Yags’ Point Forward - Deep Dive into 2018 Rankings
An updated version of the 2018 ESPN 100 was unveiled this week, with nine members of New England's 2018 class making the cut. As is the case throughout the year, an updated ESPN 100 also means an updated version of NERR's New England rankings.
After another successful summer on the grassroots circuits, New England prospects saw an overall rise in their recruitment and prospect status. The overwhelming majority of players ranked atop New England's 2018 class either committed to their school of choice, cemented their status as mid-to-high-major prospects, or improved their stock while adding offers to their list and stars by their name.
Here's a deeper look into New England's 2018 Rankings as we head into the prep season:
PLENTY OF 4-/5-STAR PROSPECTS WITH MORE ON THE WAY
Simisola Shittu remains at the head of New England's 2018 class and is the region's sole 5-star prospect according to ESPN. While passionate debates can be formed regarding the order of the remaining prospects in the top-10 of 2018, Shittu remains the unquestioned #1 and has been so since his debut at Vermont Academy last fall.
Running with CIA Bounce in the Nike EYBL, Shittu shined brightest on the circuit's biggest stage and his Peach Jam performance earned him offers from the nation's elite programs. The versatile 6'10" Big/Wing/PG narrowed his list of future schools to 8 earlier in the month, with UConn, North Carolina, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, New Mexico, South Carolina and Notre Dame making the cut. Shittu's dominance throughout the EYBL season and his consistent production at the nation's elite prospect camps helped him move up to #6 overall in the updated ESPN-100.
The five players that immediately follow Shittu in the rankings have all been in New England for at least three years and give the region a strong presence inside the 2018 ESPN 100. They are a group that causes heated debates within the industry at the local level, as each player has their own passionate group of fans that includes scouts, coaches and players. They can be put in virtually any order depending on the specific skills you value, the particular brand of basketball you prefer, or the amount of untapped potential you can see within their game.
While the group includes five extremely different skillsets, they each provide efficient production and fit perfectly into today's positionless game. Ironically, when you consider the debates and their contrasting styles, together they would form one of the most lethal lineups in the country and remain virtually un-guardable against any other five prospects in 2018. You'd be hard-pressed to bet against them in any of the sneaker circuits and, at the very least, it would've been beautiful basketball to watch. Instead, we'll be able to watch each player blossom at their own pace this prep season while trying to overtake one another in the rankings.
Cole Swider, #35 overall in the ESPN 100, heads into his final season at St. Andrew's as New England's second best prospect in 2018. Swider kicked off the EYBL season with a 37-point clinic during the circuit's first session and led The BABC to a Peach Jam berth, earning offers from the nation's blue bloods along the way. Swider's shooting ability has always been his calling card, but the Villanova-commit now combines it with elite size –at 6'8"- on the wing, a gritty toughness while battling for boards in the post and an improved level of athleticism that allows him to make plays both off the bounce and above the rim. Swider has a legitimate chance to earn that elusive 5th star if his athleticism continues to improve and the elite shooting performances we've seen in the past happen on a nightly basis in NEPSAC play.
2018's 3rd-ranked prospect is Milton Academy's Cormac Ryan. The 6'5" PG/Wing was the steady hand for the New York Rens this summer in the EYBL, stuffing the stat sheet to the tune of 16.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.4 steals per contest. Ryan, a Stanford-commit, was selected to play in the prestigious Nike Basketball Academy, where he matched up against Swider's team live on ESPN in the championship game last week. Ryan is currently ranked #43 in the ESPN 100 and will head back to Milton with a target on his back as younger players inside the NEPSAC's A division look to make their name by knocking him off.
The remaining three prospects in the aforementioned 5-player crew are separated by four spots in the ESPN 100. Think about the hundreds of thousands of prep basketball players in the national Class of 2018. Think about the abundance of talent, and access to that talent, that there is in our game today. Think about the chances of three prospects, who have played within 90 miles of one another for the last few years, being that highly ranked and also being that close in the eyes of scouts. But that is exactly where Nate Laszewski (#51), AJ Reeves (#53) and David Duke (#54) stand heading into the fall.
Laszewski was one of the ESPN-100's biggest winners after a fantastic grassroots season with the New England Playaz, moving up more than 40 spots and heads into the fall at #51 overall. Laszewski's recruitment received a bump in the process. Laszewski's newfound willingness to mix it up inside and courage to step in front of freight trains barreling down the lane made him hard not to like as the summer wore on. It was fascinating just to witness the entire process.
Laszewski went from being forced to play inside by coaches to holding himself accountable for what developed in the paint on both ends. He then realized that the only way to build toughness is by being tough at all times and refusing to back down from a challenge, regardless of who the challenger may be. Laszewski's natural skills and smooth shooting stroke took over from there. He enters his final season in the NEPSAC looking to dish out some of the punishment he received over the last few seasons.
