Torrance, Calif. -- Although many previous EA SPORTS National Player of the Year selections have gone on to success at the higher levels of the game, the award truly rewards high school performance among the nation's top basketball players.
A player's position in respected recruiting rankings have little bearing on the selection each season. In most years, our national player of the year selection going back to 1955 has indeed been a consensus top five recruit, but the eventual pick usually played for a winning program with the statistical resume and championships to back up his POY candidacy.
In 2004, Lincoln of Brookyln standout Sebastian Telfair was the choice over eventual No. 1 NBA Draft pick Dwight Howard of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy. Sure, Howard was the better pro prospect and has proven to be a more productive NBA player, but Telfair's Railspitters team beat Howard's SACA club and the Coney Island native scored 30 points, including the game-winning three-pointer. Telfair finished his prep career with three state PSAL titles, a state federation title and scored 2,785 career points. That scoring mark broke the New York state record of 1989 national player of the year choice Kenny Anderson. Those championships, records and the win over Howard's club was the difference.
In 2005, the pick was shooting guard Monta Ellis from Lanier of Jackson, Mississippi and though he was taken lower in the NBA Draft than he would have liked, there are some NBA GM's that are now shaking their heads wishing they would have picked the Mississippi scoring phenom a little higher. It didn't take a rocket scientist to pick Greg Oden of Lawrence North of Indianapolis in 2006 and last year it was basically a two-horse race between O.J. Mayo of Huntington, West Virginia and Kevin Love of Lake Oswego, Oregon. Whereas Love's team lost during the state tournament, Mayo led the Highlanders to an unprecedented third consecutive state Class AAA title. Individually, the USC freshman standout won all-state honors in three different states and three state crowns with two different teams.
There is some debate in basketball circles as to whom is the top player in the country this season. As a whole, the class isn't considered as strong as last year's bumper crop and that is reflected in player rankings, team rankings and the inaugural EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker for this season. No less than 22 different players received some recognition as a top national player of the year candidate by a panel of ten respected basketball talent evaluators and journalists.
The top positions in the Rivals.com FAB 50 National Rankings figure to have some shuffling among the top teams as the season progresses and the same is true for the EA SPORTS POY Tracker. While nothing is certain in this year's topsy-turvy prep basketball season, one thing that will definitely not happen is the selection of last year's EA SPORTS National Junior Player of the Year, Delvon Roe, winning the top individual honor among players in all classes this season. Roe is likely out for the season after reportedly suffering a torn meniscus during the first quarter of St. Edward's (Lakewood, Ohio) overtime win over Campbell Hall (North Hollywood, Calif.) that was televised nationally by ESPN2 in December.
Just last night, another ESPN2 telecast pitted FAB 50 ranked Norcross, Ga. against a Helen Cox (Gretna, La.) team featuring Greg Monroe, one of the top POY candidates heading into the season. Monroe missed some showcase games on the West Coast during the holiday tournament season and was eager to showcase his player of the year candidacy on national television. Another EA SPORTS National Player of the Year candidate, Al-Farouq Aminu and the Blue Devils (ranked No. 3 in the Southeast Region) had other ideas and overcame a 12-0 deficit to win going away, 59-48.
Monroe, on two ballots last week, was hoping to impress his fans and our ten panelists, but the Georgetown recruit was limited to eight points. Al-Farouq Aminu, who was listed on one ballot, made a positive impression by breaking his team's 12-0 deficit with a bucket over Monroe and finished with a game-high 29 points.
As the season progresses many players, such as Wake Forest commit Aminu, will improve their player of the year candidacy with stellar performances in showcase games or by leading their respective clubs to state titles. Others might drop if their team doesn't live up to expectations or if they flutter in showcase events.
With that in mind, we present the inaugural EA SPORTS National Player of the Year tracker for the 2007-2008 season. Make sure to stay logged in to StudentSportsBasketball.com all season long to track the progress of the top individual players as well as the top teams in the Rivals.com FAB 50.
Each week, SSBasketball.com's panel of ten experts, which includes two active McDonald's All-American selection committee members, casts its votes for the top EA SPORTS Player of the Year candidates.
The panel is asked to list his seven top player of the year candidates regardless of class, and the votes are tabulated on a 10-point scoring system with a first place vote equaling ten points, a second place vote equaling nine points and down to four points for a seventh place vote. The number in parenthesis ( ) refers to the numbers of ballots a player appeared on.
Expert's Take: (Each week, StudentSportsBasketBall.com asks one of its 10 panelists to explain his ballot.)
By Ronnie Flores -- StudentSportsBasketball.com Managing Editor
1. Samardo Samuels, St. Benedict's Prep (N.J.)
The top player on the top team in the country through the holiday tournaments, Samuels impressed me more than any player so far this season. In recruiting services' mid-season rankings I'd bet this kid rises a few spots. The City of Palms Tournament had a lot of great teams and players and he was the MVP so that means a lot to me night now. He was also the MVP of the Bojangles' Shootout and is playing up to his ability. I know they lost this week, but Samuels scored 17 points, so the loss doesn't hurt him. At least not yet in my book.
2. Brandon Jennings, Oak Hill Academy (Va.)
I think this kid was the leading candidate coming into the season and I haven't really changed my mind. I know Delvon Roe was last year's junior of the year, but I don't know if he could have improved upon that before he got injured. Most people envisioned an Oak Hill backcourt where Jennings teamed with Willie Warren and looked for Malik Story open on the wing, but that has changed dramatically. He now has to score in addition to being his team's primary ball-handler so nobody in the country has a bigger impact on every single possession as this California kid and he's delivering.
3. Tyreke Evans, American Christian Academy (Pa.)
This kid's talent is undeniable, although he has two factors that might work against him. First, he plays with a school that features some fifth-year players and while that is not unprecedented, it keeps them out of the FAB 50 rankings although his team is facing some quality competition. Second, he was also involved in an off-court incident, but if he's not formally charged with anything it shouldn't hurt him for national honors. Evans played well in some big games so far and American Christian still has a few big ones coming up. I like his chances if he can show everyone he can play through some major distractions.
4. Sylven Landesberg, Holy Cross (N.Y.)
The teams in the New York City region are strong and Landesberg is the one that I like so far. I like Rice's Kemba Walker and I almost went for Greg Monroe in his place, but I then remembered Landesberg went for 44 points in a win over Helen Cox and I have to give him credit for that. Holy Cross finished in third place at the City of Palms (Monroe's team finished in fourth for the second consecutive year ) plus Landesberg won MVP honors at another tournament so that's another plus. He might not be this high for a lot of people and he might not be for me down the line, but I have to give him credit for the quality of his games so far.
5. Kenny Boynton, American Heritage (Fla.)
American Heritage lost Eloy Vargas for a while with a sprained ankle and Boynton turned it up in his absence. He was runner-up for sophomore of the year honors last season (Lance Stephenson was the winner) an he was averaging well over 30 points per game at the turn of the New Year. He broke Teddy Dupay's single game scoring record of 58 points at the City of Palms with a 61-point performance. We all remember how Dupay could light it up at Mariner High and Boynton is similar with a little more athletic skills. I like this junior class and they are getting some good national attention as we see in the voting results this week.
Next week we'll hear from Brad Eye, StudentSportsBasketball.com
East Region Correspondent.