We conclude our preseason Grassroots Hoops FAB 50 national team rankings release with an in-depth look at the top 15 teams. We began with teams No. 31-50 on Sunday, continued with teams No. 16-30 and now have published an in-depth look at the nation’s 50 best teams. Montverde Academy of Florida is the preseason No. 1 team for the third consecutive season.
Note: The Grassroots Hoops FAB 50 is a continuation of the National Sports News Service ratings that began in 1952. These were the first national high school rankings and they were compiled by the late Art Johlfs of Minnesota. They were compiled for many years by the late Barry Sollenberger of Phoenix, who merged them into the FAB 50 15 years ago.
All 50 teams are written up with explanations for why they were placed in these positions. Montverde Academy of Florida was the 2012-13 and 2013-14 mythical national champion and the National Sports News Service Rankings as published by GrassrootsHoops.net was the only weekly national rankings with the Eagles as preseason No. 1 both seasons. Montverde Academy is attempting to become the first team to win three consecutive mythical national titles since McClymonds (Oakland, Calif.) between 1958-60. CLICK HERE to view the all-time list of preseason No. 1 ranked teams.
Montverde Academy: Preseason No. 1 for the Third Straight Season
Every season brings different scenarios, but in recent years two teams have been the major influence in determining the eventual mythical national champion.
In last year’s Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament championship game, Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) downed perennial power Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 71-62 to win its second consecutive Dick’s Nationals tournament title — in addition to earning its second consecutive national No. 1 ranking.
During the 2013 end-of-season tournament that annually includes some of the nation’s top ranked teams, Oak Hill Academy had Montverde Academy on the ropes in the opening round. The Eagles won in overtime, 77-71, and went on to capture the program’s, and coach Kevin Boyle’s, first national title. In 2012, Oak Hill Academy won a program record 44 games (against zero losses) to earn its seventh No. 1 finish.
Coming into this season, Montverde and “The Hill” reloaded with enough talent to warrant the most serious consideration for preseason national No. 1. Both programs are loaded with some of the nation’s best players, stable coaching staffs and play tough schedules against teams from across the country. The difference basically came down to the close games the two teams played the past two years and as a result, today the Montverde Academy Eagles open up the season as the preseason No. 1 ranked team in the 2014-15 Grassroots Hoops FAB 50 team rankings.
This year’s Montverde Academy team will have a different look than the 2012-13 unit which featured a powerful front line led by current Kentucky big man Dakari Johnson (Kentucky) or last year’s team which had a versatile backcourt led by D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State). The constant on all three teams has been 6-foot-8 forward Ben Simmons, who returns for his senior season after earning national player of the year honors among juniors last season. Simmons had a strong enough resume to warrant serious Mr. Basketball USA honors as a junior and his return was the other main factor that tipped the scales in Montverde’s favor.
“I think the two best teams are us and Oak Hill,” Boyle said. “We are different than last year and we may not be as good, but that doesn’t mean we’re not better than everyone else.”
Preseason 2014-15 Grassroots Hoops
FAB 50 National Team Rankings
Compiled by Ronnie Flores
Contributing: Mark Tennis
(Final 2013-14 ranking in parentheses; *Forfeit wins-losses not included; Look for preseason Region-By-Region Top 20 Rankings on Friday, November 7 and for the preseason Mr. Basketball USA Tracker on Thursday, November 20.)
1. (1) Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) 27-1* (@MVABasketball)
Key Players: SF Ben Simmons 6-9 2015 (No. 1 Hoop Scoop, Student Sports Underclass All-American, LSU commit); PF Noah Dickerson 6-8 2015 (No. 83 Hoop Scoop, Florida commit); PG Howard Washington 6-2 2016 (No. 112 Hoop Scoop); PF E.J. Montgomery 6-9 2018 (No. 4 Hoop Scoop); C Doral Moore 7-0 2015 (No. 102 Hoop Scoop, Wake Forest commit); C Jean Marc Christ Koumadje 7-3 2015 (Florida State commit).