Notre Dame and Wake Forest will host the 6'10" Wing/Big from Northfield-Mt Hermon in September, two of the programs that have recruited Laszewski long before his breakout summer. North Carolina, Arizona and Vanderbilt all came calling over the last few months and will receive the proper attention from Laszewski going forward.
It's almost poetic that the Mass Rivals duo of AJ Reeves and David Duke will spend the last season of their prep careers challenging one another, working to expand their games and attempting to prove to the rest of the country that they both deserve to be higher in the final 2018 rankings than they are right now. After winning an Adidas circuit title last summer as two of the Rivals young bucks, Reeves and Duke weren't able to duplicate their predecessors overall team success but are well on their way to leaving their marks as prospects.
Reeves heads back to Brimmer & May with a chip on his shoulder, with the goal of showing the NEPSAC that his individual statistics, honors and accolades can indeed translate into team success at the highest level. With his commitment to Providence in the books, the elite 6'6" wing scorer can shift his attention to raising his teammates' level of play and developing into one of the best all-around offensive weapons in the nation. If that happens, a rise in the rankings will surely follow.
Duke finds himself at the intersection of potential and production as he tries to lead Cushing back to the NEPSAC AA title. The 6'5" PG/Wing has shown an abundance of potential over the last 12 months. It became clear that Duke was a lot more than "Wabissa Bede's wingman" during Cushing's spectacular postseason run in March. Duke turned it up a notch during the spring and summer, earning his ranking by showing off his versatile skillset and electric athletic ability on both ends of the floor. He also showed glimpses of becoming a unique weapon as a primary ball-handler with elite positional size who can facilitate for teammates or create his own offense at any given time.
Duke's production has been steady during his prospect rise but it will be more necessary than ever this season. As he heads back to Cushing knowing that it is his program to lead, Duke will have every opportunity to turn that raw potential into dominant production along with continued team success in a few months.
After narrowing his list of schools to five a few weeks ago, Duke will choose from Villanova, Virginia Tech, Florida, Providence and Indiana in the coming months.
Marcus Zegarowski rounds out the New England contingent in the ESPN-100, coming in at #96 overall. The 6'2" point guard can put his last year’s worth of production against anyone in the country, regardless of class. He proved that his ability to consistently knock down shots and be the primary offensive weapon on a winning team could translate to the highest levels, doing it at Tilton and not missing a beat this summer with Expressions in the EYBL.
Zegarowski has cut his list of potential suitors down to four as Creighton, Ohio State, Washington and Minnesota remain in the hunt. It may boil down to a two-horse race now that Zegarowski has decided to take official visits to Creighton and OSU in the next few weeks. Zegarowski has expressed a selfless desire to get his decision out of the way in order to focus on building a winning relationship with his new Tilton teammates.
Two New England newcomers were also featured in the updated ESPN-100 and they'll both attempt to bring another National Championship home to Jason Smith's powerhouse Brewster program. 6'10" Oregon commit Miles Norris (#58 overall) and 6'8" wing Isaiah Mucius (#64) will undoubtedly find themselves in the middle of future top 10 lists.
Dimon Carrigan, while not yet a member of the ESPN-100, comes in at #8 in the New England rankings and is universally considered a 4-star prospect after his phenomenal summer with The BABC. The 6'8" Wingspan Big Man brings his elite shot-blocking ability to Woodstock this fall, where he'll look to improve a currently efficient offensive arsenal that will only improve with added range on his jumper and additional ball-handling confidence.
South Kent's Anthony Nelson and Marlborough's Chris Doherty round out the top-10, after sensational summers using entirely different skillsets but eerily similar no-nonsense attitudes, rugged demeanors and swag for days. Each plays with a refreshing edge, refusing to accept failure and fearlessly willing to mix it up with their opponent's alleged tough guy. As you can already tell, I'm a big fan of both of these cats. They both own the necessary mentality to compete at the highest level.
Nelson, a 6'4" PG/Wing who ran with the NY Lightning in the EYBL, has seen his recruitment rise steadily and it's a testament to his style of play. Nelson eventually forces coaches and scouts to recognize his value over time. UNLV, Minnesota, Seton Hall, VCU, West Virginia and Cincinnati have been the latest to offer the play-making lefty and that list is bound to expand as long as he remains on the market. Nelson also has an official visit to Dayton set for September 22nd-24th.
Doherty, a 6'7" big with the requisite athleticism to defend opposing wings and a developing offensive repertoire that will eventually allow him to play with the ball in his hand at the other end as well, is far and away the youngest player in the current 2018 top 10. Having just turned 17 years old in April, Doherty could reclassify to 2019 and still play his entire freshman season in college at age-19. With an offer from Rutgers and a number of other high-major programs expressing interest in recent weeks, Doherty will also have options if he plans on heading to college at a "young" 18.
