In every race, whether it's sports or politics, there are favorites and dark horses.
The journey for one special player to be named Mr. Basketball USA is no different.
When the early poll results were tabulated in December, there were two favorites -- Harrison Barnes of Ames (Ames, Iowa) and Jared Sullinger of Northland (Columbus, Ohio). That situation hasn't changed, but the race has some strong candidates who will look to make a late-season push.
In 1977, playground prodigies Albert King of Fort Hamilton (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Gene Banks of West Philadelphia (Philadelphia, Pa.) garnered most of the early attention, and deservedly so. As the season wore on, however, a crafty point guard by the name of Earvin "Magic" Johnson of Everett (Lansing, Mich.) gained momentum for his outstanding play. The same scenario occurred in 1996, as Kobe Bryant of Lower Merion (Ardmore, Pa.) and Tim Thomas of Paterson Catholic (Paterson, N.J.) scooped up most of the early accolades because of their outstanding underclass and summer performances. Out west, however, point guard Mike Bibby of Shadow Mountain (Phoenix, Ariz.) had a senior season unlike anything ever seen in the Arizona desert.
History has a way of repeating itself, and this year another lead guard out west is making the Mr. Basketball USA selection committee take notice. We wanted to know if this talented point guard felt politics played a role in the eventual winner or if he thought all the candidates had an equal chance.
Cory Joseph of FAB 50 No. 2 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) believes in democracy.
"We all start at the same starting block," Joseph said about his and others' chances of winning Mr. Basketball USA honors. "They (Barnes and Sullinger) are deserving. Those are two great players, doing great things."
Joseph and a few other candidates such as Deshaun Thomas of Bishop Luers (Fort Wayne, Ind.) have gained ground on the leaders in the clubhouse since the start of the season. Even a few players not yet on an official ballot have received recognition as potential all-Americans.
In an exit poll conducted the past two weeks, two panelists mentioned guard Ray McCallum of Detroit Country Day (Beverly Hills, Mich.) as a player who just missed their ballot. Country Day dropped its first game of the season last week and fell 13 spots in the ESPN RISE FAB 50, but McCallum very well could appear on a ballot in the coming weeks. The unsigned recruit is averaging more than 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists, and he scored 17 second-half points in Country Day's comeback bid against Kalamazoo Central (Kalamazoo, Mich.) that fell short.
Other players mentioned in the exit polls were Jayvaughn Pinkston from Bishop Loughlin (Brownsville, N.Y.), Josh Hairston from Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) and Nate Lubick from St. Mark's School (Southborough, Mass.).
So who does Joseph see as emerging dark horse candidates?
"Tobias (Harris) is starting to get recognition for the season he's having," said Joseph, who is tied for third place with Kyrie Irving from St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) with 56 points after earning 20 points from three panelists in the preseason. "Joe Jackson is another. Because he's out in Memphis and not playing a national-based schedule, he might be getting overlooked. There are quite a few (in that situation)."
So how does Joseph feel about earning recognition as an emerging player of the year candidate?
He answered the obvious with a question of his own.
"Of course it makes me feel honored and happy inside. Who wouldn't want to win (Mr. Basketball USA)?"
Read below to see the voting results of the sixth 2009-10 ESPN RISE Mr. Basketball Tracker. Stay logged into ESPNRISE.com to track the progress of the top individual players -- as well as the top teams -- in the ESPN RISE FAB 50.
Others Receiving Votes:
Quincy Miller (Quality Education, Winston-Salem, N. C.) 17 pts. (2)
Tobias Harris (Half Hollow Hills West, Dix Hills, N.Y.) 9 pts. (2)
Joe Jackson (White Station, Memphis, Tenn.) 9 pts. (2)
Austin Rivers (Winter Park, Fla.) 8 pts. (2)
Michael Gilchrist (St. Patrick, Elizabeth, N.J.) 8 pts. (1)
Jayvaughn Pinkston (Bishop Loughlin, Brownsville, N.Y.) 8 pts. (1)
Tristan Thompson (Findlay Prep, Henderson, Nev.) 7 pts. (1)
Ian Miller (United Faith Christian Academy, Charlotte, N.C.) 6 pts. (1)
Tony Chenault (Neumann-Goretti, Philadelphia, Pa.) 5 pts. (1)
Myck Kabongo (St. Benedict’s, Newark, N.J.) 5 pts. (1)
Josh Selby (Lake Clifton, Baltimore, Md.) 5 pts. (1)
Bradley Beal (Chaminade, St. Louis, Mo.) 4 pts. (1)
DeAndre Daniels (Taft, Woodland Hills, Calif.) 4 pts. (1)
Perry Jones (Duncanville, Texas) 4 pts. (1)