Mr. Basketball USA: Noel joins party

The MLK holiday weekend is a time to reflect. It's also good time to evaluate the nation's best high school basketball players.

Many of the nation's top teams and prep schools traditionally participate in MLK showcase games around the country, giving the Mr. Basketball USA Tracker panel plenty of opportunities to evaluate the top candidates for national player of the year against strong competition -- and sometimes in head-to-head match-ups.

ESPN senior national basketball analyst and panel member Dave Telep said it best after the turn of the New Year: "We'll learn a lot in the next two weeks."

There was no better place to evaluate some of the top talent than at last weekend's Spalding Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass. The performances at the annual event brought about changes to the voting results of the latest ESPNHS Mr. Basketball USA Tracker.

Making the biggest jump was junior center Nerlens Noel of Tilton School (Tilton, N.H.). In the previous tracker, the No. 2 player in the ESPNU 60 appeared on two ballots, good for eight points. After a monster week in which his performances were so good it re-opened the argument if Noel might be the nation's best overall player, he appeared on six ballots, good for 45 points. One panelist even gave him a second place vote behind Kyle Anderson of St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.).

"It's an honorable spot to be in," Noel said. "It will only motivate me to work that much harder to be the best player I can be."

Check out these numbers for the nation's best shot blocker and the best center prospect in New England since 1981 Mr. Basketball USA and NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing: 20 points, 14 rebounds, nine blocks and six assists in a 85-67 win over Winchendon (Winchendon, Mass.). Twelve points, six steals, five blocks, four assists and four rebounds in a 90-86 victory over Notre Dame Prep (Fitchburg, Mass.) and 22 points, eight rebounds, seven blocks and a steal in Tilton's nationally-televised 57-53 loss to Brewster Academy (Brewster, N.H.).

Now that he's joined the Mr. Basketball USA party of candidates -- mainly because of his shot-blocking prowess -- it's important to mention two factors that will play a role in Noel's candidacy down the line. One, he's an underclassman and traditionally it's been difficult for a junior to be honored. And two, he plays at a school that allows post-graduates (Tilton is not eligible for the POWERADE FAB 50) and over the years, only a few candidates have been seriously considered from these schools. The last bonafide candidate we recall was center Chris Washburn of Fork Union Military Academy (Fork Union, Va.) in 1983-84. The honor that year went to point forward John Williams of Crenshaw (Los Angeles).

"There are not as many barometers to compare (Noel) by," ESPNHS rankings editor and panel member Doug Huff said. "Looking at some of these schools there are some very easy games and then some really tough ones. When Noel gets a chance on a big stage, he shows up and makes his mark."

Anderson also made his mark in the latest tracker, moving up to second place behind frontrunner Shabazz Muhammad of Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas). Following his 18-point, 10-rebound, six-assist and five steal performance in St. Anthony's' 60-48 win over Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.), he surpassed junior Jabari Parker of Simeon (Chicago) by 13 points, the same margin he now trails Muhammad by.

Despite Simeon's loss to Findlay Prep at the Hoophall Classic, Parker joined Muhammad and Anderson as consensus candidates by appearing on all ten ballots. The voting results, however, are a clear indicator that team success is a critical factor in this individual honor.

With Anderson, leading the way, No. 4 St. Anthony is currently riding a 45-game winning streak as the defending FAB 50 champions.

Receiving Votes:

Alex Poythress (Northeast,
Clarksville, Tenn.) 13 pts. (2)
Katin Reinhardt (Mater Dei, Santa
Ana, Calif.) 11 pts. (2)
Perry Ellis (Wichita Heights, Wichita,
Kan.) 10 pts. (2)
Kris Jenkins (Gonzaga, Washington, D.C.) 9 pts.
Anthony Bennett (Findlay Prep, Henderson, Nev.) 9 pts. (1)
Kris Dunn (New London, New London, Conn.) 9 pts. (1)
Jerrett (La Verne Lutheran, La Verne, Calif.) 8 pts. (1)
Hammons (Oak Hill Academy, Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 6 pts. (1)
York (Orange Lutheran, Orange, Calif.) 6 pts. (1)
Amile Jefferson
(Friends' Central, Wynnewood, Pa.) 5 pts. (1)
Tyler Dorsey (Ribet
Academy, Los Angeles, Calif.) 4 pts. (1)
Gary Harris (Hamilton
Southeastern, Indianapolis, Ind.) 4 pts. (1)
Jahlil Okafor (Whitney
Young, Chicago, Ill.) 4 pts. (1)

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. Each panelist lists the top seven 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 four points for a seventh-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.