Phil McNeely gets it.
McNeely coaches basketball at Duncanville High in Texas and knows quality. Yes, in the state of Texas, they think big, and in this case, McNeely has the big picture in focus.
So with numerous options to showcase the Panthers, McNeely jumped at the chance to play against the best teams nationally. He's using the opportunity as a barometer for his team and the landscape of the national rankings.
That out-of-the-box thinking and the Panthers' aggressive schedule have landed Duncanville as the No. 1 team in the ESPN RISE top 50 preseason boys' basketball rankings.
McNeely's mind-set includes the players.
"Shawn and Roger have earned the chance to play against the best. They do it all summer [on the club circuit], so what's the difference during the high school season?" McNeely says. "Plus, what do we get out of playing local teams and beating them by 40 points? Nothing, that's what."
In December, the Panthers' loaded schedule will begin in earnest with a contest in the Marshall County Hoop Fest (Ky.) against No. 5 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.). Then they'll play in the loaded City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla., and the T-Mobile Invitational in South Bend, Ind.
The Panthers close out the national slate against No. 12 LeFlore (Mobile, Ala.) in January at the Prime Time Shootout in Piscataway, N.J.
Closer to home, Duncanville will play at the McDonald's Texas Invitational in Pasadena, a tournament chock-full of Texas' top teams.
Now that's quality scheduling.
"This will help the younger players in our program grow up in a hurry," McNeely says.
Naturally, the ultimate goal of a competitive program is to win its final game -- a state championship. The Panthers won the Class 5A title in 2007, but en route to a second straight crown last season, they were derailed by North Crowley (Fort Worth, Texas), 61-57, in the Region 1 semifinals.
The rugged schedule should ensure the Panthers are better prepared this season for the one-and-done format.
"Our season is defined by how we perform in the state tournament," McNeely says.
Scheduling strong teams nationally and regionally is the norm for traditionally elite programs.
Those are words to live by, says Kevin Boyle, the coach of No. 3 St. Patrick High in Elizabeth, N.J.
"That's the way it should be," he says. "How can a team be considered elite if they don't back it up with a tough schedule? I understand certain schools have flexibility with their schedule and others don't, but just don't duck games and expect a high ranking."
The main criteria for the ESPN RISE rankings include: the quality of a team's strength of schedule with an emphasis on national games, especially those played against teams in the top 50; the superiority of competition in a team's state, district or league; the program's history and tradition; and the quality of its personnel, especially those in the ESPNU 100. (Editor's note: Teams with fifth-year players or postgraduate student-athletes are not eligible for the rankings.)
Here's a breakdown of the preseason rankings.
The East region contributes 17 teams to the ESPN RISE FAB 50, while the West region is home to 12. California has nine ranked teams, New Jersey has four and six states have three.
Regionally, California and Texas are dominant, with 14 teams apiece in the West and Southwest regions, respectively. Check out the regional rankings here.
ESPN RISE FAB 50 Boys' Basketball Rankings
The ESPN RISE top 50 boys' basketball rankings are compiled by Christopher Lawlor, Ronnie Flores, Ryan Canner-O'Mealy and Jon Mahoney. They will be released each Tuesday throughout the season.
1. DUNCANVILLE (Texas)
Last season's record: 35-2
Key players: F Shawn Williams (6-foot-6, 190, Sr.); F Roger Franklin (6-5, 215, Sr.); PG Reger Dowell (6-0, 170, Sr.); C-F Perry Jones (6-11, 220, Jr.).
Outlook: Brace yourself for what insiders are saying is the strongest boys' team ever from the state of Texas. The Panthers boast at least eight future Division I players: Williams (Texas) is the top returning scorer at 17.2 points; Franklin, an Oklahoma State recruit, gives "110 percent every night," coach Phil McNeely says; Dowell will attend Oklahoma State and is consummate playmaker; and a pair of juniors, Jones and 6-0 Jamison Sterns, are both headed to Baylor. The Washburn brothers, 6-8 junior Julian and 6-7 freshman Chris Jr., have NBA bloodlines. Julian is still growing but won't bully people like his younger brother. Chris Jr. takes after his father, Chris Washburn, who starred at North Carolina State. Add 6-7 junior Luke Mergerson and 5-11 sophomore Cameron Lenzy, and it's easy to note why the Panthers are loaded, talented and deep.
2. MATER DEI (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Last season's record: 35-1, California Interscholastic Federation Division II champions
Key players: F-C David Wear (6-10, 220, Sr.); C-F Travis Wear (6-10, 220, Sr.); PG Gary Franklin (6-3, 180, Jr.); F Andy Brown (6-8, 215, Sr.).
Outlook: Get a good look at the Orange County skyline because it'll soon change. That's because the Wear twins are heading east next year when they play for North Carolina. David (16.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg) and Travis (16.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg) are McDonald's All-American candidates. But before the spoils, they hope to help the Monarchs capture a third consecutive CIF Division II crown. Brown (14.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) has a great midrange game. Franklin (12.9 ppg, 4.9 apg), a junior, is the main distributor and triggers the transition game. The biggest difference is junior transfer Tyler Lamb, a skilled 6-5 shooting guard who averaged 27 points, 5.3 steals and 4.8 assists at Colony (Ontario). Lamb verbally committed to UCLA. He's a solid defender and lurks on the perimeter. The Monarchs will receive a crack at the top spot when they participate in the City of Palms Classic in December and host No. 4 St. Benedict's of New Jersey in the Nike Extravaganza in February.
