Torrance, Calif. -- As the 2007-2008 season winds down in the scholastic and collegiate ranks, it's only fitting that we released our final EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker on the same day USC freshman O.J. Mayo made his intentions to enter the NBA Draft.
It was a forgone conclusion the 2007 EA SPORTS National Player of the Year from Huntington, West Virginia would head to the NBA after a stellar season in which he was a first team all-conference selection in arguably the nation's toughest league. The runner-up to Mayo for national player of the year honors, UCLA's Kevin Love (Lake Oswego, Ore.) was the Pac-10 Player of the Year over Mayo this season. You can debate the merits of both their player of the year candidacies on the prep level but one thing you can't debate is the success of our past EA SPORTS National Player of the Year picks.
Considering most in the basketball community considered him NBA-bound out of high school before the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement included a 19-year old age and one year removed from high school rule, it's hard for us to figure our what is more surprising -- Mayo's NBA declaration or the success or Mayo's predecessors.
In the last 20 seasons, only one our of national player of the year picks has not gone on to play in the NBA. In fact, since Student Sports began making its player of the year picks going back to 1955 retroactively, only two have not played at the highest level of the game.
In 1959, forward Bill Raftery set a New Jersey state scoring with 827 points for St. Cecilia's of Kearny. The three-sport high school star set the freshman scoring record at La Salle University (first-year players were not eligible for the varsity club then) so there's no doubt he would have been an impact player, like Mayo and Love were this season, if he would have allowed to play with the big boys on the Explorers' varsity. He had a solid career for La Salle under coach Donald "Dudey" Moore, was the fourteenth round selection of the New York Knicks in the 1963 NBA Draft, but was the team's final cut and never played in the League.
In 1990, Indiana prep legend Damon Bailey (North Lawrence, Bedford, Ind.) was the EA SPORTS National Player of the Year choice over Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Basketball Ed O'Bannon (Artesia, Lakewood, Calif.). O'Bannon played three lackluster seasons in the NBA, but he did lead UCLA to a national title his senior year in 1995. It can be argued Bailey had more of an impact on the college game as he was a four-year starter and a All-Big Ten and All-America pick as a senior in 1994, but that could be because of the injuries that basically robbed O'Bannon of his first two years of college.
So were Raftery and Bailey the correct choices?
Looking back most recruiting analysts pegged O'Bannon as the nation's No. 1 prospect. Bailey was somewhere in the 10-15 range in the Class of 1990, but a player's spot on various recruiting lists is a miniscule portion of the criteria used to select the EA SPORTS National Player of the Year. Talent level, relative team success, the regular season production during the year a player is a candidate plus a players overall production during his prep career are other factors that a carefully weighed when choosing the EA SPORTS National Player of the Year.
Before his ACL injuries, many felt O'Bannon was a can't miss star, but Bailey's overall production and team success were hard to ignore. He led North Lawrence to the one-class Indiana state title in 1990 and finished as a four-time all-state pick and the state's all-time leading scorer with 3,134 points. Raftery led his team to a state title as well 50 years ago and he too set a then-state record by scoring 2,192 career points, so in the end we think our picks are justified.
It definitely bodes well for this year's pick that one of college basketball's most well-known announcers ("Send it in Jerome!") and the Hoosier State's most beloved prep legend are the only two that did not play in the NBA or ABA. There is a good chance the 2008 EA SPORTS National Player of the Year will make it to the League, but whom might that be?
In recent seasons, the post-season all-star games have been another in the national player of the year selection process. Even after the recent McDonald's All-American Game in Milwaukee in addition to asking for our ten-member panel to expand their final ballot from a top seven to a top ten list, the results basically remain the same near the top.
Point guard Brandon Jennings of national power Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) tops the final EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker. The Arizona recruit scored 93 out of a possible 100 points, with one panel member picking him as his fourth, and another his fifth, most worthy player of the year candidate. Jennings was one of the most impressive players at the McDonald's practices, scrimmage and actual game so it's no surprise he's a strong candidate considering the panel was asked to consider the entire season in their final tally.
If the twenty-four 2008 McDonald's All-Americans had a ballot, Samardo Samuels (St. Benedict's, Newark, N. J.) might be the top vote-getter. To a man, they mentioned the Louisville bound bruiser as the most impressive player of the week at McDonald's even though he scored only eight points in the actual game. When he gets the ball in his hands in the right position, you can chalk it up as two points or a likely foul even against his national peers. And Samuels definitely knows how to get in position, whether it be on the block or on the defensive glass. He was one of four players to appear on all ten of the expanded ballots, finishing with 81 points and seven second place votes. One panel member had him as his seventh best candidate.
One player who did benefit from his post-season performances was Tyreke Evans (American Christian, Aston, Pa.). Even though he missed the first day of practice and wasn't consistent with his jumper, it was evident that his offensive talents are immense. The nationally gifted scorer was mentioned often as a player who could have a breakout game and on queue, he was named game MVP following his 21-point, 10-rebound performance.
After slipping to 17 points while appearing on only four ballots on the previous EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker, Evans rebounded with 47 points. No player, not even elite defender and consistent POY candidate Jrue Holiday (76 points, ten ballots) could effectively stop Evans from getting to rim. He appeared on nine of 10 ballots and was the No. 3 candidate in the eyes of two panel members after placing no higher than No. 6 on the previous tracker.
Will Evans' performance in Milwaukee or Samuels' endorsement by his peers be enough to overtake the leader in the clubhouse? Find out on April 15th, but for now make sure to read the voting results of this week's final and expanded EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker and our past picks and their main competition. StudentSportsBasketball.com would like to thank our readers for following the progress of the nation's top individual players and would like to give a special thanks to our panel members for taking the time each week to cast their respected opinions.
Each week, StudentSportsBasketball.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 was asked to list his top ten EA SPORTS Player of the Year candidates regardless of class, and the votes were 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 one point for a tenth 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 the final tracker.
The 2008 EA SPORTS Boy Basketball All-American Team and Player of the Year will be anounced on April 15 with the 2008 EA SPORTS Girls Basketball All-American Team and Player of the Year released 36 hours later.
PAST EA SPORTS / STUDENT SPORTS NATIONAL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR