Yags’ Point Forward - Digging Deeper into 2018 Rankings
There are some major storylines inside NERR’s latest 2018 rankings, with a few more to unfold as the newest members of the class arrive on campus.
Milton Academy PG/Wing Cormac Ryan has ascended all the way to the top of New England’s junior class and was the region’s lone returning player to earn a spot on the ESPN 60 rankings. Ryan checks in at #54 overall and holds offers from the likes of Michigan, Indiana, Stanford, Florida and Northwestern.
Ryan’s reign atop the rankings may not last very long though. Vermont Academy welcomes the uber-talented Simi Shittu into their program this fall and the explosive 6’10” athlete is currently ranked 8th overall in the class of 2018 according to the ESPN 60. He figures to take over the top spot once New England’s newest prospects are added to the expanded rankings later this fall.
Shittu held his own all summer while playing against older competition in the Nike EYBL with Canada’s CIA Bounce squad. After averaging 15 points, 8 rebounds and almost 2 assists, Shittu is in the process of becoming a priority target for high major programs across the country. Shittu comes to Vermont via Florida’s Montverde Academy, one of the most successful programs in the country over the last decade.
Ryan, who was ranked 6th in the previous NERR rankings, saw his star rise while playing with the Middlesex Magic this summer. The 6’5” playmaker brings an extraordinary amount of versatility to the table. His skillset allows coaches to use him as a primary ball-handler for extended periods of time or as an active perimeter shooter, flying off screens and creating from the wing when his own shot isn’t available. Mike Crotty’s system fit Ryan’s strengths perfectly and allowed him to take over games within the natural flow of the Middlesex offense.
Ryan will undoubtedly continue to develop his already well-rounded skillset while adding offers from high major programs throughout the prep season.
Here are a few more points of interest within the latest NERR 2018 Rankings:
STILL FORMING THEIR IDENTITY
Just halfway through their prep careers, the prospects that make up the 2018 class can’t be defined by one type of player as much as many of its players can’t be defined by one position. In years past, New England’s prospects classes have eventually formed an identity and are remembered for a specific type of player. Whether it was dynamic wing athletes (‘16’s Gabriel, Brown and Heron), explosive guard play (‘15’s Brewster trio) or freakishly gifted big men (2012’s group of Noel, Adams, McGary & Tarczewski), a prototype from the group comes into your mind.
So far, the ’18 class is probably best known for their diversity and the ability of their top prospects to seamlessly transition between two or more positions whenever necessary. With the way the game is played today, from the NBA on down, perhaps there’s nothing more appropriate than not being able to appropriately define a group of elite players in three words or less. This is the gift that basketball has given us in 2016 and players are only going to become even less definable as the game evolves.
Sure, prospects that continuously try to expand their skillsets before becoming truly proficient in any one area have a tendency to drive coaches insane. And yes, players that own unique physical advantages might be better off in the short term if they just used their size accordingly and scored efficient buckets in the paint. But at the end of the day, the stubborn players that refused to fit into specific, neatly-titled positional boxes are the players that eventually took the game to new heights and turned offensive/defensive versatility into the most valuable asset in basketball.
This year’s junior class is led by two point guards (Ryan and Ayala) who stand 6’5” and 6’4” respectively and is followed by two dead-eye shooters (Cole Swider & Nate Laszewski) that both measure in at 6’8” or above. Those four studs bookend a dynamic 6’5” athlete (AJ Reeves) who can affect the game in every way imaginable and spent his entire summer learning how to win from some of the best mentors on the grassroots circuit. They all patiently wait for their crack at the new 6’10” big/wing/point guard (Shittu) with 5-stars next to his name and who will immediately become the top player in their class later this fall.
New England’s 2018 prospect class is impossible to put a label on right now. If this group continues to develop at their current pace over the next two years, they might even be impossible to define on their way out the door too. And that’s a very good thing!
While Ryan’s climb to the top of the ’18 class was the most noticeable, the player directly below him at #2, Eric Ayala, actually made more of a jump this summer. Ayala, who sat at #8 in NERR’s last rankings, ran with the Delaware-based WE-R1 program in the Under Armour circuit and played alongside the nation’s top point guard prospect, Trevon Duval.
Scouts may have been attracted to WE-R1’s games by the presence of Duval but, more often than not, Ayala would leave an indelible mark on their scouting reports and cemented his name into their minds of scouts across the country. Ayala stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of 11.8 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists per game while scoring consistently from all three levels.
Ayala, who played an important role in Putnam’s run to the National Prep Championships last season, returns to school with offers from UConn, Maryland, Miami, VCU, Southern Cal, and Oklahoma State, just to name a few. Combined with Hamidou Diallo, New England’s top prospect in 2017, Ayala gives Putnam the region’s most dynamic backcourt and makes them one of the favorites to make it back to Albertus Magnus in March.
The distinction of 2018’s biggest riser goes to Newton North and New England Playaz product Ethan Wright. Not listed among the top-30 players in his class heading into the summer, Wright was a menace on both ends of the court, flashing the ability to put points on the board in a hurry and create for others off the bounce. Wright’s outside stroke is as consistent as you’ll find in the area and everything about it, from his footwork to his form to his release, is pure.
Now checking in at #9 in his class, the 6’2” Wright is still a true junior and heads back to Newton North boasting offers from elite academic institutions like Brown and Colgate along with varying levels of interest from high major programs like Indiana, Virginia, Syracuse, and Seton Hall.
Northfield-Mt Hermon big/wing Chuck Hannah also saw his value rise to a new level over the last few months. Running with the New England Playaz this summer, Hannah provided the same unbreakable will and maniacal work ethic that earned him minutes with the NEPSAC AAA champions last season. Hannah is an elite competitor and uses his length, strength and aggression to haul in rebounds over bigger players in the paint. Offensively, Hannah might not get a play run specifically for him all day but still manages to score a dozen points via putbacks and transition buckets.
