kerr is trying to schedule the two best possible non-league foes possible, especially since he considers this one of the most talented teams ever to come through the program.

21. (NR) Milton (Milton, Ga.) 26-5
Key Players: PG Bruce Thornton 6-2 2022 (No. 17 Rivals.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SG Kanaan Carlyle 6-3 2023 (No. 16 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SF Kendall Campbell 6-8 2022 (No. 87 Rivals.com), PG Broc Bidwell 6-1 2021.
Why This Ranking: The Eagles get the nod as the preseason No. 1 ranked Georgia High School Association (GHSA) team with all five starters returning and 11 lettermen total off a state semifinalist team. Coach Allen Whitehart still has a young team, but its talent level is too hard to ignore in what should be another banner year for GHSA teams. It begins with Thornton, one of the nation’s best players in his class who was a first team all-state selection last season after averaging 23 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 6.1 apg. His backcourt running mate Caryle is not far behind, as he averaged 14 ppg, 4 rpg and 3 apg in his freshman season while also earning underclass All-American honors. Campbell gives Milton plenty of scoring punch inside and is another all-state level talent after averaging 17.4 ppg and 9.8 rpg at Meadowcreek (Norcross, Ga.). Bidwell is another transfer (from West Forsyth in Cumming, Ga.) who will make Whitehart’s veteran backcourt that much more dynamic because he can score or run a club. With the blend transfers and returnees, it’s hard to find a weakness on this team.
The Skinny: A terrific regular season doesn’t guarantee an easy path to the Class AAAAAAA state crown and some in-state losses doesn’t mean a team can’t turn it around in the post-season. The road in Class AAAAAAA is tough, so Whitehart wants his troops to peak at the right time. Last season, the Eagles dropped three out-of-state games (to teams from New York, Kentucky and Ohio) but also split with the Wheeler of Marietta team that eventually upset FAB 50 No. 4 Grayson in the state final. Thornton had 42 points in a loss to Grayson and 28 in the state semifinal loss to Wheeler, so there is no doubt this team will be tough to beat in crunch time. Depth is provided by L.T. Overton (6-4, 2023), one of the nation’s best football prospects, Fisher Finley (6-5, 2021), one of the nations’ best Lacrosse players, Devin Farrell (6-1, 2022), a QB with multiple D1 offers, and Mo Clipper (6-5, 2022), a 260-pound enforcer inside who is another D1 level athlete. The Eagles have a loaded schedule despite the City of Palms Tournament being cancelled. Milton is scheduled to meet No. 5 DeMatha and with COP cancelled, hopes the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina goes off without a COVID-19-related hitch.

22. (NR) Blair Academy (Blairstown, N. J.) 24-3
Key Players: SG Jaylen Blakes 6-1 2021 (No. 79 ESPN.com), PG Kyle Cuffe Jr. 6-1 2022 (No. 78 Rivals.com), C Lual Manyang 6-11 2022 (No. 143 247Sports.com), SG Otega Oweh 6-4 2022 (No. 111 247Sports.com).
Why This Ranking: The Bucs burst onto the national scene with a talented team capable of moving up in the FAB 50. Coach Joseph Mantegna counts two returning starters and nine total lettermen back off a club that played a strong independent schedule. Blakes is described as a “walking bucket” who relentlessly attacks the rim with both hands and thrives off created turnovers. He averaged nearly 19 ppg last season and should be one of the top guards in the East Region. Cuffe can play both on the ball or off and is a relentless defender. Manyang, a South Sudan native, has made tremendous strides after picking up the game only three years ago. He runs the floor well and if he can provide some scoring punch, the sky’s the limit for this team.
The Skinny: It’s not as if this program hasn’t fielded talented teams before, but the Bucs will be under more of a spotlight from a results standpoint now that they have cracked the FAB 50. They play and follow the rules of the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL), are sanctioned to play NJSIAA programs, follow the age limit guidelines of that association and do not carry post-graduates. Oweh scored 18 points or more 11 times at Rutgers Prep last season and gives the backcourt even more versatility. “We have three high major guards and a high major big and a number of future scholarship players,” Mantegna said. With at least seven D1 prospects, Blair Academy has what it takes to remain a FAB 50 force provided the young players mesh with the veteran backcourt and Manyang develops as advertised. The Bucs played a national schedule which includes a game versus Garden State power and No. 38 Patrick School, which should give us a clear indication of where this club fits in the state pecking order alongside teams that compete for the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions crown.

