High-SchoolBoys-Basketball: Simeon

Stopping Shabazz Muhammad is a daunting task

January, 20, 2012
On a frigid January afternoon, Shabazz Muhammad calmly stands in the media room at Blake Arena in Springfield, Mass., dead-center in a mob of audio and video recorders shoved just inches away from his face while notebook-jotting reporters attempt to disguise the same questions over and over.

Forget about the fact that he’s just led Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) -- then ranked No. 24 in the POWERADE FAB 50 -- past then-No. 5 DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) with 37 points and six rebounds at the Spalding Hoophall Classic; all these guys want to know about is his recruitment.

Shabazz Muhammad
J. Anthony Roberts/ESPNHSShabazz Muhammad said the best chance to stop him is to turn him into a 3-point shooter.
Muhammad handles the organized chaos like a champ. His answers are quick and concise. He even has a little fun finding new ways to say the same thing.

But when event staff whisks him away for a private interview, we manage to stump him slightly with, by his own admission, the simplest yet most complex question he’s heard in quite some time: “How do you stop Shabazz Muhammad?”

“That’s a good one,” he said.

Muhammad’s got an answer, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t want to come across as cocky. He hesitates, seemingly by design, smiles and settles on, “Well, my dad [Ron Holmes] and I train so hard on so many different aspects of my game that it’s given me the ability to hurt teams in a lot of different ways. Let’s just say it’d be really hard.”

The next attempt at the improbable takes place Jan. 21 when No. 3 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) heads over to Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas to take on No. 16 Bishop Gorman at 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

“There are guys who are hard to stop, then there’s Shabazz,” Holmes said. “Of course it can be done, but he does so many things well that it’s very difficult to key in on one thing. He’s got the size and strength [6-foot-6, 210 pounds], and that makes it even tougher. Our training is specifically designed to be unstoppable.”

When posed with the question of stopping Muhammad, Findlay Prep swingman Winston Shepard seemed instantly offended. He wore an incredulous frown and then repeated the question while shaking his head and laughing. Then he quickly pointed to the fact that in Findlay's last game against then-No. 1 Simeon (Chicago), Jabari Parker, the top-ranked player in the ESPNU 60, scored 24 points on 22 shots.

“And we won by 25,” said Shepard, a 6-8 senior. “I guarded Jabari. I’m not gonna sit up here and talk junk or anything, but I know Shabazz’s game very well.”

Shepard has been playing with and against Muhammad since the seventh grade. The pair teamed up for Dream Vision AAU.

“Shabazz is a great player, everyone knows that,” Shepard said. “But I’m gonna just come out and play my game. No player is impossible to stop.”

Muhammad’s a realist. Even as the top-ranked senior in the ESPNU 100, he knows that there are flaws in his game, most notably his perimeter jump shot.

“If I had to think of a scenario that gives teams the best shot at stopping me it would be to make me a 3-point shooter,” said Muhammad, who's averaging 30 points and nine rebounds per game this season while shooting 68 percent from the field. “That’s the part of my game that I want to improve the most.”

Don’t write that in the scouting report just yet, though. There are reasons he doesn’t mind revealing that information.

“For one, I just don’t think people can stop me from getting into the lane,” Muhammad said. “It’s how I’m wired, I guess.”

And the whole turn-him-into-a-3-point-marksman suggestion?

“During my workout I have to get 400 makes a day,” Muhammad said. “It usually takes me around 600 shots to do that. I'd say it's getting a lot better.”

Still, as daunting as the task of stopping Muhammad will be, Findlay point guard Dominic Artis doesn’t just think they can get it done -- he knows they can.

“Shabazz is a great player, there’s no doubt about it,” said Artis, a senior who is signed to Oregon. “We’re gonna put Winston on him, and I think that’ll help a lot because he knows his game better than anyone. They’ve got a good team, but if we stop him we’ll have a better chance to win. I mean, anyone can be stopped. As great a player as Shabazz is, I know that we can stop him. Like hold him under double digits. I’m confident in that.”

Good luck with that.

The last team to hold Muhammad under double digits was Bishop Manogue (Reno, Nev.) in the state semifinals last February. In that game, Muhammad, who played with a severely sprained ankle, had just nine points and the Gaels lost by one.

Still, by mid-conversation, Muhammad seems to have fully conceded that stopping him isn’t as farfetched as people think.

Seems odd for a guy who knows he’s the best player every time he steps on the court.

He’s got to know. It’s what makes him who he is.

“His mentality is to be relentless,” Holmes said. “It’s not something you see too often. He’s just a workhorse. You can’t teach the mindset he’s got. You’re born with that relentless mindset.”

That’s why it came as no shock that, just before parting, Muhammad backed off the whole notion of stopping him being a realistic aspiration.

“You know, it’s like, stopping me, I don’t know if I’d say that,” Muhammad said. “I just have the mentality that no one can stop me. I can have a bad game, but stopping me -- nah, I don’t think anyone can stop me because I’m not gonna stop until I’m succeeding. I’m just not gonna stop.”

Relentless mindset indeed.

Jason Jordan is the basketball editor for ESPNHS. He can be reached at jason.x.jordan.-ND@espn.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @JayJayESPN.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — There will likely be a new team atop the next POWERADE FAB 50 rankings after No. 1 Simeon (Chicago, Ill.) fell to No. 6 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.), 75-50, at the Spalding Hoophall Classic on Monday.

