Preseason 2022-23 FAB 50: Top 15 Teams!
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We conclude our 2022-23 preseason FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com with an in-depth look at the nation’s top 15 teams. We began with teams No. 31-50, continued with teams No. 16-30 and this is an in-depth look at the nation’s 15 best teams. Montverde Academy of Florida is the nation’s preseason No. 1 team for the eighth time as it seeks its seventh FAB 50 title in eleven seasons.
All 50 teams are written up with explanations for why they are placed in these positions. Montverde Academy is in the pole position to begin the season for the eighth time, one short of the all-time FAB 50 era record of nine held by Oak Hill Academy of Virginia. Only twice has Montverde Academy finished lower than No. 1 when starting out No. 1. In 2019, the Eagles finished No. 4 after losing in the GEICO Nationals semifinals to eventual national champ IMG Academy and in 2022 they finished No. 2 after losing at the buzzer to eventual national champ Duncanville of Texas. Academy-type programs that are now part of the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC) continue to dominate the FAB 50 while the COVID-19 Pandemic is not the main topic of discussion in the preseason for the first time in three years.
RELATED: Preseason 2022-23 FAB 50 (16-30) | Preseason 2022-23 FAB 50 (31-50) | Preseason East Region Top 20 | Preseason Southeast Region Top 20 | Preseason Midwest Region Top 20 | Preseason Southwest Region Top 20 | Preseason West Region Top 20
GO TO: No. 1 / No. 2 / No. 3 / No. 4 / No. 5 / No. 6 / No. 7 / No. 8 / No. 9 / No. 10 / No. 11 / No. 12 / No. 13 / No. 14 / No. 15
2022-23 High School Basketball: The Future Has Arrived
As high school basketball moves past the grip COVID-19 had on the sport for three seasons, a new era for the sport is here. The pandemic fueled a migration of talented players away from traditional public and parochial schools that play for state titles to independent, academy-type programs with looser scheduling and practice time restrictions that were beneficial to many players during the pandemic. Many parents of D1 prospects felt that route was best for their sons and still do. During the pandemic, parents and players saw the formation of the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC) and it continues to grow in scope and appeal. D1 prospects from all over the country know about the conference and aspire to play for one of them, or knock its member teams off if their own team gets a golden opportunity to.
In 2020-21, Montverde Academy of Florida captured the inaugural NIBC title game and went on to capture the FAB 50 national crown by finishing No. 1 in the FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com. Last season, Sunrise Christian of Kansas won the NIBC title in the first year of a full conference schedule, but finished No. 3 in the final FAB 50 after an upset loss in the first round at the end-of-season GEICO Nationals tournament. This year, the NIBC expanded to 10 teams with the addition of FAB 50 mainstay Long Island Lutheran (Glen Head, N.Y.) and AZ Compass Prep (Chandler, Ariz.), the latter which is now eligible for the FAB 50 as a NIBC member (CLICK HERE for NIBC bylaws).
In addition to the NIBC’s creation, a second major happening transformed the high school landscape during the pandemic. On July 1, 2021, legislation in several states went into effect green lighting Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) freedoms for collegiate student athletes, which forced the NCAA to quickly implement NIL policy for its member schools across all 50 states. So far 29 states have passed NIL legislation modeled after California’s “Fair Pay to Play Act”.
The financial freedom to be compensated as a result of the new revenue streams NIL provides for student-athletes has changed amateur sports forever. As laws were passed, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to understand NIL would make an impact on the star-driven elite high school basketball circuit. Currently, nine state associations sanction NIL freedoms for student athletes that fall under their jurisdiction (Alaska, California, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Utah) and more will likely follow, considering state law supersedes state association bylaws. Some well-known high school standouts such as Duke-bound Jared McCain of Centennial (Corona, Calif.) and Mikey Williams of San Ysidro (Calif.), have legitimate endorsement deals in place entering their senior season and stake-holders, in addition to parents, in the high school basketball space are paying close attention.
It’s been 20 years since LeBron James led his team at St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron, Ohio) to the 2002-03 FAB 50 title. LeBron’s lasting impact at the high school level was the financial windfall event operators and other stake-holders experienced during his final two seasons of high school. Media entities and event operators realized there was serious money to be made in monetizing elite individual players and ranked teams going forward. NIL has raised expectations across the board and affected decision-making when it comes to choosing both a high school program and the path to pro basketball. There are more options and more money to be had than ever before.
After James moved on to the NBA from high school 20 years ago, many high school experts and scribes felt the development of young American players was hurt by the constant search for the next superstar through the largely unregulated grassroots basketball ecosystem. Many felt the European model of basketball academies advanced the international game at a more rapid rate than the developmental models used in the United States during that time. Development in the U.S. has always been tied to education and the formation and growth of the NIBC is basically what was envisioned for elite high school basketball talent 20 years ago. The future is here for high school basketball and there is no turning back.
Montverde Academy: No. 1 Again
The NIBC has increased high school basketball’s competition level and NIL has increased expectations in this new era. High school basketball’s elite talents are household names and its best teams spend plenty of time on national television broadcasts. What hasn’t changed as we leave the COVID-19 years behind is the dominance of Kevin Boyle’s program at Montverde Academy of Florida. Since he took over the program’s reins for the 2011-12 season, the Eagles have been the nation’s dominant program. In fact, their dominance has not only brought Montverde Academy’s brand to an international level of recognition, it has increased the competition level and play of the programs that eventually formed the NIBC. Montverde Academy’s success has literally raised the bar to compete in the NIBC and for other programs to have a legit shot at the FAB 50 title.
In a year in which there is no consensus No. 1 player in the country, it’s only fitting there is no overwhelming favorite to capture the 2022-23 FAB 50 national title. Many of the nation’s top programs lost talent to graduation and some decided to join Overtime Elite (OTE). The Atlanta-based organization prided itself on being a viable league for young, aspiring professional players when launched in March 2021. OTE pivoted when NIL legislation went into effect in July 2021, quickly realizing elite high school players did not want to give up the collegiate basketball option and, predictably, began signing players with the intent to satisfy their financial goals and exceptions with NIL deals.
Regardless of OTE’s status as a pro league (it has since announced the expansion of its league to include three academy-type high school programs playing against three in-house teams containing a mixture of players with regards to NCAA eligibility), there are some talented players on its roster. Taking into account the plethora of movement among elite players, Montverde Academy of Florida is the safe pick to open up as the preseason No. 1 team in the FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com because of its ability to reload its roster after heavy graduation losses and its recent track record. After graduating all but one starter off its historic 2019-20 team that included 2021 No. 1 NBA Draft pick Cade Cunningham and 2022 NBA Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes, Montverde Academy repeated as FAB 50 champ in 2020-21. That team was led by Jalen Duren, the National Junior Player of the Year who went on to Memphis and was taken No. 13 overall in the 2022 NBA Draft. Despite losing Duren a year early to college, the Eagles opened up last year as preseason FAB 50 No. 1 and finished No. 2. With many underclass players dotting NIBC rosters, MVA is in the pole position with its nice blend of senior talent and talented underclassmen.