23. (20) Duncanville (Duncanville, Texas) 31-3**
Key Players: PG Zhuric Phelps 6-3 2021, SG Chauncey Gibson 6-4 2022, SG Damon Nicholas Jr. 6-4 2021, PG Juan Reyna 6-2 2021, PF Ronald Holland 6-7 2023 (No. 12 247Sports.com), C Cameron Barnes 6-10 2023 (No. 23 ESPN.com).
Why This Ranking: The Panthers begin as the top rated team in Texas’ University Interscholastic League (UIL) over fellow Class 6A state title contenders No. 36 Shadow Creek and Waxahachie plus early Class 5A favorite San Antonio Wagner, who just missed the preseason FAB 50. Micah Peavy (Texas Tech), the son of head coach David Peavy, and steady point guard Ja’Bryant Hill (Western Texas) have moved on, but this club is deep and Texas scribes feel this team could be just as good as last year’s club if the underclassmen develop as expected. Leading the veterans is Nicholas (10.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.4 spg), an experienced wing guard who can rebound at a high level, handle the ball and develop as a go-to scorer. Reyna (10.9 ppg) is a dependable 3-point shooter who made a team-leading 64 from downtown at a 37 percent clip and can handle the ball as well. Phelps (7.9 ppg, 1.5 spg) is a combo guard who Texas scout Alan Branch feels is the most under-recruited player in the state. Gibson (4.6 ppg) also has experience and if he and Phelps blossom after missing games last year, this team will be hard to beat once the UIL playoffs roll around.
The Skinny: Not only is Duncanville talented, it is plenty motivated after last season’s quest to capture back-to-back UIL Class 6A titles was thwarted by COVID-19 with the Panthers qualified for the state final four. This unit begins five spots higher in the preseason than last year’s club (No. 28), but in order to move up its young front court players must develop. Both Holland (4.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and Barnes (2.2 ppg) both rate as two of the best prospects in their class nationally. The road to the UIL Class 6A crown is no cakewalk and the most talented team doesn’t alway win. The team with quality guard play that’s cohesive usually does, so it will be important for Holland and Barnes to develop chemistry with the backcourt. Another reason why Duncanville could find the climb tough is the UIL has mandated no tournaments or big showcases for the 2020-21 season. Still the Texas pecking order could be established right away when the Panthers face talented iSchool of Lewisville, St. Mark’s of Dallas and Wagner in a span of a week before taking on Emoni Bates’ Ypsi Prep Academy of Michigan as part of the Thanksgiving Hoopfest at American Airlines Arena on November 28.