3. ST. PATRICK (Elizabeth, N.J.)
Last season's record: 25-5, Non-Public B semifinals.
Key players: PG Dexter Strickland (6-3, Sr.); G Kyree Irving (6-1, Jr.); F Paris Bennett (6-6, Sr.); F-G Michael Gilchrist (6-7, So.).
Outlook: The Celtics have the firepower to remain near the top of the rankings for the next three seasons. "We have the potential to be even better a year from now," coach Kevin Boyle says. Presently, the Celtics are loaded in the backcourt with North Carolina-bound Strickland (17 ppg), an ESPNU 100 player, senior Dean Kowalski and 5-10 junior Kevin Boyle Jr. (44 percent shooting on 3-pointers). The 6-6 Bennett (8.3 rpg) anchors a formidable front line. Special talents are Irving, a prolific scorer who transferred last winter from tiny Montclair Kimberley, and super soph Gilchrist (8.0 ppg), an NBA player in waiting. A killer national schedule and back-to-back tournaments in Florida (City of Palms) and South Carolina (Beach Ball) spice up December.
4. ST. BENEDICT'S (Newark, N.J.)
Last season's record: 24-1
Key players: G Tamir Jackson (6-2, 180, Sr.); G Myck Kabongo (6-1, 170, So.); F Lamar Patterson (6-6, 215, Sr.); PF Tristan Thompson (6-8, 210, Jr.).
Outlook: To say Northern Jersey is a hotbed for elite teams is an understatement, especially because of the emergence of the Gray Bees. Coach Danny Hurley has built a winner in the state's largest city, mostly on a sticky man defense that limited opponents to fewer than 50 points and 40 percent from the field. Thompson (5.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg), a Texas recruit, will have an expanded role thanks to the graduation of Samardo Samuels (Louisville) and Greg Echenique (Rutgers) and the Rice-bound Jackson (13.8 ppg) is the team's top returning scorer. Pittsburgh-bound Patterson (Lancaster, Pa.) will add depth to the wings and Kabongo, a Canadian, rounds out the backcourt. Gil Biruta (Lithuania), a 6-8 junior, and 6-4 sophomore Anders Misters (Latvia), are Baltic State studs who have international experience. The Gray Bees will play a national schedule with stops in Florida, California, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico and Kentucky.
5. OAK HILL ACADEMY (Mouth of Wilson, Va.)
Last season's record: 34-4
Key players: G Doron Lamb (6-5, 185, Jr.); C-F Tiny Gallon (6-9, 320, Sr.); PG Lamont Jones (6-0, 190, Sr.); F Glenn Bryant (6-7,185, Sr.); Pe'Shon Howard (6-3,200, Jr.).
Outlook: For a change, the Warriors return three starters but add one of the nation's most exciting backcourts with roots in the New York City's Catholic League. Lamb, of Bishop Loughlin (Brooklyn), and Jones, of Rice (Manhattan), are savvy, battle-tested guards who have flair. "We're a deeper team than last year, especially in the backcourt, and have more offensive weapons," coach Steve Smith says. Howard (6.2 ppg, 4.5 apg), Gallon (12.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg), Bryant (12.2 ppg), 6-3 junior Bryon Allen (7.1 ppg) and 6-8 Chasen Campbell all return. There's a buzz on the rural southwestern Virginia campus with the addition of 6-11 Baye Moussa Keita (Syracuse), a skilled junior from Senegal who is more advanced than alum DeSagana Diop (now in the NBA) at the same stage. At 6-10, Chris Brown adds front-line depth.
6. FINDLAY PREP (Henderson, Nev.)
Last season's record: 32-1
Key players: PF Carlos Lopez (6-10, 200, Sr.); G D.J. Richardson (6-3, 175, Sr.); G Avery Bradley (6-2, 165, Sr.); F Victor Rudd (6-8, 210, Sr.).
Outlook: For years, the Pilots were considered a prep program fueled by fifth-year seniors. Coach Michael Peck has scrapped that plan and instead looks for national recognition afforded to legitimate high school programs. Peck will emphasize speed. Bradley, the 15th-ranked player in the ESPNU 100, transferred to southern Nevada after topping all scorers (25.7 ppg) in Washington's Class 4A at Bellarmine (Tacoma). Bradley, a Texas recruit and a surefire pick for the McDonald's Game, brings explosiveness and up-tempo skills. He'll likely be paired with Richardson, an Illinois recruit, to form a premier backcourt. UNLV-bound Lopez has company in the frontcourt with 6-8 Rudd and 6-9 Godwin Okonji from Nigeria. Guards Cory Joseph, Rasham Suarez (from Puerto Rico), Willie Hankins and Isaiah Grayson add depth.
7. WHEELER (Marietta, Ga.)
Last season's record: 30-3
Key players: F Richard Howell (6-8, 220, Sr.); F Ari Stewart (6-7, 190, Sr.); SG Tahj Tate (6-3, 185, Sr.); PG Phil Taylor (5-9, 155, Jr.).