“K.J. (Kwame Evans) is the one starter back and like with Dariq’s (Whitehead) team last year we only had one guy back,” said Montverde Academy Associate Head Coach Rae Miller. “Our younger guys are vying for the opportunity to start, so everyone, even K.J., has to come ready to compete. There are 10 new guys who’ve never played at the NIBC level and it’s a great opportunity to see how good these guys are.” There are many teams with a great opportunity to challenge Montverde Academy in both the NIBC and for the No. 1 ranking. Last season, the Eagles had four losses and it still took a terrific effort and buzzer-beating victory for Duncanville, a public school in Texas, to keep the Florida boarding school from its seventh FAB 50 title since 2012-13. That’s how good Montverde Academy has been since that time, and its competition has never been greater than now.”
RELATED: Preseason 2022-23 FAB 50 (16-30) | Preseason 2022-23 FAB 50 (31-50) | Preseason East Region Top 20 | Preseason Southeast Region Top 20 | Preseason Midwest Region Top 20 | Preseason Southwest Region Top 20 | Preseason West Region Top 20
GO TO: No. 1 / No. 2 / No. 3 / No. 4 / No. 5 / No. 6 / No. 7 / No. 8 / No. 9 / No. 10 / No. 11 / No. 12 / No. 13 / No. 14 / No. 15
Preseason 2022-23 FAB 50 National
Team Rankings Powered by Ballislife.com
By Ronnie Flores
(Final 2021-22 ranking in parentheses; *Indicates forfeit wins, forfeit losses not included; **Indicates forfeits and defaults not included; Look for preseason Region-By-Region Top 20 Rankings on Wednesday, November 9 and for the preseason Mr. Basketball USA Tracker on Tuesday, November 22.)
1. (2) Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) 22-4
Key Players: PF Kwame Evans 6-9 2023 (No. 11 247Sports.com, Oregon commit), SF Cooper Flagg 6-8 2025 (No. 2 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SG Marvel Allen 6-4 2023 (No. 52 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Georgetown commit), PF Sean Stewart 6-8 2023 (No. 7 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Duke commit), PF Asa Newell 6-9 2024 (No. 6 247Sports.com), PG Chris Johnson 6-4 2023 (No. 33 ESPN.com, Kansas commit).
Why This Ranking: In a year where there isn’t a dominant team with its lineup returning en masse or a highly-regarded team with a serious Mr. Basketball USA candidate leading the charge, the Eagles are the logical choice to begin as the preseason No. 1 in the industry’s longest running weekly rankings (since 1987-88). Even though the Eagles lost 2022 Mr. Basketball USA Dariq Whitehead (Duke) and three other highly-regarded starters to graduation, their combination of talent and experienced coaching is hard to beat. Montverde Academy is now 288-23 in Kevin Boyle’s 11 seasons as head coach. The program’s 26-5 (.839) all-time record at GEICO Nationals dwarfs the winning percentage of any other team that is a staple of that season-ending event. Evans is the lone returning starter and versatility is his greatest asset. The talented forward hit some big-time shots in many clutch moments last season and he’ll be counted on for his production and leadership if MVA is to capture GEICO National for the third consecutive season. In the backcourt, Johnson has taken on a leadership role and is quite vocal in practice, where the quest for playing time is at an all-time high in the program. Johnson has a deft pull-up game that he uses in the big moments. Illinois-bound Dravyn Gibbs-Lawhorn (6-0, 2023) is a good defender who has shown growth and picked up what the coaching staff expects of him at a rapid pace, while Curtis Givens (6-2, 2024) is pushing hard for playing time. Allen can wreak havoc all over the court and with Stewart able to guard the three all the way to the five, this team can feature various lineups with equal potency. Newell hasn’t received tons of national exposure, but he’s a gifted talent who brings a unique blend of athleticism and skill to this team. Flagg, who can score in a variety of ways, is an excellent passer, shot-blocker and versatile defender in the mold of former NBA All-Star Bobby Jones, represents this team’s makeup: unlimited upside and only going to get better as the season wears along.
The Skinny: There is no debating this program lost plenty of firepower off a 2021-22 team that came within one-buzzer beater of finishing No. 1, but it’s not an unprecedented situation for Boyle and staff. The 2020-21 unit had to replace four starters off the best team in program history and one of the best all-time in the annals of high school basketball and was able to begin and finish No. 1. Sure, Montverde Academy and the other NIBC teams have an abundance of talent on their roster, but so have some other academy-type programs and almost none of them have been close to as successful as this program over the past decade. Flagg could develop into one of the program’s most special players by the time it’s all said and done. With talents such as the much improved Derik Queen (6-8, 2024) and Liam McNeeley (6-7, 2025) also in the fold, this is the deepest Montverde Academy team ever assembled. There is always a chance for dissension, but the spirit in practice is pushing the individual players and team to the next level. “This is one of our more talented groups of guys,” Miller said. “They are coachable and hard-working and this team has some guys that strive to live up to the standards set before them.” This is the eighth time MVA has started No. 1, one off the record of nine times by Oak Hill Academy in the FAB 50 era. The road to finish No. 1 is harder than it’s ever been with the creation and expansion of the NIBC and this program relishes in the challenge. With a 25-game regular season limit that both MVA and IMG Academy adhere to in accordance with FHSAA bylaws, the schedule is jam packed with FAB 50 ranked teams and there is little to no break in terms of a cupcake matchup. MVA will play No. 4 AZ Compass Prep at the Frank Jackson National Hoopfest in Utah on Nov. 22, host No. 6 IMG Academy on Dec. 1 at the Sunshine Classic and face No. 25 Long Island Lutheran the next day. At the Bob Kirk Invitational, the Eagles will face host Bishop Walsh (Cumberland, Md.) on Dec. 8 and take on No. 30 Oak Hill Academy the following night. Before Christmas, MVA will be in Hawaii for the Iolani Classic and after the New Year’s face No. 2 Sunrise Christian Academy and Wasatch Academy at the La Porte Invitational (Ind.) before heading to the Spalding Hoophall Classic. In Springfield, Mass., MVA will face No. 36 La Lumiere (Jan. 14) and have a return match with Sunrise Christian Academy on MLK Monday before hosting highly-regarded Calvary Christian Academy and Central Pointe Christian Academy of Florida at home. The Montverde Academy Invitational Tournament (Jan. 26-28) will include No. 18 Columbus and a second game with IMG Academy will close out the regular season in early February. Boyle’s second win early this season will be the 800th of his career (798-155 including his time at St. Patrick of Elizabeth, N.J.) and there is no reason this team can’t bring his program its seventh No. 1 FAB 50 finish. Should it happen, Boyle would tie just retired Steve Smith of Oak Hill Academy as the coach with the most all-time FAB 50 No. 1 teams.
2. (3) Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Air, Kan.) 25-2
Key Players: SF Scotty Middleton 6-7 2023 (No. 18 ESPN.com, Ohio State commit), PG Layden Blocker 6-2 2023 (No. 22 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Arkansas commit), SF Matas Buzelis 6-9 2023 (No. 11 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, NBA G League Ignite commit), C John Bol 7-1 2024 (No. 20 247Sports.com), SG Miro Little 6-4 2023 (No. 25 247Sports.com, Baylor commit), PG Mikel Brown Jr. 5-11 2025 (No. 8 247Sports.com).
Why This Ranking: The Buffaloes have a nice blend of veteran talent and newcomers to go along with a proven track record of success to warrant this spot. Similar to No. 1 Montverde Academy, Sunrise Christian Academy lost tons of firepower off its 2020-21 team and was still able to rise to the top of the FAB 50 last season behind a talented senior class led by NIBC Player of the Year Gradey Dick (Kansas). Once again a strong senior class moves on, but there is a lot to like about an upper-echelon NIBC team with a returning point guard like Blocker and a proven veteran like Middleton. With other upper echelon NIBC teams young at key spots, having a veteran lead guard is critical in big games. “Laden is familiar with what I want and what it takes to be successful,” Sunrise Christian coach Luke Barnwell said. “He had a great week at Peach Jam and showed flashes of having to be that guy. He’s going to have to be that for us in order to be successful.” Middleton is a versatile talent who gives the Buffaloes the ability to run with a smaller lineup or go big and slide the Ohio St. commit to backcourt duties. Barnwell is fine with that because this year’s team is a bit more mobile with quicker feet than last year’s club and will excel playing at a faster pace. Buzelis is the best of the newcomers and Barnwell feels he’s one of the best athletes ever to go through the program. Little is a physical guard who is as strong as he is quick. Bol, a native of South Sudan, can run as well as anyone on the team and Barnwell loves his mobility. Simply put, there is plenty to like about this team and it will know right away where it stands in the national pecking order.
The Skinny: After starting at No. 3 in the preseason last year, this team excelled during the regular season, splitting games with Montverde Academy only to lose in the first round of GEICO Nationals to Prolific Prep of Napa, Calif. For a team that entered the end-of-season event ranked No. 1 in the FAB 50, it was a bitter pill to swallow but prior to the event we stated it was a wide-open field. That gives this year’s team plenty of motivation although there are plenty of new faces. “We think about it every day; it gives us something to anchor our conversations and work towards,” Barnwell said. This year the race for No. 1 is as wide open as it has been in five years and Sunrise is a solid pick for this position because of its motivation and the talent on hand. With its front-loaded schedule and the increased talent-level of the NIBC, the Buffaloes need to develop their depth and have the pieces in place to do just that. Barnwell labels Brown his “baby-faced assassin” and his development allows Blocker to be the physical defender he is cut out to be. Almar Atlason (6-9, 2023), a native of Iceland, is a skilled player off the bench and will need to produce if the Buffaloes are going to come close to matching the regular season success of last season. The schedule has three key components. Sunrise Christian will face No. 4 and NIBC newcomer AZ Compass Prep on Nov. 23 at the Frank Jackson Hoopfest in Utah. This year, each NIBC team will play three teams twice and everyone else in the 10-team league once and for the Buffaloes, one of the teams it plays twice in top-ranked Montverde Academy. The first matchup with take place Jan. 5 and the second one will come on MLK Monday on the back end of the “Springfield Double” after the Buffaloes participate at the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Springfield, Mo., (Jan. 12-14) against the likes of No. 11 Link Academy, No. 17 Christ the King and No. 49 Bartlett. That’s the second key component with the third coming with NIBC games March 2-3 vs. No. 25 Long Island Lutheran and No. 36 La Lumiere. Last year, the Buffaloes finished their season on Feb. 19 and Barnwell feels closing strong at a closer later date to GEICO Nationals will help keep his team in tune. The program is 2-3 all-time at the event, with a championship game appearance in 2021 sandwiched in between two first round losses in 2019 and 2022 (the event was canceled in 2020 with SCA holding the No. 3 seed).
3. (16) Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.) 31-5
Key Players: SG DeShawn Harris-Smith 6-5 2023 (No. 39 247Sports.com, Maryland commit), SF Darren Harris 6-5 2024 (No. 39 ESPN.com, Duke commit), SF Isaiah Abraham 6-6 2024 (No. 64 Rivals.com), C Patrick Ngongba 6-10 2024 (No. 97 247Sports.com).
Why This Ranking: The Panthers have been a FAB 50 mainstay for the past decade and deserve this spot as the No. 1 team from the powerful Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC). The conference favorites return four starters and eight lettermen off a team that captured the program’s first WCAC tournament crown since 2013-14. It begins with Harris-Smith, a second team all-Met choice who excels at rim-attacking and is known for his defensive versatility. Harris is a knock-down shooter and is known for playing winning basketball. Abraham, a transfer from Highland (Warrenton, Va.) is a big guard who can slide down to a forward spot and be productive for this team. He may not even reach his sophomore averages (14.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg), but his impact will be huge and gives coach Glenn Farello (518-203) the ability to go deep into his bench and utilize various mismatches. With this roster, there will be plenty of them.
The Skinny: Paul VI has been preseason FAB 50 ranked nine times in the past 11 seasons and last year it was on the bubble after starting out as the No. 4 team in the WCAC. In retrospect, that was a big oversight even though the shortened 2020-21 season played a role in the decision. The Panthers started out No. 4 for two consecutive seasons (2019-20 and 2020-21) but this year they have earned the program’s highest ranking ever because of their talent level, experience, speed, depth and length. This team is not only good enough to sweep through the WCAC regular season and tournament, it’s a year in which the Panthers will be a difficult matchups for NIBC teams and other top programs. Dug McDaniel (Michigan) had a terrific four-year run at point guard, but Farello is confident replacing him won’t be an issue. “DeShawn and Ben (Hammond) played significant minutes at the point last year and we are very confident in those two leading us,” Farello said. Hammond (5-11, 2024) gives the backcourt excellent depth and Jordan Smith Jr. (6-2, 2026), Jordan Hunter (6-0, 2026) and Anthony Brown Jr. (6-0, 2026) will push the veterans in practice. A serious FAB 50 title contender must rebound and the Panthers are strong on the interior as well with talents such as Ngongba, Garrett Sundra (6-10, 2024) and Christian Gurdak (6-9, 2025). Farello rates each of the trio as high major prospects. This could be a memorable season for Paul VI to follow up on last year’s WCAC crown, but winning conference games on the road is never easy and the schedule is demanding. The Panthers head to London, England (Dec. 2-3) to play in Hoophall International vs. No. 17 Christ the King with the winner facing Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) or Pace Academy (Atlanta, Ga.) the next day. After taking part in the D.C. Hoopfest, the Panthers will enter the City of Palms Tournament (Dec. 16-21), along with nine other FAB 50 ranked foes, as the top seed. If the seeds go to form they would face No. 18 Columbus in the tourney semifinals and would be in strong FAB 50 title contention by winning the tournament. After the New Year’s, another game that could have major FAB 50 title implications is the Jan. 15 matchup with No. 5 Roselle Catholic at the Spalding Hoophall Classic. Regardless of the outcome of that game, Paul VI can’t get too up with a win or down with a loss because of the nature of its conference games where there will be at least two other ranked teams at any time during the season.
4. (NA) AZ Compass Prep (Chandler, Ariz.) 25-5
Key Players: SF Marquis Cook 6-7 2023 (No. 10 247Sports.com, Oregon commit), PG Vyctorius Miller 6-6 2024 (No. 14 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), SF Rayvon Griffith 6-6 2023 (No. 40 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Cincinnati commit), SG Tru Washington 6-5 2023 (No. 86 ESPN.com), SF Marcus Allen 6-7 2024 (No. 35 Rivals.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American).