24. (NR) John Marshall (Richmond, Va.) 24-2
Key Players: PG Jason Nelson 5-10 2021 (Richmond commit), C Roosevelt Wheeler 6-10 2021 (No. 42 Rivals.com), SF Dennis Parker Jr. 6-6 2023 (Ballislife Underclass All-American), SF Dana Woodley 6-5 2021.
Why This Ranking: After capturing the Virginia High School League (VHSL) Class 2A state crown, the Justices just missed the final 2020-21 East Region Top 20 Rankings. They make a big splash into the FAB 50 this year with four returning starters while losing only two rotation players. Leading the way for coach Ty White is Nelson, last year’s VHSL Class 2A State Player of the Year who averaged 17.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.9 apg and 1.3 spg for a team that romped in the state title game, 75-57, over Gate City. Nelson stepped up in the post-season, going for 20 or more points in four of John Marshall’s five final playoff games, as the Justices were able to close the deal right before COVID-19 shut down other classifications of the state tournament. Wheeler is one of the nation’s best post players whose mere presence makes an impact because of his athleticism. He averaged 15.8 ppg and 11.9 rpg and went for 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocks vs. Gate City. Parker Jr. is a budding star who averaged 14 ppg, 6 rpg and 4 apg and can excel on the perimeter or interior. As long as this team stays healthy, it will be extremely difficult for any VHSL team to beat them.
The Skinny: The Justices have won three VHSL titles since 2014, with last year being the first crown in Class 2A. They have their sights set on more national acclaim and in order to move up in the FAB 50, they will have to get consistent contributions from key role players and win the big out-of-state contests. John Marshall didn’t lose in-state, with losses against FAB 50 power Sierra Canyon of California and Georgia power McEachern of Powder Springs. That’s why Marshall’s performance at the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina will be key, because FAB 50 title contenders Archbishop Wood of Pennsylvania and Moeller of Ohio, No. 21 Milton, plus quality clubs such as Greensboro Day, Lake Norman Christian and Cannon School of North Carolina, and Dorman of South Carolina will be part of the field. That’s where talents such as Woodley (11.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Reginald Robinson (6-1, 2022) will need to step up. Woodley doesn’t get much acclaim, but he was a second team all-region selection and is the most explosive athlete on the roster, while Robinson (5.3 ppg) is a dependable lead guard who plays excellent defense.

25. (NR) Simeon (Chicago, Ill.) 24-9
Key Players: SG Ahamad Bynum 6-2 2021 (No. 75 Rivals.com, DePaul commit, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SF Isaiah Barnes 6-6 2021 (No. 83 247Sports.com, Michigan commit), PG Jaylen Drane 6-1 2022, PG Jalen Griffith 5-10 2023.
Why This Ranking: The Wolverines are a long-time Chicago Public League power and have captured 10 CPL and seven Illinois High School Association (IHSA) state titles. With four returning starters, Simeon is the favorite to capture another Public League crown and be in good position to capture its first state crown since 2012-13, the last of four consecutive during the Jabari Parker era. Veteran coach Robert Smith (444-65) doesn’t have a talent quite like Parker, but Bynum could very well be Illinois’ best and leads an excellent backcourt. He averaged 20.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 3.2 apg while being a shot maker and fearless scorer. Drane is a crafty guard who compliments Bynum well and will look to get Barnes involved in the offense. The talented transfer from River Forest (Oak Park, Ill.) is an energy wing with good athleticism who will help on the interior with the skills to create mismatches on the perimeter. “I’m real high on our guard play and bringing back seven players from last year’s City championship team,” Smith said.
The Skinny: The FAB 50 has been dominated by independent powers in the past decade and the Wolverines were the last public school program to start as preseason No. 1 in the nation back in 2011-12. Simeon isn’t quite to that level this year, but the competition in Illinois is not quite to the level this team is capable of if Barnes finds his role. Simeon will have to cut down on the loss count and close strong in order to move up in the rankings. After winning the CPL crown, the Wolverines fell in the state playoffs to Whitney Young, a FAB 50 contender and likely Simeon’s stiffest competition for this year’s City crown. The role players will play a big part in this team meeting expectations and it begins with Phillip Holmes (6-7, 2021), who is a capable shot blocker and a quality board man. Fred Poole (6-2, 2021) is a good catch and shoot guard, while Griffith is oozing with potential. Avyion Morris (5-9, 2022) is an important cog and brings stingy perimeter defense and a spark to the lineup. Simeon has a national schedule lined up, including a matchup with FAB 50 title contender Camden of New Jersey at the Hoophall Classic, but Illinois’ Department of Public Health mandates will dictate what type of season the Wolverines and other ISHA teams will have. There won’t be any holiday tournaments in the region, while practice was originally set to begin November 16, although that is in flux. The state would have to be at Level 3 (under IDPH guidelines) in order for games to begin on November 30, but in all likelihood games won’t start on that date and the IHSA season could be completely cancelled right as the FAB 50 is released. The IHSA board will vote on the fate of the season as early as October 28, based on the COVID-19 guidelines provided by the IDPH and Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker. If the IHSA season is cancelled, it will have an effect on the regular season FAB 50. Expect an exodus of players to other states and obviously two teams will replace Simeon and No. 40 Notre Dame College Prep in the first regular season update.

