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Mr. Basketball USA Candidates: Inside Look

Stanley Johnson of Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) will wait to see how this college basketball season plays out before making his college choice. Photo: Andrew Drennen

Stanley Johnson of Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) earned only 14 points in last year’s final Mr. Basketball USA Tracker, but his standout summer makes him one of the early favorites for national player of the year. Photo: Andrew Drennen

Mr. Basketball USA is the title bestowed upon the boys basketball National Player of the Year as selected by Student Sports. We examine the resumes of five early favorites, four others with strong cases and list other potential candidates. The Mr. Basketball USA Tracker, which tracks the progress of the top candidates throughout the high school season, is now in its seventh year.

During the regular season, StudentSportsBasketball.com will release its Mr. Basketball USA Tracker, an inside look at the nation’s top on-court performers, according to a panel made up of 10 high school basketball and recruiting experts, including six McDonald’s All-American selection committee members. Now in its seventh year, the Mr. Basketball USA Tracker begins with its preseason voting results November 7 after the preseason Student Sports FAB 50 national rankings are released.

The Early Favorites*

Cliff Alexander, Curie (Chicago) 6-9 C

Resume: He earned second team Student Sports All-American honors as a junior after averaging 20 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks. He was somewhat overshadowed by Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor last season, but he’s proven to be one of the nation’s best players on the grassroots circuit the past two summers.

Why He Could Win:  As a sophomore, Alexander averaged 13.3 points and 9.8 rebounds, but it has been the summertime when “Big Cliff” has earned his national reputation. He was the MVP at the 2012 Pangos All-American Camp and also had a standout NBPA Top 100 Camp. This past summer, he dominated at the LeBron James Skills Academy. As one prominent West Coast scout said, “Who’s scared of the Big Bad Wolf?” as many pivot players were intimidated to individually challenge him.

Why He Wouldn’t: Alexander is a dominant player, perhaps the nation’s most dominant. This season, Curie is a regionally ranked team and perhaps a borderline FAB 50 team. He’s going to need some help from his teammates by getting some key wins to boost his individual candidacy.

Stanley Johnson, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) 6-7 SF

Resume:  The CalHiSports.com State Junior of the Year, Johnson was a close runner-up to first five Student Sports All-American selection Aaron Gordon for California Mr. Basketball. Armed with an improved jumper, Johnson averaged 19.4 points and 8.7 rebounds for the CIF Open Division champs.

Why He Could Win:  Because he’s the biggest winner in high school basketball and nobody works harder to improve his craft. Johnson was a consensus top 20 player in his class prior to the start of his junior campaign, but his work ethic and team success has led him into the conversation as the nation’s best high school player. In fact, the Hoop Scoop (our partner for national player rankings) has him tabbed as the nation’s No. 1 ranked senior based on productivity.

Why He Wouldn’t:  Johnson was named Division I state player of the year and is a legitimate two-time All-American candidate, but some scouts don’t feel he’s quite the nation’s best player. Mater Dei relies on him to do a lot of things, and he doesn’t have the strongest supporting cast. If Mater Dei falters on a national level, it could hurt his candidacy.

Tyus Jones, Apple Valley (Minn.) 6-1 PG

Resume: After leading Apple Valley’s 23-6 squad with averages of 28.1 points, 8.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 3.4 steals as as sophomore, his numbers dipped somewhat as a junior — but his team improved. This cerebral point guard averaged 20.9 points, 7.6 assists and 3.1 steals for a 30-1 team that won the Class AAAA state title.

Why He Could Win: Jones is the finest guard from the state of Minnesota since 1997 Student Sports First Five All-American Khalid El-Amin. Two years ago, he was edged by Andrew Wiggins for national sophomore of the year honors (before he reclassified) and last year Jones finished in sixth place with 28 points. The only junior with more points was good friend Jahlil Okafor.

Why He Wouldn’t: As his team has matured around him, Jones numbers have went down. If he doesn’t have some monster offensive games, it will be hard for him to be near the top of the panelists’ ballots. Apple Valley is reportedly going to play Whitney Young in a nationally-televised game and he’ll need to have a monster outing in that one.

Emmanuel Mudiay, Prime Prep Academy (Dallas, Texas) 6-4 PG

Resume: The most physical, elite point guard in the nation averaged 15 points and double digit rebounds for a 37-2 team. In Prime Prep’s two-point loss to Montverde Academy at the NHSI, Mudiay showed what he could do from the point guard position with 13 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals.

