Since September, players have been playing AAU, attending open gyms, practicing with their high school teams and playing games. We at Scouts Inc. have been there every step of the way evaluating, analyzing and tracking their performances. Coming off the past four months and some major holiday events, now is a perfect time to amend the ESPNU player rankings.
The strength of the 2009 class lies in the depth of skilled and athletic frontcourt players. Big men always take longer to develop; their minds need to catch up to their bodies and they need someone to get them the ball on a consistent basis to score. With hard work and a good strength program, many of these young men will have excellent college careers and some will move on to the NBA.
Movement in the top 25
One of the marks of truly great players is consistency. They approach the game the same way each time out and they usually get similar production, in terms of statistics and wins, each time they take the court.
Of course, it takes elite talent to be in the top 25 of our recruiting rankings, but there's more to it than that. Players in the top 25 possess dominating physical attributes, great athletic ability and a high motor. There is also a team element to this equation; these players must help make their teams win along with their individual performance. For someone to make a move within this portion of our top 100 speaks volumes about their performance
Among the big movers in this edition of our rankings is
Avery Bradley (Tacoma, Wash./Findlay College Prep (Nev.)). He jumps up to No. 7 from No. 15 in the ESPNU 100. Bradley has made the climb up the rankings due to his consistent and dominant play this fall and winter. Bradley is one of the best all-around 2-guards in the country -- and that's saying something considering this class includes Xavier Henry (Oklahoma City/Putnam City), Lance Stephenson (New York/Lincoln), Kenny Boynton (Pompano Beach, Fla./American Heritage) and Dominic Cheek (Jersey City, N.J./St. Anthony). Bradley has quick hands and great lateral foot speed with the attitude to stop the opponent. He is clearly the best perimeter defender in the country. His offensive game has really improved. He's particular adept in transition; Bradley plays under control and utilizes his signature midrange pull-up jumper. He dominates the game at both ends of the floor with his skill, defense and team play.
Bradley isn't the only elite shooting guard prospect. Kenny Boynton (Pompano Beach, Fla./American Heritage) moves up three spots to No. 10. He can shoot the ball from long range, and when he gets hot, Boynton is almost unstoppable! With his jump shot being so effective, Boynton has branched out. He's made an effort to drive the ball to the basket more frequently, and he's had great success. With a quick first step and a long first dribble, the Florida signee goes past defenders to the rim. His good body control allows him to absorb contact and score the ball. With Boynton's explosive athletic ability and determination, he has been guarding the ball with more focus and has been steady at rebounding down from the perimeter.
While Boynton and Bradley have diversified their skill sets, for Keith Gallon (Houston/Oak Hill (Va.)) it has been about what he's lost. The 6-8 post player is almost 40 pounds lighter this season, which has allowed him to be a major factor for nationally ranked Oak Hill. He's moved up seven spots to No. 14. The benefits of his new figure have been noticeable; "Tiny" has scored more effectively inside, runs the floor better and has more stamina to rebound. What's been impressive is that the Oklahoma commit has posted double-figure points and rebounds for head coach Steve Smith while playing only 20-25 minutes a game. When you play for a program like Oak Hill you are always someone else's biggest game of the year!
Turkish import Deniz Kilicli (Beckley, W.Va./Mountain State University Academy) has a very advanced game and shows the ability to be dominant with his combination of size and skill that we see from so many European players. Kilicli has moved up to No. 28 from his previous ranking of 44. This 6-9 West Virginia recruit scores the majority of his points in and around the basket and he finishes with either hand. He gets the ball quickly up to the rim from his teammates' penetration dump-off passes or his offensive rebounding prowess. Kilicli shows his dexterity; his go-to move inside with his back to the basket is a left-handed jump hook to the middle of the floor on the right block. What really stands out about Kilicli is his strong basketball IQ, which was developed over in Turkey playing with older players.
Ari Stewart (Marietta, Ga./Wheeler) could always rebound, block shots and score around the basket. A more well-rounded offensive skill set that includes long-range shooting has helped Stewart move up to No. 39 from No. 71 in our newest rankings. Stewart, who is bound for Wake Forest, fills up the stat sheet with the best of them. This athletic wing is well suited to play in Wake Forest's fast-paced system.
Mike Moser (Portland, Ore./Grant) is one of the best-kept secrets out West. Moser has moved up 28 spots to No. 50 in the ESPNU 100. He has a versatile game; Moser's length and quickness allow him to guard all three perimeter positions and his ball skills are improving rapidly. A typical sequence for him is shutting down his opponent, rebounding the ball, then leading the fast break on which he usually delivers an assist. As his jumper improves, this UCLA recruit's game will continue to grow to another level.
Other players who jumped in the rankings: Peyton Siva (Seattle/Franklin) from 28 to 23; John Jenkins (Gallatin, Tenn./Station Camp) from 39 to 30; David Wear (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) from 49 to 41; Travis Wear (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) from 50 to 42; Jeronne Maymon (Madison, Wis.) from 76 to 55; Brendan Lane (Rocklin, Calif.) from 96 to 75.
Milton Jennings (Summerville, S.C./Pinewood Prep) has all the size and skill level to be a top-20 talent, but he drops from No. 16 to 26 because of his inconsistent play -- especially against good competition. He has been spending too much time on the perimeter shooting 3s instead of balancing his ability to stretch the defense along with going inside, where he can be very effective. Because of his penchant for hanging around the arc, he doesn't pull down offensive rebounds or get to the free throw line enough. With more of an inside-out approach, the Clemson-bound Jennings will be more productive.