Why This Ranking: The Eagles have the nation’s best player in Simmons (or at least the top one who plays for a FAB 50-eligible program) and they can build their lineup around him in many ways because of his versatility. Montverde doesn’t have the plethora of smooth guards it did last year, but Washington is a solid guard that Boyle is going to rely on in pressure situations. The Eagles are huge and will be a nightmare matchup problem inside for a majority of elite teams they face. This year’s team will be more athletic and dynamic defensively because of its combination of length and quickness. Dickerson gives Boyle another go-to option if Simmons is playing the role of distributor. “Ben can play the one through the four and at least for a quarter this season, we are going to have him at the one with a lineup between 6-8 and 7-3,” Boyle said.
The Skinny: The Eagles have scoring ability underneath, and more than enough talent to overcome their lack of depth in the backcourt and inexperience together. Boyle does an excellent job getting his roster meshed into a cohesive unit and again plays a daunting schedule. Montverde will face No. 4 Bishop Gorman, No. 5 Roselle Catholic, No. 7 Bishop O’Dowd, and No. 8 St. Benedict’s in addition to playing at the City of Palms Tournament in Florida and the Les Schwab Invitational in Oregon. If the Eagles can avoid a letdown after a big win while on the road, they’ll have an excellent shot at a three-peat.
2. (3) Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 41-4 (@OHACoachSmith)
Key Players: SF Dwayne Bacon 6-6 2015 (No. 28 Hoop Scoop, Florida State commit); C Daniel Giddens 6-10 2015 (No. 37 Hoop Scoop, Ohio State commit); SG Josh Reaves 6-5 2015 (No. 70 Hoop Scoop, Student Sports Underclass All-American, Penn State commit); PG Terrence Phillips 5-11 2015 (No. 149 Hoop Scoop).
Why This Ranking: The Warriors have their deepest team since their 2012 mythical national championship club that finished 44-0. Coach Steve Smith (934-63, seven FAB 50 titles) states he has 10 D1 players and is two deep at every position. Oak Hill has a go-to scoring option in Bacon and a rim protector in Giddens. With the likes of 7-foot junior Rodney Miller, The Hill also has the necessary size to contend with Montverde Academy in a potential Dick’s Nationals matchup. Some of Oak Hill’s additions come from teams that figured to be in FAB 50 title contention themselves, such as Reaves from No. 24 Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.), Giddens from No. 11 Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) and 6-foot-6 junior forward Joe Hampton from No. 38 DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.). Not only do those moves weaken teams chasing Oak Hill in the FAB 50, it also means the players come from winning cultures and will be dedicated to buying into Smith’s system in a quest for FAB 50 title No. 8.
The Skinny: Oak Hill has the talent to finish No. 1, but it has to show it can get over the hump at Dick’s Nationals, an event the famed program has never won since its inception at the conclusion of the 2009 season. Phillips provides a huge spark when he’s playing well and the most important development this year for Smith is Phillips isn’t the only capable player of running the point. Last year, he led the team in minutes and that wasn’t the scenario Smith envisioned. This year, Oak Hill has more ways to beat teams on its loaded schedule that includes No. 19 Hamilton, No. 24 Paul VI and The Road Warriors’ first California trip since 2007. They’ll face No. 7 Bishop O’Dowd and No. 14 Sierra Canyon on back-to-back nights at the Nike Extravaganza.
3. (5) Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) 31-5 (@FindlayPrep)
Key Players: SG Allonzo Trier 6-4 2015 (No. 2 Hoop Scoop, Student Sports Underclass All-American, Arizona commit); PG Derryck Thornton Jr. 6-2 2016 (No. 8 Hoop Scoop, Student Sports Underclass All-American); PF Horace Spencer 6-8 2015 (No. 29 Hoop Scoop, Auburn commit); SF Justin Jackson 6-8 2016 (No. 30 Hoop Scoop, UNLV commit).
Why This Ranking: The Pilots have as loaded a roster as Montverde Academy and Oak Hill Academy, but a couple of factors keep them a notch below those two programs going into the season. One, they don’t have as much pure size as those two clubs. Findlay Prep has some versatility and plenty of able defenders, but it may start Spencer in the pivot and that might not always be to its advantage. The other main factor is the revolving coaching situation surrounding the program. Andy Johnson is the Pilots’ fourth coach in as many seasons and there could be an adjustment period that might cause the Pilots to drop an early game on their schedule. If the team meshes right away, watch out, because there is plenty of firepower. Findlay’s strength is in the backcourt, as Thornton Jr. took his lumps as a sophomore because of the coaching transition but emerged as one of the nation’s best point guards regardless of class over the summer. Trier simply has no peer in the country from the two-guard position when it comes to skill, motor, athleticism and work ethic.
The Skinny: Johnson is a student of the game and should have the Pilots back on the right track after an up and down 2013-14 season. Johnson wants his team to push the ball and take advantage of Trier’s scoring ability and the talented young wings. Johnson only has a 10-man roster, so the Pilots must avoid injury to be able to play at the tempo that will give them an advantage in their big games. Jackson is a good rebounder and can play inside and out, while 6-7 sophomore O’shae Brissett is rapidly improving. If Brissett and 6-11 junior Jayce Johnson play to their potential, this team will be tough to beat down the stretch. Findlay Prep has a big three-game stretch in January, where it faces No. 9. Stevenson, No. 10 Wayne and city rival No. 4 Bishop Gorman that will be telling to the Pilots’ national championship aspirations.
4. (13) Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) 29-4* (@BG_Basketball)
Key Players: PF Stephen Zimmerman 7-0 2015 (No. 13 Hoop Scoop, Student Sports Underclass All-American); C Chase Jeter 6-10 2015 (No. 7 Hoop Scoop, Student Sports Underclass All-American, Duke commit); SF Nick Blair 6-5 2015 (No. 120 Hoop Scoop).
Why This Ranking: The Gaels have the size, and more importantly the talent, to finish with the program’s highest FAB 50 ranking ever (No. 11 in both 2012 and 2013). In fact, Gorman has the firepower to contend with Montverde Academy and Oak Hill Academy with the best inside duo in the country in Zimmermann and Jeter. “Bigg Zimm” can beat teams in a variety of ways, whether on the block, on the break or facing up. Jeter emerged as one of the nation’s best players over the summer and is a relentless rebounder. It is nearly an embarrassment of riches underneath, as 6-6 junior Chase Noma’aea returns from an ACL injury and 6-9 junior Zach Collins is being recruited at the highest level despite being a reserve. Blair is a spectacular athlete who excels on the break and has the potential to lock down elite players on Gorman’s national schedule.
The Skinny: Make no mistake about it, this has a chance to be coach Grant Rice’s (343-65, seven state titles in 13 seasons) best team, but it must develop the guard play to defeat the nation’s best teams. It’s a big and glaring question mark going into the season. Last year, Noah Robotham led the backcourt, but he was a volume shooter and at times took away from the effectiveness of the bigs. If Gorman can play to its strengths in each big game, this team could be the first Nevada club besides Findlay Prep (in 2009) to capture the FAB 50 crown. Gorman meets the Pilots on January 24, five days after it takes on No. 1 Montverde Academy at the Hoophall Classic.
5. (NR) Roselle Catholic (Roselle, N.J.) 21-10 (@rc_basketball)
Key Players: PG Isaiah Briscoe 6-3 2015 (No. 4 Hoop Scoop, Student Sports Underclass All-American); PF Chris Silva 6-9 2015 (No. 108 Hoop Scoop, South Carolina commit); PG Asante Gist 5-10 2016 (No. 163 Hoop Scoop, South Florida, Rutgers, Seton Hall offers); SF Nazreon Reid 6-9 2018 (No. 9 Hoop Scoop, UConn, Maryland, N.C. State, Iowa offers).
Why This Ranking: Every year the FAB 50 has tiers where there is a noticeable difference between teams and this is the first one. We mulled over which team to put in this spot and we considered four, including Roselle’s Garden State rival St. Benedict’s, but in the end we chose the Lions. You have to like a team returning its top eight players, especially when one of them is Briscoe (19.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.5 rpg). The nation’s top point guard won a Gold Medal with USA Basketball, was the 2014 Pangos All-American Camp MOP and led The Playaz Basketball Club to the Nike EYBL title. He’s a proven winner and has enough pieces around him to warrant a FAB 50 top five placement. Roselle Catholic also has last year’s stinging one-point loss to Newark East Side in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions to use as motivation.