Simeon never found its offense, frequently forcing bad shots and allowing Findlay to run out on the fast break after misses. For the game, Simeon shot just 4 of 24 on 3-point attempts (16.7 percent), while Findlay Prep shot 66.7 percent from downtown (61 percent overall).

Winston Shepard
J. Anthony Roberts/ESPNHSWinston Shepard finished with high-flying dunks all night against Simeon.
The game was also billed as a matchup of two of the country’s top players — Simeon junior Jabari Parker and Findlay Prep senior Brandon Ashley. Parker, the No. 1 player in the ESPNU 60, was solid with 24 points and 12 rebounds, but the smooth superstar felt he could have done more to stop Findlay from pulling away in the second half.

“I waited too long to get it going,” said Parker. “I didn’t do a lot of scoring in the third quarter. If I don’t show up, my team’s going to lose by a lot of points.”

Ashley, the No. 4 player in the ESPNU 100, posted 13 points and nine boards, including back-to-back dunks to seal the game in the fourth quarter. He also received more help from his teammates.

Findlay Prep junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss chipped in 18 points, and senior guard Dominic Artis (No. 72 in the ESPNU 100) earned Player of the Game honors with 21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

The 6-foot-2 Williams-Goss also drew plenty of attention with his defensive performance, even switching onto the 6-foot-8 Parker at times and doing a good job.

“Obviously, our focus was on [Simeon junior guard] Kendrick Nunn and Jabari Parker,” said Williams-Goss. “I took it personally, because I knew I’d have to defend both of them during the game.”

Williams-Goss also said that Findlay Prep felt it had something to prove at Hoophall.

“We had a slip-up earlier in the season with our loss to La Lumiere,” he said. “But it was motivation to us that Simeon was ranked No. 1. We feel we’re still the best team in the country. Being No. 1, that put a bull’s-eye on their back and we were coming for them.”

Findlay Prep’s victory was even more impressive considering that the team was without senior forward Anthony Bennett, the No. 7 player in the ESPNU 100. Bennett sat out the game with a hamstring injury.

Simeon dropped to 15-1 with the loss. The Wolverines have spent the entire season at No. 1 in the POWERADE FAB 50, but the blowout loss is likely to drop them at least several spots. Findlay Prep improved to 18-1 with the win.

There were plenty of top college coaches on hand, presumably to get a close look at Parker, who is still uncommitted. Among those in the crowd were Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Kentucky's John Calipari.

After the game, Parker said he hasn’t formed any list of college favorites yet. “I’m wide open,” he said.

Mike Grimala covers high school sports for ESPNHS. Follow him on Twitter @ESPNHSGrimala or email him at michael.grimala@espn.com.

Hoophall Classic: Five burning questions

January, 13, 2012
Related: Watch the Hoophall Classic on ESPN family of networks

ESPNHS' Ronnie Flores answers the most pressing questions about this year's Spalding Hoophall Classic.

Which team has the most to prove at Hoophall?
That would be POWERADE FAB 50 No. 1 Simeon (Chicago). The Wolverines do have some quality victories so far this season, but they haven't faced a team with the talent level and big-game experience of No. 6 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.). Simeon beat local rival Whitney Young (Chicago), 62-55, on Dec. 22 and No. 34 Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.), 59-56, at the Cancer Research Classic, but it was expected to beat those teams. With Dominic Artis, Nigel Williams-Goss and Amedeo Della Valle, Findlay Prep will put tremendous pressure on Simeon's backcourt when the teams meet on Monday (ESPNU, 3 p.m. ET). Simeon junior guard Kendrick Nunn had 19 points against Miller Grove and we'll put Nunn's magic number at 24 in order for the Wolverines to win this game.

Which player will have a breakout performance?
Six-foot-2 junior Jairus Lyles of No. 5 DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.). He is a big-time scorer for the Stags who is well known in the D.C. area, but isn't as well known nationally as some of his teammates. Lyles made a huge impact for the Stags when they captured the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic earlier this year and his play will be key against Northwest Catholic (West Hartford, Conn.) tomorrow and No. 24 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) on Monday (ESPNU, 1 p.m. ET). According to DeMatha coach Mike Jones, he was the Stags' leading scorer halfway through last season before injuries curtailed him. Now healthy, Lyles is the X-factor in DeMatha's run for the program's sixth mythical national title.

Which team can make a big move up in the FAB 50?
No. 19 Prestonwood Christian Academy (Plano, Texas), if the Lions are on their game when they take on No. 2 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) tomorrow. We know Julius Randle and company can play with the nation's best teams (they won the City of Palms tournament), but they've been a bit inconsistent against national-level competition. Which Prestonwood team will show up? The one that won the City of Palms or the one soundly defeated by No. 3 Grace Prep (Arlington, Texas) on Dec. 15? The Lions will need big performances from complementary players Zach Peters and Mickey Mitchell because Oak Hill is probably the most complete team in high school basketball.

Which FAB 50 team is most ripe to be upset?
No. 4 St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.). Coach Bob Hurley's team nearly stumbled against No. 28 St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.), but pulled out a 51-50 victory after trailing by six points entering the fourth quarter. One thing is clear -- the Friars don't have as much firepower as last season, but on Monday they could make a statement against a hungry Miller Grove team (ESPNU, 11 a.m. ET). Last season, St. Anthony's 50-point win over DeMatha Catholic at Hoophall springboarded the Friars to the program’s fourth mythical national title, but they'll be facing a dangerous opponent that desperately doesn't want to go 0-3 in nationally televised games this season.

