Fundamentals, SoCal make hoops hot list

Updated: November 7, 2008, 1:26 PM ET
By Ryan Canner-O'Mealy |

As teams tip off across the country, ESPN RISE looks at what's hot -- and not -- this high school basketball season. From the top teams to the top players, here's a rundown of what to watch for this winter:

2008-2009 High school basketball preview
Hot Not
New Jersey Saints

Three of the nation's top teams are Catholic schools in the Garden State. No. 3 St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) leads the way, followed closely by No. 4 St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.) and No. 20 St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.). Players like senior Dexter Strickland from the Celtics, junior Tristan Thompson of the Gray Bees and senior Dominic Cheek of the Friars are among the best in their classes.
New York Sinners

Two of New York's best ballers find themselves in the middle of controversy. Lincoln (Brooklyn, N.Y.) guard Lance Stephenson, the No. 7 recruit in the ESPNU 100, was charged with a misdemeanor after allegedly groping a fellow student. And former St. Raymond (Bronx, N.Y.) star Kevin Parrom transferred to South Kent (Conn.) after getting in an altercation with St. Ray's coach Oliver Antigua last spring.
2008-09 Renardo Sidney
After a junior year in which he put up great numbers but was inconsistent at times, Sidney, a big man at Fairfax (Los Angeles), is back and better than ever. He shed 25 pounds and looks ready for battle. The knock on Sidney in the past has been his questionable dedication to the game, but he looks poised for a monster season.
2007-08 Renardo Sidney
The 6-foot-9, 260-pound Sidney wore down in games at times last year thanks to the extra weight he was carrying around. With those pounds gone, he can flourish thanks to his versatile game, which includes size and the ability to knock down the 3.
N.Y. Guards in Virginia

Lamont Jones and Doron Lamb start in the backcourt for Steve Smith and Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.). Jones is a product of Rice (New York City), while Lamb spent last year tearing it up at Bishop Loughlin (Brooklyn, N.Y.). They're a main reason why Oak Hill starts the year No. 5 in the preseason ESPN RISE FAB 50.
Texas Guards in Virginia

Jones became a necessity at Oak Hill once Tommy Mason-Griffin bailed on the Warriors. Originally expected to be a starter, the Oklahoma-bound Mason-Griffin decided to stay home at Madison (Houston) for the year. Mason-Griffin is the No. 37 senior recruit in the ESPNU 100.
Old-school fundamentals
The trend all over basketball -- from the Olympic level to grassroots -- is a throwback to the old days, and high school hoops is no different. Nike hosts position-specific skills academies in the summer and the nation's best players seem to be taking to it.
New-school flair
There will always be a place for highlight-reel dunks and behind-the-back passes in the high school game, but the most successful programs emphasize fundamentals and team basketball. It might not be as exciting, but it produces plenty of wins and state championships.

The biggest story in hoops this year is Brandon Jennings' decision to play professionally in Europe for a year, rather than at Arizona, in preparation for the NBA Draft. How he does will affect elite players for years to come, as he could become the Kevin Garnett in a new preps-to-pros trend. ESPNU 100 recruits Lance Stephenson and Renardo Sidney have acknowledged they will monitor Jennings' progress.
On Campus
With the hype Jennings has received in going to Europe, it's hard to imagine others not following. College basketball experts like Fran Fraschilla, a former college coach and current ESPN analyst, say a year abroad could be better for Jennings' development than a year in college. Add in an extra year of salary and potential endorsement deals, and it's going to be tough for some top players to turn down.

The players and teams in Southern California are bringing the heat this year. Mater Dei, Fairfax and Dominguez all started the year in the top 15 of the ESPN RISE FAB 50. Elite players like Jordan Hamilton of Dominguez, Jeremy Tyler of San Diego and Renardo Sidney of Fairfax have SoCal buzzing.
The City of Brotherly Love has its World Series title, but this is a down year by Philly's lofty prep basketball standards. The city's top team is Neumann-Goretti, which is rated No. 40 in the ESPN RISE FAB 50. And the region landed only two players in the ESPNU 100, No. 22 Maalik Wayns of Roman Catholic and No. 33 Aaric Murray of Glen Mills School.
Seattle Ballers