Why He Could Win: Mudiay could become the first player from the state of Texas to earn the nation’s highest honor since Rashard Lewis of Elsik (Houston) in 1998. The reason being he’s the most dominant player at his position — and perhaps any position. When he’s on his game, Mudiay is the toughest check in the country.

Why He Wouldn’t: Mudiay is on a team with some other talented players, so he could lack for stats in many games. Prime Prep also doesn’t compete for a state title, and that could hurt his chances if the charter school gets off to a slow start or loses some big games.

Jahlil Okafor, Whitney Young (Chicago) 6-10 C

Resume: Okafor had some dominant numbers as a sophomore (18.5 ppg, 12.3 rpg) but Whitney Young had ten losses. That all changed last year when he helped Whitney Young to a No. 6 finish in the FAB 50 by posting averages of 20.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks for the Chicago Public League champions.

Why He Could Win: Simple, Okafor appeared on nine ballots on last year’s final tracker and all the guys ahead of him will be top picks in the 2014 NBA Draft. He was named the Student Sports National Junior Player of the Year last season, plays on a strong team, and produces for it.

Why He Wouldn’t: At times this summer, Okafor’s play was lethargic. He shot a low percentage at two events we evaluated, sat out games and was less dominant than his Mac Irvin Fire teammate Cliff Alexander. There’s no questioning his skill level, but some national scouts question his foot speed.

Strong Cases

Malik Newman, Callaway (Jackson, Miss.) G 6-3 Jr.

Resume: This scoring sensation repeated as Mississippi’s class player of the year and should be in the running for Mr. Basketball USA for two seasons. Newman led the Chargers to their second consecutive Class 5A state title and No. 19 Southeast regional ranking by pumping in 23 points and grabbing 5.3 rebounds per game.

Why He Could Win: Two years ago, Newman broke the state freshman scoring mark held by Monta Ellis, Mississippi’s last national sophomore of the year, before Newman, in 2003. Newman was the first freshman ever named first five All-State by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. This past season, he became the state’s first sophomore ever named Mr. Basketball. Those are big-time accomplishments and the high school career of Ellis is a great comparable.

Why He Wouldn’t:  Similar to Alexander, Newman is individually dominant, but will his team be strong enough? Will enough of the panelists get to see him? Does Callaway play a tough enough schedule for him to earn the nation’s highest honor?

D’Angelo Russell, Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) 6-4 SG

Resume:  Often the third scorer on last year’s mythical national championship team, Russell played well this summer on the grassroots circuit and has a championship pedigree. He averaged 16.0 ppg in Montverde’s three victories at the 2013 NHSI, including 20 in the semifinal win over Prime Prep Academy.

Why He Could Win:  The defending FAB 50 national champions will be strong again this year, and Russell will have plenty of opportunity to showcase his game to the Mr. Basketball USA Tracker panel. The Eagles play a strong schedule, so he’ll have plenty of opportunity to boost his candidacy.

Why He Wouldn’t:  One major hindrance might actually be his own teammate — Ben Simmons. The 6-foot-8 Australian import could develop into Montverde Academy’s leading scorer. Actually, Simmons could develop into the best player out of all these candidates. Simmons just doesn’t have the resume or experience yet to place him in the upper echelon. It will be interesting to see how the duo affects each other’s candidacy.

Rashad Vaughn, Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) 6-5 SG

Resume:  Vaughn has developed into the Class of 2014’s best shooting guard and will be on a bigger stage playing for the Pilots than in the backyard of All-American Tyus Jones. He’s played well the past two summers, and it could pay off on a national stage this winter.

Why He Could Win:   Findlay Prep has a tremendous roster, so individual scoring and accolades could be hard to come by at times for Vaughn. On the flip side, the Pilots will play in a number of showcase games where he’ll have the opportunity to step up. Someone is going to have to develop into a go-to scorer and Vaughn is the prime candidate.

Why He Wouldn’t:  His candidacy could be hurt by Findlay Prep not living up to tremendous expectations or if chemistry issues develop on a deep and talented team with a first-year coach. It probably won’t happen, but it could.

Stephen Zimmerman, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) 7-0 C Jr.

Resume: As a sophomore, he led the Gaels to a 29-3 mark and a No. 11 ranking in the FAB 50 by averaging 13.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game. Zimmerman is one of the most talented and skilled big men to come down the pike in recent memory.

