Criteria as varied as players in 'Best Baller' debate

Updated: March 30, 2009, 11:39 AM ET
ESPNRISE.com

When it came time to pick the best high school basketball player of all time, even our ESPN RISE experts couldn't agree. Do you make your selections based on high school performance alone, or should you factor in college and pro experience? Our panel, which included ESPN RISE writers and editors Rob Bodenberg, Ben Sylvan, Ryan Canner-O'Mealy, Chris Lawlor and Mark Tennis, explain their selection criteria.

For me, ranking the top 50 high school ballers of all time came down to a 75/25 split between high school and post-high school accomplishments. I think what a player did after high school has to be taken into account because it justifies and supports how good that player was in high school. If someone flames out in college or the NBA, then perhaps he wasn't as good as we thought and was a product of competition.

But I only used post-high school accomplishments to weed out who shouldn't be considered. After that, I looked first and foremost at what they did in high school. Didn't win an NBA championship? Who cares -- that has no bearing on how good you were in high school.

The other conundrum in this debate is old school versus new school. The older guys have the benefit of historical accomplishments and perspective, but the young guys have the immediacy and front-of-mind advantage.

The young guys have also played in an era when the spotlight is much brighter, but that could be both a help (extra exposure) and a hindrance (extra pressure). So in the end, you look at their accomplishments and try to find the right balance.

-- Rob Bodenburg, managing editor, ESPN RISE Magazine

My top 50 was based largely on high school production. At least a 75-25 split in favor of high school. Post-high school played a role in determining who made the list and in some cases was a tiebreaker, but in terms of ranking within the list, it was almost solely based on prep performance.

I also weighted it toward guys who did it throughout their high school career, not just a big senior year. So guys like Tracy McGrady and even Michael Jordan suffer as a result.

Lastly, my No. 1 spot went to LeBron James over Lew Alcindor for several reasons. LeBron has proved throughout his NBA career that the hype was justified. He really was that good in high school. He played in an era where he consistently went up against the country's best players and dealt with pressures that Alcindor couldn't imagine. He flourished in spite of this and therefore has earned the top spot.

-- Ryan Canner-O'Mealy, senior writer, ESPN RISE Magazine

When ranking the Top 50 high school ballers of all time, I emphasized high school production more than anything. If you had to assign a ratio to my thought process, it'd be a 75-25 split between high school and post-high school success -- if not more weight going toward high school.

To me, what a player did after graduation could really only hurt them. Flaming out could signify gaudy high school numbers were a product of lesser competition. Post-high school success, on the other hand, just validates successful prep careers.

That's the case with LeBron James, my pick for the No. 1 spot. Ever since winning two Gatorade National Player of the Year awards as the most hyped prep baller ever, James has somehow surpassed expectations in the NBA.

My rankings also had a new-school bias. There's no denying the greatness of players like Lew Alcindor, but they didn't have to play in today's AAU world, where the top ballers from across the country have to prove themselves weekly against one another at national tournaments.

-- Ben Sylvan, editor-at-large, ESPN RISE Magazine

Face it -- the great debate about who's the greatest high school player of all-time is purely subjective. You can spin a player's credentials in your favor or discount another player's because they don't measure up to lofty standards.

One fact that isn't debatable is the defining words "high school." Allow a war of words to rage as long as you limit the credentials to what a player accomplished on the high school level. Four years in which a teenager wowed the masses and had an impact on the game that people are still talking about decades later.

Credentials for greatest player debate include career and yearly statistics; did they set national or state records; how many championships -- state, league, district, conference, region or in-season tournaments -- were won with that player on the team along with their impact; quality of competition they faced; and did raise the level of their teammates.

When considering the greatest of all-time please differentiate between high school, college and professional. Those that held us spellbound on the prep level may not have found the same success at the next level. Without this differentiation, they have no witness and their accomplishments are minimized. -- Christopher Lawlor, senior writer, ESPNRISE.com

I have always found it easiest in these types of player rankings to consider what each did when they were in high school equally to what they did after high school. A 50-50 split, if you will. This eliminates guys who didn't do much after high school and eliminates the most obvious examples of players who developed into all-time greats much later after high school (Bill Russell being the best example of that).

I also believe it's best to leave room for currently active players to move up, since these player rankings do change from year to year. LeBron should not be No. 1 yet. He's still got so much more to do.

The toughest players to evaluate are the ones who didn't make a huge splash until their senior years. Among those, the guys that set records and were national player of the year probably have to rank the highest.

-- Mark Tennis, deputy editor, ESPNRISE.com

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