B.J. Mullens has stood out all his life. That's a byproduct of being a 7 feet tall.
When the big man from the Columbus, Ohio, area committed to the Ohio State Buckeyes as a freshman, that certainly didn't keep him out the public eye.
Now, Mullens is standing out even more. He is now the top-ranked basketball player in the class of 2008 by Rivals.com.
The 7-foot-1, 265-pound center from Canal Winchester (Ohio) High School said he was excited to hear the news on Tuesday night.
"It's been a long time and I've been working hard for it," Mullens said. "I think I'm the guy that you can say is the No. 1 player in the country now. It's been a lot of work to get there. I know it's someone's opinion but, yeah, it feels good to be No. 1."
Mullens is the most unique prospect in the class of 2008, and the top long-term prospect in the nation. Rivals.com National Basketball Recruiting Analyst Jerry Meyer said there were a number of reasons why Mullens took over the top spot in the 2008 rankings.
"Size, athleticism and skill are the big three that separate Mullens from the rest of this class," Meyer said. "It just isn't very often that you find a 7-foot-plus center who can run, jump and shoot like Mullens."
NBADraft.net's Aran Smith said the buzz from the professional level is starting to gain some steam as Mullens is preparing to enter college.
"I know NBA scouts really like him," Smith said. "The center position has a lot of value, and that certainly increases his stock within that class. He doesn't always play aggressive, but when he does he's a handful. I think he's on the right track, especially going to Ohio State. They seem to be getting the best centers and have a track record of making those kids pros."
Meyer said Mullens has similar traits to a number of NBA stars.
"He has the type of athleticism that makes you think of Bill Walton, and he has the shooting touch that makes you wonder if he could develop into a Dirk Nowitzki-type player," Meyer said. "Mullens needs to become a tougher defender and rebounder, but the pieces are there for him to be a No. 1 pick in the draft and premiere big man in the NBA."
The new No. 1 player said he is excited about following the two previous centers in Columbus - Greg Oden and Kosta Koufos.
"There are some big shoes to fill there at Ohio State," Mullens said. "Kosta is more of a face-up guy, and Greg is more of an in-your-face, post-up guy. With me, I can back up to the rim and I can face up to the rim. They both had a great opportunity their freshman year and they took advantage of it."
Now it's up to Mullens to live up to the lofty standards that have been set at OSU. Oden was the No. 1 player in the class of 2006 and the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Koufos is a former five-star player who has declared for the this year's draft.
One advantage Mullens has over his predecessors is his experience with the Buckeye program. Mullens committed to Ohio State before he ever stepped foot onto a high school floor. He pledged his services to Thad Matta nearly four years ago.
In that time, Mullens has watched Oden and Koufos - who he played with on Tuesday - grow as centers in Ohio State's system. Mullens said he is glad he committed when he did and has learned more because of it.
"Looking back on it, it was something that I always wanted to do," he said. "It's my home. I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. My family can't get out and see me as much, so it made sense to stay close to home. I want them to come and see me play. That was one of the big factors. Coach Matta is a great coach, too. I was his first commit."
Oden was the first No. 1 player to go to college because of the age-limit rule established by the NBA. He was quickly taken with the first pick in the NBA Draft when he came out of college.
Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley, Rivals.com's top-ranked player in the 2007 class, entered his name into the 2008 NBA Draft and is projected as a top-three pick in the draft. The bar has clearly been set by the former No. 1 players.
Despite his natural ability, Mullens doesn't think of himself as a player of Oden or Beasley's caliber. As a senior he averaged 27.4 points, 15.1 rebounds and three blocks a game at Canal Winchester. Despite those gaudy numbers and his No. 1 ranking, Mullens wouldn't commit to being a one-and-done player in college.
"I thank God for blessing me with the talent to be the No. 1 player in the class, and when I get [to college] we'll just have to see about [going pro after one year]," Mullens said. "Playing with Greg and Kosta, I know I have a lot to work on before I'm ready for that stage. It's a different level."
Mullens has often been criticized for his lack of effort and his on-again, off-again approach to the game. Smith said the concerns are legitimate, but his upside outweighs the question marks.
"I think he's got a chance to be a top-three pick," Smith said. "He's going to be an impact guy. He might struggle to put up big numbers, but I think he'll be fine. The strength, size and athleticism are great. It's a no-brainer with a guy like him from a pro team perspective. He'll go pretty high in the draft whenever he comes out."
As the No. 1 player in the class, the spotlight will shine brighter on Mullens – and his critics may become more vocal. However, Mullens said he isn't fazed by the new accolade.
"I heard a quote once before that said, 'Pressure is a privilege.' There really isn't any pressure. You know what you can do and that's all that you can worry about it," Mullens said. "You look at a guy like Michael Beasley and he's a once-in-a-lifetime freshman. He probably played 30 games and had 30 double-doubles. He's probably one of the greatest freshman to ever play college basketball.
"Me going in as a big man in college basketball, I hope to go down as one of the best big men in college basketball, too. I want to start my own legacy, but I also want to leave a new set of shoes for the next great big man to fill. A national championship is my goal."