With Cliff Alexander leading the 2014 Mr. Basketball USA race by a record-tying number, we decided this week was a good time to explain what it takes to be a credible national player of the year candidate. Individual talent and team success are major factors, but less obvious forces come into play.
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As the playoffs heat up in many states, this week is a perfect opportunity to explain the criteria that goes into selecting the Student Sports Mr. Basketball USA winner and give some insight on what it takes to earn national player of the year honors.
The timing is good, too, because the first nine positions in this week’s tracker remain the same, with point differentials being the only differences among the top of 18 candidates. The big news was clubhouse leader Cliff Alexander of Curie (Chicago) gaining another first place vote (eight instead of seven) and his third place votes turning into a second. It gave the dynamic power forward 98 total points, which tied the highest total ever for a single week’s worth of ballots.
Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings, the only consensus national player of the year Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) has ever produced, tallied 98 points in the February 8, 2008 tracker. Jennings, of course, went on to earn Mr. Basketball USA honors for the 2007-08 season.
The talent of previous winners such as Jennings is clearly evident to those lucky enough to witness them in high school, but what separates the winner from other credible candidates?
This is the most important factor. The winner must possess the skills to make an immediate impact on the college level. Nearly all past winners, and most of the top candidates in any given year, project as NBA players. Not all of them, however, start the ascension to player of the year candidate from the same point.
Just look at where 1997 winner Tracy McGrady was as an underclassman compared to runner-up Lamar Odom. McGrady was a non-descript forward at Auburndale (Fla.) as a junior. He wasn’t on anyone’s radar the summer before playing at Sonny Vaccaro’s ABCD Camp and transferring to Mount Zion (Durham, N.C.), whereas Odom was one of the nation’s best players since his sophomore year at Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.).
Of the 57 eventual Mr. Basketball USA choices, only two did not go on to play in the NBA: forward Bill Raftery of St. Cecelia’s (Kearney, N.J.) in 1959 and Damon Bailey of North Lawrence (Bedford, Ind.) in 1990.
Having “the goods” is first and foremost and this year’s top candidates such as Alexander, Emmanuel Mudiay of Prime Prep (Dallas) and Stanley Johnson of Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) have proven they got it.
Leading a Student Sports 50-ranked team and helping it win a state title is a significant factor. Teams with a consensus top 10 prospect generally play tough competition, which nowadays means the candidate’s team challenged itself against competition from outside its region.
During the 2009-2010 season, Jared Sullinger of Northland (Columbus, Ohio) led the nation’s No. 1 ranked team before the Vikings were stunned 71-45 in the Ohio regional playoffs by an unranked team. The other top candidate that season, Harrison Barnes of Ames (Iowa), led his team to a 27-0 record and No. 10 final FAB 50 rating. If Barnes’ team would have lost even one game, or if Sullinger’s team would have won the state title, Sullinger might have been the winner instead of Barnes.
Many of the 10 experts on the tracker panel weigh this factor nearly as much as individual talent. That’s what makes Johnson, No. 3 in the balloting, such an intriguing candidate. If he leads Mater Dei to CIF Southern Section and CIF State Open Division titles with an undefeated mark, he could quickly close the gap on Alexander.
This doesn’t happen often, but it’s a clear-cut factor that can’t be overlooked. During the 2010-11 season, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of now closed St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) and Austin Rivers of Winter Park (Fla.), played against each other on national television. St. Patrick won 75-66.
Gilchrist scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds, but he had the stronger supporting cast. In the balloting the week after that game, the panel didn’t penalize Rivers much, if at all. He did score 38 points to keep his team within striking range.
Gilchrist was the eventual Mr. Basketball USA choice (and it our opinion the panel did a good job) but what if Rivers had scored 38 points in a Winter Park victory?
That’s why were so excited about the February 21 clash for the Chicago Public League title between Curie, ranked No. 1 in the FAB 50, and No. 8 Whitney Young (Chicago). Whitney Young features Jahlil Okafor, last year’s Student Sports National Junior of the Year. Should Okafor’s Whitney Young team knock off the nation’s top-ranked club, it could help vault the Duke recruit right back into serious Mr. Basketball USA contention if he has a big game.
State and National Records
Raftery and Bailey never played in the NBA, but they have something in common — both had record-breaking prep careers for winning programs.
Raftery scored 827 points in 1959, then a New Jersey single-season state scoring record. Bailey lived up to the tremendous hype that Hoosier Hysteria created around him. Bailey averaged 31.3 points per game as a senior for a state title-winning team in the Indiana single-class tournament. North Lawrence finished No. 15 in the National Prep Poll (precursor to FAB 50) and Bailey finished with a state-record 3,134 career points. Those two factors that helped tip the scales in his favor over forward Ed O’Bannon of Artesia (Lakewood, Calif.).
Stay logged in to StudentSportsBasketball.com to track the progress of the nation’s top individual players and the nation’s Top teams.
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About Mr. Basketball USA Tracker Panel
Student Sports’s panel of 10 experts, which includes six McDonald’s All-American selection committee members, casts its vote for the top national player of the year candidates. Each panelist lists his 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 the previous tracker.