We conclude our 2021-22 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 24, continued with teams No. 16-30 on October 25 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 for the seventh time as it seeks its seventh FAB 50 title in ten seasons.
All 50 teams are written up with explanations for why they were placed in these positions. Montverde Academy is in the pole position to begin the season for the seventh time. The only time Montverde Academy didn’t finish No. 1 when starting out No. 1 was in 2019, when the Eagles finished No. 4 after losing in the GEICO Nationals semifinals to eventual national champ IMG Academy. Academy-type programs that play an independent schedule continue to dominate the FAB 50. The COVID-19 Pandemic will continue to widen the gap between the talent level of those programs versus traditional public and parochial schools that play for state titles.
RELATED: Preseason 2021-22 FAB 50 (16-30) | Preseason 2021-22 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
2021-22 High School Basketball: A New Normal
Most Americans agree the COVID-19 Pandemic has fundamentally changed their world forever. The pandemic has changed the way we work, interact, our leisure time, and nearly everything in between. For the third consecutive season, the pandemic is also affecting the world of high school basketball.
In 2019-20, many teams weren’t able to complete playoff runs and in 2020-21 a majority of teams across the country had their schedules altered or reduced from what they normally enjoy during a season. In a few instances, some of the nation’s best programs from regions such as the Las Vegas Valley and DMV had their season cancelled all together.
As winter approaches, high school coaches look forward to a return to normalcy as it relates to schedules, routines and eyeing a state championship or a berth in GEICO Nationals. Every year as we prepare to compile the preseason FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com, we send out questionnaires to as many talented programs as possible. If this year’s response to our preseason questionnaire is any indication, coaches are fired up for the 2021-22 season for a variety of reasons.
There is no getting back to normal, as a new normal exists in high school basketball. In a traditional sense, the landscape is completely different from what it was before the pandemic struck and will never be the same. Elite high school players now have more than college basketball as a viable option in their pursuit of a professional career. This off-season, first team All-American Scoot Henderson of Kell (Marietta, Ga.) decided to bypass his senior year to sign a professional contract with the NBA G League Ignite team for a two-year commitment. Obviously Kell’s chances to crack the nation’s longest-running weekly rankings took a hit while another team in Georgia, Newton (Covington, Ga.) had a terrific chance to crack the preseason FAB 50 until senior-to-be T.J. Clark announced he would sign with Overtime Elite (OTE), a fledgling Atlanta-based organization attempting to become a viable league for young, aspiring professional players.
Not only does more pro basketball options exist for elite high school players, the sheer amount of talented players leaving traditional schools belonging to state associations for academy-type programs is heightened by COVID-19. The academies are loosely defined but there is no doubt they are attracting elite players in droves and as the years go by, it’s becoming harder for teams that play for a state title to compete with these programs.
When it comes to the 2021-22 preseason FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com the dominance of academy teams at the top is prevalent. And it doesn’t appear there will be any slowing down of this trend.
The Bishop Sycamore high school football debacle brought attention to the wide range of non-association programs and how they are formed and operate, whom they are allowed to play and how much media companies desire to broadcast games involving elite players. Bishop Sycamore’s football program was not whom it reputed to be and this unfortunate situation highlighted why as compilers of national rankings, the FAB 50 adheres to guidelines and rules that determine which programs have an opportunity to be included. These rules exist to avoid embarrassing situations such as that one and so we don’t have to remove a team from the rankings after the season begins. The FAB 50 rules and guidelines have been in place long before most of these academy-type basketball programs have been prominent on the high school scene.
The formation of the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC) in 2020-21 was a step in the right direction for independent, academy-type programs. Being part of a conference or league, or answering to a state governing body, are two criteria for inclusion in the FAB 50. Going into this season, the NIBC consists of Montverde Academy (Fla.), Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kan.), Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.), Wasatch Academy (Mt. Pleasant, Utah), La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.), Legacy Early College (Greenville, S.C.) and Bishop Walsh (Cumberland, Md.). The NIBC began in a trial run last season but instead of an end-of-the season tournament, Montverde Academy and Sunrise Christian met on March 12 to determine the inaugural NIBC champion with MVA coming away with a 61-57 victory. The two teams met four times during the season, with Montverde Academy capturing three of those contests, including a 62-52 victory in the GEICO Nationals championship game that clinched the 2020-21 FAB 50 national title.
The NIBC includes all of the GEICO Nationals title winners of the past nine years and only two of those clubs (’16 Oak Hill Academy and ’17 La Lumiere) didn’t capture the mythical FAB 50 national title. There is nothing mythical about the league’s competition level and NIBC coaches are fired up to compete in league games for the first time. “We hit the ground running right away with the first leg of our league games in early December,” said Montverde Associate Head Coach Rae Miller. “Our schedule is not getting any easier over the years and this season it gets heavier every week it seems like. Our players are up for the challenge to personally hold up to what others guys did in years past.”
Montverde Academy Begins At No. 1
Scoota Henderson is not the only Elite All-American with remaining eligibility who left the high school ranks early. Emoni Bates, a third five selection and one of the most talked-about prospects of the past decade, left Ypsi Prep (Ypsilanti, Mich.) one year early for Memphis as did Jalen Duren, last year’s National Junior Player of the Year and a first five selection from Montverde Academy (Fla.). In fact, the only Elite All-American returning to the high school ranks is UCLA commit Amari Bailey of preseason FAB 50 No. 9 Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.).
Not only has the NBA G League Ignite and OTE given elite players more options other than traditional high school basketball, Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) legislation across the country forced the NCAA to grant NCAA student-athletes the basic right to profit off their own NIL beginning July 1, 2021. While the interim NIL policy is a basic freedom the NCAA begrudgingly adopted and a big victory in the fight for student-athletes’ fair and equal treatment under the law, in reality, it’s a swoon for NCAA college basketball. There is little doubt without NIL legislation, Bates and Duren would still be tearing it up in the high school ranks for one more year and strongly leaning towards a high school-to-pro path.
The program Bates played for was not eligible for the FAB 50 and Duren is coming off a spectacular junior year in which he led Montverde Academy to a 24-1 record and its sixth FAB 50 title in the past nine years. Penny Hardaway and Memphis’ gain is Montverde Academy’s loss, but if there is any program that can sustain such a loss, it’s Kevin Boyle’s program.
With its returning talent, ability to re-load its roster and proven track record, it should come as no surprise Montverde Academy of Florida opens as the preseason No. 1 team in the FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com.
Last season, the Eagles just missed out on their third undefeated FAB 50 No. 1 finish in four years by losing one of four contests to No. 2 Sunrise Christian Academy. The 2021-22 season will mark the seventh time in the past 10 seasons the Eagles have opened up at No. 1 in the nation’s longest-running weekly rankings. In that time frame, MVA has ended the season at No. 1 every time but once. That came in 2018-19 when it finished No. 4 at 22-3.
With that type of track record it makes sense to pin Montverde Academy at No. 1, even with the loss of Duren. While MVA is not an overwhelming favorite over No. 2 IMG Academy, in a season when the plethora of holiday tournaments and weekend showcases are expected to return to normal and a majority of the top-ranked teams will play each other, MVA is the most logical pick. It certainly won’t be easy for the Eagles to run through the NIBC and the rest of their schedule with an unbeaten slate.
In order to reach its goals, the team will lean heavily on its trio of seniors with experience: Duke-bound small forward Dariq Whitehead, Indiana-bound shooting guard Jalen Hood-Schifino and Florida commit Malik Reneau. Hood-Schifino and Reneau played complimentary roles while Whitehead is the only player who has been part of the program for more than four seasons, joining it in eighth grade.
