A clear favorite has emerged in the MaxPreps high school boys basketball National Player of the Year race and it may not be who you expected entering the season. Sharife Cooper of No. 2 McEachern (Powder Springs, Ga.) has established himself as the clear leader in the Player of the Year race, as the junior is on pace to become the first ever MaxPreps National Player of the Year not to be a senior.
Joining the 5-star junior point guard on the list of finalists for MaxPreps National Player of the Year are Cole Anthony, Vernon Carey Jr., Nico Mannion, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Isaiah Stewart and James Wiseman. The talented group of six 5-star seniors will look to surpass Cooper in the final two months of the season, with plenty of time to make up the needed ground on the Indians impact guard.
Many deserving names were left off this list with Isaac Okoro
of McEachern, Keion Brooks
of La Lumiere, Precious Achiuwa
and Cade Cunningham
of Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.)
, Bryan Antoine
of Ranney (Tinton Falls, N.J.)
, Josh Green
of IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.), Jalen Johnson
of Nicolet (Glendale, Wis.)
and Trendon Watford
of Mountain Brook (Birmingham, Ala.)
all receiving serious consideration for a spot.
Read on for a breakdown of each of the finalists for MaxPreps National Player of the Year to be announced at the conclusion of the season in April.
6-foot-1 | Junior | Guard | Uncommitted
The elite point guard from the Peach State has set himself apart from the pack, averaging 26 points, seven assists and 4.6 steals per game for the 23-0 Indians. Cooper was named Most Valuable Player of each of the top two regular season tournaments in high school basketball the City of Palms Classic and Bass Pro Tournament of Champions.
McEachern has played one of the most difficult schedules in high school basketball that includes City of Palms and Bass Pro Shops, in addition to the Cancer Research Classic and Spalding Hoophall Classic.
The Indians have gone a combined 10-0 at the four tournaments, while Cooper has led his team in scoring in eight times during that period. He averaged 21.7 points. 4.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists against seven Top 25 teams.
The talented 6-foot-1 guard opened the season with a 16-point, fourth-quarter performance — including the game-winning 3-pointer — against Anthony Edwards and Holy Spirit Prep (Atlanta). His play continued with a 20-point, five rebound and four assist night in the City of Palms championship win over Imhotep Charter, despite battling foul trouble.
In what may have been his most impressive performance of the season, Cooper rallied the Indians in the rematch with Imhotep Charter at the Cancer Research Classic. Cooper helped erase a 15-point halftime deficit, finding his rhythm late and scoring 23 second-half points in the 61-58 comeback victory.
Cooper finished as the leading scorer in the loaded Bass Pro Shops tournament, scoring 28 points in just 17 minutes of action in an opening-round win over Springfield Catholic before a 31-point performance against Shadow Mountain in the semifinals. Against Sunrise Christian Academy, Cooper drained the game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime despite struggling most of the night. In overtime, he nailed a trey from the identical spot to give McEachern a two-point lead with 25 seconds left and then iced the game with a pair of free throws.
Over the last week, the National Player of the Year front-runner has continued his unbelievable play, going off for 45 points, nine assists and five steals in a win over Marietta (Ga.) on Friday before finishing with 42 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals in just three quarters of play against Kennesaw Mountain (Kennesaw, Ga.) Tuesday night.
6-3 | Senior | Guard | Uncommitted
Son of former NBA journeyman Greg Anthony, he averages 17.5 points, 9.7 assists and 9.6 rebounds per contest for the 21-2 Warriors. His top performance of the season may have come in a loss as the highly coveted guard finished with 33 points, seven rebounds and three steals in a semifinal loss to Imhotep Charter at the City of Palms Classic. Anthony averaged 25.7 points, nine rebounds, 6.3 assists and 3.3 steals over three games at the prestigious event in Fort Myers, Fla.
6-10 | Senior | Forward | Duke
Defending MaxPreps National Junior of the Year has nearly identical numbers to last year, averaging 25.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. The versatile big man was dominant in three games at the City of Palms Classic, averaging 25.7 points and 10.7 rebounds — including a 35-point, 13-rebound performance in 22 minutes of action in their opening round game vs. Vashon (St. Louis). The Duke-bound senior has been a driving force behind the Sharks 16-4 start, with hopes of a return trip to GEICO Nationals.
6-3 | Senior | Guard | Arizona
The Arizona-bound point guard has had a spectacular senior season for 21-3 Pinnacle, averaging 28.7 points, 6.5 assists, 6.3 rebounds per contest. Mannion has saved his best performances for the biggest games of the season, as he finished with 37 points, seven rebounds and four assists including the game-winning heave from 30-feet vs. No. 16 Shadow Mountain, He also went off for 35 points, seven rebounds and seven assists vs. No. 19 Rancho Christian and established a career-high with 45 points, nine rebounds and four assists against Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.).
6-9 | Senior | Forward | Villanova
The third-ranked Ascenders may have the most talented starting five in high school hoops, featuring four 5-star prospects who sacrificed individual statistics for wins. Robinson-Earl has been the most consistent performer for IMG Academy this season, averaging 17 points and 9.5 rebounds while shooting 62 percent from the field. The elite forward came up huge in IMG Academy's two biggest wins of the season, going off for 26 points and 13 rebounds against No. 6 DeMatha and finishing with 18 points and 15 rebounds vs. No. 5 Oak Hill Academy.
6-9 | Senior | Center | Washington
The recent Washington commit is having a monster senior season, averaging 17.1 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.4 blocks while shooting over 66 percent from the field. After missing the first seven games of the season due to injury, Stewart has put up some very strong performances, finishing with 20 points and 14 rebounds in a matchup with Trayce Jackson-Davis in his first game back, dropping 25 points and 12 rebounds to clinch the 'Iolani Classic title vs. Oak Ridge (Orlando, Fla.) and putting up a monster 24-point, 20-rebound night against Findlay Prep in an overtime win.
6-11 | Senior | Center | Memphis
Wiseman has made his case for the No. 1 ranking in the senior class, averaging 23 points, 14 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game this year. The Memphis signee has a number of monster performances, highlighted by a 31-point, 24-rebound game in a win over Raleigh-Egypt (Memphis, Tenn.). The elite center recently showed his dominance, averaging 19.7 points and 17 rebounds per game in the Bass Pro Tournament of champions, while setting the tournament record with 51 rebounds over his three games.