Why He Could Win:  “Big Zimm” has the opportunity to put up the numbers and Bishop Gorman has the opportunity to win the big games necessary to boost Zimm’s status despite his junior status. He has the ability to keep up with any post player in the country, and will be the focal point of a nationally rated team.

Why He Wouldn’t: To put it frank, Zimmerman is going to have to be more assertive and demand teammates give him the ball to earn a place among the top candidates. At times last season, he took a secondary role to the upperclassmen and that can’t be the case this year if Gorman is going to win the big games on its schedule.

Seniors On The Radar

G — Shaqquan Aaron, Rainier Beach (Seattle, Wash.) 6-8
G — Casey Benson, Corona del Sol (Tempe, Ariz.) 6-2
G — Joel Berry, Lake Highland Prep (Orlando, Fla.) 6-1
G — James Blackmon Jr., Bishop Luers (Fort Wayne, Ind.) 6-2
G — Devin Booker, Moss Point (Moss Point, Miss.) 6-5
G — Clay Custer, Blue Valley Northwest (Overland Park, Kan.) 6-1
F — Jalen Lindsey, Huntington Prep (Huntington, W.V.) 6-6
F — Daniel Hamilton, St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) 6-7
G — T.J. Haws, Lone Peak (Highland, Utah) 6-4 Sr.
F — Kevon Looney, Hamilton (Milwaukee, Wis.) 6-7
F — Trey Lyles, Arsenal Tech (Indianapolis, Ind.) 6-8
G — Jordan McLaughlin, Etiwanda (Etiwanda, Calif.) 6-2
F — Ja’Quan Newton, Neumann Goretti (Philadelphia) 6-3
G — Josh Perkins, Huntington Prep (Huntington, W.V.) 6-2 Sr.
F — Theo Pinson, Wesleyan Christian Academy (Greensboro, N.C.) 6-5
F — Karl Towns, St. Joseph (Metuchen, N.J.) 6-11
F — Reid Travis, De La Salle (Minneapolis, Minn.) 6-7
G — Romelo Trimble, Bishop O’Connell (Arlington, Va.) 6-2
F — Kelly Oubre Jr., Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) 6-7
F — Craig Victor, Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) 6-8
G — Isaiah Whitehead, Lincoln (Brooklyn, N.Y.) 6-4
F — Justise Winslow, St. John’s School (Houston, Texas) 6-6

Juniors To Watch

G — Isaiah Briscoe, Roselle Catholic (Roselle, N.J.) 6-2
G — Jaylen Brown, Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) 6-4
F — Thomas Bryant, Bishop Kearney (Rochester, N.Y.) 6-8
G — Eric Davis, Arthur Hill (Saginaw, Mich.) 6-3
F — Marcus Derrickson, Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.) 6-7
C — Cheick Diallo, Our Savior New American (Centereach, N.Y.) 6-9
G — Tyler Dorsey, St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) 6-5
G — Luke Kennard, Franklin (Franklin, Ohio) 6-5
F — K.J. Lawson, Hamilton (Memphis, Tenn.) 6-6
C — Ivan Rabb, Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland, Calif.) 6-9
F — Ben Simmons, Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) 6-8
C — Diamond Stone, Dominican (Whitefish Bay, Wis.) 6-9
G — Allonzo Trier, Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) 6-3

Impact Sophomores

G — Lonzo Ball, Chino Hills (Chino Hills, Calif.) 6-4
G — Tyus Battle, Gill St. Bernard’s (Gladstone, N.J.) 6-5
G — Alterique Gilbert, Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.) 5-10
G — Eron Gordon, North Central (Indianapolis, Ind.) 6-2
F — Josh Jackson, Consortium (Detroit, Mich.) 6-6
F — V.J. King, St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron, Ohio) 6-6
G — Josh Langford, Madison Academy (Madison, Ala.) 6-5
C — Thon Maker, Carlisle School (Martinsville, Va.) 7-0
C — Trevor Stanback, Chaminade (West Hills, Calif.) 6-10
G — Seventh Woods, Hammond (Columbia, S.C.) 6-1

*Editor’s note: Listed alphabetically; The Mr. Basketball USA honor is based on high school accomplishment, not future college/pro potential. Student Sports does not knowingly select fifth-year players, and those ineligible due to age or academics, as Mr. Basketball USA or to its various All-American teams.


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