“Dariq is definitely our go-to guy,” Miller said. “He wants guys to understand everybody and what it takes to play at the level necessary with the stakes now higher.”
RELATED: Preseason 2021-22 FAB 50 (16-30) | Preseason 2021-22 FAB 50 (31-50) | Preseason East Region Top 20 | Preseason Southeast Region Top 20 | Preseason Midwest Region Top 20 | Preseason Southwest Region Top 20 | Preseason West Region Top 20
Preseason 2021-22 FAB 50 National
Team Rankings Powered by Ballislife.com
By Ronnie Flores
(Final 2020-21 ranking in parentheses; *Indicates forfeit wins, forfeit losses not included; **Indicates forfeits and defaults not included; ***Does not include results vs. out-of-season opponents; Look for preseason Region-By-Region Top 20 Rankings on Thursday, November 4 and for the preseason Mr. Basketball USA Tracker on Monday, November 22.)
1. (1) Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) 24-1
Key Players: SF Dariq Whitehead 6-6 2022 (No. 4 247Sports.com, Duke commit), SG Jalen Hood-Schifino 6-5 2022 (No. 20 Rivals.com, Indiana commit), PF Kwame Evans 6-9 2023 (No. 2 247Sports.com), C Vincent Iwuchukwu 7-0 2022 (No. 11 ESPN.com, USC commit), PG Skyy Clark 6-2 2022 (No. 16 ESPN.com, Kentucky commit), SF Dillon Mitchell 6-7 2022 (No. 18 ESPN.com, Texas commit), PF Malik Reneau 6-8 2022 (No. 23 ESPN.com, Florida commit).
Why This Ranking: In the current high school landscape it won’t be easy for a public school to open up as the preseason No. 1 FAB 50 team. In fact, it’s been a decade (2011-12 season) since a state association public school member was our preseason No. 1 team. Simeon (Chicago) was that team and lost to now defunct Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) to finish 33-1 and No. 6 in the FAB 50. Since that time, only three programs have been in position to begin No. 1: National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC) members Oak Hill Academy of Virginia (in 2015-16 and 2016-17), IMG Academy (2019-20) and Montverde Academy in the other seven seasons. This year, the Eagles earned the nod in a close decision over IMG Academy, which has now lost to MVA four consecutive times since beating the Eagles in the 2019 GEICO Nationals semifinals. Both teams have a blinding talent level, but Montverde Academy gets the nod because of recent head to-head results, more interior size (four players 6-foot-8 or taller) and a proven track record of re-loading the roster with incredible results. In fact, last year’s team had to replace four starters off its 2019-20 historically dominant unit (38.9 ppg winning margin) and came out as wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the FAB 50. With the NIBC playing a full conference tilt, it won’t be easy by any means for this club to join last year’s team and the 2017-18 edition as wire-to-wire FAB 50 champ. Still, this team has an excellent shot to finish No. 1. Whitehead (10.4 ppg) will draw plenty of defensive attention and be counted on to make clutch plays. How well he shoots the ball will dictate the amount of easy opportunities the other staters get until they settle into their roles. With Clark out with injury until at least mid-season, Hood-Schifino will take on a majority of the ball-handing responsibilities after a successful apprenticeship last season under Ryan Nembhard (Creighton). Reneau found his niche late in the season, making a tremendous impact in the Eagles’ three victories at GEICO Nationals. Reneau has worked hard in the off-season to become a more explosive player and that should help his rebounding and Montverde Academy’s team defensive principles tremendously now that Jalen Duren is not around to patrol the paint.
The Skinny: Many programs couldn’t sustain the early loss of a talent such as Duren, but Montverde Academy will be able to better than any other program in the country. There was some whispers the dominating big man could move on with a successful junior campaign and it was clearly evident halfway through last season he was living up to the vast potential he displayed before joining the program. This season, MVA will get back to up-tempo basketball and look to take advantage in transition while pressuring the ball more. Whitehead, who is an excellent defender, should thrive with that setup and Mitchell, who is a tremendous passer, will also play a key role. Caleb Houstan was the main-stay on last year’s club who could do a bit of everything and Evans will fill that role on this unit. Evans versatility will be key to MVA’s fortunes, as he is a good decision-maker at his size, a tremendous rebounder and quality scorer. Derik Queen (6-8, 2024), last year’s National Freshman of the Year at St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, Md.), has a tremendous amount of offensive ability and should spell both forward spots. Iwuchukwu has plenty of room for growth and improvement and has improved during fall camp. With the schedule MVA plays and the amount of quality teams with big men on its schedule, Iwuchukwu’s focus will be key to maximizing the Eagles’ versatile components. The veteran leadership and ball-handling will have to be razor sharp against the type of schedule this year’s club is taking on. Kevin Boyle’s club opens up in Atlanta at Holiday Hoopsgiving vs. highly-regarded Real Salt Lake Academy of Utah and No. 43 Wheeler, then it hosts the first stop on the NIBC (Dec. 2-4) where the Eagles will quickly find out just how good fall camp was. They will take on No. 6 Oak Hill Academy, No. 2 IMG Academy and No. 3 Sunrise Christian Academy on consecutive nights. The next stop is Hoophall West in Arizona (Dec. 9-10) where MVA takes on No. 7 Duncanville and No. 15 Wasatch Academy. After that it’s the Culligan City of Palms Tournament in Ft. Myers, Fla. (Dec. 17-22), where no less than 12 preseason FAB 50 teams await in the 16-team bracket. After New Year’s, MVA is off to La Porte, Ind., for the second NIBC stop then face No. 4 Camden on Jan. 13. At the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., MVA will face No. 8 DeMatha Catholic and IMG Academy for a second time, then host the Montverde Academy Invitational Tournament (MAIT) Jan. 27-29 before closing out the regular season Feb. 3-5 at the Metro Classic in Toms River, N.J. Even with that murderous slate, Boyle (776-151) will expect to win his 800th career game this season and enter GEICO Nationals with an excellent opportunity to capture the end-of-season tourney title for the sixth time. In his 10-year stint at MVA, Boyle now sports a 266-19 on-court record, including a 23-5 all-time record at GEICO Nationals. As a comparison, Oak Hill is now 14-10 and IMG Academy is 4-2 all-time at the event.
2. (3) IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) 22-3
Key Players: SF Jarace Walker 6-7 2022 (No. 13 247Sports.com), PG Jaden Bradley 6-2 2022 (No. 8 ESPN.com, Alabama commit, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SG Keyonte George 6-4 2022 (No. 3 247Sports.com, Baylor commit, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SF Jett Howard 6-4 2022 (No. 35 Rivals.com, Michigan commit), PF Eric Dailey Jr. 6-7 2022 (No. 21 ESPN.com), SG Jacoi Hutchinson 6-3 2023 (No. 96 247Sports.com), SF Noah Batchelor 6-6 2022 (Memphis commit).
