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Mr. Basketball USA: Inside Look

Jaylen Brown of Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) is a prime Mr. Basketball USA candidate after a spectacular summer. Photo: Vernon Bryant/adidas

Jaylen Brown of Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) is a prime Mr. Basketball USA candidate after a spectacular summer. Photo: Vernon Bryant/adidas

Mr. Basketball USA is the title bestowed upon the boys basketball National Player of the Year as selected by GrassrootsHoops.net. We examine the resumes of five early favorites, five 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 eighth year.

During the regular season, GrassrootsHoops.net 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 seven McDonald’s All-American selection committee members. Now in its eighth year, the Mr. Basketball USA Tracker begins with its preseason voting results November 20.

The Early Favorites*

Isaiah Briscoe, Roselle Catholic (Roselle, N.J.) 6-3 Sr. G

Resume: Nation’s top point guard had a fantastic summer, as he was named MOP at the Pangos All-American Camp and led the Playaz Basketball Club to the Nike EYBL title. This proven winner averaged 19.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.5 rpg as a junior and his team opens up ranked No. 5 nationally in the FAB 50.

Why He Could Win: He has enough talent around him, plays enough top competition and is dominant enough from the point guard position to be a serious Mr. Basketball USA contender.

Why He Wouldn’t: His team could fail to meet expectations, and that could hurt Briscoe’s candidacy even if he puts up big numbers. Briscoe is likely going to need a signature performance or two. Roselle Catholic winning the TOC would also be a feather in his cap.

Jaylen Brown, Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) 6-7 Sr. F

Resume: He had a honor-filled junior campaign, averaging 24.0 ppg., 8.0 rpg., 4.0 apg., 2.0 spg., and 1.5 bpg while earning Georgia Class 6A Player of the Year and first team all-state honors.

Why He Could Win: This dynamic forward is rated by one scouting service as the top prospect in the country and is a consensus top five prospect. Wheeler opens up No. 11 in the FAB 50, but lost center Daniel Giddens to Oak Hill Academy, so Brown will have to put up big numbers if Wheeler is going to maintain that ranking. If he has the stats to match his ability, he could be right in the thick of things once the playoffs roll around.

Why He Wouldn’t: Wheeler has some newcomers, so if the team doesn’t mesh quickly it could hurt Brown’s candidacy. He’ll need to have some big outings at the City of Palms Tournament and hopefully carry that momentum into 2015.

Cheick Diallo, Our Savior New American (Centereach, N.Y.) 6-9 Sr. C

Resume: A Mali native, Diallo averaged 18.5 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks for a 28-3 team that played a national schedule. Diallo led Our Savior New American to the National Prep Championships title in the high school division.

Why He Could Win: Simply because he’s one of the most dominant players in the country. He can control games with his rebounding, defensive presence and shot blocking as well as any post player in the country. His team, although not eligible for the FAB 50, should win plenty of games and if it wins the big ones, he’ll be right there in the end. Last season, Diallo was a second five All-American along with Malik Newman.

Why He Wouldn’t: His team doesn’t compete for a traditional state title and that could hurt his candidacy, but there is no questioning his talent. Last season, he had breakout performances at the Tarkanian Classic and never let up. He’ll need a signature performance against a ranked foe and some big performances on the post-season all-star circuit to get over the hump.

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

Resume: Followed up a spectacular sophomore campaign in which he was named Clarion-Ledger Metro Player of the Year and state Mr. Basketball by leading the Chargers to a third consecutive MHSAA Class 5A state title. Along the way, Newman upped his statistical output and was again named Mr. Basketball.

Why He Could Win: Despite defenses specifically geared to slow him down, Newman averaged 29.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists for a 31-1 club that avenged its only loss and finished No. 21 in the 2013-14 FAB 50. With Mario Kegler now at Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville, Fla.), Newman will have to continue to put monster numbers for Callaway to maintain its national ranking. If he does that, there is an excellent chance for him to earn top honors.

Why He Wouldn’t: There is no questioning Newman’s resume, but the lack of exposure from not playing teams from other regions of the country could be a potential drawback. He was class player of the year as a freshman and sophomore and was narrowly edged by Ben Simmons for top juniors honors last season. At one point, Newman was considered the top prospect in this class, but others have now caught him at the top. That factor could be taken into account by the panel and it could hurt his candidacy more than it would some of the other prospects because the panel is likely to see him a bit less than the other top prospects.

Ben Simmons, Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) 6-9 Sr. F

Resume: He’s helped Montverde Academy to consecutive No. 1 FAB 50 finishes and is arguably the most versatile talent in the country, able to play up front or even as the lead guard on this year’s team. As a junior, the LSU commit averaged 22.7 points and 9.5 rebounds for a team that lost one game on the floor (to Cliff Alexander and Chicago Curie) that was later awarded a forfeit win.

Why He Could Win: In last year’s final tracker the National Junior Player of the Year finished in fifth place behind eventual winner Cliff Alexander (93 pts) and seniors Stanley Johnson (79), Jahlil Okafor (76) and Emmanuel Mudiay (71). All four of the players in front of him on last season’s tracker are now graduated. Cheick Diallo finished in seventh place and Malik Newman finished in 11th place.

Why He Wouldn’t: Has the talent, pedigree and platform to be a finalist once again. It would take an unusual set of circumstances to keep him from being in the race.

Strong Cases

DeAndre Ayton, Balboa City School (San Diego, Calif.) 6-10 Soph. C 

Resume: Ayton did not play for a high school team last season as a freshman, but excelled during Grassroots events over the summer where he displayed the talent to be considered one of the top five prospects nationally regardless of class. Ayton’s 17-point, 18-rebound performance in an exhibition victory over the University of North Carolina in the Bahamas is just a glimpse of the talent level of this sophomore.

Why He Could Win: Some Mr. Basketball USA Tracker panelists put more emphasis on pure talent and that bodes well for Ayton. He can dominate games with his ability to score with quick, ground-covering moves around the basket and with excellent second-leap ability and timing.

Why He Wouldn’t: We had a chance to evaluate Ayton with his Balboa City School team during fall leagues and it is simply not that talented. A lack of team success could hurt, as well as playing for a program that cannot play against the California Interscholastic Federation’s 1,200 plus high school programs. With Ayton, it may be a case of just a lack of opportunity, certainly not talent.

Jalen Brunson, Stevenson (Lincolnshire, Ill.) 6-1 Sr. G

Resume: Brunson averaged 26.1 ppg and 4.7 apg as a junior and led Stevenson all the way to the Class 4A semifinals, where if fell to Jahlil Okafor and eventual champ Whitney Young. But not before Brunson put up a 50-piece (56 points) in a losing effort. Brunson was only one of eight underclass players to be named either first or second team 2013-14 All-American by the editors of GrassrootsHoops.net.

Why He Could Win: Stevenson get the nod as Illinois’ preseason top-ranked team in the FAB 50 and Brunson is a proven winner. He led the Mac Irvin Fire to the Bigfoot Hoops title in Las Vegas over the summer and is known as a clutch performer. Jabari Parker, Cliff Alexander and/or Jahlil Okafor never led that Grassroots travel club to a Vegas summer title. That’s pretty significant.

Why He Wouldn’t: He can carry a club and that could help his candidacy, but on the other hand there are other good teams with depth and talent (Morgan Park, Simeon, St. Rita, etc.) that could be potential roadblocks to a state title for Stevenson. Another player could emerge in talent-laden Illinois to steal some of his local acclaim and it could hurt Brunson’s national player of the year candidacy

Harry Giles, Wesleyan Christian Academy (High Point, N.C.) 6-9 Jr. F

Resume: Helped USA Basketball to Gold Medals at the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship and 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship. He missed his sophomore high school season recovering from a torn ACL, but is one of the nation’s most talented players. He helped Wesleyan Christian Academy win the 2012-13 NCISAA Class 3A crown by averaging 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks per game.

Why He Could Win: Giles has the talent and Wesleyan Christian Academy is a good enough team to put him in the conversation with the top seniors and perhaps Ayton. WCA was ranked No. 35 in the preseason FAB 50 but other credible national polls have Giles’ team as high as No. 2. WCA participates in the City of Palms Tournament and if Giles puts up some monster numbers down in Florida it could propel his candidacy.

Why He Wouldn’t: Giles didn’t play last season and the panel could hold him to a higher standard than some of the seniors because they want to see him compared to his peers in a high school setting. Since Giles is a junior, that could also work against him because only a selected few juniors have ever been finalists for Mr. Basketball USA. Giles is indeed a special talent, but ranking his team No. 2 in the country is speculating more on his impact than it is relying on his body of work as a high school player.

Ivan Rabb, Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland, Calif.) 6-10 Sr. C

Resume: The CIF Division III and Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year, Rabb averaged 25 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks for the NorCal Open Division champions, who lost two close games to four-time California state champ Stanley Johnson (Arizona) and Mater Dei of Santa Ana.

Why He Could Win: Rabb has plenty of motivation stemming from those two Mater Dei losses and Bishop O’Dowd plays a monster schedule, including games vs. FAB 50 No. 1 Montverde Academy (Ben Simmons), No. 4 Bishop Gorman (Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter), and No. 11 Wheeler (Jaylen Brown). Rabb is certainly going to have the opportunity to showcase his talents to the panel and if his team lives up to expectations he’ll is likely to be a major factor in the voting process.

Why He Wouldn’t: Rabb seems to perform better with his high school team than on the Grassroots circuit and its fairly obvious if he plays well in the big games he’ll be a strong candidate — and vice versa. The process will begin November 29 vs. Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic.

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

Resume: Zimmermann will have to be dominant in Gorman’s big games this season to be a finalist, as he averaged over 15 points and 10 rebounds per game as a junior after averaging 13.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game as a sophomore. He’s more than capable and his team opens up the season ranked No. 4 in the FAB 50.

