Every year, there is that one special player who erupts abuptly onto the basketball scene in March and puts many a college scout on notice. Think back to 2005, when Newton North's vicious backcourt of Anthony Gurley and Corey Lowe shone in the Tigers' first of two straight Division 1 state titles.
We saw it again in 2008, when Central Catholic's 6-foot-11 sophomore Carson Desrosiers filled the lane impressively and showed off his range for the Raiders in their D1 state title. We saw it again in 2009, when Lynn English's Ryan Woumn dropped 39 points on Brockton in the D1 EMass Finals. And we saw it again 12 months ago, when Pat Connaughton averaged 21.7 points and 19 rebounds as St. John's Prep made a surprise run to the D1 North finals.
So who is the next Connaughton, Woumn or Desrosiers? Below are nine underclassmen who could fit the bill.
6-7, Jr. F
Why he matters: Layman has been nothing short of phenomenal for the Warriors this season, as they set a program record for wins (14) and ended a 15-year postseason drought. Averaging 24 points, 13 rebounds and 4.8 blocks on the season, and coming close to a quadruple-double in a game against Stoughton earlier this season, don't be surprised to see him put up those kinds of numbers in the postseason. UMass, Providence and Boston College have offered him, while Notre Dame, BYU and Texas A&M have shown heavy interest.
What opposing coaches are saying: “I think he could be a Dream Teamer this year, if you want my honest opinion. He’s one of the top three players in the state. He can jump out of the gym, shoot three’s, post you up, just an unbelievable talent…He can be the biggest prospect in the state of Massachusetts as far as I’m concerned. He is a major, major talent...His athleticism, he’s so athletic for a 6-9 kid, and like I said, he has point guard skills. Kevin McHale moves inside, three, four, five dunks a game, just stuff you don’t see in high school anymore. I mean he’s one of best players I’ve seen in last 15 years, to be honest with you...Holy God. The thing with him is how skilled is in all facets of the game, how he runs the floor, he's so athletic. He honestly, and I hate to use the same terms over and over again, but a very high ceiling."
Scouts Inc.’s analysis of strengths: “A long and athletic player, Layman has a terrific set of physical tools. He stands a legit six-foot-seven with great length and a solid frame which will eventually support a good deal of muscle mass. He is a very good athlete and gets his head on the rim between his length and leaping ability. He has good touch on his jump shot and projects as a very good three-point shooter down the road with a little refinement to his technique. He is a potentially versatile defensively who can change the game with his length on top of the press.”
ESPN's Adam Finkelstein: “Jake Layman may have more upside than anyone in the MIAA. At 6-foot-7 with long arms, a good frame, and athleticism that allows him to get his head on the rim he is the prototype high-major forward. He doesn't yet realize how good he is but has a tremendous future in front of him.”
6-2, Soph. G
Why he matters: The sophomore led the Bay State Conference in scoring (15.1 points) this season, and while those aren't eye-popping numbers, Terrell is a sight to be seen. In the mold of slashers like Charlestown's Akosa Maduegbunam, Terrell is an off-guard in a linebacker's body, able to create his own shot off the dribble but at his best when charging through the lane. Quite simply, there are few in Massachusetts with such physical maturity at this age. He's drawing an assortment of Division 1 interest, from the Atlantic-10 all the way up to schools like Washington and Clemson.
Opposing coaches: "Jared Terrell is one of the purest athletes running around, if not the best athlete running around in the state. I think when he eliminates his dribbles and everything else like that, and just looks to take it to the hole, he can't be stopped...It's tough to make a comparison, because I think he's one of the top two athletes in the state. But as his progress keeps going up, I mean the sky's the limit. Historically? I don't know, because I'm not ready to give anything to these new jacks yet, but if I were to make a comparison I'd say his older brother Royce."
Scouts Inc.: "Terrell is a power guard with a strong body and bouncy athleticism. He is as aggressive as he is powerful, getting after people on the defensive end and going hard to the rim offensively. He is a versatile defender who can make plays in full court pressure situations and also lock up opposing scorers in the half-court, bodying up with his upper body without fouling. Offensively, he has a good first step and quick springs and shows no fear attacking shot blockers."
Finkelstein: "Jared Terrell is as explosive of a guard as you will find in the MIAA. He is powerful and athletic, allowing him to go through contact to make plays above the rim. If he can add a consistent jumper to his offensive repertoire his recruitment will go to the next level."