Outlook: Howell and Stewart, both ESPNU 100 players, form one of the country's top front-line combinations. Howell, a Class 5A First Team All-State selection, averaged a double-double, 17 points and 11 rebounds and is bound for North Carolina State. Stewart, a Wake Forest recruit, added 15 points and eight boards. Tate, a wing guard, will sign late. Junior Joey Jerome, 6-4, will see plenty of action, and the diminutive Taylor (7.3 apg) orchestrates the offense. Sophomore guard Karl Cochran, 5-11 Kareem Simmons, 6-3 junior Jamal Tiller and 6-7, 230-pound freshman Charles Mitchell add depth. The Wildcats play a national schedule. "Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking when putting the schedule together, but it's all to prepare for the states," coach Doug Lipscomb said. In addition to playing the City of Palms and Beach Ball Classic tournaments, the Wildcats will play in California and Kentucky.
8. LINCOLN (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Last season's record: 29-4, State Federation AA champion
Key players: G Lance Stephenson (6-5, 220, Sr.); C-F James Padgett (6-8, 215, Sr.); PG Darwin Ellis (5-10, 155, Sr.); G Shaquille Stokes (6-0, 160, So.).
Outlook: If the Railsplitters win a fourth straight PSAL city championship, Stephenson would become the first player to accomplish the feat four times. Stephenson, the seventh-ranked senior on the ESPNU 100, is the all-everything player and has scored more than 2,000 career points. Padgett (14.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg) might be one of the city's most underrated players. He has intangibles and will suit up for Maryland next season. Ellis is a prototypical New York City guard who combines speed, solid ballhandling skills and the ability to penetrate the gut of the defense. He'll play alongside Stokes, a transfer from St. Patrick. "I like our three seasoned seniors, who should help break in a group of six talented sophomores," coach Dwayne "Tiny" Morton says. Lincoln plays an aggressive schedule, which includes a fat road trip at No. 24 Putnam City and No. 1 Duncanville on Dec. 11 and 13, respectively.
9. FAIRFAX (Los Angeles)
Last season's record: 27-6
Key players: C-F Renardo Sidney Jr. (6-10, 260, Sr.); G-F Solomon Hill (6-6, 190, Sr.); G Lance Bailey (6-2, 170, Sr.); PG Donte McFrazier (5-11, 190, Jr.).
Outlook: The knock on Sidney has been his conditioning, but all that changed for the better. Sidney, who averaged 24 points and 13.5 rebounds as a junior, has shed nearly 25 pounds and is physically prepared for the rigors of a long season. The Lions, along with Dominguez, are favorites in Southern California Division I. Last year Dominguez won the matchup after erasing a fourth-quarter deficit. Hill (17 ppg, 8.1 rpg), an Arizona recruit, is a hybrid forward who can break the press and score from 3-point range. Wing guard Bailey (10 ppg) is the third returning starter and, according to coach Harvey Kitani, the city's most athletic player. Rounding out the regulars are junior Jordan Weathers and McFrazier. Laik Carter, a physical 6-7 sophomore post, will add muscle and spell Sidney. The Lions play No. 28 Westchester in league play twice and are off to Hawaii and Oregon for holiday tournaments.
10. ARLINGTON COUNTRY DAY (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Last season's record: 26-4, Class 2A champions
Key players: C Wally Judge (6-10, 230, Sr.); F Rodney McGruder (6-6, 200, Sr.); F Emari Bailey (6-7, 210, Sr.); PG Dietric Payne (5-11, 160, Jr.).
Outlook: This will be the strongest team the Apaches will field since the 2004-05 season. "We're blessed with a strong perimeter game and one of the nation's top big men," coach Rex Morgan says. The big man is Judge (16.3 ppg), who, along with McGruder (21.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg at Archbishop Carroll in Washington, D.C.), is headed to Kansas State. The Apaches have won four straight 2A state titles, and a fifth is a shoo-in provided that Payne and 6-5 sophomore Delvon Summey step up. The eight-man rotation is punctuated by reserves Allen Rivera, 6-3 junior wingman Anthony Mosley and 6-2 athletic junior Brandon Boyd. Rivera, the top guard from Puerto Rico, is solidly built at 5-10, 170 pounds, while Mosley is a defensive ace who kick-starts the full-court pressure. Holiday tournaments include City of Palms and Beach Ball classics.
11. DE LA SALLE (Concord, Calif.)
Last season's record: 28-4
Key players: F Hollis Thompson (6-8, 190, Sr.); PG Brandon Smith (5-11, 160, Sr.); F John McArthur (6-8, 235, Jr.); F Jeff Powers (6-8, 200, Sr.); G Joe Stein (6-2, 175, So.).
