Torrance, Calif. -- Every season it's not too hard to identify the top boys basketball players in the country, if you follow which colleges are gobbling up the country's best prospects.
Every year since 1990, the EA SPORTS National Player of the Year selected by StudentSportsBasketball.com editors has eventually played in the NBA and the majority of them were impact players in their prime. That season the nation's top prospect was California Mr. Basketball Ed O'Bannon, a smooth 6-foot-9 left-hander from Artesia High school in Lakewood.
O'Bannon was a two-time prep all-american, led UCLA to a NCAA title in 1995, and did play in the NBA briefly, but our choice as the national player of the year in 1990 was 6-foot-3 Damon Bailey from Bedford-North Lawrence High in Bedford, Indiana. Bailey lived up to the tremendous expectations bestowed on him as a prep player after winning multiple AAU national titles in middle school, as he was a first team all-state selection four straight seasons.
O'Bannon developed a little slower, but by his junior season he was considered one of the nation's best players and was named Student Sports National Junior of the Year in 1989 after Bailey was named class player of the year the previous two seasons. O'Bannon did deliver the Pioneers a CIF Div. II state title in 1990 with help from his freshman brother Charles, but we felt Bailey's overall exploits were enough to give him the nod. He scored 972 points as a senior, averaging 31.2 points per game, and ended his prep career with an Indiana state record 3,134 points.
His team did finish one spot behind Artesia in the National Prep Poll (precursor to the Rivals.com FAB 50) at No. 15, but it took 30 points from Mr. Basketball Bailey, including his team's final 11, to pull out a 63-60 victory over Elkhart of Concord, which entered the game unbeaten, to capture the single-class Indiana state title. Although the game was televised, a national record 41,046 fans came out to see Bailey's final prep game and he delivered.
Before Bailey, most of the national picks were household NBA names so it's ironic that the 1979 honoree, Clark Kellogg from St. Joseph of Cleveland, Ohio, is not since that class is generally considered the greatest overall when it comes to producing top-notch basketball prospects. The 6-foot-7 forward did average 20.1ppg as an NBA rookie, but because of knee problems was out of the NBA by age 25. Most basketball fans know Kellogg as a college basketball analyst, but true prep roundball fans remember Kellogg for scoring an Ohio state championship game record 51 points in St. Joseph's 79-65 loss to East of Columbus.
As the honorary captain of the 1979 Ohio all-state team, Kellogg was given the nod for national honors, but in actuality a host of players were worthy of player of the year honors 30 years ago. Guard Isiah Thomas from St. Joseph's of Westchester, Illinois led Indiana University to the 1981 NCAAA title and won two NBA championships with the Detroit Pistons, would have been a solid pick. So would have forward James Worthy (Ashbrook, Gastonia, N.C.) and center Ralph Sampson (Harrisonburg, Va.), both future No. 1 picks in the NBA Draft.
While the Class of 2007 is not considered on par with the Class of 1979, at least not yet, the class had many sure-fire stars just as the prep ranks did 30 years earlier. There were at least four first team EA SPORTS All-Americans that would have been viable player of the year candidates in any year and they are proving it this year on the college level. Freshman Eric Gordon of Indiana, Kevin Love of UCLA, O.J. Mayo of USC and Derrick Rose of Memphis are living up to their prep accolades and are not only proving to be four of the best freshman in the country, but four of the best players, period. And that doesn't even include Kansas State's Michael Beasley, the nation's leading rebounder (13.1) and fifth leading scorer (24.8), who was ineligible for the 2007 EA SPORTS All-American team.
This year's class isn't considered as strong and that is reflected in this week's EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker. No underclassmen made the 20-man first team last season, but that fact doesn't look like it's going to become a trend as juniors Derrick Favors (South Atlanta, Ga.) and Kenny Boynton (American Heritage, Plantation, Fla.) have made favorable impressions and are proving to be serious first team all-american candidates. Last week both players appeared on three of ten ballots of a respected panel of basketball talent evaluators and journalists, but this week Favors appeared on six ballots.