Why This Ranking: This program has made a significant impact on the FAB 50 in the past two seasons and performed well at GEICO Nationals. Now that the Dragons have joined the NIBC (along with No. 25 Long Island Lutheran of New York) for the 2022-23 season, they’ll be able to take their shot at the FAB 50 crown and not just play spoiler. The entire coaching staff and administration has done an excellent job of building the program’s reputation as prep schools have exploded in the West and Southwest Region in recent years. Coach Ed Gipson and his staff already have plenty of big game experience and realistic expectations to capture the NIBC title and GEICO Nationals championship. There isn’t one superstar on this roster that will carry the load, but there is more than one difference-maker to win big NIBC games. Cook is an explosive athlete who can dominate games with his all-around offensive ability. He had the experience, now just needs the consistency to help his team to move up from this spot. Miller is a big-time guard talent who can distribute and score and should ease the reclassification loss of guard Kylan Boswell (Arizona). Griffith was a 20 ppg scorer for a state title team at Taft (Cincinnati, Ohio) and plays with the energy and take-no-prisoners style of play AZ Compass is known for in a short period of time.
The Skinny: This team is not quite to the level of the 2020-21 team that lost to eventual champ Montverde Academy in overtime and again in the GEICO Nationals semifinals in a one possession game, but it also doesn’t have to be against this year’s crop of ranked teams. No team looks head-and-shoulders above the NIBC field, so AZ Compass loves its chances to capture its first FAB 50 title. The X-factor could be Washington, the uncle of 2021 AZ Compass first team All-American Ty Ty Washington (Houston Rockets), who gives the team a spark off the bench or can take a lead role. He’s a downhill scorer and gives this team the edge it loves to play the big games with. “We have senior-driven leadership with a mix of talent, size, length and an overall tenacity that represents our culture at AZ Compass,” Gipson said. The Dragons can’t rate any higher because of concerns surrounding their rebounding prowess and front court depth. North Carolina-bound Zayden High (6-9, 2023) is a top 50 national prospect and was a difference-maker in fall league games for the Dragons. High must be productive and stay out of foul trouble for AZ Compass Prep to reach its goals. Pharaoh Compton (6-8, 2024) is a powerful athlete around the basket, but must show more consistency and expand his overall game in order to make the impact the Dragons desire. The program is using a plethora of fall league games to build continuity and work on weaknesses because the season will start with a splash. AZ Compass Prep faces top-ranked Montverde Academy and No. 2 Sunrise Christian Academy on back-to-back nights (Nov. 22-23) in Pleasant Grove, Utah. That will let this team know where it stands right away. The Dragons then face Wasatch Academy of Utah two times early in December before meeting highly-regarded Whitney Young on Dec. 17. AZ Compass takes on highly-regarded Newton (Ga.) and No. 35 Grovetown right before the New Year and meet No. 30 Oak Hill Academy and No. 6 IMG Academy at the Spalding Hoophall Classic after playing highly-regarded Combine Academy on Jan. 13 at the Flyin’ To the Hoop in Dayton, Ohio. The last NIBC stop on March 3-4 will pit the Dragons vs. No. 36 La Lumiere and No. 25 Long Island Lutheran.
5. (9) Roselle Catholic (Roselle, N.J.) 29-2
Key Players: PG Simeon Wilcher 6-3 2023 (No. 14 Rivals.com, Ballislife Second Team All-American, North Carolina commit), SF Mackenzie Mgbako 6-8 2023 (No. 4 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Duke commit), PF Rich Brisco 6-8 2024, SF Akil Watson 6-8 2023 (No. 97 Rivals.com, Arizona State commit), PG Christian Pierre-Louis 6-2 2023.
Why This Ranking: Similar to No. 3 Paul VI, the Lions have four returning players with starting experience (seven lettermen total) and an exemplary FAB 50 track record to warrant this spot. It’s ironic that last season was the final year of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Tournament of Champions because the 2022-23 Lions could conceivably be better than their 2021-22 title-winning club. Coach Dave Boff’s club has depth and good size and a go-to player Wilcher, only one of three returning Elite Team All-Americans from last season. Wilcher, who had 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the TOC title game win over Camden, averaged 17.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 7.1 apg and could challenge for Mr. Basketball USA honors if the Lions play to par. Watson is a rugged forward who gives this team the grit it needs against its best foes. He averaged 11.9 ppg and 6.4 rpg as a junior. Brisco is another excellent rebounder and can block shots (1.6 bpg) as well. Everybody’s numbers could fluctuate because of the transfer of Sebastian Robinson (6-3, 2023) from Elizabeth, but that doesn’t mean they will be less effective. Robinson averaged 21.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg and 4.2 apg and earned all-state acclaim. Pierre-Louis is also receiving D1 interest and can be counted on in crunch time.
The Skinny: The Lions have been ranked in the preseason FAB 50 every year since 2013-14. Only once during that time frame (when the NJSIAA had a complete season) was Roselle Catholic not ranked in the final FAB 50. It captured the final TOC and rate as the Garden State’s No. 1 team entering the season over TOC runner-up Camden. With its returnees alone, Roselle Catholic would rate as a solid state No. 1, but with Robinson and Mgbako in the lineup coach Boff could have something special. Mgbako averaged 19.5 ppg as a junior at Gill St. Bernard’s, averaged 16 ppg over the last two years on the Nike EYBL and is arguably the best forward in the senior class. The depth necessary to survive its schedule is provided by players such as Tarik Watson (6-8, 2024) and Jalen Grant (5-11, 2026). Last season, Roselle lost its opener to Camden and this year on Dec. 16-17 the Lions have major early tests versus No. 2 Sunrise Christian Academy and No. 8 Duncanville at the Hoopfest in Paradise on the island of the Bahamas. The other monster regular season game will take place Jan. 14 vs. No. 3 Paul VI at the Spalding Hoophall Classic. Boff’s club also faces highly-regarded Calvary Christian Academy of Florida and NIBC member Bishop Walsh of Maryland at the Metro Classic (Feb. 2-3), in addition to having to navigate its way through the always-tough NJSIAA Non-Public B playoffs. Just because the NJSIAA ended the TOC doesn’t mean it can’t be a historic season for this program.
6. (6) IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) 21-5
Key Players: SG Jacoi Hutchinson 6-3 2023, SG Bryson Tucker 6-7 2024 (No. 4 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), C Jayden Hastings 6-10 2023 (No. 120 Rivals.com, Boston College commit), SF Amier Ali 6-8 2024 (No. 13 ESPN.com), SF Jamie Kaiser Jr. 6-5 2023 (No. 49 Rivals.com, Maryland commit), PF Khani Rooths 6-8 2024 (No. 29 247Sports.com), SF Jamier Jones 6-5 2025 (No. 5 Rivals.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American).
Why This Ranking: The Ascenders have an excellent collection of talent and love the position they are in. Coach Sean McAloon has an unselfish roster and guys that want to buy into his system and, most importantly, play with a chip on their shoulder. A veteran guard is necessary to navigate NIBC play and Hutchinson is just what the doctor ordered for this team. He’s a consummate 10-5-5 player and also sets the tone defensively. “Jacoi makes winning plays and takes on the best guard on the opposing team,” McAloon said. “I think he’s been great and it’s been fun to watch his development. IMG Academy also has the services of a true post player in Hastings. “He’s skilled to go over his shoulder and score, has a motor and embodies being a five man,” McAloon said. The sixth-year coach feels Kaiser is extremely underrated, moves well with the ball and has a nice pull-up game. One of the main strengths of this team is its ability to shoot the ball and the versatility of the guards. With their perimeter size, there may be times when the Ascenders have five guards on the floor and force the opposition to try and match up.
The Skinny: This program has appeared in the preseason FAB 50 for seven consecutive seasons, but for the first time in five seasons is in an unfamiliar spot. Since 2018-19 when it started No. 4 and captured GEICO Nationals and the FAB 50 crown, this program has been in national title contention. It started No. 1 in a close call over Montverde Academy in 2020, and was No. 2 behind the Eagles in 2021 and 2022. This season our preseason rankings criteria dictates IMG begin a notch lower, but McAloon and his staff like the position the group is in. With a roster made up of four seniors and six underclassmen (including one freshman), this team has plenty of growing to do and McAloon is excited for its potential. Tucker is one of the best juniors in the country and can play a point forward spot, while Ali and Rooths can guard multiple positions. Amari Allen (6-6, 2025) is known for his shooting and basketball I.Q., while Jones has earned the moniker “D.K. Metcalf” for his physical nature and downhill playing style. McAloon feels the landscape has changed so much in five years with “more schools like us”, but admittedly doesn’t know the makeup of all the other NIBC rosters and some of the teams on the schedule. The youth, depth and the unknown has created spirited practices among a group that has something to prove. With the expanded NIBC schedule, each program plays three of the teams twice and for the Ascenders that’s No. 1 Montverde Academy, No. 2 Sunrise Christian and No. 4 AZ Compass Prep. IMG has a home-and-home with the Eagles and gets MVA on Dec. 1 at Montverde. In addition to those six towering NIBC games against top five foes, IMG Academy will participate in the Chick-fil-a Classic in South Carolina (Dec. 27-30) against the likes of No. 24 The Rock School, No. 30 Oak Hill Academy and highly-regarded Providence Day School. Against that schedule, this group will be forced to grow up in a hurry and could create the results Ascenders fans are looking for.
7. (12) Camden (Camden, N.J.) 31-3
Key Players: PG D.J. Wagner 6-3 2023 (No. 1 ESPN.com, Ballislife First Team All-American, Ballislife National Junior Player of the Year), PG Cian Medley 5-11 2023 (St. Louis commit), C Aaron Bradshaw 7-0 2023 (No. 4 247Sports.com, Kentucky commit), SF Cornelius Robinson 6-4 2023 (Albany commit), PF Desear Haskins 6-6 2023.
Why This Ranking: The Panthers are just as talented, and even more experienced than last season when they started out No. 4 in the FAB 50. They have to begin a notch lower in the rankings, however, because of a coaching change and eligibility questions concerning some of the personnel on their talented roster. According to a NJ.com report, five of the top six scorers off the 2021-22 team that won the Group 2 state title and advanced to the TOC title game, did not live in Camden. According to the website, only basketball players were enrolled in magnet schools and paid a steep tuition discount from what it would normally cost. The NJSIAA has yet to make an announcement or ruling on the issue, so we’ll rank the team according to its talent level and outlook. With coach Rick Brunson moving on to the New York Knicks after three seasons, 31-year old Maalik Wyans is the new coach at The High. The former Villanova standout and Philly Catholic league standout (Roman Catholic) coached the team during the summer and fall. The talent level available at Wyans disposal will make the transition easier and would be much less of a detriment than any drawn out eligibility issues. Against a national schedule and in his first complete high school season because of COVID-19, Wagner averaged 19.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.3 apg and 3.5 spg. If Wagner earns Mr. Basketball USA honors, he’ll be the first class player of the year in each of four seasons since former NBA guard O.J. Mayo (2004-07). Bradshaw averaged 8.9 ppg and 7.4 rpg and this past summer proved to be one of the best prospects in the country. There were summer rumors of Bradshaw transferring out, but as long as Camden’s inside-outside duo is intact this team will be formidable.
The Skinny: Yes, the coaching change and potential off-court turmoil could cause this team to drop a notch in the rankings, but it’s not as if the program is not used to playing under a microscope. Wagner and Bradshaw are not the only talented players, either, as there is legit D1 talent across the board while Wagner has played in the spotlight since he stepped on campus as the son and grandson of Camden legends. Wagner has led the program to 73 wins in the 77 games he’s played, so if any elite player can put aside distractions, it’s him. As a junior, Medley averaged 10.2 ppg and 3.9 apg and was one of the top distributors (5.1 apg) on the Nike EYBL circuit. Robinson, known as “Boog”, came off the bench and was a big contributor with his physicality and toughness. Wayns will be thrown into a pressure-cooker and it remains to be seen what the NJSIAA’s investigation yields. Camden will be ranked based on its on-court results, but it won’t be easy for The High to move up in the FAB 50 from here. The NJSIAA doesn’t host the TOC anymore and there is no regular season game scheduled with No. 4 Roselle Catholic, either. Presuming the team remains intact and Camden gets off to a strong start, the telling games of the regular season will come at the Spalding Hoophall Classic when The High takes on No. 9 Centennial (Jan. 14) and No. 16 Bishop Gorman (Jan. 16).
8. (1) Duncanville (Duncanville, Texas) 35-1
Key Players: PF Ronald Holland 6-8 2023 (No. 10 ESPN.com, Ballislife First Team All-American), C Cameron Barnes 6-10 2023 (No. 128 Rivals.com), SF K.J. Lewis 6-4 2023 (No. 43 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Arizona commit), PG Aric Demings 6-0 2023, PG Evan Phelps 6-0 2023.
Why This Ranking: When you have a terrific talent base and culture you deserve a high ranking coming off a historic season. The Panthers have a nice blend of returning talent and newcomers to begin one spot lower than it did last season when it started No. 7 and wound up No. 1 to become the first University Interscholastic League (UIL) team to finish as FAB 50 champs since Houston Yates in 2009-2010. Truth be told, some key games went Yates’ way during that season and Duncanville played a much tougher schedule to put itself in position to challenge for No. 1. With the creation of the NIBC, it’s never been harder for a public school that plays for a state title to win a FAB 50 title but coach David Peavy’s program is at that level. It begins with the return of Holland, last year’s District 11-6A Offensive Player of the Year (15 ppg, 60 percent FG, 8 rpg, 2 spg) who could be a serious Mr. Basketball USA candidate if the Panthers win their big games. Barnes (6.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg) didn’t put up big numbers, but that’s in part because he played 17.6 mpg. He can protect the rim and has experience in the big moments, so as Barnes’ minutes increase he’ll become more consistently productive. Lewis comes over from El Paso Chapin and has a chance to be special with his explosive game around the rim and versatility. He gives Peavy the ability to go with a big lineup or a more sleek one by sliding him down to the power forward with no fall off. Even with Anthony Black (Arkansas) moving on, this team has the ingredients to win its fourth consecutive UIL Class 6A crown and be special once again.