26. (NR) Pace Academy (Atlanta, Ga.) 28-4***
Key Players: SF Matthew Cleveland 6-7 2021 (No. 15 247Sports.com, Florida St. commit), PF Cole Middleton 6-6 2021 (Cleveland St. commit), SG Madison Durr 6-5 2021, SF Josh Reed 6-6 2022.

Matthew Cleveland
Matthew Cleveland

6'6"   -   SG   -   2021

Why This Ranking: The Knights are the defending GHSA Class AAA state champions and return their team en masse. Coach Sharman White (421-104) has a group with all the ingredients to make a FAB 50 push and challenge No. 21 Milton (or whomever emerges from Class AAAAAAA) as the GHSA’s top overall team. It begins with Cleveland, last year’s Atlanta Journal Constitution Class AAA Player of the Year, who averaged 22.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 2.0 spg. With a strong start to the season, he should be selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game. Middleton (12.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.7 bpg) was the team’s second double-digit scorer and leading rebounder and plays bigger than he is with good anticipation and timing on the defensive end. Durr (9.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 6.1 apg, 1.5 spg) is the team’s top distributor and is a tough check with his size and scoring ability. Reed (8.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) can play either forward spot, depending if White chooses to go big or run, and is capable of 20-point games.
The Skinny: Although the Knights don’t have a national level big man, it won’t prevent them from being a national level team. They simply have too much experience and talent and will impose their style of play on foes. “We will be long and athletic and with seven of the top eight from a season ago back, we’ll have good depth,” White said. Grid-Hooper Josh Mininberg (5-10, 2021) led the team with 43 3-point shots, while Cleveland is a 43 percent shooter from long-range. Matt Aronson (6-1, 2022) is another two-sport star who should step up this season, while L.J. Moore (6-5, 2024), one of the best freshman in the Southeast Region, is oozing with potential and gained some valuable experience in fall league. White has his team playing a national schedule and hopes COVID-19 doesn’t wipe out his team’s best chances to move up in the rankings. Pace Academy will play in the Hawks-Naismith Tip-Off Classic (November 21), The Tournament of Champions Showcase and at the Bass Pro TOC in Missouri (January 14-16), where the likes of FAB 50 title contenders IMG Academy of Florida, Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas and Sunrise Christian Academy of Kansas are part of the field.

27. (NR) Combine Academy (Lincolnton, N.C.) 26-7
Key Players: PG Robert Dillingham 6-1 2023 (No. 10 247Sports.com), SG Kris Robinson 6-3 2021, PF Jacori Owens 6-8 2021, SF Omarion Broderick 6-6 2021, C Patrick Wessler 7-0 2022.
Why This Ranking: It was quite a first game for first-year coach Jeff McInnis last season, as the Goats downed his alma mater and FAB 50 power Oak Hill Academy of Virginia, 76-74. The Goats had other quality wins and have a plethora of talent back at their disposal. The transfer of Jalen Hood-Schifino to FAB 50 power Montverde Academy hurts in terms of having an established go-to scorer, but it doesn’t hurt when it comes to replacing the production because McInnis has talent and capable backups at every position. It begins with Dillingham, a budding star who averaged 15 ppg and 3 apg as a freshman. Robinson is a returning double-digit scorer and is Dillingham’s dependable backcourt running mate. Owens is an athletic rebounder and the team’s best shot blocker, while Wessler is a space eater who will be counted on against national level teams. Broderick is a talented transfer from Independence (Charlotte, N.C.) who can play above the rim and provide additional ball-handling.
The Skinny: Last year’s win over Oak Hill Academy put this program on the map, but they also lost a return game to the Warriors by 21 points (83-62). With a still relatively young team, the Goats are going to have to show consistency and develop chemistry in order to make a move inside the Top 20. “We’re still young, but our overall depth will be the key to our success. We’ll be able to run in waves and have numerous players who can score at different levels,” McInnis said. There is so much depth, the Goats’ coaching staff could implement a two-platoon system, if desired. Highly-touted point guard Jaylen Curry (6-0, 2023) and power forward Mekhi Grant (6-9, 2023) will only get better as the season progresses. A.J. Smith (6-4, 2022) and Antonio Hamlin (6-2, 2022) are newcomers who will play key roles, while Bryce Alfino (6-4, 2021) and College of Charleston-bound Michael Dudley (6-5, 2021) will be counted on for senior leadership. Provided COVID-19 guidelines don’t change travel plans, Combine Academy is scheduled to compete in the eight-team independent bracket at the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina with the likes of FAB 50 title contenders St. Frances Academy and West Oaks Academy, in addition to the Battle of the Rock (December 3-5) and Bojangles Bash (December 10-12).