Brewster bigs Lukas Kisunas and Nate Roberts are widely considered 4-star recruits within the industry and both have high-major offers to reflect their standing. Kisunas will take an official visit to Purdue from September 15th-17th after a standout summer with his native Lithuania's National Team. Roberts narrowed his list of future programs down to five at the beginning of the month. UConn, Nebraska, Syracuse, Wake Forest and Washington remain in contention and the first four will receive official visits from Roberts during the month of September.
RANKINGS RUN DEEP WITH HIGH-ACADEMIC & HIGH-RISING PROSPECTS
Starting at #14 with Princeton-commit Ethan Wright, there are 13 prospects within the top 60 who have already made their college decisions. Four of them are heading to Ivy League programs and they all currently rank in the top 27 of New England's 2018 class. Brown has received the biggest boost from this year's crop so far, gaining pledges from 6'1" point guard Thomas Shaughnessy and 6'5" wing David Mitchell.
Shaughnessy is one of 2018's highest risers after a phenomenal summer guiding the Middlesex Magic to multiple tournament titles and proving that his leadership ability can translate beyond the prep level. He currently sits at #22 in the class. Shaughnessy is the type of player who forces the intensity level to rise the moment he steps in the gym and does so with a contagious sense of confidence. Mitchell, #18 in 2018, continued to perfect his gritty and selfless role within the Mass Rivals program this summer and will look to assume that same position at Brown.
Kimball Union's 6'2" floor general Eze Dike-Nwagbara rounds out the current group of future Ivy League ballplayers at #27. Dike-Nwagbara could also find himself as one of the region's risers this fall as the explosive, bouncy and creative point guard is reaching a different level of athleticism now that his body matures. Nick Timberlake, his backcourt mate at KUA, is right behind the Yale-commit at #28 and is bound to see a similar rise, at least in his recruitment if not his ultimate ranking as the list expands with incoming transfers.
South Kent's 6'6" wing Malachi De Sousa (#20) and Northfield-Mt Hermon's 6'6" Wingspan Big Man Chuck Hannah (#15) are two other prospects from the 2018 class that can find themselves in similar positions, depending on how long they hold off on making their college decisions. Each played a huge part in their team's success at the highest level of prep basketball last season, largely by taking pride in and perfecting their roles. But their unselfish team-first mentality disguised skillsets that are more well-rounded than they are often given credit for. With their history of production, versatility on both ends of the floor and underrated jump shots that have further improved this summer, Hannah and De Sousa could add to the list of high-major recruits from this year's class.
6'10" big man Tayler Mattos bursts in the rankings at #26 after a breakout summer with a talented young WrightWay Skills squad. Mattos is still in the infancy of his prospect development but his fluid movements, tremendously quick rate of improvement and blue collar work ethic are all reasons to believe his best ball is still years away. Combine that with the fact that Mattos is still just 16-years old heading into his senior year at Kearsarge (NH) and you've got one of the most intriguing prospects in New England. Mattos already holds offers from Boston University, Albany, Canisius, Rider, Kennesaw State, Bryant and New Hampshire.
MORE RANKINGS NOTES
- Our class of 2017 saw only ONE prospect from a New England public high school commit to play basketball at a D-1 college program. Hamden's CJ Seaforth (Iona) was the lone member of that exclusive group. Shaughnessy (Brown), Wright (Princeton) and Alex Rivera (UMass-Lowell) have already guaranteed that this year's group will at least triple in size but it could grow to a respectable size by year's end. Mattos and Doherty can make the class huge, in comparison, if the young seniors decide to head to college.
- Northfield-Mt Hermon currently leads the way with five (Laszewski, Hannah, Whipple, Franks & Toews) prospects in the top 50 of the 2018 class and is one of nine prep programs with multiple players in the rankings. Woodstock Academy is a close second on the list with four players (Carrigan, Dottin, Kasperzyk and Martin) in the top 50. South Kent is currently the only other program with more than two (Nelson, De Sousa and Maurice Works) players on the list. Brewster, Tilton, MacDuffie, Kimball Union, Lawrence Academy and Belmont Hill each have two players in the top-50.
- I emphasized "currently" above because the annual influx of talented prep transfers will make this version of the rankings nearly unrecognizable in a few short weeks. Along with Mucius and Norris, Brewster will also have the second generation trio of Buddy Boeheim (son of legendary Syracuse coach Jimmy Boeheim), Walter Ellis (son of Notre Dame and NBA standout Laphonso Ellis) and BJ Shaw (son of former Celtics & Lakers PG Brian Shaw) representing their program in future 2018 rankings. Putnam Science, Woodstock, St Thomas More and New Hampton will also have multiple prospects in the conversation.
- After a tremendously successful summer that included a run to the Adidas circuit championship game, it's no surprise that the New England Playaz were well represented in the rankings. The Playaz had five prospects (Laszewski, Doherty, Kisunas, Hannah & Wright) in the top-15 and six total prospects in the top-50. Expressions and Mass Rivals were tied with the most players from a single grassroots programs in the rankings with 7 apiece. The BABC (5), Middlesex Magic, and D.C. Blue Devils were the only other grassroots program with more than two.