The Skinny: This program is preseason FAB 50 ranked for the fourth consecutive season and it was a gradual buildup to the pinnacle of high school basketball. The Panthers barely missed in 2018-19, were No. 28 in 2019-20, No. 20 in 2020-21 and No. 7 last November. That ascension now comes with an asterisk, as the UIL recently announced its stripping of Duncanville’s 2021-22 Class 6A state title after ruling the team forfeits all games in which an ineligible player (Black) participated in. The FAB 50 is based on the on-court results, but it’s still a big blow to a school and community that takes pride in the team’s success. Last season, Demings hit the big shot at the buzzer to down then No. 1 Montverde Academy, but how the Panthers got in position to win that game wasn’t a fluke or luck. That was Duncanville’s tenth game of the season and by that point MVA was its sixth FAB 50 foe. Demings (11.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.0 apg), who is quick with the ball and a tenacious defender, stepped up all season long as Northern Arizona-bound point guard C.J. Ford missed the season with injury. Phelps is another capable guard with experience and big things are expected of Kayden Edwards (6-2, 2025), a talented lefty who is a touted shooter. It’s necessary to have the talent and play the schedule to have the breaks go your way, but there is no guarantee the bounces or breaks will go a team’s way two seasons in a row. The bounces did go Duncanville’s way last season, but the timing of the UIL’s announcement could be a rankings factor this season because Peavy has been suspended for a year and there will be off-court distractions for the second straight season. It should be noted that the Duncanville Independent School District disagrees that it or the program violated UIL rules. The loss of Peavy means the players will have to remain focused and trust the program’s system and culture as Duncanville aims to be the UIL’s best team for the fifth consecutive year. As of now, the team is still eligible for the 2022-23 UIL playoffs and will be ranked according to the on-court results. Once again the schedule is front-loaded, with matchups vs. No. 18 Columbus and No. 9 Centennial at the Thanksgiving Hoopfest. At the Red River Hoopfest (Dec. 2-3), the Panthers take on No. 49 Bartlett and highly-regarded Newton (Ga.) and take on No. 19 Cardinal Hayes at Hoophall West on Dec. 8. Two nights later, the Panthers play No. 38 Notre Dame and then travel to the Bahamas Dec. 16-17 for the Hoopfest in Paradise where they will meet No. 4 Roselle Catholic and highly-regarded Oak Ridge (Orlando, Fla.).
9. (5) Centennial (Corona, Calif.) 33-1
Key Players: PG Jared McCain 6-2 2023 (No. 16 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Duke commit), PF Aaron McBride 6-8 2023 (LMU commit), SF Devin Williams 6-10 2023 (No. 41 ESPN.com, UCLA commit), SF Eric Freeny 6-4 2024, SG Mike Price 6-2 2023.
Why This Ranking: With a young nucleus, this program wasn’t FAB 50 ranked in 2020-21, but made waves during California’s 2021 spring season by defeating FAB 50 power Sierra Canyon for the CIF Southern Section open division title. Last season, Centennial began at No. 14 and with the CIF state championships back on the table was able to repeat at the section level and capture the program’s first ever CIF title. The nucleus is now seniors and an easy choice to begin at No. 1 in California and the favorite to finish as the Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year for the third consecutive season. It starts with McCain, last year’s state junior of the year who led the team in scoring (16.8 ppg) while adding 4.8 rpg, 2.1 apg and 1.4 spg. Even more than his numbers, McCain’s competitive nature and clutch play (41 percent from 3-point, 90 percent from foul line) makes the difference in big games. Williams matured last year into a dynamic play-maker on both ends of the court and is still undervalued nationally. He averaged 11.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 1.5 bpg while shooting 60 percent from the field, including 44 percent from 3-point range. McBride is another 3-year starter who does plenty of the dirty work and he’s starting to get credit for it, earning event MVP honors at the Section 7 NCAA June live scholastic event. This team is unselfish, takes good shots, plays with incredible pace and doesn’t worry about who gets the credit.
The Skinny: Last season, the Huskies returned four starters and would have begun in front of CIF power Sierra Canyon had fifth starter Kylan Boswell not transferred to AZ Compass Prep. The Huskies didn’t miss a beat without him, losing only to No. 8 Duncanville and dominating CIF post-season play. With as much firepower as Duncanville has back, the Huskies must start behind that club and in fall leagues it didn’t seem the graduation loss of California Mr. Basketball Donovan Dent (New Mexico) would be as big a factor as it might have seemed last March. Price comes over from Sierra Canyon where he has shown flashes of brilliance as a high school player and Freeny is quickly developing into one of the top underclass players on the West Coast with his physical approach to the game. B.J. Taylor (5-11, 2023) is a starting-caliber guard and depth is provided by the likes of Santana Huff (6-2, 2024) and a fantastic freshman class. As long as Williams and McBride are on the floor, this team has a chance against any national level foe and there are plenty of them on the docket. The Huskies will get their rematch with No. 8 Duncanville at the Thanksgiving Hoopfest, take on NorCal No. 1 and FAB 50 No. 27 Modesto Christian on Dec. 3 at The Proving Grounds in Sacramento, face No. 16 Bishop Gorman at Hoophall West (Dec. 10) and face No. 38 Notre Dame on Jan. 7. The Huskies will venture to the City of Palms Tournament in Florida for the first time where they open as the No. 2 seed. The Huskies will likely face No. 10 Imhotep Charter in the semifinals should they get past No. 12 Wheeler in the quarterfinals.
10. (18) Imhotep Charter (Philadelphia, Pa.) 27-4**
Key Players: SF Justin Edwards 6-8 2023 (No. 2 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Kentucky commit), PG Rahmir Barno 6-0 2023 (Florida Gulf Coast commit), PG Ahmad Nowell 6-1 2024 (No. 31 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), PF Jeremiah White 6-6 2024.
Why This Ranking: There’s plenty to like off a team that won both the Philadelphia Public League and Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) Class 5A state crown and has a majority of its big guns back. Not only does coach Andre Noble (442-96) return four starters and seven lettermen, he has a Mr. Basketball USA candidate in Edwards, the City and Class 5A state player of the year as a junior. He averaged 18.3 ppg and 8.3 rpg to go along with 43 3-pointers and is one of the toughest matchup problems in the country. Barno (11.2 ppg, 5.3 apg, 2.2 spg) doesn’t get the national acclaim, but similar to Edwards is a four-year letter-winner and will likely be a three-time all-state choice. Nowell came in highly-acclaimed last season, and earned second team all-state honors after averaging 12.3 ppg and 3.1 apg while nailing 54 3-pointers. With this core, the team has expectations to be as successful as the 2016-17 team that finished No. 4 and surpass the 2018-19 senior-oriented unit that began at No. 7, but lost six overall games.
The Skinny: The Panthers can’t have more than one in-state trip up as they did last year if they want to maintain or move up from this spot in the rankings. They fell to IMG Academy and Paul VI (two higher ranked teams) but also fell to Reading and Lincoln, the team Imhotep eventually defeated in the Philly Public League title game. Noble’s program has won five of the past six public league titles (and a record 10 overall), but will need to replace the production of Mo Abdullah (Rider) and show it has the interior punch to compete with the nation’s best teams. Baasil Saunders (6-4, 2023), a D1 talent who is quite athletic, and Yahmir Satterfield (6-2, 2023), a team captain and quality shooter, will team up to fill that void on the wing. White was supposed to be Imhotep’s starting pivot last season before a foot injury shelved him in the second quarter of the first game of the season. Noble is confident a healthy White and Ma’Kye Taylor (6-7, 2024), who gained starting experience in his absence, will do the job against the top foes on the Panthers’ national schedule. Both are strong and physical and should take some of the pressure of Edwards. R.J. Smith (5-8, 2026) and Milak Myatt (6-3, 2026) provide talent and depth in the backcourt and on the wing, respectively. Imhotep Charter will play No. 44 North Laurel in the Kentucky Play-By-Play Classic at Freedom Hall in Louisville on Dec. 11. The Panthers have dates with No. 29 Simeon and No. 22 John Marshall and will face No. 19 Cardinal Hayes at the Spalding Hoophall Classic (Jan. 15). They are the No. 3 seed at the City of Palms Classic in Ft. Myers, Fla. (where they finished as runner-ups in Dec. 2018), and would have to defeat two FAB 50 ranked foes to set up a monster semifinal matchup that will likely involve No. 9 Centennial or No. 12 Wheeler.
