Duke-bound Cooper Flagg of FAB 50 No. 1 Montverde Academy (Fla.) leads a two-horse race in the 2023-24 Mr. Basketball USA Tracker powered by Ballislife.com. The 6-foot-9 forward edges last year's Mr. Basketball USA honoree, Cam Boozer of Columbus (Fla.), in a close race between the two elite prospects among 20 candidates. The Mr. Basketball USA Tracker is now in its seventeenth season.
Let's rewind back to the 2007 USA Basketball Training Camp in Las Vegas as Team USA was preparing to restore its dominance of international basketball. The late Kobe Bryant had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers a few months before the camp and the media was going to get a chance to talk to him for the first time since as camp opened. Bryant would eventually emerge as the leader of the "Redeem Team" that won the Gold Medal at the 2008 Olympics in China, but at that time in 2007 he wasn't particularly close to his future Olympic teammates.
With the help of J.J. Redick, Bryant was getting up his shots without any dribbling, without any wasted motion and with little communication with his teammates. He knew there was going to be a media onslaught and it was consistent once practice was over all the way until the players left together from the gymnasium. Other Team USA players, such as Carmelo Anthony, gave Bryant a hard time about the media onslaught and enjoyed their precious time away from the spotlight.
After leaving the practice and heading to the next grassroots basketball event on our schedule that day, we ran into Chris Rivers, then Reebok Basketball's Sports Marketing Director, about the practice. We told him about the jovial practice session everyone had, expect for Bryant in how serious he took it. Rivers uttered this statement: "It's LeBron's league, but it's Kobe's world."
Rivers' statement echoes our sentiment about high school basketball and this year's race for the nation's most prestigious individual honor: Mr. Basketball USA. For the first time since LeBron James in 2002-03, high school basketball has a returning Mr. Basketball USA. That would be 6-foot-9 Cameron Boozer of FAB 50 No. 3 Columbus (Miami, Fla.), the nation's top player in 2022-23. He was the first sophomore to ever earn national player honors. In terms of accomplishment over a career, Boozer has a chance to dominate the high school game like no player since James did in the early 2000s.
If the preseason voting results by the 10-man Mr. Basketball USA Tracker panel, plus comments from one of its senior members, are any indication, it's actually someone else who might be the most skilled American-born high school player with positional NBA size since the former St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron, Ohio) wunderkind.
That player is 6-foot-9 Duke-bound Cooper Flagg, a re-classed senior from Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) who was a third five All-American last season for the Eagles as a sophomore. While Boozer was last season's most dominant high school player and deserving of any and all accolades that come his way, the high school and grassroots world currently belongs to the sinewy forward originally from Newport, Maine.
Flagg is the top vote-getter in the preseason 2023-24 Mr. Basketball USA Tracker powered by Ballislife.com with 95 total points, besting Boozer by seven (87) points overall. In a season in which 20 players received preseason recognition as a national player of the year candidate, Flagg and Boozer clearly lead the pack. The nation's top senior prospect and its top junior were the only two players to appear on each of the 10 ballots that make up the Mr. Basketball USA Tracker panel. Flagg, who committed to Duke on October 30 and was the 2022 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year, received six first-place votes (10 points each), three second-place votes (nine each) with one ballot listing him in third place. Boozer, who beat out Isaiah Collier (USC) and Ron Holland (G-League Ignite) for the prestigious honor in 2022-23, received two first-place ballots, five second-place ones, two third-place and one fifth-place (worth six points) for his 87 points.
The two other candidates to receive a first-place vote (one each) was undecided guard Dylan Harper of FAB 50 No. 18 Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.) and Rutgers-bound forward Airious "Ace" Bailey of FAB 50 No. 21 McEachern (Powder Springs, Ga.). Many recruiting experts feel Harper will join Bailey at Rutgers in the fall of 2024.
Flagg made a big jump during the 2023 grassroots season in order to supplant Boozer as the top national player of the year candidate as the 2023-24 season tips off. Following his sophomore campaign for the regular season National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC) champions, Flagg finished in tenth place overall while appearing on four ballots in the final Mr. Baskeball USA tally of 2022-23. Flagg averaged 9.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.2 blocked shots per game and he helped Montverde Academy qualify for GEICO Nationals for the eleventh consecutive season, but pure numbers don't begin to tell the tale of his impact. He runs the floor like a deer, is known for his defensive versatility and his big play-ability on the most talent-laden team in the country.
"There may not be a U.S. high school player of his size, 6-foot-9-ish, with his combination of skill and size since LeBron," said panel member and U.S. Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame member Frank Burlison. "I think Boozer is great, it's close, plus he's a year younger. In most other years, either guy would be a hands-down No. 1."
Two factors may play in a role in the voting that saw last year's honoree come in second this preseason. One, the top player on the No. 1 ranked team currently leads the way. Second, each season is judged differently and last season has little or no bearing on the panelists' perceptions of this year. As he did last year when he overcame the country's elite seniors, Boozer is once again going to have to overcome someone else in the pole position for Mr. Basketball USA honors.
The great thing is, the national player of the year race will be decided on the hardwood. Columbus and Montverde Academy will lock horns on December 1 (on ESPN2) at MVA to follow up on the terrific trilogy the two players had during the summer grassroots season. The two teams could meet more than once this season as well. Boozer will have plenty of opportunities to defend his title as the nation's best player, and by that December 1 game will have already played three FAB 50 ranked clubs, including versus No. 6 Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.) on November 22.
The voting results and the amount of terrific early season games create the most highly-anticipated early-season, high level high school hoop matchups in recent memory.
Make sure to like and subscribe to the "In the Paint" podcast and stay logged in to Ballislife.com to track the progress of the nation's top individual players and the nation’s Top teams.
Editor's Note: Click on the "+" sign next to each player's number to view how many first, second, third or fourth place votes he got and his overall point total.
|1||10||Cooper Flagg (10)||Montverde Academy (FL)||6||3||1||0||95|
|2||1||Cam Boozer (10)||Columbus (FL)||2||5||2||0||87|
|3||11||Dylan Harper (8)||Don Bosco Prep (NJ)||1||0||3||1||58|
|4||9||Flory Budunga (8)||Kokomo (IN)||0||0||1||3||50|
|5T||29T||A.J. Dybansta (5)||Prolific Prep (CA)||0||1||2||1||36|
|5T||7||Tre Johnson (5)||Link Academy (MO)||0||1||1||2||36|
|7||25T||Ace Bailey (5)||McEachern (GA)||1||0||0||0||29|
|8||29T||V.J. Edgecombe (4)||Long Island Lutheran (NY)||0||0||0||0||20|
|9||25T||Ian Jackson (2)||Our Savior Lutheran (NY)||0||0||0||1||12|
|10||13T||Koa Peat (2)||Perry (AZ)||0||0||0||0||11|
|11||NR||Derrion Reid (2)||Prolific Prep (CA)||0||0||0||0||9|
|12||NR||Derik Queen (1)||Montverde Academy (FL)||0||0||0||1||7|
|13T||29T||Cayden Boozer (1)||Columbus (FL)||0||0||0||0||6|
|13T||NR||Darius Acuff (1)||IMG Academy (FL)||0||0||0||0||6|
|13T||NR||Cam Scott (1)||Lexington (SC)||0||0||0||0||6|
|16T||NR||Brandon McCoy (1)||St. John Bosco (CA)||0||0||0||0||5|
|16T||8||Meleek Thomas (1)||Lincoln (PA)||0||0||0||0||5|
|18T||NR||Tajh Ariza (1)||St. Bernard (CA)||0||0||0||0||4|
|18T||NR||Boogie Fland (1)||Archbishop Stepinac (NY)||0||0||0||0||4|
|18T||NR||Darryn Peterson (1)||Huntington Prep (WV)||0||0||0||0||4|
About Mr. Basketball USA Tracker Panel
Ballislife.com's panel of 10 experts, which includes five McDonald’s All-American selection committee members, casts its vote for the top national player of the year candidates. Each panelist lists his top seven candidates regardless of class. The votes are then tabulated on a 10-point scoring system with a first-place vote equaling 10 points, a second-place vote earning nine points and down to four points for a seventh-place vote. The number in parenthesis refers to the numbers of ballots on which a player appeared and previous rankings refers to position in last season's final tracker.