AARON FALZON, NEWTON NORTH
6-7, Fr. F/C
Why he matters: While Falzon isn't the Tigers' top scoring option -- that falls unto guards Mike Thorpe and Avi Adler-Cohen -- the younger brother of senior Tevin Falzon is a game-changer in the middle. With his long arms and ability to step out to NBA-range three's, he has already drawn comparisons to former Tigers great and current Yale freshman Greg Kelley. The sky is the limit for Aaron, as the 14-year-old continues to grow and fill out.
Opposing coaches: “I think his ceiling is just through the roof, he is certainly super skilled for a big kid. He has a very good touch. Right now, facing the basket is where he's best, but as he gets stronger he'll get more confident down on the low blocks. He's real tough...For us, the problem with him is clearly the size advantage. But in general, he's so skilled. With him, if a typical big guy covers him, you can draw them away from the basket, because he's got range up to and beyond the three-pointt line. The few times I've seen him go to the blocks, he's very skilled, and has versatility on defense with his length, but he's a real nice player...He's very similar [to Kelley], at 6-7 when you can draw guys out like he did. If he can extend the defense and open up shots in the lane for guys like Thorpe and Adler-Cohen, he's a tough guard for us."
Finkelstein: “Aaron Falzon fits the new style big man in that he has the size to play down low but the skill set to step away and stretch the defense. With three more years to continue to develop his game and body, he has a chance to be a very highly pursued prospect if he continues to do the right things.”
JACQUIL TAYLOR, CAMBRIDGE
6-9, Soph. C
Why he matters: Taylor dominated the glass this year for the 19-1 Falcons, and has served as a wonderful complement to guards Deondre Starling, Kyroe Qualls-Betts and his brother, 6-foot-5 junior Maurice. There may not be a longer starting five in the state than Cambridge, and at the center is Jacquil, who runs the floor well for a player his size and can change momentum in a snap with one of his thunderous two-handed slams. A handful of Division 1 schools, including UMass and BC locally, have expressed interest.
Opposing coaches: “He is a diamond in the rough. He’s going to be real good, high-major maybe, with his shot blocking ability and rebounding ability. He’s not as good as Nerlens Noel, but he’s that type of player...His length is his strength, I'd say right now -- defensively especially, and on the glass, too. I think his offensive game will get better, but in terms of what he does around the basket, he's impressive...Jacquil has tremendous upside. I think he's getting ready to have breakout in the state tournament this year. Both him and his brother Mo are two outstanding basketball players."
Finkelstein: "When you are big and mobile you have a chance to be very good and that's exactly what Jacquil is, not to mention a long lefty. His potential has never been questioned but now it's time to turn those tools into production on a consistent basis."
6-2, Jr. G
Why he matters: One of the Cape Ann League's leading scorers (19.7 points per game), he is the cousin of Andover star Joe Bramanti, and could be ready to carve a name for himself on the family tree. Like Joe, he is an exceptional shooter -- most recently, Adam hit seven 3-pointers in a game with Manchester-Essex in late January -- who can give good chase on the perimeter.
Opposing coaches: “He’s a fantastic shooter. If he’s on, it’s in. I’ve seen him hit nine, 10 three’s in a game, he’s fantastic. He can work a little bit on his dribble-drive and finishing, but as far as being a shooter, he’s top-notch.”
Scouts Inc.: “A very skilled guard with a high basketball I.Q. and terrific feel for the game, Bramanti is well schooled in the fundamentals of the game. He is an excellent three-point shooter who makes shots with deep range and also changes speeds with his dribble to get himself into the lane. He is a very efficient scorer off the catch, being tremendously efficient with his body movements, and owning a terrific shot fake. He always has his head up, has very good court vision, and can deliver quick passes off the dribble with a quick flick of his wrist.”
Finkelstein: “Adam Bramanti is a super skilled young guard with a high basketball I.Q. and instinctive feel for the game. Give him a year or two for his body to catch up, and his stock is bound to take off.”
KEANDRE STANTON, LYNN ENGLISH
6-6, Jr. F
Why he matters: In short, the junior is another one of those under-the-radar prospects. Stanton has had a breakout campaign this season for the 19-2 Bulldogs, complementing electric senior Travonne Berry-Rogers very nicely with his slashing ability in the post. With his size, length, and athletic ability on the break, Stanton has drawn comparisons to former English great Jarell Byrd, who is currently doing a post-graduate year at St. Thomas More (Conn.).
