Pegging the top player in high school basketball's 2015 class is a matter of taste.
A fan of high-scoring guards? Three-time Mississippi state champ and USA Basketball gold medalist Malik Newman
is your guy.
Partial to dynamic forwards? Australian import Ben Simmons
is the pick.
Newman and Simmons are regarded as the top two prospects
, respectively, in the rising senior contingent by 247Sports.com Director of Basketball Scouting Jerry Meyer.
A 6-foot-3 combo guard, Newman was pegged for stardom as a middle schooler and has surpassed the lofty expectations. He has led Callaway (Jackson, Miss.)
to state titles in all three seasons at the school and put up 29.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per outing as a junior.
"Newman epitomizes the new age of point guard," CBSSports.com college basketball and recruiting writer Jeff Borzello said. "He's not a pure point guard in the sense that he goes down every time and facilitates an offensive set for teammates, but he's also not a shooting guard that plays solely off the ball. Like Emmanuel Mudiay from the class of 2014, Newman is simply a scoring point guard and a playmaker with the ball in his hands."
The Mississippi star's most impressive success came last summer at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Uruguay, where he led the United States to a gold medal and earned MVP honors.
Newman is coming off a big weekend in Hampton, Virginia, where he took the floor with the Jackson Tigers in Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League. He topped the 30-point mark in three of four games – including a 36-point outburst against fellow elite 2015 guard Luke Kennard
and the King James Shooting Stars.
"He's a Monta Ellis, Gilbert Arenas-type scoring guard," Pangos All-American Camp director and grassroots guru Dinos Trigonis said. "When he gets it going he is really tough to stop."
Simmons made his American debut at Pangos in 2012, where trainer Jeremy Russotti called him at the time, "Probably the highest pro potential guy I've seen here." Cliff Alexander
, Stanley Johnson
and Zach LaVine
were all in attendance that weekend, by the way.
Breaking out at the California showcase was made possible in part by Simmons' godfather, current LSU assistant and former Houston Rockets, Saint Mary's and Nicholls State staffer David Patrick.
"He called and told me, 'My godson is the best ninth-grader in the world,'" Trigonis said.
The relationship between Simmons and Patrick – who played with Simmons' father in Australia – was pivotal from a recruiting standpoint. The 6-8 lead forward committed to LSU last fall.
Following his pledge to the Tigers, Simmons blossomed into a full-fledged star at Montverde Academy (Fla.)
during the 2013-14 season. He averaged 18.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game for a program that was recognized as high school basketball's mythical national champ by multiple media outlets.
Simmons was named National Junior of the Year by MaxPreps and earned second team All-American honors.
"He has tremendous versatility and a feel for the game that is uncanny," Trigonis said. "He's very smooth and recently he has gained strength to go along with that. He's a hybrid forward that can play inside and out, plus he's a great passer and shooter."
The Melbourne native has continued to cultivate positive opinions this spring in the EYBL, averaging 19.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per outing.
"It's extremely close (between Newman and Simmons)," Trigonis said. "I think Simmons gets the edge just because he doesn't necessarily have to score to make an impact. Malik Newman is probably not making quite the impact that Simmons is if he isn't scoring."
Borzello has come to the same conclusion based on recent evaluation.
"Going into the spring, I had Malik Newman as my No. 1 player," Borzello said. "But after watching Simmons in April, my mind changed.
"Simmons has made the complete transformation to the small forward position and taken his game to the next level. He's become a matchup nightmare for opponents, and I think he's only getting better. He can knock down perimeter shots, handle the ball in transition, outrun most players his size – and his vision is second-to-none in the class."
The battle for the top spot isn't limited to two prospects. Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland, Calif.)
power forward Ivan Rabb
, Dominican (Whitefish Bay, Wis.)
center Diamond Stone
and Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
center Stephen Zimmerman
were all slotted ahead of either Newman and/or Rabb by either Scout, Rivals or ESPN.
Rabb is one spot ahead of Simmons in the 247Sports Composite
, which takes into account all of the major recruiting services.