28. (NR) Houston (Germantown, Tenn.) 29-4***
Key Players: PF Mason Miller 6-8 2021 (No. 64 247Sports.com), C Jerrell Colbert 6-9 2021 (No. 31 ESPN.com, LSU commit), PG T. J. Madlock 6-2 2021, SF Zander Yates 6-8 2021.
Why This Ranking: The Mustangs have a chance to make a FAB 50 splash after seeing their 2019-20 season prematurely come to an in the TSSAA Class AAA quarterfinals because of COVID-19. Houston will get plenty of attention because of the presence of new coach Mike Miller, the former NBA player and Memphis assistant who takes over for the retiring Charlie Leonard. Miller’s presence has attracted some talent, most notably Colbert, a highly regarded big who averaged 12 ppg and 11 rpg at Cornerstone Christian (San Antonio, Texas) and will make Miller (the coach’s son), a better player with his presence. Two other newcomers who will make the lineup more potent are Brock Vice (6-10, 2023), a big addition on the boards, and Cal Greene (6-6, 2021), who brings a scoring punch. If the newcomers mesh with the veterans, this team will be tough to beat in the TSSAA Class AAA playoffs.
The Skinny: Houston had plenty of weapons without the newcomers, and has as much upside as any team in this range to make a jump up in the FAB 50. With the City of Palms Tournament cancelled, the Mustangs will focus on excelling in the events still slated on the schedule, including the Jack Jones Classic (December 12), the Hoop City Classic (December 28-30) and the Hot Bed Classic (January 23). Miller will rely on senior leadership in the big games and it starts with Madlock, the primary lead guard, and Yates, an under-appreciated forward who will thrive with the bigger frontline coming in. Much is also expected of Maverick Miller (6-5, 2023), the younger brother of Mason, and Ahmad Nowell (6-2, 2024), who has a reputation as one of the better young guards in the region.

29. (44) St. Raymond (Bronx, N.Y.) 22-5***
Key Players: PG Malachi Smith 6-1 2021 (Dayton commit), SG Dallis Dillard 6-3 2021, SF Kedar Davis 6-4 2022.
Why This Ranking: The Ravens rate as NYC Catholic High School Athletic Association favorites over No. 35 Archbishop Stepinac and FAB 50 contender Christ the King of Middle Village. Among Public School Athletic League (PSAL) programs, the top early contenders are Jefferson and South Shore (both of Brooklyn) and WHEELS Academy of Washington Heights. The CHSAA teams figure to have the best shot at challenging FAB 50 power Long Island Lutheran for the state Federation Class AA crown. We like the Ravens because of three starters and six lettermen returning, led by Smith (19.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 6.0 apg, 2 spg), one of the best players in the CHSAA. Coach Jorge Lopez raves about his basketball I.Q., his aggressive play-making and mid-range game. Dillard (10 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.2 spg) is his backcourt running mate and one of the best perimeter shooters in New York who can play above the rim. Davis is an undersized post player who does the Rayven’s dirty work. He’s not only the best rebounder, but can take bigger defenders off the dribble. With this trio in the lineup, St. Ray’s will be a tough out.
The Skinny: It was a close call to place the Ravens over Stepinac as the Catholic League favorites because the Crusaders beat them two out of three times last year, including in the CHSAA Archdiocesan title game. Lopez doesn’t have a talent quite like A.J. Griffin, but he does have plenty of experience and one of the best defensive teams in the East Region. What Lopez does need in order for his team to live up to expectations and get past Stepinac when it matters is some depth and consistency from the bench. Jalen Lyn (6-1, 2023), a highly regarded point guard from Brooklyn Collegiate, is just what the doctor ordered. Help is also on the way from an upcoming CHSAA Class AA championship JayVee team. The Ravens are scheduled to play in the Junior Orange Bowl in Coral Gables, Fla., and will take on FAB 50 title contender Archbishop Wood of Philadelphia at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., over MLK weekend.

