Just because we traditionally have posted our final rankings of the recruiting-relevant class (rising seniors) in August doesn't mean we forget the seniors and just focus on the underclassmen.
During the fall club tournaments and high school girls' basketball season, the seniors are difficult to ignore. They are the leaders, a step away from college careers, and typically the best players on the nation's best teams. As we follow the high school season closely, it's impossible not to notice them.
It's just that we've never felt moved enough to do anything about what we witnessed -- until now. Call this first-ever spring tweaking of the 2012 class rankings the "Jonquel Adjustment" because it was the 6-foot-3 Jones' season at Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.) that opened our eyes to the necessity of making changes that reflect a new reality.
Let's be clear: While some may rank based on performance (number of points scored in a game or tournament, for example), we find performance to be beholden to so many variables as to be an unreliable predictor of success at the next level. Performance is not why we are making changes -- or ranked a player where we did in the first place. We are making changes because of attributes (physical, mental or attitudinal) that either were revealed or clarified.
We also only wanted to make adjustments that were substantial and clear-cut, so we settled on five.
Morgan Tuck to No. 6 from No. 15: Just a few years ago, the 6-foot-2 forward from Bolingbrook, Ill., was the presumed No. 1 or 2 prospect in the class. But she suffered an ACL tear during the 2009 USA Basketball trials. Because it's never clear how to project a player who has suffered a major injury, ESPN HoopGurlz took a conservative approach. While many prospects do not get to demonstrate how well they rebound from a catastrophic physical event, Tuck certainly did. Whereas in the past she may have shied away from alpha roles on her teams, she truly embraced it with Bolingbrook a year after it lost top-flight point guard Ariel Massengale, now at Tennessee. In doing so, Tuck also demonstrated the physical soundness and explosiveness on par with the very best prospects in 2012.
Jonquel Jones to No. 17 from No. 36: First off, Jones, who originally is from the Bahamas, continues to grow. She is at least 6-3, which, combined with her wingspan, makes her even more of a force inside the paint, particularly on defense and around the glass. However, not only did Jones retain what already were fairly formidable perimeter skills, she expanded them, at an off-the-charts rate. It's almost unheard of that a high school player makes such a dramatic improvement in skills merely between the summer and the start of the high school season. That growth more clearly defines intangible qualities in Jones, such as motivation and coachability. It also touched off in her a growth in confidence and leadership abilities.
Aliyyah Handford to No. 55 from unranked: After nearly the entire NBA missed on Jeremy Lin, we don't feel so bad about allowing this dynamic, 5-9 point guard to fly under the radar. The reason is easy to articulate -- Handford suffered a chipped knee cap and did not play club ball during the critical summer before her senior year at Shabazz (Newark, N.J.). At least we weren't the only ones who missed her; a whole posse of Eastern programs are after her for the spring signing period. Handford not only has good size for the position, she is a fearless penetrator with good vision off the dribble and has lightning-quick hands and feet, which earmark her for elite status at the defensive end.
Taylor Manuel to No. 76 from unranked: The 6-3 post from St. Louis, Mo., is no stranger to our rankings. She was ranked as high as No. 36, but was dropped after a summer during which Manuel appeared out of shape and unmotivated. Reflecting the inclination of college coaches, we as a staff do not have much tolerance for lack of effort or poor attitude. We do have a history, however, of allowing prospects to redeem themselves. When we saw Manuel during her senior season with Incarnate Word Academy (St. Louis, Mo.), she was back in shape and showed the same combination of power and skill that we loved in the first place. We're giving her the benefit of the doubt.
Jephany Brown to No. 89 from unranked: Because she has come up with several older and highly rated prospects on some very good H.D. Woodson (D.C.) and D.C. Cobra teams, we've been watching the 5-11 wing play for years. And, yes, we've noticed her. How could we not? She is broad-shouldered and powerful, rebounds and defends well, plays hard all the time, and can execute a lot of the fundamentals of post-up play. But she is barely 6 feet, if that. We've seen a lot of forward types able to pull it off at that height, but they've had more girth than Brown, who is strong but streamlined. This past season she showed us she had the goods on the perimeter so, now, her ability to punish like-sized, or just slightly taller, players inside becomes an asset.
Rankings Panel: Brandon Clay, Rebecca Gray, Chris Hansen, Keil Moore, Glenn Nelson
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.