Outlook: Usually when a team returns four starters, optimism abounds. When you add an ESPNU 100 player like the Georgetown-bound Thompson, the good feeling gets a spike. Thompson (19.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg) was a move-in transfer from Loyola (Los Angeles) and will fit in the Princeton-inspired offense devised by coach Frank Allocco. "Once he adjusts to the offense, he'll thrive," Allocco says. Smith is an undersized point but is a good decision-maker, gets his teammates touches and can regularly score from 20 feet. Allocco is excited about the Spartans' size -- at least five players in the rotation are 6-feet-6 or taller. Beau Levesque (6-6), Stein (6-0), Jordan Estrada (6-7), junior Nate Appel and 6-6 Zach Payne also return. The Spartans reached the Northern California Division I final, where they lost to eventual state champion McClymonds (Oakland). This time, it's the Spartans who go to Sacramento seeking the program's first championship since 2006, and third under Allocco.
12. LeFLORE (Mobile, Ala.)
Last season's record: 30-3, Class 6A semifinals
Key players: C-F DeMarcus Cousins (6-9, 250, Sr.); F Kentari Nettles (6-9, 240, Sr.); PG Denzel McDaniel (6-4, 180, Sr.); G Marlon Ford (6-2, 180, Sr.).
Outlook: Coach Otis Hughley has a theory. "If you can get a shot off every eight seconds, you'll be a very successful team," he says. That's why the Rattlers average 86 shots in 32 minutes and are on track to qualify for the Class 5A tournament again and looking for the first title since 2007. With Cousins (19 ppg, 10 rpg, 5.5 bpg), No. 4-ranked in the ESPNU 100, and 6-9 Nettles, a South Alabama recruit, in the post, the Rattlers are the favorite. Hughley's teams are well versed in the art of offense, running half-court sets and pushing the ball at a frenetic pace. Ford and McDaniel will combine for an experienced guard tandem, but 6-5 Gerald Watkins, 6-4 Darryl Woods, 5-11 Kelly Vail, 5-9 Niko Williams and 6-0 Jarred Williams lend support.
13. DeMATHA (Hyattsville, Md.)
Last season's record: 20-10
Key players: G Josh Selby (6-2, 165, Jr.); F-G Naji Hibbert (6-5, 185, Sr.); PG Marcus Rouse (6-2, 170, Sr.); G-F Jerian Grant (6-4, 180, Jr.); WF Victor Oladipo (6-4, 180, Jr.).
Outlook: If the Stags don't beat you with talent, expect them to wear opponents down. Simply put, the Stags go 12 deep. "This might be one of the best teams in the last 20 years; top to bottom we're talented," says coach Mike Jones, a DeMatha alum. The up-tempo offense will attack and bury opponents in the fourth quarter, so guards Selby (13 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 5.3 apg), Rouse (13.5 ppg), 5-11 sophomore Quinn Cook and 6-0 Phillip Green become critical. Hibbert (15.2 ppg), an ESPNU 100 player who will sign with Texas A&M, is the leading scorer, and 6-8 sophomore Mikael Hopkins starts in the middle. Guard James Robinson is a promising freshman. "We'll probably use five different starting lineups, giving everyone playing time," Jones said.
14. DOMINGUEZ (Compton, Calif.)
Last season's record: 32-3
Key players: F Jordan Hamilton (6-7, 195, Sr.); PG Myron Green (6-2, 190, Sr.); F Thurman Woods (6-5, 190, Sr.); G Dominick LaCoste (6-0, 165, Sr.).
Outlook: The Dons could be the strongest contenders in the race for the CIF-Southern California Division I crown. The Texas-bound Hamilton is the clear go-to guy and is the ESPNU 100's top-ranked small forward. Delivering the ball to him is Green, who is occasionally good for a double-double, points and assists. If Hamilton does not play this season because of eligibility issues, the Dons will take a hit, needing LaCoste and Woods to step up. (Editor's note: Dominguez's preseason ranking is based on the availability of Hamilton. Last month he was denied a hardship waiver over academic issues. Hamilton will appeal the Southern Section's decision. Coach Russell Otis, on paid administrative leave since September pending a legal issue, won't coach the Dons this season. An interim coach will be hired before the start of practice.)
15. RICE (Manhattan, N.Y.)
Last season's record: 24-4, New York Archdiocesan AA champions
Key players: G Durand Scott (6-5, 180, Sr.); F James Stukes (6-5, 215, Jr.); C Tyler Montplasier (6-7, 210, Sr.); G Shane Southwell (6-3, 180, Jr.); Shamel Williams (6-3, 180, So.).
Outlook: The word out of the New York Catholic High School Athletic Association, the nation's premier league, is it's in for a down year. Don't buy it. The Raiders are the favorites in a young league blossoming with talent. They return three starters from a team which was upended unexpectedly in the City Interdivisional Class AA playoffs. Perhaps the best player is Scott (15 ppg), an ESPNU 100 player who attacks the rim. "He's our go-to guy, and maybe the most talented player in the league," coach Moe Hicks says. Stukes and Montplasier are the tallest players who thrive in the up-tempo style of play. Hicks sees Williams, 6-1 junior Dytrel Bracey and 6-2 sophomore Jermaine Sanders enjoying breakout seasons.
16. SOUTH ATLANTA (Atlanta)
Last season's record: 27-3
Key players: F-C Derrick Favors (6-9, 220, Sr.); PG Nick Watkins (5-11, 165, Sr.); G Andre Malone (6-5, 205, Sr.); F Nick Jacobs (6-7, 215, So.).
