Torrance, Calif. -- A player's performance during the high school basketball season will determine if he's worthy enough to be named an EA SPORTS All-American or join the exclusive list of prep greats that have been chosen EA SPORTS National Player of the Year.
The summertime, however, is where a player earns his reputation as one of the nation's best players and talent evaluators tend to follow those players throughout the school year. In turn, many of those players are the ones nominated for end of the season awards.
Some past players of the year such as Damon Bailey (North Lawrence, Bedford, In.), Albert King (Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Connie Hawkins (Boys, Brooklyn, N.Y.) are known just as much for their exploits with their high school teams as they are for what they did on the higher levels of the game. A player's legacy largely still depends on what he does for his high school team, but for today's players, the summer is where scholarships are ultimately won.
While some players have risen from relative obscurity to all-american status during their senior season (think Tracy Murray at Glendora High in Southern California in 1989), the majority of the consensus prep all-american selections in the past 20 years have made some kind of impact during the summer.
One player that has clearly carried over a fantastic summer into the high school season in Kemba Walker of Rice High in New York City, the alma mater of 1994 EA SPORTS Player of the Year Felipe Lopez. In Las Vegas this past July, Walker was named the MVP of the Main Event at Durango High School, leading the New York Gauchos to a 101-86 victory over Team Texas. He scored 19 points in the title game on an assortment of floaters and finger rolls and no guard in the senior class does a better job of using the glass or finishing deep in the paint as does Walker.
So far this season, Walker has led Rice to a 16-2 mark and a No. 7 ranking in the Rivals.com FAB 50, with the only losses being a three-point setback to Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.) and a three-point loss to No. 4 St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.). Last week, Walker helped the Raiders beat Holy Cross of Flushing and scored a career-high 39 points to lead his team to a 87-80 win over No. 29 St. Raymond's of the Bronx.
In this week's EA SPORTS Player of the Year Tracker, the talent evaluators on the 10-person panel rewarded Walker for his overall performance at Rice so far this season. A week ago he appeared in third place on a single ballot, scoring a total of eight points. This week, however, he appeared on four ballots and finished in sixth place overall with 28 points.
After watching Walker's championship game performance and some of the action at the Super 64 at Rancho High School, we raced south on Highway 95 to catch the open division title game at the Reebok Summer Championships. Belmont Shore, based out of Long Beach, California, took on Team Breakdown out of Florida in the title game.
The boys from the Sunshine State were unbeaten going into the title game and looked like they were going to take home the title as they led Dinos Trigonis' club by three points with 6.6 seconds left in the game. With many in the crowd heading for the exits, panel member Bob Gibbons of Scouts Inc. and the longtime editor and publisher of the All-Star Sports Report muttered to no one in particular, "Why is everyone leaving? Don't they know Brandon Jennings hits shots like this at the end of the games all the time?"
Just as Gibbons predicted, the Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) standout and Gardena, Calif. native nailed a 23-foot, step-back three-pointer to send the game into overtime where Belmont Shore eventually pulled out a 78-73 victory. In nine games at the tournament, Jennings averaged 25.1 ppg. and six apg. For Oak Hill Academy this season, he continues to make clutch plays at the end of games while averaging 11 more points per game and one more assist than he did in those nine games for Belmont Shore.
Needless to say, the ten man panel of basketball talent evaluators and journalist that submit their ballot on a weekly basis for the EA SPORTS All-American Tracker have taken notice of Jennings' sustained excellence. This week he appeared on all ten ballots and netted 98 out of a possible 100 points. Read below for the complete point totals of all the candidates in this week's EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker. Make sure to stay logged in to StudentSportsBasketball.com all season long to track the progress of the top individual players as well as the top teams in the Rivals.com FAB 50.
Each week, StudentSportsBasketball.com's panel of ten experts, which includes two active McDonald's All-American selection committee members, casts its votes for the top EA SPORTS Player of the Year candidates.
Each panelist is asked to list his top seven EA SPORTS National Player of the Year candidates regardless of class, and the votes are tabulated on a 10-point scoring system with a first place vote equaling ten points, a second place vote equaling nine points and down to four points for a seventh place vote. The number in parenthesis ( ) before the player's name refers to his ranking on the previous week's tracker and the second number in parenthesis ( ) refers to the number of ballots a player appeared on this week.
Expert's Take: (Each week, StudentSportsBasketBall.com asks one of its ten panelists to explain his ballot.)
By Patrick Stanwood -- Patrick Stanwood Basketball
1. Brandon Jennings, PG, Oak Hill Academy (Va.)
What else can we say about the nation's best player? His NBA range, elite quickness and slick passing skills make this Cali native one of a kind! Currently averaging over 36 points and seven assists per game. Credit where credit is due…it would have been easy to roll over and play dead after a tough start to his senior campaign, but Jennings has helped Steve Smith and Co. salvage Oak Hill's season. He has PG skills with a scorer's mindset and had a big game recently with 34 points and seven assists in a 68-65 win over FAB 50 No. 12 Norcross (Ga.).
2. Derrick Favors, PF, South Atlanta (Ga.) He recently had a monster game with 41 points, 25 rebounds and 14 blocked shots to lead the Hornets to a 102-69 win against Therrell of Atlanta. Favors is the rare post player in this day and age of high school basketball...He knows he's a post player so you won't find this ATL native jacking up needless three-pointers or trying to showcase his wing skills. Favors knows his bread and butter is in the paint and is perhaps the most productive four-five man in the country.
3. John Wall, PG, Word of God Academy (N.C.)
Wall is averaging roughly 18 points, nine assists and around five rebounds a game and Word of God's big wins vs. American Christian (Pa.), Taft (Calif.), DeMatha (Md.), and Mt. Zion (N.C.) add to his already significant resume. Other than Jennings it's tough to make a case for a point guard being more productive! Wall has to be in the argument for top lead guard nationally, regardless of class, along with the likes of Jennings, Larry Drew of Taft, Kemba Walker of Rice (N.Y.) and Brandon Knight of Pine Crest (Fla.). I'm of the opinion that Wall is a top five player nationally in the junior class.
4. Jrue Holiday, PG, Campbell Hall (Calif.) Already proved his point by out playing Demar DeRozan of Compton High at the Ocean View Tournament of Champions and with Drew Gordon of Mitty out with injury, it's a no-brainer to make Holiday my top choice from California. Is he a one or a two guard??? Who cares! He is an amazing combo who will out physical smaller opponents or use his blinding quickness to outplay bigger wings. The Bruins landed a good one in Holiday and I'm sure the UCLA coaching staff is excited to fully utilize his talents next season.
5. Kemba Walker, PG, Rice (N.Y.)
Recently dropped in 39 points versus Rivals.com FAB 50 St. Raymond's (Bronx, N.Y.), a team that features players like Kevin Parrom, Omari Lawrence and Darryl "Truck" Bryant. He outplayed them all and Rice also beat Holy Cross of Flushing, which beat some really good teams earlier in the season, so Walker deserves recognition. This future UCONN point guard can affect the outcome of a game in a variety of ways. He's an elite defender, great penetrator and gets into the lane and absorbs contact like few others can. He's currently averaging about 20 points, eight assists and seven boards per game.
Next week we'll hear from Jay Gomes, NJHoops.com Publisher.