11. (4) Link Academy (Branson, Mo.) 34-2
Key Players: SG Ja’Kobe Walter 6-5 2023 (No. 17 ESPN.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American, Baylor commit), PG Elliot Cadeau 6-1 2024 (No. 8 247Sports.com), PF Tyler McKinley 6-9 2024 (No. 42 247Sports.com), PF Corey Chest 6-8 2023 (No. 76 247Sports.com, LSU commit), SF Jacolb Cole 6-6 2023 (No. 69 ESPN.com, Oklahoma commit), PF Cade Phillips 6-9 2023 (No. 105 Rivals.com, Tennessee commit).
Why This Ranking: Last season was the first time the Lions were FAB 50 eligible, and they made a big splash by advancing to the GEICO Nationals title game in their first appearance in the event. Link Academy’s talent level remains high and expect them to once again challenge for a GEICO Nationals berth. New coach Billy Armstrong (a former associate head coach at LSU) has plenty of talent at each position, led by Walter, who averaged 23.3 ppg and 7.6 rpg in leading McKinney (Texas) to the Texas Class 6A state title game. He is complimented nicely in the backcourt by Cadeau, one of the top players nationally in his class since middle school. Cadeau missed the majority of his sophomore season, so he’ll be eager to make a splash on a big stage. Chest is a good shot-blocker while Cole, who previously attended Bellaire (Texas), is capable of double-doubles each night even on a team as talented as this one. McKinley and Phillips, another excellent shot blocker and state champion last season at Jacksonville (Ark.), give Armstrong incredible front court depth. “We are fast, long, athletic and have plenty of depth,” Armstrong said.
The Skinny: The Lions’ preseason ranking last season (No. 40) was not indicative of their talent level. This season their preseason positioning is a bit more in line with the talent on hand. The team did take a blow when Omaha Biliew returned to Waukee (Iowa) for his senior season and while a coaching change always is a factor at the elite level of high school basketball this program shouldn’t miss a beat. Link Academy, which is sanctioned to play Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) schools, has made a positive impression with the way they handled their affairs as an independent, academy-type program and plan on sticking around on the national scene. B.J. Davis-Ray (6-5, 2025) is one of the best talents nationally in his class and will be counted on to provide a spark off the bench against a loaded national schedule. Link Academy has two quality games at the Thanksgiving Hoopfest in Texas (Nov. 25-26), and will play in the City of Palms Classic Signature Series, where the Lions face No. 40 St. Frances Academy in the semifinals. After the New Year’s, the Lions will participate in the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions (Jan. 12-14) in Springfield, Mo., against the likes of No. 2 Sunrise Christian Academy, No. 17 Christ the King, No. 49 Bartlett and highly-regarded St. Rita of Chicago and Calvary Christian Academy of Florida. The Lions will also participate in the Quincy Shootout (Jan. 21-22), where they will face Wasatch Academy and Oak Cliff Faith Family (Texas), and at the Metro Classic in New Jersey.
12. (NR) Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) 25-5
Key Players: PG Isaiah Collier 6-3 2023 (No. 1 247Sports.com, Ballislife Underclass All-American), C Arrinten Page 6-10 2023 (No. 56 ESPN.com, USC commit), SG Jelani Hamilton 6-5 2023 (No. 96 Rivals.com, Iowa State commit), PF Cameron Brown 6-9 2023.
Why This Ranking: There is plenty to like off a team that is two-deep at each position and motivated to get back in the winner’s circle after losing in the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Class AAAAAA state quarterfinals to eventual champ Grovetown. GHSA clubs have done fairly well nationally in recent seasons, with a slight dip last season (No. 48 Norcross was the only ranked club), and four teams were strongly considered for the FAB 50. Grayson should be tough, Newton and McEachern just missed and we decided to go with the Wildcats as GHSA No. 1 over Grovetown because of the returning talent level and having a player such as Collier. Some recruiting experts feel the powerful guard who averaged 18 ppg, 7 rpg and 5 apg as a junior is the best player in the country after some standout play in the spring and summer. Page is the perfect compliment inside and excels with both his back to the basket and in the face up game. Brown compliments Page inside, while Hamilton comes over from Cumberland Academy and is capable of 20 plus points on any given night. Josh Hill (6-10, 2024) has lots of potential up front, D.J. Mitchell (6-5, 2023) is a capable scorer and defender, Julian Ormond (6-4, 2024) and Ricky McKenzie (6-4, 2024) can play multiple positions, while Kota Suttle Jr. (6-3, 2026) is a standout athlete. “We have tons of experience, good guard play and lots of size up front,” said coach Larry Thompson.
The Skinny: The Wildcats might be ranked ahead of No. 35 Grovetown to begin the season, but this year there won’t be a playoff showdown between the two clubs. Wheeler has moved up to AAAAAAA while Grovetown remains in AAAAAA. Peach State fans won’t have to wait long to wonder if the preseason pecking order is on the money as a bit more than bragging rights will be at stake when Thompson’s boys take on Grovetown at the Holiday Hoopsgiving in Atlanta (Nov. 26). Wheeler is not only gunning for its second state crown in three years (it won the AAAAAA crown in 2020-21), it will be a prime candidate for the second annual State Champions Invitational should it win the state crown. If the Wildcats only suffer one regular season loss against their national schedule, it should be right in the thick of the FAB 50 title race. In addition to the early showdown with Grovetown, Wheeler is also playing in the City of Palms Tournament and could face a monster quarterfinal matchup with No. 9 Centennial if it gets by Tampa Catholic. The Wildcats head to the Chick-fil-A Classic in South Carolina after Christmas where their bracket will include multiple FAB 50 teams, and take on No. 16 Bishop Gorman at the Spalding Hoophall Classic (Jan. 14).
13. (42) Cathedral (Indianapolis, Ind.) 26-6
Key Players: C Xavier Booker 6-10 2023 (No. 1 Rivals.com, Michigan State commit), PF Jake Davis 6-7 2023 (Mercer commit), SG Sincere Germany 6-2 2023, SF Jaron Tibbs 6-4 2023 (Purdue commit football).
Why This Ranking: Once in a while when a ranked team has a terrific player that leads to an upgrade if its schedule, it leads us to give that team a nudge up in the rankings. This year that club is the Fighting Irish, which showed it was simply on another level than the rest of the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) teams in 2021-22 and will be better this year. The Irish return four starters and eight lettermen and the best of the lot just might be the best player in the country. Booker, named the MOP of the 2022 Pangos All-American Camp, had 13 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots in the state title game and averaged 12.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 2.3 bpg as a junior. Tibbs is a Grid-Hoop stud who simply is too athletic and powerful for most of the opposition, as he averaged 13.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.7 apg and 2.0 spg. Davis is the third double-digit scorer returning (10.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.0 apg) and what he does best doesn’t always show up in the box score. He’s not only the team’s best 3-pointer shooter (47 percent), he’s known for his toughness and knack for taking charges. This team knows what it takes to win and has a good chance to remain in this range of the rankings. “We are extremely excited about this team because they play for each other,” said coach Jason Delaney, the first IHSAA coach to win state titles at three different programs.