Outlook: The Hornets topped the state in scoring at 83 points, but that's not what fires coach Michael Reddick's wires. "One of our goals is to hold opponents under 50 points," he says. The seven-time Atlanta Public Schools champion allowed only 49 points. Add a deep advancement into the Class 3A tournament to the list. Favors, the No. 2 prospect in the ESPNU 100, averaged 23.7 points, 17.1 rebounds and 9.5 blocks as a junior. Favors plays above the rim, displaying explosive moves around the basket and the agility of a small forward. Favors receives plenty of love from the pass-first Watkins (7.5 apg), who sank 53 3-pointers. Malone, an Auburn recruit, joins the Hornets from North Clayton High in College Park. A trio of seniors -- 5-6 Rodrick Pitts, 6-3 Mikale Carter and 6-3 Derrick Murray -- will log serious minutes.
17. CHRIST SCHOOL (Arden, N.C.)
Last season's record: 34-2, Independent 3A champions
Key players: C-PF Mason Plumlee (6-11, 220, Sr.); G Lakeem Jackson (6-5, 205, Sr.); G Dee Giger (6-6, 180, Sr.); Miles Plumlee (6-10, 200, So.).
Outlook: Tucked away in the foothills of the Appalachians (near Asheville), the Greenies are quietly building a national power. After winning the past two North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association Class 3A crowns (three in four years), coach David Gaines is eyeing bigger things. "Big" aptly describes the Plumlee brothers -- Mason and Miles -- from Warsaw, Ind. Both are pushing 7 feet, could average a double-double and will be future college teammates at Duke. Mason Plumlee, No. 4 in the ESPNU 100, is a highly skilled post who is active and agile. Jackson, a wing guard, is headed to South Carolina. Giger exemplifies the school's strict academic standards, as he's ready for Harvard. Add 6-3 senior Reginald King and it's easy to see why the Greenies are on the cusp of greatness. Circle Jan. 19 on the calendar, when the Greenies play No. 5 Oak Hill Academy at the Greensboro Coliseum.
18. RAINIER BEACH (Seattle)
Last season's record: 29-1, Class 3A champions
Key players: G Aaron Dotson (6-4, 200, Sr.); PG Devon Pickett (5-11, 195, Sr.); F Najee Ali (6-5, 215, Sr.); C-F Corey Stern (6-8, 215, Sr.).
Outlook: Graduation claimed four key players and 54 points, but LSU-bound Dotson (13.5 ppg), an ESPNU 100 player and First Team All-Metro League pick, leads the Vikings along with four transfers. "This team has a chance to surpass last year's team because we go 10 deep," coach Mike Bethea says. The quartet of eligible transfers is Ali, Stern, 6-7 D.J. Dixon and 6-6 junior Lonnie Dixon, providing the Vikes with size and athleticism. Jamon Echols (7.9 ppg), Lee Lewis, 6-0 junior Robert Harris and Eastern Washington-bound Pickett (5.6 ppg) stock the backcourt. Hakeem Stewart, a 6-2 super sophomore, is the program's next special player.
19. MONTROSE CHRISTIAN (Rockville, Md.)
Last season's record: 21-4
Key players: C-F Mouphtaou Yarou (6-10, 230, Sr.); F Isaiah Armwood (6-8, 195, Sr.); F Dadrian Collins (6-6, 190, Sr.); G Dominic Milburn (6-3, 195, Sr.).
Outlook: For coach Stu Vetter to proclaim this is his best team at Montrose Christian is saying something. Three years ago, Vetter coached a Kevin Durant-led club which rolled but never developed chemistry. "This group has an excellent work ethic; the pieces fit together," Vetter said. With a balance of inside and outside play, the Mustangs are led by Yarou and Armwood (15.2 ppg), both headed to Villanova. Yarou, a native of Benin Republic in West Africa, is a powerful force in the paint and is accurate from 15 feet. Terrence Ross (18.9 ppg), a 6-5 junior, was Oregon's Class 5A player of the year at Jefferson High in Portland. Vetter raves about 6-5 freshman Justin Anderson of Spotsylvania, Va., who "is a special, special player." Tyler Hubbard and Jordan Roach are reliable guards, and 7-1, 265-pound sophomore Jordan Omogbehim of Nigeria is a work in progress. A trip to Hawaii for the Iolani Classic and a date with No. 5 Oak Hill highlight the schedule.
20. ST. ANTHONY (Jersey City, N.J.)
Last season's record: 32-0, State TOC winner
Key players: G-F Dominic Cheek (6-6, 190, Sr.); F-C Derrick Williams (6-6, 260, Jr.); F Jamee Jackson (6-7, 215, Sr.); G Travis Conyers (6-1, 165, Sr.).
Outlook: Duplicating last year's national championship run might be impossible, but the cupboard is far from bare for coach Bob Hurley. The main cog is Cheek (12.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg), who has more skills than any wing player, and is an ESPNU 100 selection. Cheek's scoring numbers will balloon this season, and Jackson also will be heavily counted on. Both will sign during the November early period. The backcourt remains a question. At 5-5, junior DeMarcus Owens is up from the junior varsity and will pair with Conyers. "Without a lot of guard experience we'll rely on Jamee, Derrick and Dominic until the backcourt stabilizes," says Hurley, a candidate for the Naismith Hall of Fame. Help is on the way in late January when two junior transfers, 6-7 Devon Collier and 6-8 Ashton Pankey, become eligible.