30. (40) Roselle Catholic (Roselle, N.J.) 21-7***
Key Players: PG Corey Floyd Jr. 6-3 2022 (No. 96 Rivals.com), PG Simeon Wilcher 6-3 2023 (No. 7 247Sports.com), SG Jamarques Lawrence 6-4 2022, SG Amar’e Marshall 6-2 2021, C Aaron Bradshaw 6-11 2023 (No. 44 247Sports.com).

Simeon Wilcher
Simeon Wilcher

6'3"   -   SF   -   2023

Why This Ranking: Despite losing plenty of firepower off a terrific senior class, the Lions have the talent base and track record to be nationally-ranked. After all, they have been a preseason FAB 50 club every year since 2013-14, and only once in that time frame (2016-17) did they not place in the final rankings. Coach Dave Boff’s club will be competitive again with a more perimeter-oriented lineup than his best teams usually are. Floyd (11.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.6 apg) leads the backcourt and even though his numbers might not make a big jump up, he could be even more deadly because the backcourt is so loaded. Wilcher (5.9 ppg, 2.7 apg) is one of the nation’s best in his class and gained valuable experience last year in a reserve role. Lawrence and Marshall come in highly regarded and are too talented to leave off the floor long. “We’ll likely start four guards and all four hold multiple D1 offers,” said Boff. “I’ve been happy with the group so far. We’ll play at a very fast and exciting pace and can really shoot the ball.”
The Skinny: Last season it was a close call to place Roselle Catholic above Patrick School for the top spot as the NJ TOC favorite, and this time around it was a close decision between the two Non-Public B rivals for the No. 2 spot behind FAB 50 contender Camden. Roselle lost to the Celtics three times, but got the big win in the NJSIAA Non-Public B semifinals. Roselle and Patrick School both have plenty of newcomers, but with Floyd and Wilcher, we feel the learning curve will be shorter for the Lions coming into the season. The team’s top forwards will be Kunga Tsering (6-7, 2021) and Derrick Bueno (6-7, 2021), while Bradshaw could be the X-factor. Boff loves his talent level and his team’s rim protection and rebounding will be key in the big games. Last season, the preseason No. 13 Lions were gunning for their second New Jersey TOC crown in three years and hope this year’s schedule isn’t slowed by Coronavirus. New Jersey teams can practice starting December 3 and play on December 20, and Boff’s team is scheduled to appear in the Kyrie Irving Invitational, the Slam Dunk To The Beach in Delaware, the Kevin Durant MLK Classic, the Metro Classic and the Hoophall Classic.

RELATED: Preseason 2020-21 FAB 50 (1-15)Preseason 2020-21 FAB 50 (31-50) | Preseason Regional Top 20 RankingsA Season Unlike Any Other | “In The Paint” Podcast: FAB 50 Edition (Episode 86)

Note: The FAB 50 powered by Ballislife.com is a continuation of the National Sports News Service ratings that began in 1952. These were the first national high school rankings and the late Art Johlfs of Minnesota compiled them. They were compiled for many years by the late Barry Sollenberger of Phoenix, who merged them into the FAB 50 21 years ago.

Ronnie Flores is the national Grassroots editor of Ballislife.com. He can be reached at ronnie@ballislife.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores

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