Portis, Hill among high risers in ESPN 100

Let’s get something out the way real quick: Bobby Portis could care less about player rankings.

The Hall (Little Rock, Ark.) junior rarely visits recruiting databases, opting to test his mettle against the nation’s top players on the hardwood rather than in cyberspace.

But after receiving a tweet last week notifying him that he was rated the No. 12 player in the new ESPN 100 rankings for the Class of 2013, the Arkansas commit grew a bit curious and had to sneak a peek. Portis’ new rating heading into the thick of the AAU season was 20 spots higher than his previous status in the ESPN 60.

“I hadn’t looked at them since last August when I was like 35th,” says the 6-foot-9 power forward. “I think it’s an honor, but you can’t get caught up looking at it.”

Portis made a name for himself during his sophomore season as a defensive ace with the ability to defend up to four spots on the court. But he was admittedly a weak player who was soft in the paint and lacked the conditioning of an elite prospect. Therefore, he didn’t garner the same attention as his peers.

“I think being ranked in the 30s was right at the time,” Portis said. “People said I should have been higher, but I never looked at it like that. I just kept working hard.”

Portis attributes his recent rise in notoriety to enhancements to his mid-range game and ball handling. He also became a high motor player on both ends of the floor thanks to improved conditioning and put more of an emphasis on his leadership and doing the grunt work necessary to will his team to victory.

He was a changed player during the high school season, notching 17 points and ripping down 11 boards a contest as Hall completed a three-peat at state. His retooled offensive arsenal (13.4 points a game) has turned heads nationally on the AAU scene, as he powered the Arkansas Wings to a 13-7 record at EYBL and a berth in July’s Nike Peach Jam.

“If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse,” says Portis. “Looking on ESPN and seeing No. 12, it motivates me. But when I step on the court, (I know) other players want to out-perform me. I just want to move up even more.”

Like Portis, Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) point guard Kasey Hill has never been a big believer in player rankings. But after lighting it up at some prestigious postseason events, Hill saw his stock rise from No. 18 to No. 6 in the current ESPN 100.

The Florida recruit averaged 15.4 points and 7.2 assists per game during the regular season, but it was his showing at the National High School Invitational in April that helped vault him toward the top of the rankings. Hill posted 20 points and seven assists in a semifinal win over Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.), then exploded for 23 points and six assists in the championship game against powerhouse Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.).

Hill was the best player on the floor against Findlay Prep, which finished No. 2 in the POWERADE FAB 50. His quickness, court vision and superior ball-handling were on full display in an overtime loss.

"I think it started with the NHSI," says Hill. "I played pretty well there. I showed I can get my teammates involved and play consistently against the best competition."

Hill tries not to think about his current ranking, but that doesn't mean he's satisfied, either.

"I like being ranked highly," says Hill. "But the important thing is for me to continue to work hard and stay consistent so I don't drop. If I work hard enough, I feel like I can go even higher."

Here’s a look at four other players who have seen their stock rise dramatically.

Ishmail Wainright, Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.)

Previous ranking: No. 27

Current ranking: 18

Differential: 9

Why the rise: This talented small forward boasts an NBA body at 6-foot-6, 220-pounds, and he is coming off a junior season in which he helped power the Mustangs to No. 14 in the POWERADE FAB 50. Wainwright was a stat-stuffer playing alongside Virginia-bound star Justin Anderson, averaging 8.0 points, 8.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game in his first season at Montrose after transferring from St. Louis, Mo. He ended the year on a high note by averaging a near double-double at NHSI.

Sindarius Thornwell, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.)

Previous ranking: 47

Current ranking: 23

Differential: 24

Why the rise: Thornwell has been one of the most impressive players during Nike Elite Youth Basketball League play, scoring 16.9 points per game while leading Team United to a 9-5 record and a berth in the Nike Peach Jam. At 6-foot-4, Thornwell brings physicality to his shooting guard position, as evidenced by his 7.3 rebounds per game in EYBL. If he improves his outside shooting touch, he has the potential to rise even higher in the rankings.

Rondae Jefferson, Chester (Pa.)

Previous ranking: No. 38

Current ranking: 22

Differential: 16

Why the rise: Jefferson is all about versatility. The 6-foot-6, 210-pounder is still growing into his body, and his potential has college coaches salivating. This past season, Jefferson showed he could play anywhere from point guard to power forward, and while he averaged just 12.1 points per game, he flashed the kind of offensive skills that could someday translate to the NBA game.

James Young, Troy (Mich.)

Previous ranking: No. 10

Current ranking: 5

Differential: 5

Why the rise: High school juniors are usually far from finished products, and that's what makes Young so impressive. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard is a polished scorer, able to score off the dribble or from the outside with his smooth shooting stroke. This past season, he averaged 25.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, and he's continued to show a well-rounded scoring arsenal on the summer circuit.