Our previous No. 1 in the 2013 class, Kaela Davis of Norcross, Ga., has been described as Kobe-like in the way at 6 feet 2, she can create shots and score. Our new No. 1, Mercedes Russell of Springfield, Ore., while not Shaq-like, per se, is one of the more polished, all-around post prospects we've seen.
We're way ahead of you on how Shaq-Kobe foreshadows the battle for No. 1 in 2013, but let the comparisons begin in earnest. This is a replay of the Class of 2011 battle between wing Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis of Anaheim, Calif., and post Elizabeth Williams of Virginia Beach, Va., whom we rated two points ahead of everyone else.
In 2013, Russell, Davis and No. 3 Diamond DeShields of Norcross, Ga., are deemed a level above the rest of the pack.
It's been a dizzying and almost unprecedented rise to the top spot for Russell. She faced elite-level, club-basketball competition for the first time in mid-May. She went from there to making the USA Basketball U16 team, starting and flourishing during the FIBA Americas championships in Mérida, Mexico. Bolstered by those successes, she truly walked the walk during the ensuing summer club circuit with three other top Oregon prospects on Team Concept.
Almost as head spinning is the size of the tool belt the 6-foot-5 post prospect brings to the court. Russell grew six inches between the eighth and ninth grades, and she maintains a lot of the wing skills she developed before then. She isn't a novelty post who may hit a standstill 3-pointer on occasion. She can catch on the perimeter, sweep and put the ball into play with great touch from about 17 feet on in.
Though Russell has had no formal training in the post, she already has many of the good habits coaches will spend eons trying to teach inside prospects. She is good on the catch, maintaining a seal, keeping the ball high on moves and rebounds and has the focus to finish even against multiple defenders. At the defensive end, she is not overzealous, fights for position and keeps the lane on lockdown with relative ease.
In a way, Russell is the vanguard of what appears to be a 2013 renaissance in versatile inside play. Her club teammate, No. 14 Kailee Johnson of Portland, Ore., is also an inside player with perimeter skills. At the other end of the spectrum, the biggest riser in the Super 60, Halle Washington of Bossier City, La., went from unranked to No. 21 and is a long, uncommonly physical prospect who keeps putting on polish the longer we watch her.
Perimeter play, beyond the Davis-DeShields realm, also is on the rise in this class. Rebecca Greenwell of Owensboro, Ky., like Russell, received a boost by her play in Mexico, and leaped from No. 10 to No. 5. Partly because Allisha Gray of Sandersville, Ga., exploded for 70 points in consecutive games at Nike Nationals, she took the biggest jump among the elites, from No. 14 to No. 8. Also significantly advancing at the top of the class were a couple of explosive Floridians, Ieshia Small of Miami, who went from No. 16 to No. 11, and Ronni Williams of Daytona Beach, who rose from No. 21 to No. 12.
Whether it's the water, answering a call for certain skills or the USA Basketball effect, this is a class that, so far, has shown a proclivity for advancement. And that trait starts at the very top.
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ESPN HoopGurlz Rankings Panel
Lisa Bodine is a national evaluator for ESPN HoopGurlz. A native of Queens, N.Y., she began her coaching career in 1993 with the NY Gazelles, has coached with D.C.-based Team Unique, and in 2009 she was named DAC Co-Coach of the Year after leading Wakefield Country Day School in Flint Hill, Va., to its first-ever conference title. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Brandon Clay is a contributor and national recruiting analyst for ESPN HoopGurlz. He is also the publisher of the JumpOffPlus.com National Scouting Report and the owner of Peach State Basketball, Inc. Clay has been involved in the community since 2001 as a recruiting analyst, event operator and trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @peachstatehoops.
Rebecca Gray is an intern for ESPN HoopGurlz. She previously wrote a column for the website about her experiences as a freshman on basketball scholarship at the University of North Carolina. She transferred to and played at Kentucky and now plays basketball and golf at Union College. A 5-foot-10, sharp-shooting guard out of Georgetown, Ky., Gray was named Miss Basketball in the state of Kentucky after averaging 25.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.1 steals and 4.8 assists during her senior season at Scott County High School. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Keil Moore is a contributor and national recruiting analyst for ESPN HoopGurlz. He is also the Director of Scouting for the JumpOffPlus.com National Scouting Report - a division of Peach State Basketball, Inc. Moore has been involved in the community since 2007 as a recruiting analyst and trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.