21. DETROIT COUNTRY DAY (Beverly Hills, Mich.)
Last season's record: 21-5, Class B quarterfinals
Key players: C DaShonte Riley (6-11, 225, Sr.); PF Donnavan Kirk (6-8, 220, Sr.); F Jordan Dumars (6-5, 230, Sr.); PG Ray McCallum (6-1, 160, Jr.).
Outlook: The same school that produced NBAers Chris Webber and Shane Battier has three high-profile seniors and as many as 10 Division I players, says coach Kurt Keener. The Yellow Jackets have won seven state titles in the past 19 seasons, including their most recent in 2007. An imposing front line comprised of Riley (Georgetown), Kirk (Miami) and Dumars (South Florida) is a powerful trio, but the addition of McCallum, whose father is the new coach at Detroit-Mercy, makes this squad special. "Ray has those innate abilities. He can create off the dribble, making others around him better," Keener says. McCallum will be paired with Bennie Sowler, who'll play football at Michigan State. The sophomore class -- 5-11 Chris Sowler, 6-10 Amir Williams and 6-6 Urbane Bingham -- will see plenty of action looking to establish themselves for future teams.
22. WHITNEY YOUNG (Chicago)
Last season's record: 27-6
Key players: G Chris Colvin (6-3, 185, Sr.); G Marcus Jordan (6-3, 180, Sr.); F-G Anthony Johnson (6-4, 180, Jr.); PG Ahmad Starks (5-9, 150, Jr.).
Outlook: The Dolphins improved drastically last season, advancing to the section finals, but now want a trip downstate. Don't be surprised when up to four guards swarm the floor, looking for traps, pressures and fast-break layups. The "guarded optimism" approach is emphasized by quickness and guile. Yes, Jordan is the youngest son of Michael Jordan, and his Scouts Inc. evaluation reads favorably: "trademark is a very quick first step and strength to power to the basket, and for the most part, he is successful." Jordan (14 ppg, 5 apg) is interested in ACC schools Miami and Florida State. Colvin (12 ppg, 8 apg) has tremendous court vision, and Stark (Oregon State) has a high basketball IQ. The Purdue-bound Johnson (13 ppg) is the main threat from the wings, while 6-7 Stan Brown (12.3 rpg) and 6-4 Franklin Griffin are workhorses. The Chicago Public League slate is supplemented by a national schedule which includes stops in New Jersey, California, Kentucky and Hawaii.
23. LAWRENCE NORTH (Indianapolis)
Last season's record: 17-6
Key players: F-C Stephan Van Treese (6-9, 220, Sr.); PF Jeff Robinson (6-9, 205, Sr.); F Dominique Ferguson (6-9, 200, Jr.).
Outlook: What started as a promising season came crashing down in the Class 4A sectional playoffs in March. The Wildcats started 14-2 but finished 3-4. Now they are the favorites in 4A for the first time since future NBA lottery picks Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. annexed a third straight title in 2006. The Wildcats are loaded with talent, experience and depth up front. It all starts with Van Treese and Robinson. Van Treese, who tallied 12 points and a team-high 11 rebounds last year, will sign with Louisville, but brings a solid pedigree as Oden's understudy as a freshman. Robinson, a Purdue recruit, averaged eight points and four rebounds. Ferguson (5.7 rpg) adds more size at 6-9 and a deft touch, shooting 52 percent from the floor. Guard Kyree Jones, who transferred to Christian Life Academy in Texas this fall, is a huge loss. A pair of December dates with Indiana powers Bishop Luers (Fort Wayne) and Marion are a prelude to the T-Mobile Invitational, featuring ranked teams Duncanville and South Atlanta, after Christmas.
24. PUTNAM CITY (Oklahoma City)
Last season's record: 25-2
Key players: G Xavier Henry (6-6, Sr.); PF Kyle Hardrick (6-8, Sr.); PG Tyler Earls (6-2, Sr.); F Garren Wright (6-5, Sr.); G Joy Williamson (6-2, Sr.).
Outlook: The Pirates seek to erase the stinging end to the 2007-08 season when they lost to Tulsa Memorial 40-38 in the Class 6A quarterfinals. The creative Henry (26.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.3 spg), No. 1 in the ESPNU 100 player rankings, is a candidate for national player of the year. Henry can't do it alone, and help is on the way with Oklahoma-bound Hardrick, a force in the paint who transferred from Norman High. Wright (13.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) does the little things for this team, and Williamson (6.0 ppg) camps out in the wings. (Editor's note: Henry suffered a fractured cheekbone in an auto accident last month; his status for the start of the season is in question.)
25. HOPKINS (Minnetonka, Minn.)
Last season's record: 27-2
Key players: F Royce White (6-7, 220, Sr.); G-F Trent Lockett (6-5, 195, Sr.); C-F Mike Broghammer (6-8, 215, Sr.); G Raymond Cowles (6-4, 205, Sr.).