The consensus top five national junior from Georgia received one third place vote and one fourth place vote among his six votes that were good for 38 total points. Favors will have a chance to continue impressing the panel this weekend when South Atlanta, ranked No. 38 this week in the Rivals.com FAB 50, takes on No. 48 Campbell Hall (North Hollywood, Calif.) and its star guard Jrue Holiday at the Pangos Dream Classic in Southern California. Holiday, a UCLA recruit, appeared on nine ballots to tie for the lead in that category with overall leader Samardo Samuels of No. 5 St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.), a senior forward headed to Louisville.
Holiday received one first place vote as did Boynton, who received three fifth place votes last week. Boynton, who is leading the state of Florida in scoring, scored a season-low 15 points last week in a 81-63 loss to regionally ranked Fort Lauderdale Boyd Anderson, but it will be interesting to see what his overall point total and how many ballots he will appear on next week after scoring 44 points in a losing effort on national television this past Monday against Pace of Opa Locka.
With that in mind, we present the second EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker for the 2007-2008 season below. 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.
Each panelist is asked to list his top seven EA SPORTS 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 ( ) before the player's name refers to his ranking on the previous week's tracker and the second number in parenthesis ( ) refers to the number of ballots a player appeared on this week.
Expert's Take: (Each week, StudentSportsBasketBall.com asks one of its ten panelists to explain his ballot.)
By Brad Eye-- StudentSportsBasketball.com East Region Correspondent
1. Brandon Jennings, Oak Hill Academy (Va.), 35 ppg.
Jennings was my top player coming into this season and he's done nothing to change my mind. The quick lefty reminds me of former national player of the year Kenny Anderson, who eventually played 14 seasons in the NBA. No player that has ever suited up for Oak Hill Academy coach Steve Smith has to do as much as Jennings does every game. Not only does he have to score, but he's the team's best distributor. He scored 49 points against Dudley, netting the third highest single game total in the Warriors' history. Jennings will head to Arizona next year and he could make the same impact as Anderson did at Georgia Tech.
2. Samardo Samuels, St. Benedict's Prep (N.J.), 21 ppg., 8 rpg.
So far this season Samuels has been the player that has surprised me the most with his play. He has always been a good player but he is playing out of this world so far this winter. He has been named MVP of two tournaments and was just named MVP of the NIKE Super Six at Madison Square Garden against FAB 50 ranked Rice as St. Benedict's got back on track after losing earlier in the week. Samuels is so big and strong most players on the high school level can't stop him. His game reminds those that see him play of a young Elton Brand and he'll be a great addition to Louisville next year.
3. Al-Farouq Aminu, Norcross (Ga.), 22.0 ppg., 10.4 rpg., 2.5 spg.
He might be the only player in the country that could match up against Samuels. Samuels might be a little stronger, but Aminu's face up game as a forward is among the best in the county. He showed just how skilled he is before a national television audience, scoring 29 points while helping to hold preseason All-American Greg Monroe to 8 points in his team's 59-48 win. He will take his skills next year to Wake Forest next year and I know their coaching staff will be thrilled to have him.
4. Tyreke Evans, American Christian (Pa.), 35 ppg., 9 rpg.
Evans has been one of the top players in his class since his freshman year and has done nothing to diminish that this season. Even though his team has other talented players and they play many teams with fifth-year players, Evans stands out as the most talented ball player and is averaging 35 points per game. He has great size, at 6-foot-5, for an athlete with point guard skills and is so smooth with the ball I think people knock him because it could appear to them that he is coasting, but he's a competitor. He suffered a concussion during a game last week but is reportedly o.k. so he still ranks high on my list.
5. Jrue Holiday, Campbell Hall (North Hollywood, Calif.), 25.1 ppg., 9.4 rpg.
Holiday just might be the best combo guard in the country. His team has already beaten preseason All-American Demar DeRozan's Compton High team twice this year and he played well so that gives him the edge so far among players from California. He is a great all around guard that can score, rebound or distribute the ball and has to do a little bit of everything because the team has a bunch of younger players around him. He's getting it done so far, averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds per game so he's in my top five. Holiday won't go far for college as he will stay in state and play for UCLA next season.
Next week we'll hear from Justin Young, Rivals.com National Basketball Recruiting Analyst.