The Skinny: Briscoe and company had a seven-point lead against East Side and 10 losses from last year are a lot, so this team is going to have to close out games and not play down to the level of competition in order to remain in the top five. Silva (9.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 3.0 bpg) is a big-time talent and anchors a front line that goes 6-9, 6-8 and 6-8. That doesn’t even include top newcomer Reid, who adds depth to an athletic team with plenty of capable players off its bench. The Lions will participate in the newly revived Slam Dunk to the Beach tournament in Delaware, take on No. 8 St. Benedict’s on January 25 and get their crack at No. 1 Montverde Academy in February.
6. (29) Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville, Fla.) 30-5* (@ACDHoops)
Key Players: SF Mario Kegler 6-7 2016 (No. 9 Hoop Scoop); C Yankuba Sima 6-11 2015 (Louisville, Maryland, Baylor offers); PG Lamonte Turner 6-2 2016 (No. 57 Hoop Scoop, Louisville, Florida, Miami offers).
Why This Ranking: The Apaches have the necessary talent level and size to repeat as Sunshine Independent Athletic Association (SIAA) champions and compete for national recognition. ACD won the first SIAA title in 2011 and the next year the Florida Legislature passed a bill allowing FHSAA members to compete against SIAA schools if they desired. Coach Rex Morgan (477-83) welcomes back two starters and three lettermen, but it’s the newcomers that can put ACD over the top in the SIAA. In addition to Kegler, Sima and Turner, seniors Tulio Da Silva (6-8), Jashire Hardnett (5-11) and Malik Hicks (6-6) are drawing D1 interest and make the Apaches tough to beat because of their athleticism and rebounding ability.
The Skinny: There is no doubt the SIAA is filled with talented teams loaded with D1 recruits and as its preseason No. 1, ACD deserves a high ranking. The Apaches are one of the more talented teams in the country, but they must build chemistry with so many newcomers from various parts of the world in order to record a signature win like the one they had last season over Oak Hill Academy. Kegler will be a key, because he can beat teams in so many ways, but must do it on a consistent basis against the caliber of competition he’ll be facing this season. ACD plays a loaded schedule that includes stops at the Marshall County Hoopfest, Chick-fil-A Classic, Cancer Research Classic, Bluegrass Madness and the Victor Oladipo Classic.
7. (35) Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland, Calif.) 28-5 (@ODowdAthletics)
Key Players: PF Ivan Rabb 6-10 2015 (No. 10 Hoop Scoop, Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year, Student Sports Second Team All-American); PG Paris Austin 5-11 2015 (No. 142 Hoop Scoop, Boise St., St. Mary’s, Montana offers).
Why This Ranking: The Dragons are big, have loaded up on their schedule and have one of the better inside-outside combos in the country in Rabb and Austin. O’Dowd also gained valuable experience at last year’s Tarkanian Classic, where it took FAB 50 No. 2 Mater Dei to overtime and defeated No. 4 Bishop Gorman in the third place game. The Dragons also have plenty of incentive after losing the rematch to Mater Dei in the CIF Open Division state title game in which Rabb did not shoot well from the field and the team missed critical free throws. Rabb was up and down during the summer, but he’s dominant for the Dragons and gives them a big advantage against all in-state foes. Against the national teams O’Dowd faces, Rabb will have more help this year inside with senior newcomer Arinze Chidom (6-8) and Isaiah Thomas (6-8) joining the fold after sitting out last season. Coach Lou Richie also has a 7-footer at his disposal in junior Mike Hauser, who could prove valuable when O’Dowd travels to the Iolani Classic, Bass Pro TOC and Hoophall Classic.
The Skinny: Give O’Dowd credit; it scheduled to make a run at the mythical national title and has earned the highest preseason national ranking for a NorCal team since 1991-92 when Jason Kidd was at Alameda St. Joseph. If the outside shooting comes through, this team is going to be really tough to beat. The country knows about Rabb, but Richie feels the biggest improvement comes from Austin in the form of maturity, leadership and setting the bar by example. “He’s the best point guard in the state,” Richie said. O’Dowd will have to jell right away because the Dragons face No. 4 Bishop Gorman on November 29 at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic and face No. 1 Montverde Academy on the road on December 12.
8. (NR) St. Benedict’s (Newark, N.J.) 23-8
Key Players: F Arnaldo Torro 6-9 2016; G Trevon Duval 6-3 2017 (No. 8 Hoop Scoop, Pitt, Syracuse, Miami, Villanova offers); G Nathanial Pierre 6-3 2017 (No. 39 Hoop Scoop, Miami, Cincinnati, offers).