Why This Ranking: Since capturing GEICO Nationals at the conclusion of the 2019 season, this program has been in serious contention for preseason No. 1. The Ascenders just edged Montverde Academy for top billing in 2019-20 and last year it was the Eagles who were placed in the pole position. This season’s preseason No. 1 vs. No. 2 debate is a lot tighter than it was last season because of Jalen Duren’s departure from Montverde Academy and the amount of returning contributors to coach Sean McAloon’s club. With Walker, Bradley and George, this club has three bonafide Mr. Basketball USA candidates. That doesn’t even include Dailey, the team’s leading scorer last year who is a versatile forward that can dominate inside or score facing up. Bradley is one of the nation’s most experienced point guards and will give the Ascenders a big advantage in a majority of their games this season. Bradley was one of the top players on last summer’s Nike EYBL grassroots circuit and MVP of the NBPA Top 100 Camp and is poised for a big senior year. He’s a three-year veteran while Walker is a four-year standout who will be called upon to initiate offense from all five spots on the floor and defend them as well. Howard is capable of scoring outbursts and excels getting up and down the floor. “Our four core will set the tone,” fifth-year coach Sean McAloon said. When you throw in a talent like George, who would be a 25 ppg scorer at a majority of the FAB 50 ranked programs, it’s hard not to like IMG’s chances in each outing this year. The Ascenders will be in the thick of the NIBC, GEICO Nationals and FAB 50 title races if they get the kinks out, keep an unselfish attitude and take advantage of the obvious mismatches this roster can create.
The Skinny: Not much separates top-ranked Montverde Academy and this Ascenders club. IMG Academy will look to pressure MVA’s ball-handlers, whereas MVA will look to test IMG’s interior defense when the heavyweights meet for the first time in NIBC play on Dec. 3. It’s no secret IMG doesn’t have an experienced post presence, so the development of Michael Moore (6-10, 2022), whether it’s in a key role or spot minutes, will dictate some of IMG’s strategy in its big games. According to McAloon, he’ll ask Walker to spend some time at the 5-spot and has plenty of confidence that will work in IMG’s favor. “He’ll have to guard and fight like a 7-footer while we defend as a unit,” McAloon said. “We have enough size to create matchup problems. We have enough guys to shoot, drive and kick, and score.” Batchelor played spot minutes last year, but McAloon feels he’ll earn minutes because of his terrific perimeter shooting. Joining the NIBC is exciting for the program and players who join one of its programs know the expectation is to compete for a GEICO championship and No. 1 ranking. While campus life is getting back to normal and IMG Academy has the advantage of practicing and competing against its post-grad unit, similar to MVA, this team has to be ready to go right out of the gate because of the front-loaded NIBC schedule. Under Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) rules, both top-rated units have a 25-game limit in order to be eligible to play FHSAA programs. The Ascenders have two scrimmage games then open up the season at home on Nov. 22 before preparing for their NIBC games at Montverde Academy, Dec. 2-4. The two powerhouses could also meet at the City of Palms Classic in Ft. Myers, Fla. (Dec. 17-22), then will have more NIBC games the first weekend in January in La Porte, Ind. The Ascenders will then face highly-regarded AZ Compass Prep of Arizona at the Spalding Hoophall Classic on January 15, then face MVA once again two days later on MLK Monday. IMG will then close out the regular season at the Metro Classic in New Jersey (Feb. 3-5). This team, and any other part of the NIBC, won’t have to go unbeaten to finish No. 1 in the FAB 50, but do need a winning record against Montverde Academy or win the tournaments (COP and presumably GEICO Nationals) that both will be entered in. “Our defensive toughness will come into question, but the great thing is guys come here to get better and that is our focus,” McAloon said.
3. (2) Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Air, Kan.) 20-4
Key Players: SG Gradey Dick 6-7 2022 (No. 25 ESPN.com, Kansas commit, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PF Mark Mitchell 6-8 2022 (No. 11 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SF Scotty Middleton 6-7 2023 (No. 40 247Sports.com), PG Layden Blocker 6-2 2023 (No. 34 247Sports.com), C Cameron Corhen 6-9 2022 (No. 80 ESPN.com, Florida St. commit), SG Dillon Hunter 6-2 2022 (No. 53 ESPN.com, Baylor commit).
Why This Ranking: The Buffaloes’ program is now at the level where it will re-load and be a viable NIBC contender with a berth in GEICO Nationals the expectation. It’s been a rapid ascension for Luke Barnwell’s program, which earned its first GEICO Nationals appearance in 2018-19 and had an ultra-talented team in 2019-20 that hoped for a shot at Montverde Academy before COVID-19 forced a cancellation of the event. Last season’s unit put this program in the national spotlight, even though it didn’t quite meet its ultimate goal. Sunrise Christian finished No. 2 in the FAB 50 behind its terrific senior class, losing to MVA in the inaugural NIBC title game and GEICO Nationals championship contest, but the bar was set. This year’s club has size and talent at each position and Barnwell was satisfied with the team’s progress in the fall. Dick is the returning mainstay, and proved over the summer why he’s one of the nation’s best players. He’ll greatly improve his numbers (10.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.4 apg) and has plenty of help in the backcourt with Blocker and Hunter. Blocker is one of the best point guards in the nation and excels at picking up defensively full court, as well as initiating offense for post players. Unlike Dick and Blocker, Mitchell didn’t have a standout summer (as he was nursing an elbow injury) but he’s the most important cog upfront. “He’s been somewhat under a rock with no AAU, but [Mitchell] is very gifted because of his versatility, skill set and competitiveness,” Barnwell said. Corhen has good timing and instincts as a shot blocker and can stretch defenses with his face-up game. Maryland-bound Bobi Klintman (6-9, 2022) and Jerome Beya (6-8, 2022) add length and athleticism to the frontline.
The Skinny: There is plenty to like about this team and it plays the schedule to compete for No. 1. No elite team, however, graduated a more talented senior class than the Buffaloes, hence they begin right behind MVA and IMG. Last season when it came down to crunch time, foes knew the Buffaloes would run ball screens for first team All-American Kennedy Chandler (Tennessee), but he was so skilled and clutch he found ways to beat teams. This year, the team will look to Dick and Mitchell in nut-cutting time and Barnwell is confident options three-four-five will be able to make plays. “I really like the versatility that we have,” Barnwell said. “We can go big or small and our positions are less visible.” Last year’s team sat back defensively and funneled the ball to the middle, while this team has the ability to be much more aggressive all-around. Regardless of how the Buffaloes attack, Middleton figures to play a key role. At his size, he is a versatile defender who can handle the ball like a guard and push the break off the rebound. Even though 11 of the 13 players on the roster are newcomers, Barnwell is excited for this team to meet expectations against a challenging schedule. Sunrise opens its season at home November 9 with a four-game slate that includes a matchup with Colorado Prep of Denver on Nov. 18. The team then travels to Montverde Academy (Dec. 2-4) for a three-game NIBC slate against No. 2 IMG Academy, No. 6 Oak Hill Academy and its first tussle with the top-ranked Eagles. On December 11, it’s a NIBC contest with No. 28 La Lumiere before two games at Hoophall Central in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Dec. 17-18). The next leg of the NIBC will take place Jan. 6-8 against No. 15 Wasatch Academy, No. 33 Legacy Early College and Montverde Academy. The Buffaloes will then face No. 2 IMG Academy and No. 17 Combine Academy on back-to-back nights at The Spalding Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass. (Jan. 16-17). There will be three more NIBC contests at the Metro Classic in New Jersey (Feb. 3-5) before a Feb. 11 matchup with No. 40 Link Academy at the Heartland Hoops Classic in Grand Island, Neb.
4. (5) Camden (Camden, N.J.) 13-0
Key Players: PG D.J. Wagner 6-3 2023 (No. 1 247Sports.com, Ballislife Second Team All-American, Ballislife National Sophomore Player of the Year), PG Cian Medley 5-11 2023, C Aaron Bradshaw 7-0 2023 (No. 22 ESPN.com), SF Cornelius Robinson 6-4 2023, PF Rasheer Fleming 6-8 2022 (St. Joseph’s commit), SG Elijah Perkins 6-4 2022.
