Brandon Jennings, the recently graduated star guard at famed Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, led his AAU team to a major grassroots title last summer in Las Vegas and was named EA SPORTS National Player in the Year in April after a record-breaking season for the Warriors. Is he the top professional prospect in the Class of 2008? Should he make the most immediate impact among college freshman next season?
The answer is a resounding yes, but don't take our word for it.
Using the evaluations of seven recruiting publications that are in the business of ranking individual talent, the Southern California native's No. 1 overall rating in five of the publications helped him outdistance runner-up Samardo Samuels of New Jersey schoolboy power St. Benedict's and third place finisher Tyreke Evans of American Christian Academy in Pennsylvania as the consensus top prospect.
Many recruiting publications and websites recently released their final Class of 2008 player rankings and Jennings (1.86 average) finished well ahead of both Samuels (3.29), Evans (3.43) and UCLA bound Jrue Holiday (3.71). Jennings secured the top spot by finishing as the nation's No. 1 recruit in the rankings published by Scout.com, Student Sports, The Hoop Scoop, CSTV, and ESPN.com.
Samuels secured the top spot in Rise Magazine's final ratings while 7-foot-1 B.J. Mullens was the third player considered the top dog in the class. Mullens was pegged No. 1 in the 2008 class by Rivals.com.
Jennings, Samuels and Mullens all finishing in the top spot of the various rankings used to tabulate this season's consensus player ratings creates an identical situation to last year where three different players were considered the top prospect. Kevin Love, the first team All-American this past season at UCLA, was the consensus No. 1 prospect last year with USC's O.J. Mayo grabbing the top spot from Scout.com and Student Sports and Kansas State's Michael Beasley earning the top spot from Rivals.com.
Mullens, the big man bound for Ohio State to follow in the footsteps of Kosta Koufos and 2006 consensus No. 1 prospect Greg Oden, was the No. 1 player this year that had the highest cumulative average (meaning the least desirable) among those that tallied at least one vote for the top prospect among the seven publications.
The first team EA SPORTS All-American tied with fellow All-American Al-Farouq Aminu for sixth place with a 9.29 average. Mullens' No. 1 finish in the Rivals 150 was offset by his No. 34 spot in Hoop Scoop's final ratings. This is after he moved up from No. 46 in the Louisville-based publication's latest rankings shuffle. Mullens would have finished in ninth place with a 11.00 average if Hoop Scoop didn't bump him up twelve spots in its final ratings just in case, "a fire lights up inside of him," and plays up to what would seem to be a vast potential.
Hoop Scoop Publisher and Editor Clark Francis has never been high on the Ohio State recruit and thinks he's vastly overrated, but he could be headed for a bright future if the consensus ratings we've tallied the past two years are any indication. Last season Beasley finished in fourth place with a 4.00 average, behind future lottery picks Eric Gordon of Indiana, Mayo and Love, with Rivals.com pegging him as its No. 1 prospect. This season, Beasley made Rivals.com National Basketball Recruiting Analysts Jerry Meyer and Justin Young look like they know a thing or two about the hardwood by turning in arguably the best freshman season since first-year players became eligible for the varsity during the 1972-1973 season.
For the record, Beasley's average was tabulated based on six publications because Student Sports does not knowingly rank fifth-year players or select them to various EA SPORTS All-American teams. If the probable top two pick in the quickly approaching NBA Draft had been eligible, he would have probably owned a No. 4 or No. 5 ranking, right behind or in front of Memphis' Derrick Rose and definitely ahead of Duke's Kyle Singler. Ironically, Beasley and Rose are widely considered the two best players in the upcoming NBA Draft, although Mayo has impressed in his private workouts and is considered a possibility for the No. 2 pick should the Chicago Bulls take the homegrown Rose.
Last year Mayo was tabbed the No. 1 prospect by Rise Magazine, Scout.com and Student Sports for various reasons (skill set, stamina and strength, solid guard size, etc.), but mostly because it's more evident how his game will translate on the NBA level than Love's. The rationale behind player rankings (based on NBA potential, growth ceiling, or impact on the college program they ultimately sign with post 19-year old rule) and the amount of eyes that collaborate to create them is not the same for the various publications and that objectively makes the consensus ratings we've compiled a good gauge of a players potential. Objectively speaking, if Mayo (2.25 average) would have been ranked just one spot higher by either Rivals.com (No. 4), Hoop Scoop (No. 2), ESPN.com (No. 3) or CSTV (No. 3), he and Love would have tied for the consensus No. 1 spot with a 2.13 average regardless of how the ratings were compiled.
