Throughout the major holiday tournaments, showcases and various state tournaments around the country, three names remained at the top of the weekly ESPNHS Mr. Basketball USA debate: Shabazz Muhammad of Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), Jabari Parker of Simeon (Chicago) and Kyle Anderson of St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.).
Although he wasn't last season's ESPNHS National Junior of the Year, Muhammad was the early Mr. Basketball USA frontrunner. With his competitive approach to every game and performances on big stages, Muhammad's candidacy never wavered at any point during the season.
Even Nerlens Noel's decision to reclassify back to the class of 2012 didn't change the panel's assessment of Muhammad's on-court production despite his drop in the ESPNU 100 rankings. If anything, Muhammad's unseating as the top prospect in the ESPNU 100 only served to fuel a competitive fire that's consistently a few notches higher than any major prospect in high school basketball.
What Noel's reclassification did do was put him in the conversation with the trio of leading candidates. The shot-blocking extraordinaire trailed Parker by only two points (65-63) in week 5 voting results. Parker, the No. 1 ranked prospect in the ESPNU 60 and last season's ESPNHS National Sophomore of the Year, began the season in second place, seven points (77-70) ahead of Anderson.
After Simeon, the preseason No. 1 team in the POWERADE FAB 50, lost to 2012 NHSI champ Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) at the Hoophall Classic mid-January, the pendulum swung in the favor of Anderson, a UCLA recruit. Anderson also made his mark at that event with a 18-point, 10-rebound, six-assist and five-steal performance in St. Anthony's' 60-48 win over Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.).
In the final, expanded tracker where the panel nominates its top 10 candidates, a greater emphasis is placed on the entire season rather than week-to-week results. To that point, it's a bit surprising to see the momentum swing back in favor of Parker, considering what Anderson accomplished. After leading St. Anthony to the FAB 50 national title last season, Anderson once again led the Friars to an unbeaten season and a No. 3 rating right behind one-loss Findlay Prep. Despite his team's success, Anderson netted 11 less points than the super junior from the Windy City.
Simeon also accomplished a lot this season. After the loss to Findlay Prep, they did not taste defeat again. Parker averaged 21.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.3 blocks to lead his school to its third consecutive Class 4A state title.
The final expanded tracker results also opened the door for Alex Poythress of Northeast (Clarksville, Tenn.). His standout performances at the McDonald's All-American practices in Chicago helped him garner 22 points and appear on five ballots after netting only four points in the previous tracker. The final tracker also marked the return of last year's National Junior Player of the Year Tony Parker of Miller Grove, the No. 2 ranked team in the preseason whose struggles cost Parker a realistic chance to earn top billing this year.
No less than 33 candidates earned recognition as a national player of the year candidate in the final balloting. Make no mistake, the honor will be decided between Muhammad, Parker and Anderson. All three have impressive individual resumes and most importantly, they have capped their high school careers with state titles.
The 2011-12 ESPNHS Mr. Basketball USA will be announced the afternoon of April 16.
2011-12 ESPNHS Mr. Basketball USA Tracker Panel
Paul Biancardi, ESPN National Director of Basketball Recruiting
Ronnie Flores, ESPNHS Senior Editor
Clark Francis, Hoop Scoop Editor & Publisher
Doug Huff, ESPNHS Rankings Editor
Smith, NBADraft.net President
Patrick Stanwood, Patrick Stanwood
Mark Tennis, ESPNHS Deputy Editor
ESPN Senior Basketball Recruiting Analyst
Dinos Trigonis, Fullcourt
Press Editor & Publisher
About ESPNHS Mr. Basketball Tracker Panel ESPNHS' panel of 10 experts, which includes five McDonald's All-American selection committee members, casts its vote each week for the top national player of the year candidates. For the final tracker, each panelist lists his top 10 candidates regardless of class. The votes are then tabulated on a 10-point scoring system with a first-place vote equaling 10 points, a second-place vote earning nine points and down to one point for a tenth-place vote. The number in parenthesis refers to the numbers of ballots on which a player appeared and previous rankings refers to position in previous tracker.