Why This Ranking: The Panthers have a great player, the talent level and play the necessary schedule to warrant this ranking, the highest for a non-NIBC club. It’s deserving since eight lettermen return off a team that did not lose a game and also added a key cog in the middle. It all begins with Wagner, who in 2020-21 led The High to an unbeaten mark and the highest FAB 50 ranking among public schools nationwide (No. 5) by averaging 22.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 3.8 apg. He earned national sophomore Player of the Year honors after being named the top freshman in 2019-20. Of course, elite teams will game plan to slow down Wagner, but coach Rick Brunson has another excellent guard with experience in Medley. He can penetrate at will and is an instinctual defender. Quamir Amin (5-9, 2022) adds to the backcourt depth. Perkins, who comes over from The Ranney School (N.J.), is a bouncy wing guard who loves to attack in transition and creates opportunities with his defensive ability. With their ability and length, the Panthers love to press and trap and have the depth and size to protect the back line. Fleming is an unsung hero who plays with that prototypical Camden grit on the glass, contesting shots and punishing defenders in the key. Bradshaw comes over from No. 20 Roselle Catholic and is the key cog that makes Fleming a better player and allows Camden’s ball-hawking guards to be even more aggressive. He is a rim-runner, can keep defense honest by knocking down a face-up shot and will only get better as the season wears on. Simply put, there is plenty to like about the make up of this roster.
The Skinny: This team is not only talented, but cohesive as many of its members gained valuable experience playing together for the NJ Scholars on the Nike EYBL circuit. The High also beat some FAB 50 caliber teams from around the Midwest and East Regions during the NCAA live scholastic period in June and assorted fall leagues. Another major factor for this club is motivation. Wagner has led the Panthers to a 42-1 mark the past two seasons and enter 2021-22 riding a 38-game winning streak, but have yet to capture a coveted New Jersey Tournament of Champions title. There wasn’t a post-season for New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) teams last season and the 2019-20 campaign was cut short due to the ongoing pandemic. The last time a public school began in the top five of the FAB 50 was in 2017-18, when James Wiseman-led Memphis East (Tenn.) began at No. 2 and Isaac Okoro and Sharife Cooper-led McEachern (Powder Springs, Ga.) at No. 4. The program’s best ever team was its 1980-81 unit (led by Wagner’s grandfather Milt Wagner) that spent a majority of the season ranked No. 1 nationally by Basketball Times until it lost in the NJSIAA Group 4 state semifinals to Neptune, 85-65, in one of the most shocking upsets in high school basketball history. Should Camden go unbeaten and capture the program’s first TOC crown since 1999-2000 when it was led by Wagner’s father Dajuan, this club will ultimately be compared to the High’s 1985-86 club that finished 30-0. That blue-collar club was led by take-no prisoners center Louis Banks and former Camden coach Vic Carstarphen. Even if Camden were to finish unbeaten, it would likely need the eventual NIBC champion to have multiple losses in order to finish ranked ahead of it. Camden’s January slate will tell the tale, as it will face No. 1 Montverde Academy in Trenton, N.J., take on No. 39 Kenwood Academy and No. 5 Milton at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., before closing out the month with a game on the 29th versus No. 9 Sierra Canyon at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
5. (6) Milton (Milton, Ga.) 28-3
Key Players: PG Bruce Thornton 6-2 2022 (No. 36 247Sports.com, Ohio St. commit, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SG Kanaan Carlyle 6-2 2023 (No. 17 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SF Kendall Campbell 6-8 2022, SG Chase Cormier 6-3 2022, PF Jonathan Murray 6-7 2022, SG Cam Walker 6-4 2022 (George Mason commit).
Why This Ranking: For the second consecutive year, the Eagles get the nod as the preseason No. 1 ranked Georgia High School Association (GHSA) team and the expectations are higher this time around. Milton more than lived up to its preseason No. 21 ranking last season, defeating Berkmar in the Class AAAAAAA title game and giving IMG Academy all it could handle in a GEICO Nationals quarterfinal before falling, 73-68. This team has FAB 50 national aspirations and the schedule to reach its goal. Coach Allen Whitehart (323-104 won-loss record) returns six of his top eight players, plus the Eagles have two D1-caliber transfers. It begins with the backcourt of Thornton and Carlyle, both of whom have been underclass All-Americans for two seasons running. Thornton (17 ppg, 9 apg, 7 rpg) is a stocky, downhill point guard who can penetrate, distribute and lock up on the other end. Carlyle (18 ppg, 5 rpg, 3.5 apg) is a born scorer with a tight handle and supreme quickness. Murray, a transfer from Alabama (Birmingham Huffman) provides interior muscle and defense and nicely compliments L.T. Overton (6-5, 2023), a 265-pound enforcer and board man who also happens to be the nation’s No. 1 football recruit in his class as a defensive lineman. As if that wasn’t enough, Cormier moves over from Greenforest of Decatur, where he averaged 14.3 ppg and 6.0 while earning all-state laurels. He adds to the Eagles’ depth and provides more versatility should Whitehart feel the need to play small in order to create matchup problems. “Our strengths are guard play and athleticism, to go along with depth and experience,” Whitehart said.
The Skinny: In 2018-19, McEachern of Powder Springs was FAB 50 No. 1 caliber, winning both the City of Palms Tournament in Florida and the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Missouri en route to a 32-0 season. McEachern finished No. 2 and if Milton were to win both those tournaments and win the GHSA AAAAAAA title, it will have an excellent chance to finish No. 1. The top-rated GHSA state champion will be invited to GEICO Nationals and the Eagles will have playing experience against some of the expected entrants. In addition, Milton will experience the daunted “Springfield Double,” facing No. 4 Camden on MLK Monday at the Spalding Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., after playing in the Bass Pro TOC in Springfield, Mo., Jan. 13-15. If there are any weaknesses on a club, it will surely get exposed against a schedule this public school is facing. Whitehart is a bit concerned about true post size, but the roster does contain three contributors 6-foot-7 or taller and on the flip side bigger teams could run into trouble trying to keep up with Milton’s perimeter talents. To remain in the national title hunt, the Eagles have to hit the ground running because GHSA competition is as tough as any state association slate in the country. Milton faces highly-regarded Pebblebrook on December 4 and No. 30 Berkmar, the team it beat in last season’s state title game, on December 11. Milton also plays in the Beach Ball Class in South Carolina (Dec. 27-30), could run into dangerous rematches in the GHSA post-season and it wouldn’t be surprising if it has to face a highly-regarded academy-type program for a second time should it qualify for GEICO Nationals. Provided Camden is not eligible for GEICO Nationals, the result of the head-to-head matchup will be critical to both team’s FAB 50 national title hopes.
6. (23) Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 21-9
Key Players: SF Chris Livingston 6-7 2022 (No. 5 247Sports.com, Kentucky commit, Ballislife Second Team All-American), PG Caleb Foster 6-3 2023 (No. 11 Rivals.com, Duke commit, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SG Judah Mintz 6-4 2022 (No. 44 ESPN.com, Pittsburgh commit), PF Justin McBride 6-8 2023 (No. 103 247Sports.com), C Christian Reeves 7-1 2022, PF Devin Ree 6-8 2022 (No. 84 247Sports.com, LSU commit).
