As the playoffs heat up in many states, this week is a perfect opportunity to explain the criteria that goes into selecting the ESPNHS Mr. Basketball USA winner and give some insight on what it takes to earn national player of the year honors.
The talent of previous winners is clearly evident to those lucky enough to witness them in high school, but what separates the winner from other strong candidates?
This is the most important factor. The winner must possess the skills to make an immediate impact on the college level. Nearly all past winners projected as NBA players, but not all of them start the ascension to player of the year candidate from the same point.
Just look at where 1997 winner Tracy McGrady was as an underclassman compared to runner-up Lamar Odom. McGrady was a non-descript forward at Auburndale (Fla.) as a junior. He wasn't on anyone's radar the summer before transferring to Mount Zion (Durham, N.C.), whereas Odom was one of the nation's best players since his sophomore year at Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.).
Of the 57 eventual Mr. Basketball USA choices, only two did not go on to play in the NBA: forward Bill Raftery of St. Cecelia's (Kearney, N.J.) in 1959 and Damon Bailey of North Lawrence (Bedford, Ind.) in 1990.
Leading a POWERADE FAB 50-ranked team and helping it win a state title is a significant factor. Those teams generally play tough competition, which nowadays means the candidate's team challenged itself against competition from outside its region.
Two years ago, Jared Sullinger of Northland (Columbus, Ohio) led the nation's No. 1 ranked team before the Vikings were stunned 71-45 in the Ohio regional playoffs by an unranked team. The other top candidate that season, Harrison Barnes of Ames (Iowa), led his team to a 27-0 record and No. 10 final FAB 50 rating. If Barnes' team would have lost even one game, or if Sullinger's team would have won the state title, Sullinger might have been the winner instead of Barnes.
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