The Class of 2019 it is still in its developmental stages, and we are seeing emerging talent all the time. As with any group of sophomores, rankings are primarily based on potential at this stage, and this list is extremely fluid. Elite athletic ability is a common theme as it's off the charts right now. As the fundamentals and basketball intellect grow, this bunch can be a scary-good class.
Small forward R.J. Barrett stays on top because of his dynamic play in the open floor paired with his versatility and playmaking in the half court. Barrett is a natural and high-level athlete with a quick burst, good elevation and excellent body control. His passing ability from his penetration is advanced, and he competes with a consistent high level of energy. The bloodlines are there too as his father, Rowan Barrett, played for St. John's in the early 1990s.
Vernon Carey Jr. slides up from No. 5 to No. 2 because he is showing signs of dominating the competition physically in the paint, on the glass and at the rim. Don't be surprised if this left-handed power forward ascends to the top spot someday. He has that type of potential. His father, Vernon Carey Sr., played eight years as an offensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins.
New to the ESPN 25 is Chol Marial, who sits at No. 3. As a 7-footer, he has a rare combination of size, agility, athleticism, and touch. His offense has evolved, but it's his enormous length and wingspan that protects the rim and makes him stand out. Marial is 30 pounds of muscle away from being a force inside.
LaMelo Ball (No. 16) makes his way onto the list because of his uncanny offensive skill and deep shooting ability. The youngest of the Ball brothers, he is quickly developing his own name in the game. Ball plays downhill and shoots from beyond NBA range. His upside is impressive.
There are some outstanding players and special athletes to keep an eye on in this class. Cassius Stanley (No. 9) might be the most athletic wing from the West Coast that we have seen in years. Not many can finish and throw down an alley-oop like Scottie Lewis (No. 13), one of the truly gifted athletes in the country regardless of class. P.J. Fuller (No. 23) is dangerous in space attacking the basket, but he can slow himself down in the half court and make timely shots and drives. His vertical jump is extremely quick and so is his lateral quickness. He recently displayed tremendous poise, athleticism and confidence at the Hoophall classic.
Remember, at this juncture these rankings will remain extremely fluid. Stay tuned.
-- Paul Biancardi
On the cusp
Ranking only 25 sophomores is a double-edged sword. In one sense, keeping the list small this early in the process is ideal because with still more than half their high school career to go, most of the players have yet to really prove anything. Conversely, and especially in a class that looks as deep and talented as 2019's, there are going to be some very high-level prospects who don't make the cut. Here's a look at some of them:
American Fork High School (Utah)
Johnson's just starting to make a name for himself, but all indications are that he has a wealth of upside. The lengthy wing is well on his way to 6-foot-10, if not there already, and he's still very much growing into his body. He already owns a soft touch to the arc, the ability to stretch out opposing defenses, good mobility and athleticism for a youngster of his size, and a solid acumen for the game. Right now, he's right on the cusp of the ESPN 25, and he looks like a sure thing for the ESPN 60 when we expand following the spring.
St. Benedict's (New Jersey)
Achiuwa has been a mainstay in the ESPN 25 since the Class of 2019 made its debut, and he could very well be back. He has tremendous upside based on his size and ability to play with the ball in his hands. He puts it on the deck well, can create facing the basket and is gradually becoming more assertive and consistent around the rim. With an athletic 6-foot-7 frame that could very well still be growing, Achiuwa is just scratching the surface of his potential.
Cox Mill High School (North Carolina)
One of the most versatile players in the class, Moore already can stuff all columns of the stat sheet. He is a solid athlete with very long arms and an already strong body. While probably best described as a wing at this point in his development, he's capable of playing as many as four different positions already thanks to his combination of physical tools and his game's maturity. He has been a high-profile prospect for years now and already an early priority for North Carolina among other schools.
Davison High School (Michigan)
Armstrong is a hyper-athletic wing with a wiry build. He's capable of playing above the rim and making the type of "wow" plays like only so few players in the class are capable of. Accordingly, his talent and potential is not the question, but he needs to mature both physically as well as in his approach to the game to become more consistent and dependable. If he does that, he'll climb back up these rankings.
Roselle Catholic (New Jersey)
Another high-level athlete on the wing, Whitney is in his first season at one of New Jersey's perennial powerhouse programs after making the move from his hometown in Chicago before the school year. Though Whitney's athleticism is his best attribute, he can make shots from the 3-point line as well and is improving his ability to put the ball on the floor and utilize his physical tools to create his own shot.
-- Adam Finkelstein
Top recruiting storylines to watch
1. Will Barrett reclassify?
This is one of the most-discussed questions in high school basketball. Barrett, like many Canadian players, is a candidate to reclassify toward the end of his high school career. Barrett is clearly the best player in the 2019 class and will be ranked near the top of 2018 if he decides to make the move. Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Arizona and nearly every other powerhouse in the country wants him, and they might have a chance sooner than expected. Teammate and fellow Canadian Andrew Nembhard (No. 15) could also move up to 2018.
2. Is Matthew Hurt staying in the Midwest?
Hurt (No. 7), a skilled power forward and one of the best players in the country, is set to have an intriguing recruiting battle. His brother, Michael, is a freshman at Minnesota, while Wisconsin is also heavily involved. However, as one might expect given his status nationally, Hurt has also been to Kansas for an unofficial visit and has been a primary target of Roy Williams' at North Carolina for a long time. This could be an interesting tug-of-war between the Big Ten schools and two blueblood programs.
3. The third Ball and Lawson
There are some big-time bloodlines in the 2019 class, and that's not even considering point guard Cole Anthony, son of former UNLV and NBA guard Greg Anthony. LaMelo Ball (No. 16) and Chandler Lawson (No. 20) have big shoes to fill, following in the footsteps of their older brothers. Ball, who had a growth spurt from 5-foot-6 to 6-foot-3 in the last year, is the younger brother of UCLA star Lonzo Ball and 2017 UCLA signee LiAngelo Ball. The youngest Ball is also committed to play for Steve Alford and the Bruins. Meanwhile, Lawson is the younger brother of Memphis forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson. He might have the highest ceiling of the group because of his length and athleticism. Will he end up staying home and playing for the Tigers?
4. The battle for Lewis and Bryan Antoine
Lewis (No. 13) and Antoine (No. 14) are often brought up in conversation alongside one another. They play for the same AAU team, play at the same high school (Ranney School in New Jersey) -- and are now ranked one after the other. Will they play together at the next level? That's the big question. Duke is recruiting both players. UCLA and Kentucky are involved. And Florida also has a close connection to the two players. Villanova, St. John's and Seton Hall have all watched them in the past couple of months. Stanford is in the mix. There's a long way to go.
5. International players
Six players in the ESPN 25 have international roots. Barrett and Nembhard are Canadian, and Charles Bassey (No. 4) and Francis Chibuike-Okoro (No. 22) were born in Nigeria. Marial (No. 3), one of the most intriguing players in the class, was born in South Sudan. Then there's Balsa Koprivica (No. 11), who was born in Siberia. All six are obviously high-level players and magnify the continued international influence on high school (and college) basketball.
-- Jeff Borzello