Preseason POY Tracker: Change Brings Uncertainty

Duke-bound big man Dereck Lively II of Westtown School (West Chester, Pa.) leads voting in 2021-22 Mr. Basketball USA Tracker powered by Ballislife.com. The 7-foot-1 center’s rise as the leading national player of the year candidate entering the 2021-22 season coincides with a big change in the high school landscape. The Mr. Basketball USA Tracker is now in its fifteenth season.

RELATED: All-Time Mr. Basketball USA Winners | Final 2020-21 Mr. Basketball USA Tracker 

As a young player on the Team Final travel ball club, Dereck Lively II of Westtown School (West Chester, Pa.) once backed up Jalen Duren. Duren was physically advanced and it was evident he was going to be an elite player. Not only did Lively begin on his travel ball club as a back-up, his development was further slowed by a broken foot during his freshman campaign. Just as any developing big man, it took some time for him to grow into his body and show signs of becoming one of the nation’s most sought-after recruits.

So after backing up his good friend, it’s ironic Lively is now replacing him as the top vote-getter for the nation’s most prestigious individual honor: Mr. Basketball USA. After leading Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) to the 2020-21 FAB 50 national title and teaming up with Lively to lead Team Final to the 2021 Nike EYBL Peach Jam title, Duren decided to re-classify up and join Memphis for the 2021-22 season.

Duren’s decision came after finishing last season as the No. 3 vote-getter in the final 2020-21 Mr. Basketball USA Tracker behind Jabari Smith (Auburn) and 2020-21 honoree Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga). Duren decided to team up with Emoni Bates, who finished tied for No. 7 in last year’s final Mr. Basketball USA voting and briefly played for Team Final, at Memphis. It’s a foregone conclusion without the nationwide Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) policy the NCAA approved on July 1, 2021, Duren and Bates would not be playing for Memphis right now The duo still might be in the high school ranks or pursuing professional opportunities.

NCAA NIL reform, along with emerging professional opportunities for elite high school players (G League Ignite, Overtime Elite, NBL Next Star program), has undoubtedly changed the high school and grassroots landscape. This change is reflected in the preseason voting for national player of the year. With Duren, Bates and a few other underclass elites gone from the high school game, Lively was the top vote-getter among the 10-man tracker panel that make up the Mr. Basketball USA Tracker powered by Ballislife.com. Lively was the only player among 22 candidates to appear on all ten ballots.

Lively tallied seven first place votes and finished with 84 out of a possible 100 points to easily best second place vote-getter Amari Bailey of preseason FAB 50 No. 9 Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) with 69 points. The explosive shooting guard headed to UCLA received five second place votes and three third place ones, but didn’t appear on two ballots.

Lively’s point total perhaps is a bit surprising only because he is the first leading preseason vote-getter in 15 years whom did not appear on a single ballot in the final tally from the previous season. Not only did Lively have to recover from his foot injury, the COVID-19 pandemic was another hurdle he had to overcome. When it broke out in winter of 2020, he was a nondescript prospect from a national perspective. College scouts were unable to see him live in the summer of 2020 and Westtown School only played three games during his junior season.

He was regarded as a Top 50 national prospect until last spring, when he began displaying his ability on a national scale as a big-time defensive game-changer and rim protector. Lively led the EYBL in blocked shots (3.7 big) and added 8.4 ppg and 6.7 rpg in 15 outings. He then led Peach Jam in blocked shots as Team Final captured the prestigious event title for the first time in program history.

He was also rated as our No. 2 performer at the 2021 Pangos All-American Camp behind, you guess it, his friend and teammate Duren. That was, of course, before Duren decided to take advantage of new NIL legislation and jump early to the college ranks. Of the 22 preseason vote-getters, only Bailey and No. 3 vote getter DJ Wagner of FAB 50 No. 4 Camden (N.J.) were significant candidates during the 2020-21 season and Bailey is the only returning Elite All-American still in high school basketball. Duren, Bates and Scoot Henderson of Kell (Marietta, Ga.), who signed a two-year with the NBA G League Ignite team, were high school All-Americans that left the high school ranks early.

“The biggest thing I see is this is the first year affected by high school players going to pro leagues and it’s an anomaly year,” said said panel member Van Coleman of Global Sports Television and Nothing But Net Magazine. “The top two prospects in high school basketball going into this year (Duren and Bates), didn’t really challenge Chet Holmgren last year, but at that point it didn’t seem like they knew what they were going to do in the off-season. NIL options for college, plus Overtime Elite and the NBA G League taking high school players with eligibility, all affects how this year’s voting will go.”

The race to challenge Lively for the only production-based national high school basketball national player of the year honor is wide open, especially with last year’s top underclass candidates no longer part of the equation. Twelve candidates appeared on only one ballot, which indicates a host of prospects can challenge the top core group as the season rolls along based on their individual play and team success. This year should also see a return of the plethora of national level holiday tournaments and showcases where many of the top candidates will have the opportunity to play in head-to-head matchups. Last season those were limited in scope and some regions did not have official seasons at all.

Bailey was the only other candidate besides Lively to appear on eight ballots, with Wagner nabbing two first place votes despite his absence on three ballots. The third candidate to receive a first place vote was point guard Jaden Bradley of preseason FAB 50 No. 2 IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.). He also had a No. 2 vote, and a No. 3, while finishing in sixth place with 33 overall points. His new IMG Academy teammate Keyonte George, had two second place, third place and fourth place votes apiece to finish at No. 4 in the balloting with one less overall point than Wagner (49 points), the only junior among the top 10 candidates.

“The jury is still out how these new pro leagues are going to affect the first couple of classes with these options,” Coleman said. “Things may settle down after a couple of years, but it’s still too early to tell if these changes are positive or negative for the best players.”

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.

RankPrev.NameHigh School1st2nd3rd4thTotal
1NRDereck Lively (10)Westtown School (PA)700084
217TAmari Bailey (8)Sierra Canyon (CA)053069
312TD.J. Wagner (7)Camden (NJ)201149
4NRKeyontae George (6)IMG Academy (FL)022248
5NRDariq Whitehead (6)Montverde Academy (FL)011140
6NRJaden Bradley (4)IMG Academy (FL)111033
7NRCason Wallace (4)Richardson (TX)000225
8NRNick Smith (4)North Little Rock (AR)001124
9NRChris Livingston (4)Oak Hill Academy (VA)000020
10NRCollin Chandler (3)Farmington (UT)000116
11NRBaye Fall (2)Denver Prep (CO)010014
12NRArterio Morris (2)Kimball (TX)000113
1323TJ.J. Taylor (1)Donda Academy (CA)00108
14NRTre White (1)Prolific Prep (CA)00017
15TNRAdem Bona (1)Prolific Prep (CA)00006
15TNRRob Dillingham (1)Donda Academy (CA)00006
15TNRMackenzie Mgbako (1)Gill St. Bernard (NJ)00006
18TNRKylan Boswell (1)AZ Compass Prep (AZ)00005
18TNRNaasir Cunningham (1)Gill St. Bernard (NJ)00005
20TNRIsaiah Elohim (1)Sierra Canyon (CA)00004
20TNRKwame Evans (1)Montverde Academy (FL)00004
20TNRMark Mitchell (1)Sunrise Christian Academy (KS)00004

About Mr. Basketball USA Tracker Panel
Ballislife.com’s panel of 10 experts, which includes six 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *