Underclass Players of the Year

Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Malik Newman made an impact this season

Originally Published: April 17, 2012
By Ronnie Flores | ESPNHS.com

Junior of the Year
Jabari Parker, Simeon (Chicago), 6-8, F

Unlike last season when Tony Parker of Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.) edged Perry Ellis of Wichita Heights (Wichita, Kan.) and Shabazz Muhammad of Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) for National Junior Player of the Year honors, this year's honoree is more of a runaway choice.

Jabari Parker
Matt Marcinkowski/ESPNHSJunior Jabari Parker is also this year's Gatorade National Player of the Year.
Forward Jabari Parker is the slam dunk pick after leading the Wolverines to their third consecutive Class 4A state title. He averaged 21.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 3.3 blocks per game for a 32-1 team ranked No. 6 in the POWERADE FAB 50. He's also excelled in international competition and is considered one of the most well-rounded and polished high school prospects of the past decade.

Parker joined Muhammad, the 2012 Mr. Basketball USA selection, as the only two individuals among 33 national player of the year candidates to appear on all 10 ballots of the final Mr. Basketball USA tracker. The junior with the second highest point total behind Parker, forward Julius Randle of Prestonwood Christian (Plano, Texas), appeared on seven ballots.

This honor caps a whirlwind week for Parker. Not only is he the early front-runner for Mr. Basketball USA honors in 2012-2013, he'll have a chance to repeat as Gatorade National Player of the Year after receiving that award on April 12. On top of that, Parker has a chance to close out his prep career with an unprecedented four Class 4A state titles and could become the first player since the Memphis Grizzlies' O.J. Mayo to earn class player of the year honors in each of his four seasons of high school.

Mayo earned top honors in 2007, edging out the Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love and another famous Simeon player -- reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, who led the Wolverines to back-to-back Class 4A titles.

"This is very special for me," Parker said of earning Gatorade's national award and ESPNHS National Junior Player of the Year. "I'm not trying to compare myself to other guys. I'm just here to do for my Simeon family, do positive things for my community and give back."

Simeon's only other national junior player of the year never got the opportunity to earn Mr. Basketball USA honors.

After leading Simeon to its first state title during the 1983-1984 season, 6-foot-8 Ben Wilson cemented his status as the top player in the 1985 class with a show-stopping performance at the 1984 Nike ABCD Camp. But the day before he and the Wolverines were going to open defense of their title, Wilson was gunned down blocks from Simeon and died the following morning on November 21, 1984. The world premiere of "Benji," a documentary about Wilson's short and tragic life, will open at the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival on April 20.

The tragic incident motivates Parker to do the right thing -- and become Chicago's first Mr. Basketball USA since Westinghouse's Mark Aguirre in 1977-1978.

"I'm going to challenge myself," Parker said about next season. "There are some things I can do to improve...like my leadership on the court. Hearing what D-Rose has said (about playing for Simeon) and hearing about what Benji was like, I want to be known as one of the greatest to ever come out of Simeon."


Sophomore of the Year
Andrew Wiggins, Huntington Prep (Huntington, W.Va.), 6-7, F

Andrew Wiggins
Steve Johnson/ESPNHSAndrew Wiggins of Huntington Prep (Huntington, W.Va.) is the top-ranked sophomore in the ESPN 25.
The top-ranked prospect in the ESPN 25, Wiggins translated his skills into production for an Express club that went 28-2 while facing a national schedule. He used his 6-foot-11 wing span and explosive first step to average 24.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.7 blocks per game. He was also named MVP of two events Huntington Prep participated in -- the Ironton Classic and the Tri-State Classic.

Despite being the youngest player at the Nike Hoop Summit, the Toronto, Canada, native closed out his season by scoring a team-high 20 points in the World Select team's 84-75 victory over the USA Select team, which was led by Mr. Basketball USA Shabazz Muhammad. Wiggins, the West Virginia Gatorade State Player of the Year, edged out another Gatorade choice, guard Tyus Jones of Apple Valley (Apple Valley, Minn.) for this honor.

The son of former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins and two-time Olympic Silver medalist Marita Payne-Wiggins, he's the first sophomore selection from a West Virginia program since 7-foot center Earl Jones of Mount Hope (Mount Hope, W.Va.) in 1978. Jones eventually finished high school at Spingarn (Washington, D.C.) and never lived up to the lofty reputation he entered high school with. Huntington native and current Memphis Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo was the selection in 2005, but at the time he attended North College Hill (Cincinnati, Ohio).


Freshman of the Year
Malik Newman, Callaway (Jackson, Miss.), 6-2, G

Rarely does a freshman make an impact on a large school state title-winning team. But that's exactly what Newman accomplished. He lived up to the hype as HoopScoop's top-rated eighth-grader in 2010-11 by averaging 22.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game for a team that won its third state title in the last four seasons. He clinched this honor by becoming the first freshman ever named first five All-State by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, joining McDonald's All-American Devonta Pollard on the elite squad.

In the state title game win, he netted 12 points and scored a team-best 21 in the 59-47 semifinal win over Pascagoula (Miss.). He scored 30 or more points seven times and his scoring average bested the freshman mark of 2005 Mr. Basketball USA and current Milwaukee Bucks standout Monta Ellis (20.1).


Note: All selections based on high school accomplishment, and are reflective of those who lead their teams to state championships.

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