Why This Ranking: This is a critical season for this program as it looks to return as real contenders for a FAB 50 national title, which veteran coach Steve Smith (1,199-89) had led his program to seven times. Last season’s team was not only impacted by late defections which led to a void of elite talent, it was highly-impacted by COVID-19 protocols. Oak Hill’s players were off campus between November 20 and January 6 and did not play or practice in that time frame. The team never built the necessary chemistry and relied to much offensively on one player (now departed M.J. Rice) to contend for a national title. The talent level is considerably up this season and contains the agile and lengthy pivot players necessary to take on the NIBC’s elite teams. It begins with Foster (13.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.0 apg), who is coming off a terrific sophomore season and should thrive with the uptick in talent. According to Smith, Livingston has put aside ego for the sake of expanding his game against tougher competition in a winning atmosphere. With Mintz, Smith feels he has a 1-2-3 punch as good or better than any in the country. Mintz raises the bar in practice, is cocky in a good fashion and a physical presence defensively who won’t back down from anyone. Last year’s interior players were a bit slow-of-foot, but this year is a different story as the unit is much better in transition and all play over the rim. Reeves is an excellent rim-runner who can block shots, Ree mans the four and can really shoot it while McBride can spell both forward spots. East Tennessee State-bound Jeremy Gregory (6-7, 2022) is like bull in a china shop and will provide a spark in multiple lineups.
The Skinny: This team is as versatile as it is talented and can go big or four-out if need be. Tybo Bailey (6-2, 2024) and Xavier Brown (6-1, 2022), who would star at a majority of the nation’s programs, provide a two-deep attack at each position for Smith. Last year the talent level fell off after the seventh man, but that isn’t the case this year. “It was the only time in my 36 years, I felt like we were out-manned in certain games” Smith said. “We had four or five blowouts and going in, it didn’t feel like we were going to win. I never had that before.” The players are really excited to play in a full NIBC slate and are pushing each other because they know they have a unit that can compete up to the lofty standards of past Warrior teams. The team also won’t have a large break in December, as their schedule is more front-loaded than ever. The first scrimmage took place October 12 and the first game at home takes place October 29. The Warriors will have six home games before taking on highly-regarded Greensboro Day (N.C.) on November 13. The NIBC schedule tips off Dec. 2 at top-ranked Montverde Academy, with No. 3 Sunrise Christian and No. 2 IMG Academy on the slate the following two days. “We understand we could be 0-3 coming out of that and that’s what were here for, to play in those types of games,” Smith said. “The kids want to play in this league [NIBC].” Last season the program lost its most games since 1978-79 and as Smith (age 66) reaches the end of his coaching career, he wants at least one more crack at the FAB 50 title. The Warriors also travel to Hoophall West in Arizona (Dec. 9-11) and play in the City of Palms Tournament in Ft. Myers, Fla. (Dec. 17-22), in a bracket with 12 other FAB 50 ranked teams. Despite the loaded schedule, there is a good chance this team will cut the loss total of a year ago in half and finish much higher in the rankings.
7. (10) Duncanville (Duncanville, Texas) 29-1
Key Players: PF Ronald Holland 6-8 2023 (No. 6 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), C Cameron Barnes 6-10 2023 (No. 53 247Sports.com), PG C.J. Ford 5-11 2022 (Northern Arizona commit), SF Davion Sykes 6-5 2022.
Why This Ranking: Some fans loath the demise of traditional high school basketball as more elite players choose academies or even pro options, but the Panthers are a shining example of all that’s right about high school hoops. Duncanville has strong community support, is well-coached and play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the ones on the back. It just happens the names on the back are talented players and are the third consecutive public school team in the preseason FAB 50. The Panthers began at No. 20 in the FAB 50 last season and lived up to their advanced billing, capturing the coveted University Interscholastic League (UIL) Class 6A state title. Despite some key graduation losses, the expectations are even a bit higher this season. Holland (13.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg) is one of the best rebounders in his class nationally and is active on both ends of the floor. How he continues to develop offensively will be key to opening up opportunities for teammates. A much bigger role is expected for Barnes (5.7 ppg, 3.8 bpg, 1.3 bpg) and his production and ability to keep defenses honest against Holland will be key in showcase games. Ford (7.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.0 apg) is underrated nationally, but a steadying force in a program that stresses ball control and offensive execution. He is a capable double-digit scorer, but at his best creating for teammates and hawking the ball on defense.
The Skinny: The maturity of last year’s role players is key for this club to live up to expectations. Considering the Panthers have captured two Class 6A state crowns in three years and been the UIL’s best team three years running, they deserve to start out as the UIL’s top-ranked team until somebody beats them in a post-season game. The all-state duo of Zhuric Phelps (SMU) and Damon Nicholas Jr. (Sam Houston) and the work of unsung hero Juan Reyna would be graduation losses too much for most public school programs to overcome, but coach David Peavy is one of the nation’s best and does an excellent job of having players ready to step up when called upon. Sykes (5.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg) will be counted on for his scoring punch, Aric Demings (6-0, 2023) is a capable backcourt performer while Andre Kanu (6-5, 2022) provides depth. The UIL Class 6A playoffs are always tough, even for the favorites, and Duncanville is expected to be challenged by the likes of Richardson (the team it beat in last year’s state semifinals), McKinney, Denton Guyer and Waxahachie. The Panthers would be even bigger favorites and ranked a spot or two higher in the preseason FAB 50 had all-state forward Anthony Black been granted eligibility after his transfer from Coppell. Duncanville was a bit limited in how high it could climb in last season’s FAB 50 because of UIL restrictions on tournaments and showcases. Even without Black, that ceiling does not exist as the restrictions have been lifted. The Panthers will be tested by Shadow Creek at the RCS Sports Season Opener on Nov. 12 and at home vs. Lancaster the next evening. Duncanville then plays No. 43 Wheeler in the RCS Sports HoopsGiving Classic (Nov. 24). The Panthers have a big test vs. No. 14 Centennial at the Thanksgiving Hoopfest (Nov. 26). Duncanville hopes those big Thanksgiving showdowns prepare them for top-ranked Montverde Academy at Hoophall West in Arizona (Dec. 9). The Panthers will participate in the long-running Whataburger Tournament after the Christmas holiday.
8. (4) DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) 9-0***
Key Players: SF Tyrell Ward 6-6 2022 (No. 36 Rivals.com, Xavier commit), PG Rodney Rice Jr. 6-4 2022 (No. 44 Rivals.com, Virginia Tech commit), PF Jerrell Roberson 6-8 2022 (James Madison commit), PF Jason Moore 6-7 2023, SF Jaeden Mustaf 6-5 2024.
Why This Ranking: The Stags’ legendary program is in transition, as former player Peter Strickland (1975) takes over on an interim basis for Mike Jones (1991). This is also a year of transition in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC), as the conference’s highly-regarded basketball teams had a majority of their 2020-21 season cancelled because of COVID-19 restrictions in the DMV. With its terrific crop of players, recent results against conference foes and a proud tradition. DeMatha begins as the WCAC’s top-ranked club until on-court results dictate otherwise. Last season, the Stags were able to squeeze in nine sanctioned games and out-of-season “scrimmages” and three starters and 12 lettermen return, led by leading scorer Ward (19.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 4.5 apg). He’s a terrific wing scorer and relentless in transition. Rice (13.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.2 apg) can run the team or attack the basket to create opportunities for others. His leadership and experience will be key as the program looks to make a seamless transition to Strickland’s coaching style. Roberson (8.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.1 bpg) doesn’t get some of the national acclaim of Ward or Rice, but he’s a big-time player and his production will be key if the Stags are going to capture another WCAC title, which would be the program’s 42nd overall.
The Skinny: Jones’ departure to become the associate head coach at Virginia Tech after 19 seasons as head coach caught some members of DeMatha’s proud alumni and vast support group off-guard. After all, the program has only had two head coaches since 1956, as Jones replaced Naismith Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wootten in 2002. Wootten coached both Jones and Strickland, the latter who has a wealth of experience at the high school, college and international level. The uneasiness of the transition could cause the program to take a step back, and one highly-regarded player, 2023 guard Jacoi Hutchinson, transferred out. Strickland, however, loves that he inherited a senior-oriented team and has plenty of younger players ready to step up and continue the tradition of winning basketball. Some of those young talents include Jason Moore (6-7, 2023), Jalen Cobb (6-5, 2023), Ben Woodward (6-2, 2023), Jaden Winston (5-11, 2023), A.J. Swinton (6-6, 2024) and Jaeden Mustaf (6-5, 2024). There is plenty to like about this team, but it will have to prove it can play at the level of the top independent programs to move up in the rankings or it will fall back with the pack of other WCAC contenders, including No. 27 Gonzaga, No. 44 St. John’s, and Paul VI and Bishop O’Connell of Virginia, both of which have realistic aspirations of winning the conference title. Jones’ 500th career win was DeMatha’s last WCAC title game win and his final team did go unbeaten, but it wasn’t able to play a complete schedule against national competition. Strickland’s club will as the program searches for a full-time coach during the school year. It will play highly-regarded St. Edwards of Lakewood, Ohio and Pace Academy of Atlanta at Hoophall West in Arizona (Dec. 10-11) and will face quality competition in California at the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic (Dec. 27-30). DeMatha will also face top-ranked Montverde Academy at the Spalding Hoophall Classic on Jan. 15, in addition to its usual WCAC slate.
9. (40) Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) 16-2
Key Players: SG Amari Bailey 6-5 2022 (No. 2 Rivals.com, UCLA commit, Ballislife First Team All-American), LeBron James Jr. 6-3 2023 (No. 34 Rivals.com), PF Kijani Wright 6-9 2022 (No. 37 247Sports.com, USC commit), PF Shy Odom 6-6 2022, SF Ramel Lloyd Jr. 6-6 2022 (No. 131 247Sports.com, Nebraska commit), SG Isaiah Elohim 6-5 2024 (No. 4 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American).
Why This Ranking: This program is coming off a season in which it didn’t finish as California’s top-ranked team for the first time since 2016-17, but has enough returning talent to open up as state No. 1 for the fourth consecutive season. There were not any on-court California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) state champions crowned for the second consecutive season, as COVID-19 protocols made basketball a spring sport for the 2020-21 school year. Sierra Canyon lost to Corona Centennial in the CIF Southern Section Open Division title game and failed to advanced to the finals of the SoCal regional playoffs, which Centennial opted out of because of the timing in late June. Would No. 14 Centennial be ranked ahead of Sierra Canyon if the Huskies didn’t lose all-state guard Kylan Boswell to transfer? Perhaps, but the Trailblazers do return their team en masse, including California’s best player in Bailey. Last year’s Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Basketball, Bailey (29.2 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 6.5 apg) is one of the most explosive players in the country. Should he perform well against the schedule coach Andre Chevalier has lined up for his team, Bailey will be a bonafide Mr. Basketball USA candidate. Last year, the team relied heavily on Bailey in crunch time and this year a more well-balanced attack should be beneficial come playoff time. Elohim was California’s best freshman last season at nearby Heritage Christian and is a gifted scorer and play-maker. He showed in various fall leagues that he’s not too far behind Bailey as a talent. Odom is a three-year veteran who does the little things to help Sierra Canyon in big games and the presence of Wright, who comes over from fellow Gold Coast League team L.A. Windward, should make Sierra Canyon more potent by allowing Odom (19.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and Lloyd (16.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) to play their more natural positions. The media spotlight on James can be a bit overwhelming and over the top, but individually he wants to play a complete, injury-free season and his on-ball defense and play-making skill could make a big difference as the season wears on.
The Skinny: The Trailblazers start eight spots higher than they did last season and will have to prove they are the CIFSS’s and state’s best team or will fall to the middle of the pack in the rankings. In order to finish this high or move up, they’ll have to fare well against a national slate of teams. In addition to having one of the nation’s very best players back, Chevalier has a ridiculously deep club that also includes forward Tim Rudovskiy (6-8, 2022) and power forward Jeremiah Nyarko (6-8, 2022). The bench players got valuable experience with Bailey and James sitting out fall league games and as long as Elohim is available this team will be formidable even if Bailey and James miss some regular season games. Egos or individual agendas, not to mention shuffling lineups because of sit-out periods, could creep in and hurt a team as talented as this one, but Chevalier has a proven track record of being able to mesh highly-regarded players come playoff time. To put that in perspective, Bailey has a chance in the near future to have six former teammates in the NBA, not including himself. The good thing about this team is they know who is going to have the ball in his hands at crunch time and many on the roster don’t need the ball to be effective. Sierra Canyon will reportedly participate at the Thanksgiving Hoopfest in Dallas (Nov. 27), take on No. 37 St. Vincent-St. Mary (Bronny’s dad alma mater) at Staples Center on Dec. 4 and highly-regarded Perry of Arizona at Footprint Center as part of Hoophall West (Dec. 11). Before Christmas (Dec. 17-22), the Trailblazers will participate in the Iolani Classic in Hawaii before traveling to Springfield, Mo., for the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions (Jan. 13-15), against a field that includes No. 5 Milton, No. 32 Whitney Young and highly-regarded Paul VI of Virginia and Rainier Beach of Washington. After taking on Isidore Newman of New Orleans on Jan. 8, the Trailblazers have two big tests right before the CIFSS playoffs when they take on No. 4 Camden at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn (Jan. 29) and Simeon of Chicago at the United Center in Chicago (Feb. 5).
10. (BB) Imhotep Charter (Philadelphia, Pa.) 14-0
Key Players: SF Justin Edwards 6-7 2023 (No. 8 Rivals.com), PG Rahmir Barno 6-0 2023 (No. 126 247Sports.com), PG Ahmad Nowell 6-1 2024 (No. 24 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PF Jeremiah White 6-6 2024, SG Mo Abdullah 6-3 2022 (Rider commit).
Why This Ranking: There is plenty to like off a team that did not lose a game and are the defending Philadelphia Public League champions. Taking a deeper look, what’s not to like as Imhotep returns its top three scorers, four starters and nine lettermen off a team that beat crosstown Lincoln, 69-56, in the public league title game. Edwards, who had 15 points and 14 rebounds vs. Lincoln, was a first team all-state selection and is a bonafide 2023 McDonald’s All-American candidate. Barno, who had 18 points in the title game, earned all-state laurels and has tons of experience in high level games. Abdullah provides steady play and much needed senior leadership, as coach Andre Noble (414-92) has an underclass-heavy unit, especially on the frontline. Noble will rely on White along with newcomer Chad Anglin (6-8, 2024) up front and the duo’s production will be key against the top tier foes on a quality schedule. Anglin comes over from Roman Catholic while Devin Booker (6-4, 2024) is another newcomer that provides athleticism and depth.