Why He Could Win: “Bigg Zimm” is one of the most skilled big men in the country and he actually began last season as a prime candidate, but didn’t finish among the top candidates for a variety of factors. Gorman losing right off the bat to Cliff Alexander and Curie, to Oak Hill Academy and to Bishop O’Dowd at the Tarkanian Classic certainly didn’t help. Since Gorman can win games without Zimm putting up monster numbers, will his production be high enough to make him a serious candidate with the panel? If it is, he’ll have an excellent shot to be Gorman’s second Mr. Basketball USA choice in four years, joining 2012 winner Shabazz Muhammad.

Why He Wouldn’t: Zimmerman is in a unique position because he plays alongside another Mr. Basketball USA candidate in Duke-bound Chase Jeter. Jeter could very well emerge as the top candidate on Gorman’s team and sometimes teammates offset each other’s candidacy. If Gorman doesn’t win the big games, it would be another factor that will drop Zimm a notch.

Seniors On The Radar

G — KeVaughn Allen, North Little Rock (North Little Rock, Ark.) 6-3
F — Dwayne Bacon, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 6-6
G — Malik Beasley, St. Francis (Alpharetta, Ga.) 6-4
G — Antonio Blakeney, Oak Ridge (Orlando, Fla.) 6-4
F — Thomas Bryant, Huntington Prep (Huntington, W. Va.) 6-8
C — Deyonta Davis, Muskegon (Muskegon, Mich.) 6-9
G — Eric Davis, Arthur Hill (Saginaw, Mich.) 6-3
G — Tyler Dorsey, Maranatha (Pasadena, Calif.) 6-5
C — Henry Ellenson, Rice Lake (Rice Lake, Wis.) 6-10
F — D.J. Hogg, Plano West (Plano, Texas) 6-7
G — Franklin Howard, Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.) 6-4
F — Brandon Ingram, Kinston (Kinston, N.C.) 6-7
F — Chase Jeter, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) 6-11
F — Derrick Jones, Archbishop Carroll (Philadelphia, Pa.) 6-6
G — Luke Kennard, Franklin (Franklin, Ohio) 6-5
F — Dedric Lawson, Hamilton (Memphis, Tenn.) 6-7
F — K.J. Lawson, Hamilton (Memphis, Tenn.) 6-6
G — Josh Reaves, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 6-3
G — Kerwin “Snoop” Roach Jr., North Shore (Galena, Texas) 6-4
C — Diamond Stone, Dominican (Whitefish Bay, Wis.) 6-10
C — Caleb Swanigan, Homestead (Fort Wayne, Ind.) 6-10
F — Elijah Thomas, Lancaster (Lancaster, Texas) 6-10
G — Allonzo Trier, Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) 6-4

Juniors To Watch

C — Edrice Adebayo, Northside (Pinetown, N.C.) 6-8
G — Rawle Alkins, Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.) 6-4
C — Udoka Azubuike, Potter’s House Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.) 6-10
G — Lonzo Ball, Chino Hills (Chino Hills, Calif.) 6-5
G — Tyus Battle, Gill St. Bernard’s (Gladstone, N.J.) 6-5
F — Braxton Blackwell, Christ Presbyterian Academy (Nashville, Tenn.) 6-7
C — Michael Cage Jr., Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) 6-10
G — De’Aaron Fox, Cypress Lakes (Katy, Texas) 6-3
G — Alterique Gilbert, Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.) 5-10
G — Frank Jackson, Lone Peak (Highland, Utah) 6-1
F — Mario Kegler, Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville, Fla.) 6-7
F — V.J. King, Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.) 6-6
G — Josh Langford, Madison Academy (Madison, Ala.) 6-5
G — Malik Monk, Bentonville (Bentonville, Ark.) 6-3
G — Dennis Smith Jr., Trinity Christian (Fayetteville, N.C.) 6-2
G — Jayson Tatum, Chaminade (St. Louis, Mo.) 6-7
G — Derryck Thornton Jr., Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) 6-1
G — Seventh Woods, Hammond (Columbia, S.C.) 6-1

Impact Sophomores

F — Brian Bowen, Hill (Saginaw, Mich.) 6-6
G — Troy Brown, Centennial (Las Vegas, Nev.) 6-5
C — Zach Brown, Miami Beach (Miami, Fla.) 7-0
F — David Caraher, Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, N.C.) 6-6
G — Matt Coleman, Maury (Norfolk, Va.) 6-1
G — Trevon Duval, St. Benedict’s (Newark, N.J.) 6-3
G — Jalek Felton, Mullins (Mullins, S.C.) 6-2
G — Michael Porter, Father Tolton (Columbia, Mo.) 6-5
F — Billy Preston, Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, Calif.) 6-8
F — Cody Riley, Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) 6-7
G — Jarred Vanderbilt, Victory Prep (Houston) 6-7
F — P. J. Washington, Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) 6-8

*Editor’s note: Listed alphabetically; The Mr. Basketball USA honor is based on high school accomplishment, not future college/pro potential. Grassroots Hoops 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.

Ronnie Flores is the Publisher and Editor of GrassrootsHoops.net. He can be reached at ronlocc1977@yahoo.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores

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