Why This Ranking: The Gray Bees have a plethora of young talent and coach Mark Taylor (90-13 at St. Benedict’s) feels this could potentially be the best team he’s ever coached. The key word is potential, because the Gray Bees can easily fall out of the top 10 if the talent doesn’t mesh quickly against a tough schedule. Taylor has three all-state level players in Torro, Duval and Pierre, but the majority of the team is newcomers. It’s truly an international flavor, as six players are Canadian natives, including junior Isaiah Mike (6-8), junior Kevin Hamlet (6-7) and junior Marcus Ottey (6-1). Torro is from Puerto Rico while junior Ahmed Khalef (6-10), who comes from Egypt, provides the guard-oriented team an anchor in the middle.
The Skinny: With the talent at his disposal, Taylor has a team deep in speed and athleticism, but lacking experience on the big-time high school basketball circuit. If the team meshes, Taylor feels it can reach the level of the team in 2012-13 that finished No. 2 in the FAB 50. That team had Tyler Ennis, and even though there isn’t a senior on the roster of his caliber, Duval is a catalyst and could help this year’s team produce similar results to Ennis’ club. St. Benedict’s doesn’t compete for a NJSIAA title, so the goal is to win the big showcase games against the likes of No. 33 Rainier Beach, No. 5 Roselle Catholic and No. 1 Montverde Academy and be in position for a berth to the Dick’s Nationals tournament March 30-April 1 in New York.
9. (14) Stevenson (Lincolnshire, Ill.) 32-2 (@SHS_BHOOPS)
Key Players: PG Jalen Brunson 6-1 2015 (No. 15 Hoop Scoop, Student Sports Second Team All-American, Villanova commit); SG Connor Cashaw 6-3 2015 (Rice commit).
Why This Ranking: The Patriots get the nod as Illinois’ preseason top-ranked team and considering the success of the state’s top programs in recent seasons that means a high national rating. You also have to like this team because of its experience combined with a dynamic talent such as Brunson (26.1 ppg, 4.7 apg). He’s helped Stevenson to the state tournament the past two years while racking up a 59-6 record. Cashaw (17.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.4 apg) can play multiple positions, is an excellent rebounder and is underrated nationally. Last year, Stevenson advanced all the way to the Class 4A semifinals, defeating No. 27 Morgan Park and No. 16 Simeon along the way before it fell to Jahlil Okafor (Duke) and eventual champ Whitney Young (Chicago).
The Skinny: Stevenson has talent and experience, but it will have to hold off young and talented Chicago Public League teams such as Simeon and Morgan Park that are likely to improve as the season wears on. Stevenson has more of a bulls-eye on its chest, but with Brunson in the fold it has a strong chance to take its season one step further. Brunson is one of the few players in the country who can carry a team (he went for 56 in the loss to Whitney Young) plus the Patriots play an upgraded schedule. They will travel to West Virginia for the Cancer Research Classic and play in the Hoophall Classic in Massachusetts.
10. (NR) Wayne (Huber Heights, Ohio) 21-5
Key Players: PF Ahmad Wagner 6-7 2015 (No. 236 Hoop Scoop, Iowa Commit); SF Xeyrius Williams 6-8 2015 (No. 176 Hoop Scoop, Dayton commit); PG D’Mitrik Trice 5-11 2015 (Harvard, MAC offers).
Why This Ranking: Coach Travis Trice has all five starters and eight lettermen back on a team that can win in many different ways. “I’m so excited about the season and this team, because of our talent and the schedule we play gives us a chance to get some serious national consideration,” Trice said. Wagner, who is playing football for the first time this fall, is one of many fine athletes on a team that loves to play at a fast tempo and is successful at it. The ball handlers and shooters on the team are also of high quality, led by Trice. He’ll be complimented by transfer point guard Rodrick Caldwell and the veterans also welcome L’Christian “Blue” Smith, a talented 6-4 freshman. It’s pretty safe to say Wayne and No. 45 Villa Angela-St. Joseph are the deepest teams in Ohio.