Hannah was at his most efficient during the Playaz run in the Adidas Summer Championships. Understanding that his team had an abundance of dangerous outside shooters, Hannah went to work on the boards and played rugged defense against opposing big men. He shot a ridiculous 78% (21-27) from the field and didn’t have a game in which he missed more than one shot until the Playaz lost to eventual champ Mass Rivals in the quarterfinals.
For his efforts, Hannah moves up seven spots from #21 to #14 in the latest NERR rankings and earned scholarship offers from Boston University, St Joe’s, Brown and Pennsylvania.
The next two biggest movers in 2018 also happen to be the two largest, most unapologetic, paint-filling big men in the class. Commonwealth’s Arashma Parks and Putnam’s Darnell Brodie give New England two throwback style bruisers who create space in the post and make opponents think twice about coming into the lane.
Parks is currently the more polished and reliable scorer of the two. He has improved his hands and explosiveness to the point that he now routinely catches dump offs and flushes them home before a help defender can leave his feet to contest. Parks may have added an inch or two over the last year and showed off a more durable physique throughout the summer running with the PSA Cardinals. He currently has offers from UMass, Towson, and St Louis on the table.
Brodie’s size alone makes him a force to be reckoned with. At 6’9” and about 280lbs, Brodie is a prep basketball player in an NFL left tackle’s body. His size and muscle mass hasn’t always given Brodie an advantage on the court though. While he’s still susceptible to quicker wings that catch him on an island in pick-n-roll action, Brodie’s lateral agility has improved tremendously and it’s helping him on both ends. His movements have become smoother, his actions are now that of a basketball player, and he anticipates his opponent’s moves instead of reacting to them defensively. Brodie has already made unofficial visits to Temple and Monmouth but also sports offers from UMass, Seton Hall, Iona, St Joe’s, Stony Brook, and more. With his best basketball still a few years down the road, Brodie is an intriguing prospect.
NEWCOMERS WITH BIG REPS, BIG OFFERS
Regardless of how it affects their individual ranking, prospects across New England are overwhelmingly more likely to accept elite newcomers as competition than they are to avoid them. The need to prove one’s self against the best is ingrained within the New England athlete’s DNA. The same can be said about the men on the sidelines. In our region’s prep ranks, coaches who show the willingness to play anybody anywhere ultimately earn the respect of their peers. Meanwhile, their teams seem to embody the confidence and toughness that comes along with that mentality.
We’ve already covered the expected impact that Simi Shittu’s arrival will have on Alex Popp’s Vermont Academy program. But Shittu isn’t the only player who will be making a case to be mentioned alongside New England’s elite when the rankings expand this fall.
Jason Smith’s Brewster program also welcomes a high-impact player in the 2018 class, as Sidney Wilson transfers in from St Raymond’s in the Bronx. A 6’7” wing with natural and explosive scoring ability, Wilson does the majority of his damage inside the arch by effortlessly getting to the rim, welcoming contact and piling up points from the foul line. He also uses that same athletic ability to haul in rebounds at an exhausting rate. Wilson recently took an unofficial visit to UConn but has a long list of suitors that includes Louisville, Texas, Southern Cal, St John’s, Seton Hall, UNLV and VCU among many more.
Wilson will be one of the most interesting prospects to watch over the next two years. He’ll have the luxury of settling into Smith’s program this season, then he’ll be able to use the knowledge he picks up over the course of the ’16-’17 NEPSAC season and implement it with a new group of teammates in Wolfeboro next season.
RANDOM RANKINGS NOTES
-As is the case in the 2017 class, many of New England’s top juniors played on “Sneaker Circuits” this summer. The New England Playaz placed 7 prospects (Laszewski, Wright, Hannah, Brodie, Chris Doherty, Calvin Whipple and Kai Toews) in the top-30, the most of any grassroots program. Mass Rivals, their brethren on the Adidas circuit, were the 2nd most represented summer squad with 5 players (Reeves, David Mitchell, Jovan Jones, David Duke and Keigan Kerby) in the rankings. The unaffiliated Middlesex Magic (Ryan, Thomas Shaughnessy and Tommy O’Neil) and the BABC (Cole Swider, Shandon Brown, and Martin Mann), a Nike EYBL squad, each had a trio of players in the rankings.
-In total, 87% (26 out of 30) of the prospects in the rankings played on a “Sneaker Circuit” at some point this summer. The Middlesex trio of Ryan, Shaughnessy and O’Neil join Sebastian Skoko (Boston Warriors) as the only prospects to play with unaffiliated programs throughout the summer.
-The wealth is spread out a little more evenly in 2018 as far as schools are concerned. Only three programs had multiple players in the top-30. Northfield-Mt Hermon (Laszewski, Hannah, Toews and Whipple) led the way with four players, by far the most from any individual school. Redemption Christian (Joel Mensah and Joel Bailey) and Putnam Science (Ayala and Brodie) were 2nd with two players apiece.
-Two New England state associations were represented with a total of 6 prospects. The MIAA boasts Wright, Doherty, Shaughnessy and Timmy O’Neil. Their neighbors to the south, the CIAC, were represented by Raheem Solomon and John Kelly. In the ’17 (top-50) and ’18 (top-30) rankings combined, the NEPSAC accounted for 66 of the 80 (83%) total prospects.
-Marlborough’s Chris Doherty remained in the top-30 despite not having played since the spring after being badly bitten by the injury bug. When healthy, the 6’6” big man is as active on the boards and diving for loose balls as any player in New England. Ironically, his selfless disregard for his own safety and competitive nature are probably partially to blame. Hopefully he’ll be back to 100% and on the court by the end of fall.