While the final tally among this year's class was not close for the consensus No. 1 spot, unlike the Love/Mayo debate, the cumulative scores were quite close for the No. 2 spot between Samuels and Evans. Louisville-bound Samuels was tied with Holiday for third place with a 3.71 average until Francis moved him up from No. 7 to No. 4 in his final rankings. That three spot jump allowed the former St. Benedict's standout to leapfrog Evans and drop Holiday to fourth place. Both Samuels and Evans each garnered three No. 2 ratings, with Samuels No. 9 ranking by Rivals.com being the lowest individually among both players by three spots. Even if Rivals.com would have pegged him as its No. 1 prospect in this year's class, he still would have finished No. 2 behind Arizona's next point guard with the same exact average (2.14) that Love finished with last season at the top of his class.
Although the Class of 2007 contains a deeper pool of NBA-ready players than this year's crop, another similar trend develops in the consensus ratings among the next tier players who figure to need more than one season to develop into NBA prospects. Last year's consensus ratings yielded four McDonald's All-American selections with averages considerably lower than the other 20 picks for the prestigious national all-star game. In fact, Larry Drew from Taft High in Woodland Hills, California was the final player to make the top 50 cut with a high rating of No. 29 by ESPN.com and a 50.86 average. At the practices for the McDonald's game, Drew actually held his own and it was Sylven Landesberg (37.29) and Iman Shumpert (30.71) that looked the most uncomfortable on the floor amongst their All-American peers.
Guard Mike Rosario had a 38.71 average but two publications (Hoop Scoop and ESPN.com) tabbed him in their top 20 and he justified that by playing well in the actual game. His pedigree as the best player on Rivals.com FAB 50 National Champion St. Anthony's of New Jersey also aided in his selection for the game, although the other five publications have some doubts about his immediate impact on the next level.
Last year, the consensus ratings clearly demonstrated that Texans Anthony Randolph and DeAndre Jordan probably should have been picked for the McDonald's game. The current projections for these two players in the upcoming NBA Draft, not necessarily because of their play for LSU and Texas A & M, respectively, would seem to legitimize what the consensus ratings displayed a year ago. This year, two more players seem to have a legitimate gripe although both are forwards and the McDonald's selections are constrained by position specific guidelines that could have left them off in favor of a guard or pivot player.
Mississippi native Rashanti Harris wasn't too high on most recruiting lists prior to the start of the season, but strong performances during in-season holiday tournaments, especially the prestigious City of Palms Tournament in Florida, helped him earn six final ratings above No. 25 for a composite of 26.86.
Howard Thompkins finished with a composite of 28.43, one spot ahead of Shumpert (a combo guard), but if you remove the No. 49 finish in Hoop Scoop's final ratings he would have finished with a composite of 25.00 in between McDonald's picks Malcolm Lee and Michael Dunigan. Despite his omission, Thompkins was one of seven top prospects in this year's class from the state of Georgia to crack the consensus top 50.
So who will emerge as the consensus top prospect next season? Will Thompkins and Harris develop into the NBA prospects that Randolph and Jordan are? The answer may emerge from figuring out if the Class of 2009 is more like the Class of 2007 or this year's class.
Jennings definitely wasn't the top consensus prospect he is now going into the summer evaluation period and this year there is a similar scenario. This summer, returning first team EA SPORTS All-Americans Derrick Favors and Lance Stephenson along with the likes of Xavier Henry, Renardo Sidney and fast-rising John Wall will be gunning for the No. 1 spot. As far as Harris and Thompkins go, right now we don't envision them developing quite as rapidly into top-tier pro prospects as the Lone Star State's NBA hopefuls.
That concludes that the Class of 2009 is much more similar to this year's class, not the already legendary 2007 class. That means the consensus top prospect will likely emerge from a short list of talented players that both dominate in the summer and with their regular high school team as Jennings did this past year.
That player rankings scenario is always the most desirable one for fans who follow the game year-round.