Two top 30 seniors in Abdul Gaddy of Bellarmine Prep and Peyton Siva of Franklin, the No. 1 sophomore in Tony Wroten of Garfield and the No. 4 junior in Josh Smith of Kentwood and the Great Northwest has some serious ballers, even without the Sonics. And that doesn't even count Avery Bradley, who played at Bellarmine before transferring to Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) this summer.
Chicago Ballers
While Windy City native Derrick Rose went first in the NBA Draft, don't expect a top pick from this year's seniors. The 2009 class has some quality players, but no one in the ESPNU 100. But there is some big-time underclass talent, with No. 9 junior Jereme Richmond of Waukegan and two top 10 ballers in the Class of 2011 in Mike Shaw of De La Salle and Wayne Blackshear of Curie.
Duncanville (Texas)
The Panthers enter the season ranked No. 1 in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 and with good reason. The team is stocked with the talent, depth and experience to repeat its 2007 undefeated state championship season. It all starts with ESPNU 100 seniors Roger Franklin, headed to Oklahoma State, and Shawn Williams, bound for Texas.
Everybody Else
There are plenty of great teams out there and it's impossible to compare without seeing them head-to-head, but on paper, no one matches up with Duncanville's combination of D-I talent throughout its starting lineup with quality help off the bench. Other teams to challenge the Panthers include Oak Hill Academy, Mater Dei, St. Patrick and St. Benedict's.
On the heels of George Mason's run to the Final Four and Davidson's march to the Elite Eight, mid-majors are starting to effectively recruit high-major players. No. 33 senior Aaric Murray of Glen Mills School spurned offers from Pitt, Villanova and West Virginia to commit to La Salle. No. 68 senior Zeke Marshall of McKeesport (McKeesport, Pa.) pledged to Akron despite offers from Pitt, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Middle-of-the-pack high-majors
While mid-majors are plucking some elite talent, they're mostly taking them from lower-level high-majors. North Carolina, Duke and UCLA won't be affected by this trend, but it's the mid-to-low level of the ACC and SEC getting affected. Harris picked Georgia State over Mississippi and Mississippi State, not Kentucky or Florida. Marshall chose Akron over Virginia and Virginia Tech, not the Tar Heels or Blue Devils.
North Carolina
The Tar Heels are No. 1 in this year's preseason coaches' poll and they don't show any sign of letting up, continuing to reel in high-profile commitments. From the Class of 2009, UNC snagged the following top 50 recruits: No. 3 John Henson, No. 19 Dexter Strickland, No. 25 Leslie McDonald, No. 49 David Wear and No. 50 Travis Wear. In 2010, Roy Williams has already secured pledges from No. 13 Reggie Bullock and No. 31 Kendall Marshall.
Just about any team in the country would like to be in the Blue Devils' place right now, but when compared to their Tobacco Road neighbors (as they always are), Duke doesn't measure up. Top 15 recruits like Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly are nice, but they're not John Henson. And North Carolina's depth can bury Duke's. Making matters worse, coach Mike Krzyzewski and Co. just got spurned by No. 13 senior recruit Kenny Boynton, who's headed to Florida.
With all the talent in the area, local colleges should be filled with elite ballers. But for a while, that hasn't been the case. Until now. Last year, they reeled in a pair of All-American-caliber players in guard Mike Rosario, a McDonald's pick from St. Anthony, and big man Greg Echenique from St. Benedict's, who graduated early to enroll in time for this season.
St. John's
While Rutgers has turned things up, the Red Storm continue to get left behind. Spurned by several of his top targets from the Class of 2009, coach Norm Roberts has only one ESPNU 100 recruit in Omari Lawrence of South Kent. It's a decent start, but this team still seems a long way from returning to prominence.
When it comes to Pac-10 recruiting, it's all about the Bruins. While he can pull in the occasional out-of-state star (Kevin Love), coach Ben Howland is making his name these days by dominating Los Angeles. This year's freshman class alone contains instant-impact star Jrue Holiday of Campbell Hall plus Malcolm Lee of J.W. Northand and Jerime Anderson of Canyon.
The Wildcats haven't had problems getting recruits, they've just had problems keeping them. Lute Olson's on-again-off-again situation hasn't helped things, and the team had ESPNU 100 recruits Abdul Gaddy, Mike Moser and Solomon Hill decommit after Olson retired this fall. Add in Brandon Jennings' defection to Europe and it could be a long couple of years in Tucson.
Sickles (Tampa, Fla.)
Sickles got the best early Christmas present a basketball team could get with the transfer of North Carolina-bound star big man John Henson. Henson's father got a job in Florida, necessitating the move, and the Gryphons are the beneficiaries. Henson is the No. 3 senior in the ESPNU 100.
Round Rock (Round Rock, Texas)
While Sickles is thrilled with Henson's move, Round Rock lost a once-in-a-lifetime star. In addition to having to replace his double-digit points and rebounds, Round Rock loses the high profile that goes along with having a national superstar.
Brittney Griner on YouTube
This year's Internet sensation is Griner, a 6-foot-8 center on the Nimitz (Houston) girls' hoop team. The Baylor-bound star is a dunking machine who can throw it down like no woman before. Of course, there's a decent chance you've already seen it: as of this writing it had been viewed more than 2.49 million times.
Willie Warren on YouTube
Last year's YouTube hit featured Warren, a McDonald's All-American from North Crowley (Fort Worth, Texas), dunking over this year's No. 1 senior recruit, Xavier Henry of Putnam City (Warr Acres, Okla.). It was certainly a highlight-reel throwdown, but with Warren at Oklahoma now, the mantle has been passed to Griner.

Ryan Canner-O'Mealy covers high school sports for