Can the West Region's top teams compete nationally?
Yes, they can compete against the nation's top-ranked teams, but only at full strength. No. 6 Findlay Prep needs Anthony Bennett to contribute when it faces top-ranked Simeon. According to associate head coach Todd Simon, Bennett will suit up against the Wolverines, but is likely to sit out Friday against Thurgood Marshall (Dayton, Ohio) at the Flyin' To The Hoop Invitational in Kettering, Ohio. No. 24 Bishop Gorman hasn't played at a national championship level without Ben Carter and Ronnie Stanley, but both should be in the lineup when the Gaels face DeMatha Catholic. Without Carter making a double-digit scoring contribution and Stanley earning his keep down low against DeMatha's BeeJay Anya, Gorman will be hard pressed to pull off the upset.

Ronnie Flores is a senior editor for ESPNHS. He can be reached at ronnie.flores@espn.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonFloresESPN

Simeon pulls out squeaker over Miller Grove

January, 7, 2012

WHEELING, W.Va. -- Jabari Parker couldn’t have cared less about Miller Grove’s (Lithonia, Ga.) recent shortcomings.

Sure, he was aware that just 23 days ago Miller Grove was ranked No. 2 in the POWERADE FAB 50 and, yeah, he’d heard about Miller Grove's four-game losing streak. But the only thing Parker was concerned with was making certain he and his top-ranked Simeon (Chicago) squad extended that streak to five.

“I don’t care who we’re playing or what that team’s situation is,” said Parker, a junior swingman who is the No. 1 player in the ESPNU 60. “All we care about is leaving with a win.”

They did.

Parker scored 20 points and snagged six rebounds to keep No. 1 Simeon (13-0) undefeated with a 59-56 win over No. 34 Miller Grove (6-5) Saturday night at the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, W.Va., in a game televised on ESPN2.

Kendrick Nunn added 19 points and Steve Taylor pumped in 11 for Simeon. Tony Parker led Miller Grove with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

“This was a great win for us over a great team,” said Jabari Parker, who was named Most Valuable Player. “We knew that we’d have to come out and execute well early, and I feel like we did that. That carried over to later in the game and it helped us pull out a close one. We’re really happy with this win.”

Parker had the hot hand early for Simeon, reeling off 10 points in the first quarter to give his squad an early 18-14 lead. Simeon extended that lead by capitalizing off of Miller Grove’s turnovers. Simeon turned six second-quarter turnovers into 10 points and cruised to a comfortable 35-20 lead at the half.

Simeon’s swarming defense caused Miller Grove to shoot just 36 percent from the field in the first half.

“We executed well in the first half,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “But we know that basketball is a game of runs, and we knew that they’d make a run. They’re too good not to make a run.”

That started in the third quarter.

Miller Grove shot 8 of 11 and put together a 24-8 run to grab a 44-43 lead early in the fourth quarter.

That’s when Simeon displayed its full array of offensive weapons. Four different players scored during Simeon’s 16-13 run to seal the win.

“That’s the special thing about this team,” Smith said. “We have so many guys that can score the ball that it’s hard to key in on one player. This was a huge win for our program. Coach (Sharman) White does a great job with that program, and we feel great to have pulled this one out.”

Jason Jordan is the basketball editor for ESPNHS. He can be reached at jason.x.jordan.-ND@espn.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @JayJayESPN.

Parker, Simeon face tough test in Miller Grove

January, 6, 2012

Jabari Parker knows that, on the most basic level, when you’re the No. 1 team in the POWERADE FAB 50 every team who’s not you is trying to be you.

“Every team’s goal is to be No. 1,” said Parker, a junior swingman at Simeon (Chicago). “So it’s something that we’re used to at this point. We’ve had to deal with it all year.”

Still, when facing a team whose fall from grace included four straight losses and a 32-spot plunge in the rankings, Parker knows the focus and motivation will be at an immeasurable high.

“Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.) will be the toughest test of the season,” said Parker, the top-ranked player in the ESPNU 60. “They have a great team across the board. It will be a war.”

Jabari Parker
Scott Kurtz/ESPNHSJabari Parker said Simeon would have to keep Tony Parker in check to have the best chance to win.
The two teams match up in the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, W.Va., at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2. Fans can watch a live broadcast online at Watch ESPN.

The game was originally billed as the battle for the top spot, but Miller Grove, which began the season ranked No. 2, suffered a four-game skid, including losses to No. 2 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), Riverside Academy (Reserve, La.), No. 24 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) and No. 33 Lake Wales (Lake Wales, Fla.).

That dropped the Wolverines to No. 34 in the current rankings.

“Obviously, we’re not happy with dropping those games, but we’re not dwelling on it at all,” said Miller Grove coach Sharman White. “It’s behind us. We’re 100 percent focused on what we’ve got to do to beat Simeon. We’re hungry to get back on track, and what better way than against the No. 1 team in the country?”

And therein lies the key factor that concerns Simeon coach Robert Smith.

Even though every team wants to prove itself against the country’s No. 1 squad, none of those teams can say they were ranked No. 2 just 22 days ago.

“You look at them on paper and they’re definitely good enough to be No. 1,” Smith said of Miller Grove. “They’ve had a tough schedule and we know that they’re going to be ready to beat us. We need challenges like this.”

Simeon got its biggest challenge of the season on Dec. 30, pulling out a 48-47 nail-biter over Peoria Manual (Peoria, Ill.) in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament semifinals.