Noel Johnson (Fayetteville, Ga./Fayette County) is a great-looking athlete who is multitalented, but he doesn't dominate any phase of the game. Johnson has dropped 12 spots to No. 65 in our revised ESPNU 100. Against teams with size, he has had a difficult time finishing around the basket, made bad decisions with the ball and been inconsistent from beyond the arc. With his talent, Johnson, who has signed with USC, needs to focus on being consistent on both ends of the floor.
Rodney Williams (New Hope, Minn./Robbinsdale Cooper) drops in our rankings due to his struggles to produce in the half court. His strength is his ability to provide highlights in transition; he is very good in the open floor. In the half court, he looks uncomfortable away from the basket when he tries to make plays off the dribble or shooting the 3. Right now, Williams, a Minnesota recruit, needs to stay close to the basket to be effective on the offensive end. On the plus side, he's a defender who can guard multiple positions on the perimeter.
Also falling in the rankings: Dominic Cheek (Jersey City, N.J./St. Anthony) from 11 to 15; Michael Snaer (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde) from 30 to 44; Terrence Boyd (Norman, Okla./San Diego) from 40 to 54; Clarence Trent (Seattle/The Patterson School) from 42 to 56; Aaron Dotson (Seattle/Rainer Beach) from 51 to 66; Roberto Nelson (Santa Barbara, Calif.) from 66 to 88; Lamar Patterson (Lancaster, Pa./St. Benedicts (N.J.)) from 73 to 85; Hollis Thompson (Concord, Calif./De La Salle) from 75 to NR; Jamal Franklin (Phelan, Calif./Serrano) from 88 to NR; D.J. Byrd (Crawfordsville, Ind./North Montgomery) from 91 to NR; Ferrakohn Hall (Memphis/White Station) from 94 to NR.
New to the ESPNU 100
Raymond Penn (Richmond, Texas/Travis) has really seen his stock rise in recent months. The talented point guard debuts in our rankings at No. 52. He made his mark this summer in Las Vegas, and Penn put up big numbers this fall. His most notable performance was holding his own against touted playmaker Tommy Mason-Griffin (Houston/Madison) at the Super 16 Extravaganza. His jumper is good off the catch or dribble and Penn possesses deep range with accuracy. He can get into the lane at will with his quick burst of speed for the midrange pull-up jumper or drive and kick to his teammates. Penn, who is bound for Oklahoma State, is a tough-minded competitor.
Lakeem Jackson (Charlotte, N.C./Christ School) is new to the top 100, checking in at No. 76. His stock has risen with his play of late against top-level competition, including his MVP showing at the Chick-fil-A Classic in December. He is a workhorse who impacts the game with his energy and intensity. The South Carolina-bound 2-guard is not a consistent shooter from the perimeter, but he overcomes this limitation by playing to his strengths as a slashing playmaker and relentless rebounder.
Talib Zanna (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) is a post player who has upside and a good work ethic. That's what Jamie Dixon has found in this future Panther. Zanna is starting to gain confidence in his abilities and is blossoming into an outstanding prospect. Offensively he is a threat from 15 feet and in, but currently his ability to dominate a game is because of his rebounding and shot-blocking.
Who can challenge to be No. 1
Xavier Henry (Oklahoma City/Putnam City) still stands as our No. 1 player in the Class of 2009. He is an outstanding player and even better future prospect. Although he did not make his season debut until last week due to a fractured cheekbone he suffered this past October, we expect Henry to quickly return back to form. He'll have to if he wants to defend his No. 1 ranking. The three most likely candidates to take over his spot are all playing extremely well and have the talent along with the approach to have a great season. Here, based on their talent and performance thus far, are the three players who we feel are in contention for the No. 1 ranking in addition to Henry:
Derrick Favors (Atlanta/South) is a power forward who dominates the game and makes it look easy. At the T-Mobile Invitational and the Hoops in Overdrive Shootout, Favors was outstanding scoring in the low post and cleaning up on the both ends on the glass. This young man often is facing double-teams and makes good passes to find the open man. He is an explosive finisher around the basket; he may have the best post skills in the Class of 2009. Defensively, Favors gets rebounds in traffic with his strong, athletic body while challenging and changing shots on his opponent. He shoots off the catch at the high post comfortably and on a consistent basis. With practice, he will improve his range, which currently extends to about 15 feet.
Skilled 4-man John Henson (Tampa, Fla./Sickles) showed his skills at the Dodge Shootout and at the City of Palms Classic. He could challenge for the top spot because of his rare combination of size, athletic ability, skill and attitude. He can pass, dribble and shoot like a small forward and has the ability to rebound the ball and go coast-to-coast with the ball and score.
John Wall (Raleigh, N.C./Word of God) has Derek Rose-like athletic ability, tremendous speed and power with the ball in his hands. Wall can go end to end faster than anyone in the Class of 2009. He blows past defenders to get in the lane and usually finishes with some type of acrobatic play. His ability to see the floor from his penetration and make the assist is outstanding, especially in the transition game. His midrange jumper is getting better, but he must continue to work on his long-range shooting.
Paul Biancardi is a veteran of the coaching ranks with years of college coaching experience. He has recruited on a national level with stops as an assistant coach at Boston University, Boston College, associate head coach at Ohio State and most recently an assistant at Saint Louis University. Biancardi was head coach at Wright State University from 2003 to 2006. In 2003, he was named Horizon League Coach of the Year. He is a selection committee member for the prestigious McDonald's All-America Game and the Gatorade Player of the Year award.
Antonio Williams, Reggie Rankin, Mike LaPlante and Joel Francisco contributed to this report.