Shabazz Muhammad, the No. 1 recruit in ESPNU 100, leads voting in preseason ESPNHS Mr. Basketball USA Tracker. Jabari Parker, Kyle Anderson and Marcus Smart also collect first-place votes.
Last season, Shabazz Muhammad of Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) was being mentioned in the same breath with the nation's top players such as Bradley Beal (Florida), Anthony Davis (Kentucky), Austin Rivers (Duke) and 2011 Mr. Basketball USA Michael Gilchrist (Kentucky).
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Muhammad's junior season ended with a thud, as Bishop Gorman was stunned in its state playoff semifinal game. As a result, the uncommitted recruit dropped nine spots to 15th place in last season's final Mr. Basketball USA Tracker. He was named a first team ESPNHS All-American, but wasn't seriously considered for national player of the year.
Despite nursing a sore ankle in that state semifinal contest, the 6-foot-6 wing made no excuses -- he used the motivation created by that stunning loss to work on his game during the spring and summer.
By fall, Muhammad's talent and unmatched work ethic vaulted him to the top of the ESPNU 100 as the top prospect in the class of 2012 . It also put a bulls-eye on his chest as the player to catch in the race for this year's Mr. Basketball USA honor.
Muhammad tallied 93 points, 16 points in front of second place finisher Jabari Parker, a 6-foot-8 junior forward out of preseason POWERADE FAB 50 No. 1 Simeon (Chicago). In third place was point guard Kyle Anderson of defending champ St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.), who joined Muhammad as the only player to appear on all ten ballots. Ironically, the UCLA-bound Anderson is Muhammad's best friend on the AAU circuit and would love if he joined him in Westwood next fall.
In this season's first tracker, 22 players received recognition by ESPNHS' 10-man panel. The Mr. Basketball USA honoree is selected strictly on the basis of his on-the-floor performance. The award doesn't take into consideration academics, volunteer work or most other off-the-court criteria.
Muhammad, Parker and Anderson accounted for nine of the 10 first place votes. The other one went to 6-foot-4 Marcus Smart of Marcus (Flower Mound, Texas), who received mix reviews from the panel. He did receive a single first, second and third place vote to finish with 31 points, but was absent from six ballots. Julius Randle of Prestonwood Christian Academy (Plano, Texas) tallied the same amount of points as Smart, but appeared on one more ballot than his fellow Texan and the panel was more consistent in their evaluation of the junior forward.
"When you have a guy like Smart, you don't label him," said ESPN's National Director of Basketball Recruiting and panel member Paul Biancardi. " The game comes easy to him because of his physical presence.
"He makes game-winning plays and does so many things well. He makes him team win and that's what captures the eyes of scouts and other voters."
Smart could be a dark horse in this race because of his relentless talent and contributions for one of the top teams in the country. Smart and other elite players in the 2012 class are chasing Muhammad, but the unique talents of Parker and Randle are proving the elites of the 2013 class will be a factor for a honor that's been awarded to an underclassman only three times in its 57-year history.
"It's an honor to be nominated," Randle said. "I've put in a lot of hard work and my coaches have invested much time in me. It's just up to me to produce now.
"Of the top three (in the tracker), I really like Shabazz, he can play man."
Stay tuned to ESPNHS.com to track the progress of the top individual players.
Others Receiving Votes:
Anthony Bennett (Findlay Prep, Henderson, Nev.) 21 pts.
DaJuan Coleman (Jamesville-DeWitt, DeWitt, N.Y.) 17 pts. (4)
Perry Ellis (Heights, Wichita Heights, Kan.) 14 pts. (2)
Rodney Purvis (Upper Room Christian Academy, Raleigh, N.C.) 11 pts. (2)
Amile Jefferson (Friends' Central, Wynnewood, Pa.) 10 pts. (2)
Nerlens Noel (The Tilton School, Tilton, N.H.) 10 pts. (2)
Kris Dunn (New London, New London, Conn.) 9 pts. (1)
Grant Jerrett (La Verne Lutheran, La Verne, Calif.) 7 pts. (1)
Tyler Lewis (Oak Hill Academy, Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 7 pts. (1)
Isaiah Austin (Grace Prep, Arlington, Texas) 6 pts. (1)
Aaron Gordon (Archbishop Mitty, San Jose, Calif.) 6 pts.
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (Oak Hill Academy, Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 5 pts. (1)
Ishmael Wainwright (Montrose Christian, Rockville, Md.) 5 pts.
Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell (Park Tudor, Indianapolis) 4 pts. (1)
Cameron Ridley (Bush, Fort Bend, Texas) 4 pts. (1)
About ESPNHS Mr. Basketball Tracker Panel
ESPNHS' panel of 10 experts, which includes five McDonald's All-American selection committee members, casts its vote each week for the top national player of the year candidates. Each panelist lists the top seven candidates regardless of class. The votes are then tabulated on a 10-point scoring system with a first-place vote equaling 10 points, a second-place vote earning nine points and down to four points for a seventh-place vote. The number in parenthesis refers to the numbers of ballots on which a player appeared and previous rankings refers to position in final tracker for 2010-11 season.