Parker scored 21 points, including the team’s last nine, and grabbed 12 rebounds. The Chi-Town Wolverines came up with big stops in the final two minutes to sneak away with the win.

It’s just the kind of victory Smith said his team needed headed into the Miller Grove game.

“I loved that we got that test,” Smith said. “It wasn’t something we were used to, but in the end we found a way to pull out the win. You’ve got to know how to win when you’re not clicking on all cylinders, and that’s something we accomplished with that win.”

In order to have a similar result against Miller Grove, Parker said the key is to stop Tony Parker, Miller Grove’s dominant power forward who’s averaging 18 points and 14 rebounds a game.

“We’ve got to keep him off of the offensive glass and deny the ball really well against Tony,” Jabari Parker said. “I played against him on the AAU circuit and watched him play enough to know that once he catches the ball in the paint it’s an automatic two points. So we’ve really got to key in on him.”

White has similar concerns with Jabari Parker, who’s pumping in 25 points and 11 rebounds a game, but stops short of saying his team’s defensive focus will be solely on him.

“They’ve got too many weapons with Steve Taylor and the other guys,” White said. “I feel like that hurt us in the game against Bishop Gorman. We keyed in on Shabazz Muhammad and let the role players have career nights. We will play smart defense and be aware of all of their players.”

Added Jabari Parker: “It will come down to execution on both ends. I think this will be one of those games that we’ll have to be almost flawless in our execution in order to win. So that’s what we plan to do.”

Jason Jordan is the basketball editor for ESPNHS. He can be reached at jason.x.jordan.-ND@espn.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @JayJayESPN.

Nerlens Noel swats his way to dominance

December, 20, 2011
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Nerlens Noel is a nice guy so he’s willing to give you the first one. It’s only when you’ve become a repeat offender that he can’t help but to feel some kind of way about it.

When opposing big men or driving guards have the gall to attempt a shot in Noel’s lane, it offends him deeply. Therefore he’s forced to send an early message.

Nerlens Noel
Lori Young/ESPNHSNerlens Noel said he's 90 percent sure that he won't reclassify from 2013 to 2012.

“I try and swat their shots even further into the stands or down the court,” said Noel, a junior center at Tilton (Tilton, N.H.) who is ranked No. 2 in the ESPNU 60. “To be honest, it makes me feel a little disrespected.”

Makes sense for a player who, after the win, only cares about his block total for the game. This season Noel is averaging 7.5 blocks to go along with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

He blocked six shots, scored nine points, dished out six assists and snagged 17 rebounds in Tilton’s 80-50 win over Friends Central (Philadelphia) Monday night in the Signature Series semifinals of the City of Palms Classic.

Tilton will play Willbraham Monson (Willbraham, Mass.) Wednesday for the championship at 7:15 p.m. ET.

“Nerlens is just all over the place,” said Friends Central forward Amile Jefferson, a senior who is ranked No. 24 in the ESPNU 100. “He contests every shot and you’ve got to be aware of where he is at all times. He’s not the biggest guy on the court, but he plays like it.”

Noel is rail thin.

At 6-foot-11 -- roughly 1 ½ inches of that is all high-top -- he only weighs 215 pounds, but don’t let the size fool you.

“Blocking shots is all about timing,” Noel said. “It doesn’t matter how big and strong a guy that I have to guard is, I know how to time blocks really well. You get your shot blocked a few times and you’re gonna start pump-faking. Then I’ve got you.”

Tony Parker can attest to that.

As one of the toughest, most physically imposing big men in the country, regardless of class, Parker bangs centers and forwards around in the paint and finishes with strong dunks, short hook shots or jump shots almost at will.

Still, as dominant as Parker is, when he’s playing against Noel, Parker knows that he’s got to, at the very least, tweak his whole offensive repertoire.

“Gotta think twice when Nerlens is in the lane,” said Parker, a senior forward at Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.). “He’s the best shot blocker in the country for sure. And he’s only getting better.”

Last summer in the Nike Peach Jam title game, Noel dominated YOMCA (Memphis, Tenn.) big men Shaq Goodwin and Jarnell Stokes, both of whom are known for their physical post game. Noel finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, six blocks and countless deflections and changed shots.

That kind of dominance has heavyweights like Syracuse, Providence, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, Georgetown and Connecticut, among others, in hot pursuit. Most sat courtside Monday watching Noel dominate.

“Most of the schools recruiting me feel like I can step right in and help their team,” Noel said. “All of the schools on my list think I’m ready to contribute right away.”

Hence the popular rumor that Noel is indeed planning to reclassify to 2012 and lace ‘em up for a college team next season.

“Yeah I’ve heard that one,” Noel said of the rumor. “I’m not gonna do that though. I’m 90 percent sure that I won’t reclassify. But the fact that those coaches think I can play now, definitely gives me even more confidence on the court.”

Enough to feel like he’s one spot too low in the rankings? Simeon (Chicago) swingman Jabari Parker currently holds down the top spot in 2013.

Noel laughs and pauses before saying, “Well, if I am, I am and if I’m not, I’m not. I don’t know, I do feel like all around I’m the best. So essentially yeah I feel like I’m the best.”

Right away it's obvious that Noel’s not at all comfortable with what he’s just said. He subsequently changes the subject with the same precision he uses to spike shots like volleyballs.

He’s much more comfortable being committal when it comes to his abilities with a video game controller.

