Torrance, Calif. -- The old adage in basketball recruiting, no matter what has been said or heard about a player, is to always see him in person before making a final evaluation. Sure, there is now easy access to video for all to see on recruiting websites such as Rivals.com, but nothing beats seeing a young player in person to get a true feel for his game.
In the late 1950's, before the explosion of sports programming on television, media reports of a schoolboy sensation in Ohio told tales of a 6-foot-11 center who dominated the game as only Philadelphia Overbrook's Wilt Chamberlain before him did.
Middletown's Jerry Lucas was indeed a fine prep player, arguably the best many coaches and scouts had seen until that point. The three-time prep all-american led Middletown High on a 76-game winning streak and to back-to-back state titles in 1956 and 1957 while twice being named EA SPORTS National Player of the Year. All the tall tales (literally) of Lucas, however, didn't quite come to fruition.
Lucas was not a dominant 6-foot-11 center that towered over his opposition. He was more like a highly skilled 6-foot-9 power forward who dominated foes with his keen timing on the boards, soft hands and silky smooth jump shot.
Fifteen years later, another prep big man burst onto the scene, this time in New Jersey. His high school coach, Dick Vitale, enhanced the hype for this highly coveted center. Like Lucas, East Rutherford's Les Cason was nearly 6-foot-9 by age fifteen and being touted as a Lew Alcindor type of talent. Vitale called his young prodigy a, "Once in a generation player."
Cason did produce for Vitale, averaging 35 points and 20 rebounds per game as a senior while leading East Rutherford to a 28-0 record. He finished his career with a Bergen County record 2,871 points and accumulated well over 200 scholarship offers.
Scouts and fans alike were curious to see "Pee Wee" perform on a big stage against the type of players he would be facing in college, not Bergen County schoolboys. Sonny Vaccaro invited him to play in his national all-star game, the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic at Pittsburgh's Civic Arena. In addition to Cason, the U.S. All-Star team also featured Michael "Campy" Russell from Central High in Pontiac, Michigan and would be facing a Pennsylvania All-Star team led by 1971 EA SPORTS National Player of the YearMaurice Lucas from Pittsburgh's Schenley High School.
"This is where it's at," Cason told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette as he prepared for Vaccaro's game. "You get two points against these guys you earned them. If you can hold your own here, then you can consider yourself a good ballplayer."
Russell definitely held his own, scoring a team-high 17 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, but the U.S. All-Stars needed Russell's uncle, former University of Michigan great and 1962 national player of the year Cazzie Russell, against Lucas and company because Cason was overmatched. It was quickly apparent Cason was not as good as advertised, but he did earn those two points he scored at the free throw line because those were his only points in the game.
"The only player ever to lose 200 scholarship offers," Vaccaro said after the Pennsylvania All-Stars rolled to a 110-98 victory.
None of this year's EA SPORTS National Player of the Year candidates will lose their scholarships because of their play in a single game, but their performances on a big stage is one of the main factors in determining who is ultimately named EA SPORTS National Player of the Year.
This past weekend at the Prime Time Shootout in Trenton, New Jersey, NJHoops.com Publisher Jay Gomes and some of the other ten panel members were able to see some of the nation's best teams in action. Watching some of the nation's best individual roundball talent up close in front of a national television audience clearly made a positive impression on the panel members and that is clearly demonstrated in the results of this week's EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker.
After failing to appear on a single ballot for two consecutive weeks, big man Greg Monroe from Gretna, Louisiana scored 15 points and appeared on two ballots following Helen Cox's 62-58 victory over Whitney Young of Chicago, which came into the game ranked No. 39 in the Rivals.com FAB 50. We know of one panel member who had the Georgetown recruit as their eighth place pick, thus just missing out on another four points, so it's safe to say the top ranked college prospect by Rivals.com is definitely making a move up the charts following his 24-point, eight rebound performance.
Playing in front of panel members on a big stage clearly made 6-foot-5 junior Lance Stephenson the big winner in this week's EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker. The Lincoln of Brooklyn product arguably was the Prime Time Shoot Out's top individual performer, scoring on the perimeter and on the block at will in the Railspitters' 75-68 victory over FAB 50 ranked Rice of Manhattan. Stephenson, who hails from the same school as 2004 EA SPORTS National Player of the YearSebastian Telfair and 1995 first team pick Stephon Marbury, finished with a game-high 35 points and 16 rebounds.
Last week, he finished just outside the top eight with 19 total points. This week, however, Stephenson shot up the charts and finished in fifth place with 60 points. He appeared on all but one ballot after scoring points on three ballots the previous week.
Like the old saying goes, nothing beats seeing a player in person.
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 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.
1. Lance Stephenson, W, Lincoln (N.Y)
Highly-touted junior put on a stellar performance on the big stage that is the Prime Time Shootout Saturday night in Trenton. Stephenson helped lead Lincoln to an upset win over New York City rival Rice, which came in the game ranked No. 7 in the Rivals.com FAB 50. Stephenson was on fire right from the jump, hitting three treys and scoring 15 points in the first quarter as Lincoln went up 20-9 after one period. He finished with 33 points and 16 boards, exciting the crowd the entire time and making a positive impression.
2. Samardo Samuels, PF, St. Benedict's (N.J.)
Came up big (pun intended) in a pair of impressive wins at the Prime Time Shootout. The Louisville commit notched 30 points in a huge win over FAB 50 ranked and rival St. Patrick's and followed that up with 25 points in the win over Our Savior New America (N.Y.). He continues to solidify his position as the most consistent and productive post player in the country. Samuels is extremely physical and defenders seem to bounce right off him as he overpowers them on his way to the hoop. He is also beginning to show some increased range on his jumper.
3. Greg Monroe, PF, Helen Cox (La.)
Rivals.com No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2008 has taken some minor knocks this season for not always playing up to his considerable potential, but he's hoping to change those perceptions over the last third of his senior year. He displayed his multitude of skills at the Prime Time Shootout on Saturday, running the floor like a guard and finishing with 24 points. Monroe also showed his versatility, stepping out and burying a three, while making several nice passes and showing a tight handle for a player of his size.
4. Brandon Jennings, PG, Oak Hill Academy (Va.)
The ultra-quick point guard had three big performances in New Jersey last week. It started when he hit for 47 points and eight assists in a win over Life Center of Burlington. At the Prime Time Shootout on Friday night, he dropped in 32 and on Saturday night in a losing effort against FAB 50 ranked St. Patrick's, Jennings netted 27. Only seven of those points, however, came in the first half when St. Pat's jumped ahead, 34-23, and took control of the game. Oak Hill now has four losses for the first time in five seasons.
5. Jrue Holiday, PG, Campbell Hall (Calif.)
The explosive UCLA bound combo guard had a tremendous week and is my top pick from out West. He had a triple double with 30 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in win over league foe Brentwood. A game earlier, Holiday exploded for 38 points, 17 rebounds, four assists and nine steals in a win over Montclair Prep. Shot well from the floor in both contests, hitting a combined 24-40 shots from the field and making contributions in almost every aspect of the game.
Next week we'll hear from National High School Hall of Fame journalist, Doug Huff.