Outlook: It's been two seasons since the Royals won their third Class 4A state tournament of the millennium (fifth overall). Last year, crosstown rival Minnetonka walked away with the hardware, and that doesn't sit well with coach Ken Novak. Expect the Royals to leave the gate quickly and pile up wins in the rugged Classic Lake Conference. Talent abounds with the addition of Minnesota-bound White, an ESPNU 100 player, who transferred from De La Salle (Minneapolis). White's one of four Division I prospects, joining Lockett (Arizona State), Broghammer (Notre Dame) and Cowles (Santa Clara). Guard Marcus Williams also will sign. D.J. Peterson, a 6-5 junior, had his stock rise after a solid summer.
26. TAFT (Woodland Hills, Calif.)
Last season's record: 27-4
Outlook: The defending City Championship Division champions will miss All-American guard Larry Drew Jr. (North Carolina), but 6-2 Justin Hawkins (UNLV) and 6-5 forward Terran Carter (10.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg) will soften the graduation hit.
27. WESTCHESTER (Los Angeles)
Last season's record: 29-5
Outlook: The Comets were young last year, but still managed a share of the Western League title with No. 9 Fairfax. Senior guard Dominique O'Connor made a quantum leap over the summer, but the go-to player is still 6-7 junior Dwayne Polee (12.3 ppg), who says he'll sign with USC.
28. PATERSON CATHOLIC (Paterson, N.J.)
Last season's record: 23-5
Outlook: Five of the team's top eight players are underclassmen, led by Myles Mack and 6-5 Fuquan Edwin (15.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg). Fordham-bound Lance Brown (13.0 ppg) is dependable, and the defense is anchored by 6-7 junior T.J. Clemmings (8.1 rpg), whom coach Damon Wright calls a "rebounding and shot-blocking monster."
29. OLYMPIA (Orlando)
Last season's record: 24-3
Six of the top seven scorers, including the three double-digit contributors -- UAB-bound Dexter Fields (17.2 ppg), Martell Buie (11.7) and William Green (11.1) -- are back for the Titans, who are favorites in Florida's Class 6A.
30. BISHOP McNAMARA (Forestville, Md.)
Last season's record: 18-9
Outlook: At 6-9, 220 pounds, Talib Zanna has honed his craft since arriving from Nigeria three years ago. Now he's headed to Pittsburgh after averaging a double-double, 15.0 points and 13.5 rpg as a junior. His classmate, 6-3 Rashad Whack, already committed to George Mason, and 6-2 Trask Ivey is fielding offers.
31. SIMEON (Chicago)
Last season's record: 29-4, Class 3A final
Outlook: Eight lettermen return from a team which fell short of a third straight state title. The Wolverines will rely on 6-3 Brandon Orange (7.5 ppg), 6-3 junior Brandon Spearman, 5-10 Jeremy Jones (7.1 ppg) and front liners 6-6 junior Robert Robinson and 6-5 Stephen Walker.
32. MONTVERDE ACADEMY (Montverde, Fla.)
Last season's record: 24-6
Outlook: The Eagles may be a year away from a higher rank. They will rely on a talented junior class and 6-11, 245-pound Ruslan Pateev from Russia. The seven-man junior class features Villanova-bound forward James Bell and 5-11 Kaleb Clyburn. Expect the Eagles to quickly advance in the rankings.
33. MOUNTAIN STATE ACADEMY (Beckley, W.Va.)
Last season's record: 37-5
Outlook: The Falcons have loaded up with foreign players, most notably 6-4 junior Kofi Mensa of Canada and 6-9, 250-pound Deniz Kilicli, a member of the Turkish U18 national team. Kilicli might be the nation's top unknown prospect. West Virginia-bound junior guard Noah Cottrill averaged 31 points at nearby Poca High.
34. NORTHLAND (Columbus, Ohio)
Last season's record: 21-1
Outlook: The Vikings are ready to make a run at the Division I state championship. Jared Sullinger, the nation's premier junior center, averaged a double-double -- 20 points and 12 rebounds. Expect these numbers to swell for the Ohio State-bound man-child.
35. VERITAS CHRISTIAN (Fletcher, N.C.)
Last season's record: 28-11
Outlook: The Warriors have six Division I prospects, four of whom are seniors. Coach John Jordan rolls out a tall lineup which includes 6-9 Sasha Borovnjak, 6-10 Andrew Kyles, 6-7 Colin Sekal and 6-7 Allen Ebert; Edge Warren, a 6-9 soph, is the most talented, though.
36. HIGHTOWER (Missouri City, Texas)
Last season's record: 30-9
Outlook: A disappointing end to the 2008 season saw the Hurricanes lose in the Class 5A, Region 3 semifinals. Now it's up to forwards 6-8 J.J. Richardson (Pittsburgh) and 6-7 Garlon Green (TCU), to deliver coach David Green's club to the Final Four in Austin.
37. NORTH CROWLEY (Fort Worth, Texas)
Last season's record: 38-1, Class 5A champions
Outlook: Coach Tommy Brakel admits repeating in 5A will be difficult, but the Panthers are up for the challenge. In the past decade, the Panthers have won 290 games and seven district titles, and 6-5 forward Tony McGilveary and 6-3 Dontee Kinney return. The point guard duties will be split between sophomore Kyan Anderson and Nathan Tigner, while 6-8 post Justin Wesley, a defensive ace, transferred to the school after Hurricane Ike forced his move from the Houston suburbs.