“I’m definitely the best in the country when it comes to NBA 2K,” Noel said. “Ask all of the guys at the Elite 24. I beat everyone I played. Marcus Paige, Savon Goodman, Nate Britt, Amile Jefferson… All of them. I don’t know if it makes me a better at it, but I block a lot of shots on 2K too.”


Jason Jordan is the basketball editor for ESPNHS. He can be reached at jason.x.jordan.-ND@espn.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @JayJayESPN

NCAA forces showcase to change location

December, 16, 2011
Related: High school events moved out of college arenas

A last-second NCAA ruling means that 20 high school teams that were originally scheduled to play at Duke University’s historic Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., for the “Clash at Cameron” will instead head to Fayetteville, N.C., to play in the “Clash in Carolina" at Crown Arena Friday.

Saturday's slate of games was canceled due to the last-minute schedule shuffling.

The event was declared non-scholastic and the NCAA does not allow non-scholastic events to take place at Division I college facilities because there’s too much of a recruiting advantage.

It’s the same NCAA ruling that moved the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions, a prestigious AAU tournament that’s held Memorial Day weekend, from Cameron Indoor Stadium, UNC's Dean Smith Center and N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum to high school and rec gyms.

Huntington Prep (Huntington, W.Va.) players’ disappointment was twofold; not only will they not be able to play at Duke, they also won’t be able to play against Simeon (Chicago), the No. 1 team in the POWERADE FAB 50.

Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, N.H.) also dropped out.

"It's obviously disappointing to our guys to not be playing at Cameron,” said Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford, who got rescheduled to play Mt. Zion (Durham, N.C.) Saturday after Simeon dropped out. “This event has been circled on most of our calendars not only for playing at Duke, but playing Simeon, too. Now that neither is happening it's certainly disappointing."

Jason Jordan is the basketball editor for ESPNHS. He can be reached at jason.x.jordan.-ND@espn.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @JayJayESPN

High school hoops on TV tips Dec. 15 on ESPN

December, 1, 2011

GEICO ESPNHS Basketball Showcase

The 2011-12 GEICO ESPNHS Basketball Showcase will feature 16 televised games plus a Skills Competition which will include a Slam Dunk and 3-point shooting contest on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3.

This year’s Showcase will highlight the top nine teams ranked in the POWERADE FAB 50 ESPNHS Preseason Rankings: No. 1 Simeon (Ill.), No. 2 Miller Grove (Ga.), No. 3 Oak Hill Academy (Va.), No. 4 Montrose Christian (Md.), No. 5 Marcus Flower Mound (Texas), No. 6 Mater Dei (Calif.), No. 7 Bishop Gorman (Nev.), No. 8 Findlay Prep (Nev.) and No. 9 St. Anthony (N.J.).

The 2012 Spalding Hoop Hall Classic will be featured on ESPN, ESPNU and ESPN3 the weekend of Jan. 15-16. The event will bring together nine ranked teams for a weekend of basketball with top high school teams, prep schools and prospects from across the nation including No. 1 Shabazz Muhammad of Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), No. 2 Mitch McGary of Brewster (Wolfeboro, N.H.), No. 3 Isaiah Austin of Grace Prep (West Arlington, Texas), No. 4 Brandon Ashley of Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) and more.

To view the complete television listings, CLICK HERE.

Hoopers dish on skills they're most thankful for

November, 23, 2011
Before diets give way to hefty portions of pumpkin pie, gravy drenched turkey, mouthwatering mac and cheese and succulent candied yams we figured we’d have a handful of elite players reflect on what basketball skill they’re most thankful to have in their repertoire.

Here’s what they came up with.
Jabari Parker
Scott Kurtz/ESPNHSJabari Parker said Simeon would have to keep Tony Parker in check to have the best chance to win.
Jabari Parker, Simeon (Chicago), SF, 2013
The hoops skill I’m most thankful for is…
“My versatility. That helps me to be able to play all of the different positions on the floor. It’s definitely the skill I’m most thankful for.”

Alex Poythress, Northeast (Clarksville, Tenn.), F, 2012
Signed to: Kentucky
The hoops skill I’m most thankful for is…
“My height. I know that’s not really a skill, but it’s such a blessing because most people aren’t 6-foot-8. It’s helped me a lot in this game. It makes me more versatile, it forces teams to put bigger slower people on me and it allows me to shoot over smaller players. I’m very thankful for my height.”

Julius Randle, Prestonwood Christian (Plano, Texas), F, 2013
The hoops skill I’m most thankful for is…
“My ball handling ability. Most guys my height (6-foot-10) can’t really handle the ball too well, but it’s just always come really natural to me. I’m blessed to have that ability.”

Tony Parker, Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.), F, 2012
The hoops skill I’m most thankful for is…
“My basketball IQ. I feel like it’s pretty high and it’s one of the best skills to have because, think about it, no one can take that away from you. They can block your shot, overpower you in the paint or be faster than you, but as long as you have a high IQ you can have an impact on the game. I’m most thankful that I’ve got that.”

Rodney Purvis, Upper Room Christian Academy (Raleigh, N.C.), G, 2012
Signed to: North Carolina State
The hoops skill I’m most thankful for is…
“My dribbling ability. That allows me to create for myself and my teammates so that's definitely the skill that I'm most thankful to have.”