The Skinny: The Panthers are the first team in the FAB 50 where the nucleus of the club is not well-known nationally or doesn’t contain a well-known social media commodity. Something tells us that’s just how Noble likes it, as he’s been successful in the Philly Public League (nine public titles overall) with a lunch-pail approach and players with a junk-yard dog mentality. The player with the biggest national rep is Noel, a scoring point guard who was one of the best freshman in the country last season for FAB 50-ranked Houston (Germantown, Tenn.). Our only major concern at this spot in the FAB 50 is interior size, but Noble feels it won’t be. “We have never had a 6-foot-10 guy and in Philly many times hearts are big, size is not,” Noble said. “It’s always been a team defensive approach for us and I’m confident White and Anglin will hold down the five-spot.” Last year’s team was No. 20 in the East Region and could get no higher because a COVID-19 pause forced the Panthers to miss the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) state tournament. The Panthers weren’t able to play a formable schedule, but this year that won’t be a problem provided the pandemic continues to ease up. Imhotep will face No. 18 Reading at Albright College, faces No. 25 Mt. St. Joseph, plays at the Highland Shootout (Jan. 8) versus highly-regarded Vashon of Missouri, at the Ascender Classic in Florida and versus highly-regarded St. Francis Academy of Baltimore at Morgan State University. Even with a loss to one of those clubs, if Imhotep can play a full schedule and win both city and state titles, it will have a terrific chance to live up to its preseason acclaim as Pennsylvania’s No. 1 team and one of the best in the East Region.
11. (NR) Gill St. Bernard’s (Glastone, N.J.) 7-4
Key Players: SG Denver Anglin 6-2 2022 (No. 85 247Sports.com, Georgetown commit), SF Mackenzie Mgbako 6-8 2023 (No. 3 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SF Naasir Cunningham 6-7 2024 (No. 1 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PF Drew Kania 6-8 2022 (Brown commit).
Why This Ranking: There is little doubt whomever emerges as the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Tournament of Champions winner will be highly-ranked in our final FAB 50 edition next spring. We begin with the Knights as No. 1 in the Garden State with No. 20 Roselle Catholic and No. 38 Bergen Catholic viable contenders and highly-regarded Manasquan also with serious TOC aspirations. Of course, Jersey and other states in the East Region have been hard hit by COVID-19 mandates and teams hope the NJSIAA will be able to crown its first TOC winner since 2018-19. We rate Gill St. Bernard’s as the early favorites because of its combination of returning talent, size and depth. Anglin is the ring-leader and a veteran presence of a team with a plethora of young talents. He averaged 27.9 ppg, 6.4 apg and shot well over 50 percent from 3-point range as a junior. His scoring totals might go down this season, but that’s only because Mgbako and Cunningham (12.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg) will increase their production. That duo could very well be the best player in their respective class nationally and no other FAB 50 program can make that same claim. In addition, players such as Geancarlo Pejuero (6-5, 2023), Samir Thomas (6-3, 2024) and Peter Mauro (5-11, 2025) are more than capable role players. In fact, Pejuero is a real gem whom the country will get to know in the Knights’ key games. “We have a very talented group and could go 10 deep,” coach Mergin Sina said. “A numerous amount of them are versatile players.”
The Skinny: On paper, this team is one that can easily move up, but it won’t be easy to win the Non-Public B state crown and end the season as TOC champs. There are plenty of road mines along the way and Sina not only has to mesh this talented unit, he would like to see it injury free as well. Mgbako is one of the best players in the 2023 class, but he only played one full game last season after averaging 14.1 ppg and 8.3 rpg as a freshman. Kania is also recovering from injury and the Knights will need his size on the interior at key junctures of the season. The Knights will have plenty of opportunities to show they can live up to lofty expectations and are not just loaded on paper. Dates with No. 4 Camden and Simeon of Chicago are on the horizon and the team will know exactly where it stands after returning from Ft. Myers, Fla., where it will participate in the City of Palms Tournament (Dec. 17-22). Also entered in the traditional bracket at COP are No. 1 Montverde Academy, No. 2 IMG Academy, No. 5 Milton, No. 6 Oak Hill Academy, No. 13 Dr. Phillips, No. 21 Calvary Christian Academy, No. 22 North Little Rock, No. 23 Orlando Christian Prep, No. 30 Berkmar, No. 32 Whitney Young, No. 44 St. John College Prep and No. 45 Ballard.
12. (21) Carmel (Carmel, Ind.) 26-2
Key Players: SG Pete Suder 6-4 2022, PG Josh Whack 6-1 2022, C Charlie Williams 6-10 2022 (William & Mary commit), SF Sam Orme 6-8 2023 (No. 145 247Sports.com).
Why This Ranking: The Greyhounds are the defending Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) Class 4A champs and return enough firepower to warrant a spot in the Top 15. They’ll have some work to do to remain the top team in the Midwest Region, but there is plenty to like off a team with three returning starters and eight lettermen gunning for their third Class 4A state crown in four years. Suder (11.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 2.1 spg) is a four-year standout and a leader who is clutch in big games. He can shoot the three ball or slide down to a forward spot and do damage inside and on the boards. Williams (7.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg) gives the Greyhounds a rim protector and a capable scorer. Williams joined Suder on the Indiana Junior All-Stars. Whack (4.5 ppg) is an unselfish point guard who loves to get in the key and create for teammates. He’s also a bullish defender and a spark for coach Ryan Osborn in the big games. Orme (5.8 ppg) is just scratching the surface of his potential and should have a breakout year. With his length and 49 percent 3-point shooting, it’s no wonder Indiana and other Big Ten schools are now hot on Orme’s trail.
The Skinny: Don’t be fooled by the statistics of Carmel’s returning talent; Osborn’s team is methodical and focuses on execution and a team-first approach. The players, especially Suder, could put up more gaudy individual numbers but you can’t argue with the recent success of the program. Defense is also its calling card, and with Williams and players off the bench with experience this team will be tough to beat when the IHSAA playoffs roll around. With the travel restrictions implemented on IHSAA teams for many years, it will be difficult for Carmel to move up in the top 10, but with its resume it won’t have trouble maintaining its preseason ranking, either. This program lost to unbeaten Warren Central of Indianapolis in the 2017-18 Class 4A title game and that team finished No. 10 in the FAB 50. Carmel had one loss when it finished No. 15 in 2019-20, so with last year’s club dropping two games, it figures this club can’t drop more than one or two to remain in the Top 25. In the end, if this club lives up to expectations in basketball-crazed Indiana and Suber, who 14 points in the state title game as a freshman, finishes his career with three state crowns, it won’t matter what its final ranking is.
13. (42) Dr. Phillips (Orlando, Fla.) 24-3
Key Players: C Ernest Udeh Jr. 6-10 2022 (No. 27 247Sports.com, Kansas commit), PG Denzel Aberdeen 6-4 2022 (Florida commit), SG Riley Kugel 6-5 2022 (Mississippi St. commit).
Why This Ranking: We could have gone one of three directions for the preseason No. 1 spot among Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) teams competing for state titles and decided to go with the Panthers. There is a lot to like off a club that won the program’s first FHSAA title in any classification, and we went with the Panthers because of their four returning starters, eight returning lettermen and dominant post player. That dominant big is Udeh (10.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg). He is one of the hottest recruiting commodities in the country and could develop into a Mr. Basketball USA candidate if the breaks go Dr. Phillips’ way in its big games. Aberdeen (19.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.9 apg) is the team’s leading scorer and can excel on or off the ball. Not only does he have good size, he shot 40.5 percent from 3-point range last season and came up big in the Class 7A title game win over Dwyer of Ft. Lauderdale with 27 points. Kugel (12.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.6 apg, 2.1 spg) can create for others, take it to the rack with a vengeance and keep defenses honest with his perimeter shooting. With that trio back, to go along with six of the top eight and two talented newcomers, this team has the potential to move up in the rankings.
