By this time last season, three highly touted prospects – Brad Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Austin Rivers – had established themselves as frontrunners for MaxPreps National Player of the Year honors.
The race for top billing this season isn't nearly as neat and tidy. None of the leading candidates are putting up eye-popping numbers like Beal and Rivers did in 2010-11. Few have performed as consistently for a nationally elite program as Kidd-Gilchrist did as a senior.
Another factor that makes this season unique is the prevalence of juniors in the running. At least four – including Jabari Parker
of top-ranked Simeon (Chicago)
– deserve consideration at this point.
Here's a look at a dozen candidates heading into a pivotal weekend that includes the top showcase event of the season: the Spalding Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass.MaxPreps National Player of the Year Candidates
St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.)Credentials:
The UCLA Bruins commit owns a career record of 97-6 – including 71-1 since his sophomore season at now-defunct Paterson Catholic. Anderson is never going to put up huge statistical numbers under head coach Bob Hurley, but if he helps St. Anthony win back-to-back mythical national titles, the oversized point guard will be tough to deny.
Perry Ellis, Wichita Heights (Kan.)Credentials:
Ellis is on the verge of becoming the most highly decorated player ever in the state of Kansas. Wichita Heights has won 50 games in a row and is gunning for a fourth-straight state title. The future Kansas Jayhawk is averaging 22.8 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.Nick Emery, Lone Peak (Highland, Utah)Credentials:
Over the last five games playing against teams from Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, New York and South Carolina, Utah's reigning player of the year – just a junior – is averaging more than 30 points per game. Lone Peak is 4-1 during that stretch, reaching the finals of the prestigious Beach Ball Classic.
Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.)Credentials:
Another junior, Gordon is currently batting mononucleosis but has had some huge games – including 40 points and 16 rebounds against San Leandro in December - in leading Mitty to a 10-1 record. Tyler Lewis/D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera,
Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.)Credentials:
Lewis and Smith-Rivera have been the catalysts for Steve Smith's Warriors this year. Oak Hill Academy is 25-0 and coming off a pair of major tournament titles in December. Lewis earned MVP honors at the Les Schwab Invitational in Oregon while Smith-Rivera was named MVP at the Chick-fil-A Classic in South Carolina.Shabazz Muhammad, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)Credentials:
The nation's top senior is getting his numbers but Bishop Gorman's 5-3 record over the holidays took a bit of the starch out of his POY candidacy. The Gaels still have plenty of showcase opportunities ahead this season, including a date with No. 3 DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) this weekend at the Spalding Hoophall Classic.Jabari Parker, Simeon (Chicago)Credentials:
Parker may be the leader at this point, but that's a tenuous distinction. Simeon is ranked No. 1 in the Xcellent 25 National Boys Basketball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard
and is bidding for its third-straight state title.
Northeast (Clarksville, Tenn.)Credentials:
The Kentucky signee announced his candidacy with a 46-point, 18-rebound performance in late December. Poythress, a 6-foot-7 forward, is averaging around 29 points per game this season and Northeast is 17-1.Julius Randle,
Prestonwood Christian (Plano, Texas)Credentials:
His numbers are actually down this season, but Randle rose above a star-studded field at the City of Palms Classic to earn MVP honors and lead Prestonwood Christian to the title. Randle and the Lions take on Oak Hill Academy on Saturday at the Spalding Hoophall Classic.
Marcus (Flower Mound, Texas)Credentials:
Smart isn't leading Marcus in scoring and national championship hopes have slipped away with a pair of losses, but if the Oklahoma State signee can lead the Marauders to another Class 5A state title in Texas he should be in the mix.Denzel Valentine,
Sexton (Lansing, Mich.)Credentials:
Valentine's season is still in its infancy but Sexton is 6-0, nationally ranked and regarded as the best team in Michigan. The Michigan State signee is coming off a triple-double (16 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists) in a win over Okemos.