Jason Jordan is the basketball editor for ESPNHS. He can be reached at jason.x.jordan.-ND@espn.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @JayJayESPN

Quick Shots: Oak Hill's early showdown

October, 28, 2011
Preseason POWERADE FAB 50 No. 3 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) unofficially kicked off the 2011-12 season with a 91-54 victory over Covenant Christian (Loganville, Ga.) on October 21. The Warriors also participated in their annual scrimmages with Fork Union, Massanuttan and Hargrave Military Academies this month. Those schools are not eligible for the FAB 50 rankings.

The Warriors next game on November 1 will take place on the road against Quality Education Academy (Winston-Salem, N.C.). QEA, if you recall, was removed from last year's FAB 50 rankings when head coach Isaac Pitts informed us about fifth-year players on his roster, namely Sir' Dominic Pointer (now at St. John's University), when we called last January to confirm if Sacramento, Calif., native Josiah Turner was indeed enrolled at QEA after leaving Sacramento High mid-season.

At the time, we applauded Pitts for his honesty and if that trait were displayed by every single high school coach we deal with when it comes to player eligibility and team rankings, it would streamline the process of ranking teams and make them more accurate. Pitts stated in writing his current club doesn't carry any post-graduates, so QEA is eligible for the FAB 50 this season. Our ultimate goal is to determine which schools are eligible and for them to remain eligible for the foreseeable future and for ineligible clubs to never return. We want to avoid programs being eligible for the FAB 50 one year and ineligible the next.

Pitts' club is one of a handful of teams itching to break into the FAB 50. QEA has a young club and a player to watch when they do battle next week with Oak Hill is 6-1 PG Jevon Thomas, a Dayton commit. Pitts is also high on 6-9 freshman Ibrabiima Diallo, a native of Dakar, Senegal.

UFCA Could Face Sanctions

According to the Charlotte Observer, FAB 50 No. 30 United Faith Christian Academy (Charlotte, N.C.) might be in hot water with the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association (NCISAA). According to the newspaper, the potential violation of NCISAA rules involves an email sent out by school headmaster Dr. Joe Siragusa in September. The question at hand is whether Siragusa's email violated the NCISAA's statues against the recruitment of potential student-athletes.

If the email is ruled to be a recruiting violation, UFCA would be placed on probation and banned from the playoffs for one year according to the NCISAA handbook. As far as the FAB 50 is concerned, UFCA would remain eligible as long as its current roster was made up of players who would be eligible at other public or private schools in North Carolina. This situation reminds us of the Kyrie Irving-Mike Gilchrist led St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) team that finished the 2009-10 season ranked No. 7 in the FAB 50. St. Patrick was banned from the New Jersey TOC after the NJSIAA ruled then head coach Kevin Boyle was in violation of its coaching rules involving pre-season workouts.

Findlay Prep schedule finalized

Another team looking to move up in the FAB 50 is Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.). Unlike QEA, the Pilots are already in the rankings, opening up at No. 8. Findlay Prep has a loaded roaster and this week the program announced its loaded 2011-12 schedule. One early season game that will draw plenty of attention from fans and pollsters is the Pilots' December 3 match up in Dallas against No. 5 Marcus (Flower Mound, Texas). Coach Mike Peck's club also has a crucial six-day stretch in January where they'll face No. 1 Simeon (Chicago) and No. 7 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.).

Ronnie Flores is a senior editor for ESPNHS. He can be reached at ronnie.flores@espn.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonFloresESPN

Long road to FAB 50 title

October, 25, 2011
The road to the POWERADE FAB 50 mythical national title won't be an easy one.

That journey will definitely pass through Ft. Myers, Fla., and Springfield, Mass. Those two locations are home to the most loaded events this upcoming season in terms of FAB 50 ranked-caliber teams in attendance.

Ft. Myers, Fla., is the home of the State Farm City of Palms Classic, the nation's top holiday tournament in recent years. The 2011 edition (Dec. 16-21) is no different, as Bishop Verot High School will host no less than eight FAB 50-ranked teams between December 16-21. The field of teams include (listed with preseason FAB 50 ranking):

16-Team Classic:

No. 2 Miller Grove (Lithonia Ga.)
No. 6 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
No. 7 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
No. 10 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.)
No. 16 Grace Prep (Arlington, Texas)
No. 18 Riverside Academy (Reserve, La.)
No. 50 Trinity (Louisville, Ken.)

4-Team Signature Series:

No. 23 Friends' Central (Wynnewood, Pa.)

The third place and championship game on Wednesday, December 21 will be televised live on ESPNU.

Among the teams that did not make the FAB 50, the one that intrigues us the most is Salesian (Richmond, Calif.), led by standout junior wing Jabari Bird. The Pride open the season unranked in the West Region Top 20, but one has to wonder how high they would have been in the FAB 50 had standout point guard Dominic Artis, who recently de-committed from UCLA, not left NorCal for Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.).

Speaking of Findlay Prep, the rugged schedule for the No. 8 ranked Pilots includes a stop at Blake Arena in Springfield, Mass., on Monday, Jan. 16 at the 2012 Spalding Hoophall Classic. In that game, Findlay Prep will battle No. 1 Simeon (Chicago, Ill.) as part of a four game set to be televised on ESPNU.

Seven of the top nine teams in the POWERADE FAB 50 will participate at the Hoophall Classic, which is quickly becoming the nation's top showcase. The top showcase games at the five-day event over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend (Jan. 12-16) are:

Jan. 14

No. 47 La Verne Lutheran (La Verne, Calif.) vs. St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.)
No. 18 Riverside Academy (Reserve, La.) vs. No. 19 Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.)
No. 3 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) vs. Prestonwood Christian (Arlington, Texas)
No. 13 DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) vs. Northwest Catholic (West Hartford, Conn.)