The Skinny: This team has played on a big stage before (Wayne will play No. 3 Findlay Prep in its fourth appearance in the Flyin’ To The Hoop Invitational) and it will see where it stands right away since it opens the City of Palms with Montverde Academy. “We love the fact were playing them first,” Trice said. Montverde will be a lot bigger than the Warriors, but Wayne will adjust and attempt to force the Eagles and other teams to play their style. Wayne doesn’t have a top 25-type player, but if someone steps up during the tough games, a Division I title is in reach. Last season, Wayne lost in the regional semifinals in overtime and the sting of that loss also serves as motivation.
11. (NR) Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) 29-6 (@WheelerHoops)
Key Players: SF Jaylen Brown 6-6 2015 (No. 5 Hoop Scoop, Student Sports Underclass All-American); SG Shembari Phillips 6-4 2015 (Tennessee commit).
Why This Ranking: According to some experts, Wheeler has the second best player in the country (behind Ben Simmons) and one national recruiting service ranks Brown as the best. With Brown back in the fold and veteran coach Doug Lipscomb (2005 Student Sports National Coach of the Year) ready to take on the challenge of meshing the newcomers around his star player, Wheeler has an excellent opportunity to go a step further than last year when it lost to Tift County in the Class AAAAAA finals. Five other lettermen besides Brown return, including talented sophomores Isaiah Swan (6-4) and Kenny Aninye (6-1) ready to take on bigger roles.
The Skinny: Wheeler was No. 10 in the preseason last year, and losing center Daniel Giddens cost the Wildcats a spot in the top six. It also stings a bit that he joined a team (Oak Hill Academy) ranked ahead of them. Wheeler, however, still has a chance to be a spectacular team with the addition of transfer Phillips, an excellent scorer who should take some of the pressure off Brown. Wheeler will have the opportunity to show the personnel losses and gains won’t cause it to miss a beat when it plays in the City of Palms Tournament, the Les Schwab Invitational (where a potential matchup with Montverde Academy awaits) and No. 7 Bishop O’Dowd at the Hoophall Classic.
12. (50) Centennial (Corona, Calif.) 29-4 (@Cen10Hoops)
Key Players: PG Sedrick Barefield 6-0 2015 (No. 124 Hoop Scoop, SMU commit); SG Khalil Ahmad 6-3 2015 (Cal-St. Fullerton, Tulsa offers); SF Jordan Griffin 6-3 2016 (UCSB, Pacific, UC-Riverside offers).
Why This Ranking: The Huskies advanced to the CIF Division I state title game where they fell to a hot-shooting Monte Vista of Danville team. Witnessing them develop over the course of the year, it was evident Centennial was going to have one of the top teams on the West Coast this season. The Huskies have the speed and length to harass nearly any team out of its offensive game plan. During the summer, Ahmad emerged as one of the state’s most improved players and it took this team to a new level. The final straw for this high a placing in the national pecking order was the emergence of big men Ike Anigbogu (6-7) and Jalen Hill (6-9). Anigbogu, a junior, is a tough defender and rebounder while the 14-year old Hill is one of the best long-term prospects in California.
The Skinny: This team has the perimeter play, the experience and now the size to make it SoCal’s top-ranked team in the preseason. Senior jumping jack Kyle Hamilton (6-3) is another reason to like a team that has great potential if the young big men come through in the big games. It could be difficult for the Huskies to move up from this spot, however, since their only test against national competition will be at the Tarkanian Classic where they could face the likes of No. 4 Bishop Gorman, No. 23 Prestonwood Christian Academy and No. 39 Putnam City West. Still, there are plenty of good enough teams in the CIFSS and CIF State Open Division playoffs to give us a good barometer of how good this team is and how high it deserves to be ranked at the end of the season.
13. (NR) Plano West (Plano, Texas) 22-7 (@PlanoWestBball)
Key Players: C Tyler Davis 6-9 2015 (No. 29 Hoop Scoop, Texas A&M commit); SF D.J. Hogg 6-7 2015 (No. 41 Hoop Scoop, Texas A&M commit); PF Mickey Mitchell 6-6 2015 (No. 34 Hoop Scoop, Ohio State commit).