Opposing coaches: “We’re athletic, [but] he’s freakishly athletic. The things he can do, even when he attacked the rim off the bounce, he tried to get a dunk a few times. He went right at us. Jimmy [Zenevitch, of Central Catholic] scores a lot, but he is also a good defender as far as bigs, and this kid went right at Jimmy. He’s a great player, incredible athlete, and he’s going to be a handful in the tournament...He’s real skinny, but has a lot of athletic ability. He needs to play more. He has some big upside, too, but he needs to work on his ballhandling skils before he moves on to a higher level, because that’s what he’ll be with his size.”
Finkelstein: “Keandre Stanton has proven his worth this year at Lynn English but is still relatively unknown outside of Massachusetts' borders. A strong state tournament could be the first step towards a breakout summer.”
TYLER NELSON, CENTRAL CATHOLIC
5-8, Fr. G
Why he matters: The freshman, who is averaging nearly eight points a game off the bench, could very well end up winning a game for the Raiders in the postseason. He scores in bunches, often coming into the game and knocking down a pivotal three-pointer. When bringing the ball up, he directs traffic in the half-court calmly but smartly, and is unafraid to bark orders at one of his senior teammates. Overall, he's shown a maturity well beyond his years in his rookie season on the Raiders' varsity -- of course, it doesn't hurt that his father is an advance scout for the Utah Jazz.
Opposing coaches: “He’s probably the best shooter in the state, and that’s no lie -- he’s a deadly shooter. He’s a baby he could only be an eighth grader for all we know, but the stronger he gets the better he’ll get...He’s gonna be a scholarship player someday, he has a real high basketball I.Q., no lie.”
Finkelstein: “Tyler Nelson gives Central Catholic a big boost with his three-point shooting and looks to have a very bright high school career in front of him. Any player who can make shots in bunches has a potential niche at the next level.”
NATE ANDERSON, NEW MISSION
6-6, Soph. F
Why he matters: Anderson is still relatively unknown on the big stage; and between the Titans' star-studded backcourt of Samir McDaniels, Darius Davis and Kachi Nzerem, the young Anderson gets a limited amount of touches, and often comes off the bench. With his ability to handle, Anderson's future with Mission could be in more of a point forward role, though in the possessions he plays around the rim he shows adept skill and rebounding and blocking. In short, Anderson's a question mark right now, but a year from now could be a firm exclamation point. A good run in the playoffs, though, could serve his stock well.
Opposing coaches: “He has big upside, and we’ll see that the more he plays and the more touches he gets. He’s gonna be going to college somewhere, very athletic. He’s good.”
Finkelstein: “Nate Anderson has all the physical tools for the next level with a long and strong body to match his high level athleticism. He makes his biggest impact on the defensive end right now but has shown good potential as a face-up four who can attack less mobile big men with his dribble.”
6-1, Soph. G
Why he matters: After a strong summer with the New England Playaz, the sophomore brought a considerable amount of hype with him to the Golden Eagles. And needless to say, at 11-9, they've grossly underperformed after starting the year off at No. 6 in ESPNBoston's MIAA Top 25 poll. This may be a head-scratcher, considering he's averaging just six points a game, but it's hard to ignore his creativity and the praise he's earned out of season.
Opposing coaches: “Corn is quick as lightning, great little stroke, great on-ball defender. He’s fearless, he’ll step in and take a charge against 6-11 kids, he doesn’t care...He’s a great point guard with great instincts, knows how to find the open man, get to a guy going through the air, he’s talented. On the AAU circuit, he’s a 20-point scorer.”
Scouts Inc.: “A talented young point guard who already has a good understanding of how to distribute the basketball. Tyson has terrific court vision at a young age, makes good decisions handling and passing the ball against pressure, and can also get into the lane to create shots for himself and his teammates. He has also developed into a consistent shooter from behind the three-point arc. He has a terrific feel for the game for such a young player, already making good use of jab steps, jump stops, and other crafty maneuvers to open up passing/driving lanes.”
Finkelstein: “Tyson is a good looking young point guard who shows a mature understanding of the position for someone his age. He not only hits the open man but also has the creativity and vision to make plays for his teammates, making him very unique.”
OTHERS TO WATCH
Aaron Calixte, Soph. G, Stoughton
Matt Droney, Jr. G, Catholic Memorial
Joey Glynn, Jr. F, Cardinal Spellman
Jameilen Jones, Soph. F, BC High
Jarrod Neumann, Jr. G/F, Northampton
Kenny Reed, Jr. G, Reading
Colin Richey, Soph. G, Whitinsville Christian
Damion Smith, Fr. G, West Roxbury
Michael Thorpe, Jr. G, Newton North
Brendan Hall is a high school editor for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.