Jan. 15

No. 23 Friends' Central (Wynnewood, Pa.) vs. St. Mark's (Southborough, Mass.)

Jan. 16

No. 2 Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.) vs. No. 9 St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.)
No. 7 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) vs. No. 13 DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.)
No. 1 Simeon (Chicago, Ill.) vs. No. 8 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.)
No. 6 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) vs. No. 24 Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.)

As if those games aren't enough to make fans and pollsters drool, there is a tentative game to be played on Jan. 7 at the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, W. Va., between No. 1 Simeon and No. 2 Miller Grove.

There is no guarantee that game at the Cancer Research Classic will pit the top two ranked teams in the FAB 50. But if Miller Grove can survive its early season schedule, including a game against No. 3 Oak Hill Academy, and win the City of Palms Tournament, there is no doubt the Wolverines will be pushing Simeon for the top spot.

Should Miller Grove falter before facing a potentially unbeaten Simeon club, there will be plenty of pressure on Jabari Parker and company to win that game. If not, a new No. 1 team heading towards the postseason could potentially emerge from the results of the Hoophall Classic.

At the conclusion of the 1989-90 season, four of the top five ranked teams in the National Prep Poll (precursor to the FAB 50) all finished with unbeaten records, led by No. 1 King (Chicago, Ill.) with a 32-0 mark.

With the stacked national schedules ranked teams are playing nowadays, that scenario is unlikely to materialize again.

Ronnie Flores is a senior editor for ESPNHS. He can be reached at ronnie.flores@espn.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonFloresESPN

Simeon, Parker comfortable on top

October, 19, 2011
RELATED: FAB 50 | ESPNHS - Illinois | Five Burning Questions For 2011-12 Season

It’s not that Simeon (Chicago) coach Robert Smith is being cocky or that he’s gotten the proverbial “big head."

He’s merely trying to implement a mindset of excellence.

That’s why when he learned his Wolverines had indeed drawn the ultimate bull’s-eye of the preseason, being ranked No. 1 in the POWERADE FAB 50, he paused for a few seconds before nonchalantly saying, “OK.”

“Well, the mindset of this team is to be the best,” Smith said. “I recognize that it’s an honor, but it’s also added pressure. We feel like we’re supposed to be No. 1. That’s how we prepare, so to get this news only means that we’ve got work to do to keep it.”

That workload will be strenuous with Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.), Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) and Marcus (Flower Mound, Texas) on Simeon’s heels to round out the top five.
Jabari Parker
Scott Powers/ESPNChicagoJabari Parker said that he and his teammates will embrace their No. 1 ranking.

Still, Simeon has something the others don’t – Jabari Parker, last year's ESPNHS National Sophomore of the Year and the top-ranked player in the ESPNU 60. Some even consider Parker, a junior swingman, the top player in the country regardless of class.

“He’s one of four guys you could make that case for,” ESPN director of basketball recruiting Paul Biancardi said. “Jabari has exceptional skills and he’s very capable of successfully leading this team. The thing he’ll have to concentrate on is constantly improving and not trying to prove anything. That will be the key.”

This summer, Parker, who is widely regarded as the front-runner for the ESPNHS Mr. Basketball USA honor, had to deal with the immense amount of pressure that accompanies being the top dog. He said the only way to combat the inevitable lofty, and sometimes unfair, expectations is to remain focused.

“I would get it all the time with people coming at me because of where I’m ranked,” said Parker, who led Simeon with 15.3 points per game last season. “I just stayed focused on what I was doing and it worked for me. We’ve got the bull’s-eye, but as long as we stay hungry we’ll be fine. That’s worked for us in the past.”

Simeon has won two consecutive state titles and is the overwhelming favorite to complete the trifecta with a talented roster that includes junior guard Kendrick Nunn and senior forward Steve Taylor. The Wolverines also picked up Jaylon Tate, a junior guard who transferred from De La Salle (Chicago).

“We’ll be very talented there’s no question,” Smith said. “We have the pieces to be very successful.”

Good thing too.

The Wolverines will need all hands on deck for a grueling schedule that includes games against No. 2 Miller Grove, No. 8 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) and No. 34 Whitney Young (Chicago).

“We wanted a difficult schedule,” Smith said. “This team will definitely be battle-tested by the end of the season. We plan to win every game. That’s our goal.”

Added Parker: “As good as it is to be ranked No. 1 to start the season our goal is to be No. 1 at the end of the season. That’s priority No. 1.”

Parker’s fail-proof plan for staying on top?

Remain hunters.

“Just because we’re No. 1 we’re not gonna be sitting back waiting on teams to bring it to us,” Parker said. “We’re gonna come out hard and go at them. We’ll play with a lot of intensity. This is what we wanted so we’re not planning to lose it.”

Jason Jordan is the basketball editor for ESPNHS. He can be reached at jason.x.jordan.-ND@espn.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @JayJayESPN

Five burning questions for 2011-12 season

October, 19, 2011
RELATED: Simeon Is Preseason No. 1

1. Will programs designed to excel at basketball be forced to play only against each other?
No, not as long as the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) defers to state associations with regards to restrictions to whom member schools can play. Some state associations allow their teams to play programs such as Huntington Prep (Huntington, W. Va.) or Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) and others do not. These non-members follow the rules of the association in their home state to varying degrees. We say programs and not schools because the players at Findlay Prep and Huntington Prep attend other secondary schools; the one on their jerseys do not exist. If the National Federation doesn't take a stand or strongly suggest state association members not to play these programs, they will continue to be relevant and that's fine with us as ratings compilers. Our job is to enforce general guidelines for ranked teams to follow to ensure a level playing field, have as much accurate info about as many teams as possible and use the result of games as the basis for our rankings. It's not our job to pass judgment about who should be allowed to compete against whom.