Why This Ranking: The Wolves, for the second consecutive year, are one of the most polarizing teams in the FAB 50. On one hand, you don’t want to put them too high because they haven’t advanced to a regional final since 2010. On the other, they have three top 50 national recruits and some other talented players such as senior guard Soso Jamabo (6-4) and sophomore guard Chris Giles (6-2). Hogg (20.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.6 bpg) is a good shooter and a tough matchup. Davis is a physical specimen underneath, with good rebounding ability to go with a soft touch. The talented Mitchell hasn’t really played much the past two seasons, but he’s a skilled and versatile player who could be the X-factor in Plano West living up to its advance billing.
The Skinny: Plano West began the 2013-14 season at No. 28, but Mitchell only played in parts of seven games. If he isn’t 100 percent, the Wolves already are used to playing without him and it isn’t as devastating a loss as it would be for other top-ranked teams to lose a key component. With Jamabo currently playing football, Plano West could have a slow start to the season. We’ll see what the Wolves are made of early in the season in the big showdown with Texas A&M recruit Elijah Thomas and regionally-ranked Lancaster. If all the players mesh and Mitchell can contribute, a Texas Class 5A title is certainly within reach.
14. (NR) Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) 29-4 (@SCanyonSports)
Key Players: PF Cody Riley 6-7 2017 (No. 2 Hoop Scoop, Cal-Hi Sports State Freshman of the Year, Student Sports Underclass All-American); PG Devearl Ramsey 5-9 2016 (No. 54 Hoop Scoop, Student Sports Underclass All-American); PF Ira Lee 6-7 2017 (No. 20 Hoop Scoop, Cal-Hi Sports All-State Underclass).
Why This Ranking: This underclass-dominant team has enough talent, enough experience and has upgraded its schedule enough to warrant a spot in the top 15. Last season, the Trailblazers showed what they are capable of with victories over No. 7 Bishop O’Dowd and No. 42 Chino Hills at the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic and by capturing the consolation title of the loaded CIF Southern Section Open Division playoff bracket. The majority of the team is still sophomores, but Ramsey is the catalyst for a unit that can beat teams in a variety of ways, including with its suffocating pressure defense. Riley and Lee are bookend forwards who provide different looks. Riley likes to face the basket and Lee is more effective around the basket. Sophomore Adam Sieko (6-3) continues to get better, sophomore Terrance McBride (6-2) has big-game experience and sophomore PG Remy Martin (5-10) in many was is just as explosive as Ramsey.
The Skinny: Coach Ty Nichols will venture out of state to test his club against the nation’s best at the City of Palms Tournament in Florida. Sierra Canyon also takes on No. 41 DeMatha at Hoophall West on January 2. If this young team can come away from COP with a 3-1 mark, it will be sitting pretty in the national rankings at the turn of the year. Even if it doesn’t, that experience, in addition to playing No. 2 Oak Hill Academy at the Nike Extravaganza, will help Sierra Canyon in its quest to capture a CIF state title.
15. (20) La Lumiere (LaPorte, Ind.) 23-3 (@LaLuBasketball)
Key Players: SG Jalen Coleman 6-4 2015 (No. 36 Hoop Scoop, Student Sports Underclass All-American); C Isaac Humphries 7-0 2015 (Kansas, Illinois, Notre Dame offers); PF Nolan Narain 6-9 2016 (No. 192 Hoop Scoop); SF Alex Olesinski 6-9 2015.
Why This Ranking: The Lakers have enough talent to absorb the losses of coach Alan Huss (now at New Mexico) and player Joseph Toye (now back at Whitney Young of Chicago). New coach Shane Heirman will implement many aspects of his game plan in the same fashion as Huss did, taking advantage of a tall roster that can consistently hit the perimeter shot. Coleman can score on all three levels, Heirman is excited about what Narain brings to the table and Olesinski can really stroke it from deep. Huss’ final team was young, but this one is a veteran and experienced bunch that is eager to show it has the makings of a top 10 level club.
The Skinny: Last season, the Lakers finished No. 20 in the final FAB 50 after opening the season No. 18. In 2012-13, they finished No. 22 so even though La Lumiere has been formidable, it hasn’t been able to reach the upper-echelon just yet. Australian transplant Humphries, who netted 41 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in a FIBA U17 World Championship game against Canada, could be the key. If he and the other newcomers such as junior Brandon Cyrus (6-3) mesh with the veterans, this program should earn a Dick’s Nationals invite where it will be eager to record its first-ever victory at the event.