38. BETHEL (Hampton, Va.)
Last season's record: 30-2
Outlook: The Bruins had their win streak snapped at 29 games in the Group AAA state final but return master playmaker PG Jontel Evans (Virginia) and 6-5 Tre Lee (Saint Louis). The frontline is bolstered by 6-6 Daryell Walker and 6-8 Ovie Soko. Junior guard Jezreel DeJesus played on the Puerto Rican junior national team, and 6-5 Aaron Bacote is Virginia's top freshman.
39. ST. MARY'S (Phoenix)
Last season's record: 21-11
Outlook: A star-studded lineup, featuring 6-4 Demetrius Walker, a transfer who will attend USC, should stake the Knights to the Class 5A, Division I final. Juniors 6-6 Jordan Didier and 6-4 George Matthews are small forwards.
40. NEUMANN-GORETTI (Philadelphia)
Last season's record: 15-10
Outlook: The Saints are in good hands with elite junior guard Tony Chennault (Wake Forest) at the controls. He's joined in the lineup by 6-8 center Andre "Scooter" Gillette (6.0 ppg) and 6-5 junior Daniel Stewart (15.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg).
41. McCLYMONDS (Oakland, Calif.)
Last season's record: 32-0, Division I champions
Outlook: Two of the top three players on the team are back for the state champions. Coach Dwight Nathaniel is now retired, but point guard Will Cherry and 6-6 Damon Powell lead a returning core of five players.
42. PENN WOOD (Lansdowne, Pa.)
Last season's record: 23-9
Outlook: Coach Clyde Jones guided the Patriots to the Class AAAA quarterfinals last year, and they might be the favorites this time led by four starters. All-State forward Duane Johnson (15.9 ppg) and 6-5 sophomore transfer Aaron Brown bolster the frontline, and 5-9 junior Tyree Johnson drives the engine.
43. PINEWOOD PREP (Summerville, S.C.)
Last season's record: 27-4, SC Independent AAA champion
Outlook: The Panthers are 83-10 over the past three years with three consecutive state titles. If a fourth occurs, you can bet 6-9 Milton Jennings (Clemson), the No. 2 small forward, and 6-3 Kenny Manigault (Wichita State) will play an integral role.
44. SAN DIEGO HIGH (San Diego)
Last season's record: 23-5
Outlook: Jeremy Tyler, 6-9, is the No. 2 center prospect in the Class of 2010. He's being courted by the likes of Arizona, North Carolina, UCLA, USC and Louisville. Tyler averaged 18.7 points and 8.5 rebounds as the Cavers won the CIF-San Diego Section Division I title for the first time since 1975.
45. ETIWANDA (Calif.)
Last season's record: 31-3
Outlook: The Eagles rule the Inland Empire and are tough in the Division I playoffs. There's good cause for concern when 6-7 Perris Blackwell (San Francisco), 6-4 Jordan Finn (Air Force), 6-5 Rome Draper (8.9 ppg) and USC-bound point guard Deronn Scott lead the charge.
46. BOYS AND GIRLS (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Last season's record: 27-5, PSAL AA final
Outlook: Lamont Samuels, a 6-4 physical specimen, triggers the perimeter-oriented offense. Lamont Dickerson (8.0 ppg) is a 6-2 senior with several Division I offers. The Kangaroos' main hurdle is cross-borough rivals No. 8 Lincoln.
47. SCOTT COUNTY (Georgetown, Ky.)
Last season's record: 20-12
Outlook: The Cardinals reload with junior transfers 6-8 Dakotah Euton (Kentucky commitment) and 6-4 Chad Johnson. They'll join 6-7 Richie Phares and 6-2 Ge-Lawn Guyn. Immediate goals include Region 11 and District 42 crowns.
48. GONZAGA (Washington, D.C.)
Last season's record: 34-1, WCAC champion
Outlook: Last year's miracle season yielded several postseason crowns, including the City Title Game and Alhambra Catholic Invitational. Now Steve Turner turns the reins over to junior point guard Tyler Thornton, who has committed to Duke. Ian Hummer, a 6-7 senior, is the catalyst and going to Princeton (his dad played at Princeton and in the NBA).
49. ZION-BENTON (Zion, Ill.)
Last season's record: 32-4
Outlook: The Zee-Bees fell four points short of winning the inaugural Class 4A state tournament in March. With 6-4 sophomore Owen Worthington, 6-8 Markus Yarbrough (10.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg), 6-4 Lenzelle Smith (13.6 ppg, Ohio State recruit), PG Rodney Steward (11.0 ppg) and 6-1 Quintrell Love (12.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg) back, a trip downstate looks feasible.
50. ACADEMY OF NEW CHURCH (Bryn Athyn, Pa.)
Last season's record: 26-2
Outlook: At 6-10, 225 pounds, sophomore Malcolm Gilbert becomes the center of focus for the Lions. He'll join regulars 6-3 junior Warren Gillis, 5-11 Kenny Ross and Drexel-bound guard Shannon Givens.