After months of games around the whole country, we’re approaching the end of high school’s regular season and most of the regional tournaments have already crowned a champion.
The most important of battles is still ahead of us, with the GEICO Nationals taking place in early April, from the 4th to the 6th in just a couple of weeks.
It is thus the perfect time to recap some of the late headlines that the season has left us with during the past few days just to have an updated view of the current prep hoops landscape before the Natty and the AAU summer circuits arrive.
McEachern withdraws from the GEICO Nationals field of teams
Just a few days ago I wrote about the problem that the selection committee at the Nationals have arrived without intending to. As a quick summary: without any knowledge of the situation the team will face they picked McEachern as the No. 2 seed of the GEICO National tournament.
All good up to this point, given that the school well deserved that place after an unbeaten run and state title-winning season. Only later it was known that McEachern’s starting five, all of them, would not be attending the tournament. This put the tournament and everyone involved in its management in a crucial position. What would they do now, or better yet, what could have they done to avoid reaching that situation?
I’m of the opinion that the teams should clarify their situation for upcoming tournaments to avoid such cases. McEachern’s staff and players should have advised GEICO’s people about what was coming in time, thus not being part of the original bracket.
In any case, only days after it was known that the team would be depleted of its true talent, they did the right thing by withdrawing from the tournament, allowing Bishop Gorman HS to take their place (they enter as the No. 8 seed). Good and honest move by McEachern, although we shouldn’t have reached this point.
Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine lift Ranney up
Two of the best players of the 2019 class, Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine, were a few of those still to close their final seasons.
Ranney School (NJ) won the Tournament of Champions after coming back from behind against Bergen Catholic. Had not been for Lewis and Antoine, this team probably would not have amounted to all they did during their careers leading the prep team for the past four seasons.
With the NCAA already on their minds, though probably looking at it as a springboard to the greater heights of the NBA, Lewis (No. 12 in the nation) will attend Florida while Antoine (No. 14) will feature in Villanova’s backcourt.
Lewis, a wing by nature coming in at 6-6 and 185 pounds, brings the full package with him and showcases both offensive and defensive ability on the court at any point during the game. He’s projected as a sure thing at the next level and definitely a first-round talent come the NBA draft in the summer of 2020. Antoine, as his McDonald’s All-American Game partner, is also projected as a first rounder in two years time and has a tremendous outside game molded around the current state of pro-ball.
Only time will clarify where both of those NJ-products’ careers end at, but judging by their high school accolades the future looks as bright as it can.
James Wiseman, your National Player of the Year
It shouldn’t surprise anyone. The consensus No. 1 player in the nation, James Wiseman from Memphis (TN) East HS, has been named Gatorade Player of the Year.
It was a bittersweet end of the season for Wiseman though. No one can negate that he deserved the award. He has been terrific for Memphis East all season long putting up ridiculous numbers in his senior year. The big man, who is about to join Penny Hardaway’s University of Memphis team this next fall, averaged 26 points, 15 boards, and five blocks per game. On the other side, things fell just a bit short with Memphis East losing the championship game of the Division I Class AAA tourney against Bearden.
After taking care of Brentwood in the semifinals with a low-score affair that saw Memphis East win by a tight 46-42 final result, a high-octane match against Bearden was too much to overcome for Wiseman’s team as Bearden was able to light them up by scoring 83 points, something Memphis East couldn’t find a reply to getting stuck at 68 by the final horn.
Next up, the McDonald’s All-American Game and the chance to sweeten things up a little by dominating the all-star game after the letdown of losing the chip with his high school team.
LaMelo Ball could be back at SPIRE next season
The drama surrounding the Ball family never runs out of new narratives, it seems. On the last episode of it, it looks like LaMelo could be headed back to SPIRE to play an extra season of high school ball during the 2019/20 campaign leading to the 2020 NBA draft when he will be finally eligible.
That, “eligible”, is the word that has been surrounding Ball’s situation during the greatest part of his prep stint in Ohio. The fact that LaMelo played some time in Lithuania for a professional team makes his college eligibility a question mark as big as his potential, which is to say, huge.
To say that LaMelo’s case is blurry is doing him a favor, actually. No one seems to know if he would be allowed to feature on any NCAA D-I college and play games routinely, if he would be forced to go the pro-route by, for example, signing with a G-League team for next season with a Select Contract, or if he will opt to get back to SPIRE or any other prep program to make time until he can enter the NBA draft.
In any case, the fact that LaMelo can skip college altogether shouldn’t be a surprise given the environment he lives in and the people he has around. LaVar Ball has been cashing in on the trio of Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo for years now and the youngest of brothers will have the chance of pursuing business deals (such as exploiting his very own sneakers) without trouble if he opts to definitely vanish the NCAA from his picture.
At this point, it seems like everything depends on a college taking the “risk” of offering him a scholarship and dealing with the potential backlash and issues his commitment and presence on the team’s roster may arise given NCAA strict amateurism policies. If no one takes the leap, the future of Ball will get a little bit clearer but not much more given this last turn of events. In any case, this is unprecedented and very interesting and may open different paths and reasoning avenues to upcoming high school players to explore in the future before the NBA lifts the prep-to-pros rule, which is expected to happen by 2022.
The 2019 class is almost done picking their colleges of preference
With the Nationals around the corner and the season virtually over for almost everyone in the nation, the top recruits of the 2019 class are expected to make their final decisions in the upcoming days and weeks. The thing is, we won’t have to pay much attention and it will be an easy stream of information to digest, given that almost every one of the Top 50 nationally ranked prospects have already pledged their commitment to a D-I program for next fall.
Per 247Sports Composite rankings, of the Top 50 kids pertaining to the 2019 class, only seven have not yet decided where they will play ball next, and that number includes the already discussed LaMelo Ball, who looks more and more like he won’t be part of the NCAA system anyways.
Two of the best players in the class, though, remain undecided. Those are Cole Anthony (No. 4, from Oak Hill Academy) and Jaden McDaniels (No. 5, from Federal Way), both McDonald’s All-American Game participants and undoubtedly No. 1s in their states’ ranks.
Anthony hasn’t given any clues lately, although it looks like the strongest potential destinations for the combo guard could be either North Carolina or Oregon, per 247Sports. If he opts to join the Tar Heels, he would do so alongside Armando Bacot, the stalwart center from IMG Academy. If he goes the Duck-route he would find himself in a greater company as CJ Walker (No. 31), Isaac Johnson (No. 68) and Chandler Lawson (No. 86) will be playing for Oregon next season.
Back in September, McDaniels named his Top 5 schools which featured Kentucky, San Diego St., Washington, UCLA, and Texas. Nothing more has been known since then regarding his upcoming decision. The crystal ball says that both Washington and San Diego St. have the greatest chance of landing him, although Kentucky could be that “surprise” team snatching him at the last moment, even more knowing what the Wildcats will have on campus next year having already secured three Top 25 guys. If McDaniels opts for the best potential situation in terms of teaming with other highly-praised prospects, then Washington would be his choice as he’d be joining the likes of RaeQuan Battle (No. 85) and most of all Isaiah Stewart (No. 6).