The Skinny: No. 21 Calvary Christian Academy and No. 23 Orlando Christian Prep have strong cases to be in the pole position among full-member FHSAA clubs, but we like the Panthers’ balance and the ability of Udeh. Over the summer, and at the NBPA Top 100 camp, Udeh proved he’s one of the nation’s best rebounders and shot blockers. Still, coach Ben Witherspoon is a bit concerned about the boards from a team perspective. “Against high level size and athleticism, we don’t have strong rebounders around him,” Witherspoon said. Transfer Carter McDole (6-6, 2024) should ease some of the pressure off Udeh if fall practices are any indication. Another transfer, Jonathan Caicedo (6-6, 2023), plus Jordan Tillery (6-3, 2024), add to the depth and talent. Dr. Phillips has so many pieces guard Jackson Slater (6-0, 2022), who came on strong last season, may start the season off the bench. The Panthers were no match for Montverde Academy last season (76-37), so Dr. Phillips will have plenty of work to do to move into the Top 10. It’s unfortunate the Panthers, OCP and Calvary Christian Academy participate in different playoffs divisions and if any state needs to implement an open division or Tournament of Champions, it’s Florida (Arizona will reportedly implement an open division in 2022-23). For this season, however, the City of Palms Tournament will tell the tale, as all three Florida powers are entered along with a national field of teams. The Panthers’ ranking will also get tested at the Arby’s Classic in Bristol, Tenn. (Dec. 27-31), which includes No. 16 Long Island Lutheran and No. 30 Berkmar, and the Montverde Academy Invitational Tournament (Jan. 27-29), which includes host and top-ranked MVA, LuHi, Calvary Christian and No. 42 Kimball.
14. (22) Centennial (Corona, Calif.) 21-2
Key Players: PG Jared McCain 6-2 2023 (No. 16 Rivals.com), PG Donovan Dent 6-2 2022 (New Mexico commit), PF Aaron McBride 6-7 2023, SF Devin Williams 6-9 2023 (No. 137 247Sports.com).
Why This Ranking: This young club jelled and burst onto the national scene during California’s spring 2021 season by downing perennial CIF and FAB 50 power Sierra Canyon on the road for the CIF Southern Section open division title. Even though Centennial didn’t go on play in the regional and there was no CIF title game for the second consecutive year, the Huskies became the first team ever from Riverside County to earn state team of the year honors. Four starters are back, including leading scorer and assist man Dent (15.4 ppg, 4.3 apg), who earned Inland Valley Bulletin Player of the Year and was named co-CIFSS Open Division Player of the Year with Sierra Canyon’s Amari Bailey. McCain (14.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.6 apg) also returns and is primed for a big junior campaign following a standout summer. McCain starred at Section 7 in Arizona and was named Nike Peach Jam 16U MVP after leading the “Why Not?” travel club to the crown by averaging 20 ppg, 5 rpg, 5 apg and shooting 40 percent from 3-point range. McBride is the team’s physical presence inside who can defend multiple positions and has a knack for making big plays. Williams is oozing with talent and potential and his length and shot-blocking were key during last year’s playoff run. His maturity and strength increase will be key as Centennial ventures out of state this year to take on highly-regarded foes after last spring’s slate included only in-state teams as a vast majority of the country was already competed with the season.
The Skinny: As the defending No. 1 ranked team in California and with four returning starters, this team was going to get plenty of preseason attention, even if the returning core didn’t far exceed last year’s preseason expectations. In fact, the Huskies would have landed inside the Top 10 and there would have been a debate between them and Sierra Canyon for preseason state No. 1 had all-state guard Kylan Boswell not transferred out at the end of the summer. No player benefitted more from Section 7, but now the Huskies will have to prove they can win big without Boswell. McCain, in particular, wants to earn universal acclaim as one of the best underclass guards in the country and the team still has motivation to win the program’s first on-court CIF state title. Ramsey Huff (6-0, 2022) is a terrific complimentary guard to last year’s unit and will slide into a starting spot or come off the bench should head coach Josh Giles want to go with a bigger, more physical lineup with Eric Freeny (6-4, 2024). Giles’ team will be severely tested when it meets No. 7 Duncanville at the Thanksgiving Hoopfest in Dallas. The Huskies will face Arizona power Sunnyslope at Hoophall West (Dec. 11), take on highly-regarded Patrick School of New Jersey at Hoophall Central (Dec. 17-19) in Sioux Falls, S.D., and face a good crop of CIF teams at The Classic at Damien (Dec. 27-30) in La Verne, Calif.
15. (8) Wasatch Academy (Mt. Pleasant, Utah) 18-7***
Key Players: SG Roddy Gayle Jr. 6-4 2022 (No. 57 247Sports.com, Ohio St. commit), SF Camden Heide 6-6 2022 (No. 103 Rivals.com, Purdue commit), PG Koren Johnson 6-1 2022 (No. 83 247Sports.com, San Diego St. commit), SF Chris Bunch 6-7 2022 (No. 57 247Sports.com, Syracuse commit).
Why This Ranking: This independent power is here to stay on the national scene with the schedule it plays, along with seven other elite programs, as part of the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC). It takes high-end talent to compete with NIBC teams on a nightly basis and coach Paul Peterson has quite a few horses in the stable led by Gayle, the only mainstay off last year’s club. He averaged just around 13 ppg and with his vast array of scoring skills, his scoring output will undoubtedly tick up. Heide will keep defenses from over-playing Gayle with his versatile scoring ability. He can post up and is a good shooter off the catch or bounce. Johnson takes over the point guard position from another Washington native (Kentucky’s Nolan Hickman) and brings some of the same flash and handle to the program with the ability to create for himself or others. Anthony Wrzeszcz (6-4, 2023) is another quality shooter at Peterson’s disposal.
The Skinny: The Tigers began at No. 11 in last season’s preseason FAB 50 and moved up a few spots because it beat Oak Hill Academy two out of three times. We begin the Tigers a few spots lower this time around because they did lose plenty of backcourt firepower and are still searching for their first GEICO Nationals victory after earning the program’s first final FAB 50 appearance in 2015-16. The Tigers must also address competing on the interior in the NIBC. “I am not too concerned about our rebounding, just our depth at the five spot,” Peterson said. “Besides our point guard we have really good athletic rebounding guards.” Peterson is more concerned with the amount of three-pointers his offense will attempt and the long rebounds associated with that. Keba Keita (6-10, 2022) is a veteran who will be counted on to step up and if the mercurial Bunch plays to his potential this team could be really good by the time the NIBC schedule rolls around. They’ll open the season with talented SoCal Academy and Bishop Loughlin of Brooklyn, N.Y., at the Holiday Hoopsgiving in Atlanta (Nov. 26-27) and take on highly-regarded AZ Compass Prep and top-ranked Montverde Academy on back-to-back nights (Dec. 9-10) at Hoophall West in Phoenix. The Tigers will face The Patrick School of New Jersey and No. 3 Sunrise Christian Academy at the Spalding Hoophall Classic (Jan. 15-16).
RELATED: Preseason 2021-22 FAB 50 (16-30) | Preseason 2021-22 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
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 22 years ago.