2. What kind of impact will the NBA lockout have on the high school game?
Lost in the hoopla around the sticking points of revenue allotment between owners and players and the length of player contracts is the 19-year old age rule that was administered the last time the NBPA negotiated the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in 2005. The rule could be abolished, but it's not the focus in this work stoppage. While the country waits for both parties to come to their senses, general fans looking for their hoop fix might turn to the college and high school game, a huge plus for teenagers who love the game.

Shaq Goodwin, Jabari Parker, Simeon, ESPNHS, POWERADE FAB 50, Mr. Basketball USA
Scott Kurtz/ESPNHSShaq Goodwin and other senior Mr. Basketball USA candidates will get strong competition from junior Jabari Parker for the coveted honor.
3. Which ranked teams have the most pressure to live up to lofty expectations?
The two teams located on opposite ends of the desert oasis known as Las Vegas -- Bishop Gorman and Findlay Prep. The Bishop Gorman coaching staff felt its team should have won last season’s Class 4A state title even with the nation’s No. 1 recruit, Shabazz Muhammad, nursing a bothersome ankle in the state semifinals. The Gaels lost that game by a point and what made that result even more shocking is the team that upset them, Bishop Manogue of Reno, lost in the final by 35 points. In a recent fall showcase, Gorman took on Findlay Prep, minus Muhammad, and even with "ringer" Katin Reinhardt of Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) in the lineup, the Pilots led early by more than 20 points. Findlay Prep probably has its most talented roster since 2008-09 when it finished No. 1 in the FAB 50, but the Pilots have to prove they can survive a murderous schedule and not have letdowns similar to the ones they’ve had the previous two seasons.

4. Can an underclassman win ESPNHS Mr. Basketball USA honors?
Yes, there is a solid chance it could happen for the first time since LeBron James earned the honor after his junior season at St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron, Ohio) in 2001-02. Some high school experts feel juniors Nerlens Noel of The Tilton School (Tilton, N.H.), Julius Randle of Prestonwood Christian Academy (Plano, Texas) and Jabari Parker of Simeon (Chicago, Ill.) are the best prospects in high school basketball, regardless of class. Noel’s candidacy is somewhat hindered by playing at a school that allows post-graduates while opinion varies on Randle. Some recruiting experts feel Randle is a once-in-a-decade type player, while others feel he has a lot of work to do on his perimeter game. Either way, he'll have to elevate the play of his teammates to have a chance and that's where Parker might have the edge. His Simeon team plays a tough enough schedule to put him in great position for a historic season.

5. Does the summer have an impact on team rankings?
Yes it does. When most think of the summer scene they think of endless games, long travel days and earning -- or losing -- college scholarships. But the summer is also an aid in team evaluations, although the top players on many POWERADE FAB 50 teams don't play together. It's the improvements shown by lesser-known players that are key, or team success among a group of players from the same high school. For instance, DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) was an inconsistent team last year but came on strong towards the end of the season. The Stags' top three returnees -- CG James Robinson, WF Jerami Grant and PF BeeJay Anya -- had a standout summer with Team Takeover and that bumped up the team a few spots in the preseason rankings.

Ronnie Flores is a senior editor for ESPNHS. He can be reached at ronnie.flores@espn.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonFloresESPN

Parker opts for practice over Madness

October, 14, 2011
ESPNHS - Illinois

Jabari Parker would love to be cliché tonight.

He’d love to kick back and relax behind a college team’s bench and hear thousands of passionate fans chant his name while clapping in unison.

He’d love to watch the players compete in dunk contests, perform wacky dances and go head-to-head in an intra-squad scrimmage to usher in the start of the college basketball season at a Midnight Madness event.

He’d love to, but he can’t.
Jabari Parker
Scott Kurtz/ESPNHSJabari Parker is skipping out on Midnight Madness to practice with Team USA.

“I love competing for my country even more,” said Parker, a junior swingman at Simeon (Chicago).

Parker, the top-ranked player in the ESPNU 60, and 26 other high school players from 17 states will meet up at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., to participate in a mini-camp for the USA Basketball Developmental National Team from Oct. 14-16.

In June, Parker was named MVP after Team USA cruised to the gold medal in the FIBA Americas U16 Championship. He averaged 15.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and two steals in five tournament games.

“It’s basically a practice, but I’m excited about getting back over there to play,” Parker said. “It’s similar to what the professional team did. It should be fun. I’d rather be there working.”

Parker opting to hop a flight to work hard instead of being the object of an entire college campus’ affection for a weekend doesn’t surprise Simeon coach Robert Smith at all.

“Jabari is just a different kid,” Smith said. “He’s not normal, but in a great way. Here’s a kid who won MVP at an event this summer and was seriously wanting to give it to another kid because he thought the guy deserved it more. When his teammates don’t make their sprint times, he’ll run the do-overs. So him skipping Midnight Madness to go play for Team USA, that’s just Jabari. It's a testament to the type of player he is.”

Jason Jordan is the basketball editor for ESPNHS. He can be reached at jason.x.jordan.-ND@espn.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @JayJayESPN