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Top-Dog Schools Keep Piling On Top Talent

Since 2009, only nine high schools have made it to the national finals. Looking at the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes, it seems we’re headed for another year full of typical contenders.

Scottie Barnes (Jon Lopez-USA Today)

Back in March, we were handed the names of the eight teams that would fight for the national HS hoops championship at the GEICO Nationals. And uh oh, who could have expected Oak Hill to feature among the contestants?!

Jokes aside, there are perennial contenders on the high school circuit that put great teams of kids on the court on a yearly basis. They have been doing it for ages, and they will keep on smashing foreheads during upcoming seasons just to make their way to the national bracket. It takes time to build a reputation, but once one gets it, it is hard to debunk it.

Oak Hill was just the first name that came to my head, but it is not the only one out there. Just looking at last year’s eight-team field, other behemoths such as Montverde featured in the playoffs for the chip and they did as the winners of the 2013, 2014 and 2015 editions, falling short to La Lumiere in the 2017 final. Of course, they went home with the 2018 tourney’s gold under their arms again.

The GEICO Nationals have been in place since 2009. In the ten years they’ve been run, only nine schools have made it to the finals: Findlay Prep, Oak Hill, Montverde Academy, Montrose Christian, University School, La Lumiere, IMG Academy, and Sunrise Christian. Of course, Montrose just saw the championship game once in 2011, although they made the most out of that appearance and beat Oak Hill by a score of 71-64 led by Tyrone Johnson (No. 56 player of the 2011 class). The same happened to IMG in 2019, and Sunrise Christian too, although the latter fell to the Florida-based team.

I have expressed here at Ridiculous Upside how I feel about the current state of recruiting in the past. I ran a little study analyzing how Duke and Kentucky always seem to get away with the best guys around the nation. Not too long ago, I wrote a love letter to Evan Mobley after he committed to USC. Yes, not your least-known college, but something’s something I guess.

Turns out, we might be looking at a similar picture when it comes to historically great high school teams getting transfers from smaller schools all around the nation. And it is not only that. They’re even snatching players that had already pledged their word to NCAA universities. That case was the one involving Kenyon Martin Jr., son of NBA great Kenyon Martin.

To be honest, Martin Jr.’s situation is a bit of a mess but paints a good picture of how things develop nowadays. First, Martin Jr. was going to play for Vanderbilt this season. Then, he opted to leave Vanderbilt in the dust and decided he would play overseas. Now, he looks headed to IMG Academy to play there for a (postgraduate) year before making himself available at the 2020 NBA draft. This is no joke at all. Martin Jr. comes from a season at Sierra Canyon where he averaged 16.4 points and nine boards. Although he won’t affect IMG’s varsity team in terms of eligibility for the national championship (he’ll play for the postgraduate team in Florida), it still an addition for the powerhouse that IMG has been building lately.

Things aren’t looking much more mixed for the 2020 season. I pulled recruiting data for the 2020 and 2021 HS classes of players from 247Sports Composite boards. I basically wanted to know how many of the top players among both classes are part of one of those eight teams that made the national finals during the last ten years. Here are some takeaways I got from the information I gathered:

  • A grand total of 28 players from the 2020 and 2021 classes will attend one of the nine schools to make the finals in the past ten years. Only Montrose Christian failed to roster a single recruit from those classes that appears on 247Sports ranks.
  • Four top-10 players are part of those 28 kids: Cade Cunningham (2020 No. 2), Jalen Green (2020 No. 3), Jalen Johnson (2020 No. 5), and Scottie Barnes (2020 No. 8).
  • The average recruit ranking position between all of the 28 candidates sits at No. 124.1, but in reality, up to 13 of the 28 players (46%) are ranked inside the 84th-best players of their respective classes.
  • IMG Academy, the 2019 national champion, leads the way featuring seven players in the 2020 and 2021 classes. They’re followed by Oak Hill and Prolific Prep with four.
  • Other than Montrose Christian (no players in the list), it looks like La Lumiere and University School are losing ground to the rest of the field. Both schools feature two players in the 2020 and 2021 classes, although University School’s best is ranked No. 178 and La Lumiere’s just at No. 233.
  • There are nine five-star players among the field of 28, yet they’re only spread over five schools (Findlay Prep, IMG Academy, Montverde Academy, Oak Hill, and Prolific Prep). Of the nine, only one (Cade Cunningham) is ranked No. 1 at his position (best combo-guard and No. 2 overall of the 2020 class).
  • There are only two pure centers on the list, and the best is just ranked 124 in 2020. Five power forwards complete the big-men group. Other than that, 16 players are deemed point, shooting or combo guards, and five are small forwards.

All of this paints the picture of the upcoming national battles to come next year. Big schools look ready to keep fighting for chips while smaller HS will bank on their homegrown talents ore one-season wonder-prospects (those who have them, at least...) to keep up with the top-dogs.

Perhaps the best thing about all of this, at this point in time and while it’s still super early in the 2020 recruiting season, is the fact that of those 28 prospects only two have already committed and, believe it or not, only one has done so to Duke (!). Jalen Johnson (IMG Academy) will play for Duke in 2020, and Darius Maddox (Oak Hill) will remain in-state playing for Virginia Tech if nothing changes in his recruiting process.

If someone comes to your house and forces you to put a bet on which schools will make the eight-team national tournament bracket next April, name the HS above. Worst you can do is get 50 percent of the names. That is the historical trend, and looking at the 2020 and 2021 classes of hoops prospects it looks like we will be in for another season full of your typical Oak Hills, Montverdes, La Lumieres, and Findlay Preps.

It’s a top-dog world, and we’re just living in it.