The Skinny: This team lost a key cog with the graduation of Tayshawn Tomer (Eastern Kentucky), but there are plenty of young players ready to step up and help in the key games. Germany (4.7 ppg) will see a major uptick in playing time and production, while Lebron Gough (5-10, 2025) gained major experience on the Nike EYBL last summer and will be a difference-maker with his play-making ability. Deric Cannady (5-11, 2025) is another capable point guard, Kamari Slaughter (6-4, 2023) will be an impact transfer who provides scoring punch, while Brady Koehler (6-6, 2025) provides depth up front. Last season, Chesterton entered the state final unbeaten and No. 18 in the FAB 50. Cathedral blew that team away, 65-31, and can conceivably be better this year. “We only lost two games this summer versus some of the best teams in the Midwest,” Delaney (292-140) said. Cathedral’s ranking is also predicated by its loaded schedule, as it plays No. 23 Centerville on Dec. 3, takes on Indianapolis Ben Davis in an in-state showdown at the Forum Tip-Off Classic (Dec. 10) and tussles with highly-regarded Chicago St. Rita on Dec. 23 at Credit 1 Union Arena in Chicago. Cathedral will make a national television appearance versus No. 29 Simeon on Jan. 6 and take on No. 14 Pickerington Central at the Flyin’ To The Hoop in Dayton, Ohio (Jan. 16). The Irish will also play Joliet West at the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout (Feb. 4).
14. (22) Pickerington Central (Pickerington, Ohio) 26-2
Key Players: PF Devin Royal 6-7 2023 (No. 46 247Sports.com, Ohio State commit), SF Gavin Headings 6-7 2023, PG Juwan Turner 5-10 2024.
Why This Ranking: This team entered last year’s Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) Division I state title game quite confident even though Centerville was 29-0 and ranked No. 11 in the FAB 50. The Tigers used a big fourth quarter and won, 55-48, to capture their first state crown since 2011-12. Pick Central and Centerville are Ohio’s top two teams in the preseason once again, but we give the nod to the Tigers because they have more lettermen returning and more interior size. It begins with Royal, who scored 20 points in the state title game, and averaged 19.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg, and 1.6 apg. Headings (8.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg) is an underrated shooter who made a huge jump last season and should see production take off this year. Turner (6.4 ppg) gained valuable experience as a starter and should take more of a leadership role this year after coming through in key moments last year. The team did lose Grid-Hoop stud Alex Styles to early enrollment to play football at Ohio State, but veteran coach Eric Krueger (177-47) is confident his team can repeat. “We’re trying to re-create that chemistry and it’s not an easy thing to do, but we have good pieces and a good core and should be really good again,” Krueger said.
The Skinny: It won’t be easy to repeat as Ohio D1 champs, but despite the early loss of Styles and the graduation of guard Josh Harland, this team is deserving of a high ranking because it plays hard at all times, rebounds well and executes well. Markell Johnson (6-1, 2023) played a big role off the bench and is a versatile talent, while Grid-Hoop stud Rasheem Biles (6-3, 2023) is a big guard who can provide some scoring punch for a team that needs to find some knock-down shooting. If Braylin Wells (6-7, 2024), a transfer from Akron Buchtel who played in the program as a freshman, finds his niche, this team will be rolling come playoff time because he is skilled and athletic. On Dec. 17, the Tigers and No. 23 Centerville will square off in a state title rematch game at the Scholastic Play By Play Classic at Nationwide Arena (Columbus, Ohio). The Tigers will then play in the Kingdom of the Sun Tournament (Ocala, Fla.) Dec. 27-30 and have a monster game with No. 13 Cathedral at the Flyin’ to the Hoop Tournament (Kettering, Ohio) on Jan. 16.
15. (43) Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood, Calif.) 25-4
Key Players: SF Brady Dunlap 6-6 2023 (No. 82 ESPN.com, Notre Dame commit), SG Trent Perry 6-3 2024 (No. 82 247Sports.com), SG Robert Hinton 6-4 2024 (No. 107 Rivals.com, Harvard commit), PF Jacob Huggins 6-8 2023 (Princeton commit), SF Nikolas Khamenia 6-5 2025 (No. 65 247Sports.com).
Why This Ranking: This team’s core tasted what a big-time win over a FAB 50 playoff foe felt like when it downed CIF power Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth on the road, 63-60, to advance to its first ever CIF Southern Section open title game. The nucleus of the team is back and is hungry to show it can take the next step and challenge No. 9 Centennial for CIF section and state open crowns. There is plenty to like as veteran coach Dave Rebibo has one of the most balanced fives on the West Coast and a nice blend of experience, youth and size. Dunlap (16.7 ppg, 3 rpg, 4 apg) is the leading returning scorer and a major matchup problem with his inside-out ability and versatile scoring. Guards Perry and Hinton can’t be labeled in terms of position and there is not one aspect of the game either is particularly weak in. Khamenia will have a breakout season and the country will get to know this Slovenian transplant. He’s an assassin on the court who can defend multiple positions, handle, shoot and score in a varsity of ways. It says plenty that Rebibo has terrific individual talent at his disposal, but that his starting lineup is greater than the sum of its individual players.
The Skinny: The Wolverines lost to Centennial by 20 points in the CIFSS open title game and lost the rematch to Sierra Canyon in the SoCal open regional playoffs, so there is work to do in order to move up from this position. On the other hand, this is the Wolverines’ best opportunity to finish as the Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year since their Jason and Jarron Collins-led 1996-97 unit was No. 1 in the state and No. 4 in the National Prep Poll (FAB 50 precursor). Rebibo’s unit goes eight deep and Dominique Bentho (6-8, 2026) gives this club a physical presence inside alongside the improved veteran Huggins. “This is a tough, battle-tested group that can pass, handle and shoot,” Rebibo said. Harvard-Westlake has won four consecutive league Mission League titles, but the stakes to win the league crown just went up a notch when Sierra Canyon moved in beginning this season. The Wolverines get No. 32 Sierra Canyon and home (Jan. 20) and much improved No. 38 Notre Dame, whom they split with last year in league play, on the road two days earlier. The Wolverines have two tough games versus Texas clubs Denton Guyer and Prestonwood Christian Academy at the Thanksgiving Hoopfest in Dallas, take on talented Rancho Christian (Temecula, Calif.) at the Pac Shores Showcase (Dec. 3), play at Hoophall South (Dec. 16-17) versus always-tough Whitney Young of Chicago and host Bentonville (Ark.). After Christmas, the Wolverines will participate in the always-tough Classic at Damien for the first time.
RELATED: Preseason 2022-23 FAB 50 (16-30) | Preseason 2022-23 FAB 50 (31-50) | Preseason East Region Top 20 | Preseason Southeast Region Top 20 | Preseason Midwest Region Top 20 | Preseason Southwest Region Top 20 | Preseason West Region Top 20
Note: The FAB 50 powered by Ballislife.com is a continuation of the National Sports News Service ratings that began in 1952. These were the first national high school rankings and the late Art Johlfs of Minnesota compiled them. They were compiled for many years by the late Barry Sollenberger of Phoenix, who merged them into the FAB 50 23 years ago.
Ronnie Flores is the national Grassroots editor of Ballislife.com. He can be reached at [email protected]. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores
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