Men’s basketball recruiting: The battle for No. 1, key risers and new faces

Fresh off the NBA draft, where 34 former ESPN100 players were selected, comes our updated early summer player evaluations and ESPN rankings. Each ranking cycle (there are 4 to 5 per year), we assess previous prospects and find up-and-coming talent. Prospects were evaluated in their high school role and now we transition to camps and grassroots basketball.

As the platform changes and the information becomes more readily available, the rankings are bound to change. Some players are improving and others are starting to emerge. The summer period is vital for getting on bigger stages against different competition, and July is considered the premiere evaluation period.

The No. 1-ranked players made their mark in their respective class, but this is a marathon not a sprint. In the class of 2024, expect Dylan Harper, Airious Bailey, Tre Johnson and a few others to battle for the top spot.

The most exciting race may be in the class of 2025, which is laced with star power. Expect Cameron Boozer and Cooper Flagg to go head-to-head in this race. For the class of 2026, A.J. Dybantsa and Tyran Stokes will be the favorites to come out No. 1.

In the next eight weeks there will be a tremendous amount of basketball played. I see it as separation time among the nation’s best. Scouts, college coaches and NBA personnel will all be in attendance.

The schedule has USA Basketball U19’s in Hungary to finish in early July. The NBPA Top 100 camp starts this week. Summer basketball events take over July in hundreds of gyms across the country. In early August, NBA stars Steph Curry, Chris Paul and Damian Lillard have their own invitation only camps.

The constant practice, competition and heavy travel will begin to shape the talent pool before the school year. This is a high school rankings board, not a college recruiting service or mock draft. It combines the elements of current performances, future college impact and NBA draft projection. The four main criteria are performance, production, potential and draft projection.

When the dust settles, we will update again in August.

Jump to:
New No. 1 players | Risers, new faces

The new No. 1 players

Harper was one of four high school players to make the roster for the USA under-19 national squad currently playing in Hungary. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound point guard is focused on winning a gold medal.

“It about winning,” Harper said. “It’s an honor to play for my country.”

The Harper family has a long-standing successful name in the basketball world. Dylan’s dad, Ron, starred at Miami of Ohio and was a 5-time NBA champion and All-Star. His mom, Maria, played college basketball at the University of New Orleans and is Dylan’s assistant coach at Don Bosco High School in New jersey. Ron Harper Jr. helped put Rutgers back on the map and is on a two-way contract with the Toronto Raptors.

“We are an old school family,” Maria Harper said. “The boys play because they love the game and I love to coach.”

USA basketball director Don Showalter has seen Harper up close.

“I love the way he impacts the game without scoring,” Showalter said. “His teammates like playing with him because it’s not about him. He is more of a scorer than a shooter at this stage.”

When engaged, Harper can be a pretty good lock-down defender and on the offensive end his decision making of when to attack, move the ball or move without the ball is usually on point. He is an improved shooter and with his work habits it’s only a matter of time before his solid 33.3% 3-point shooting improves to a higher percentage. At 18.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.3 assist per game, his play has been consistent. What has been inconsistent is his free throw shooting: 59.1%.

Harper’s approach to learning the game, his practice habits and his in-game decision making makes him stand out. The lefthanded guard has been impactful on many stages by way of a high basketball IQ that allows him to accelerate and decelerate when needed to score. His potential is in his ability to be great at what he is already good at, which is finishing with body control and touch, scoring from midrange, facilitating and rebounding down.

His game is a cross between James Harden and Jalen Brunson at this stage: A scorer who is fundamentally sound and smart.

Harper has his final list of schools of Duke, Auburn, Indiana, Rutgers and Kansas. His attention right now is winning a gold medal and a Peach Jam championship July 3-9 with the New York Rens.

“After the Peach Jam I will focus on my recruit and my decision,” Harper said.

Of his No. 1 status on our list, Harper was humble.

“It’s not the reason why I play,” he said. “But I am grateful for the recognition.”

Boozer stays on top again for the class of 2025. He finished with a state championship for Miami’s Christopher Columbus High, where he averaged 21 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists per game. In March, he was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year, only the second sophomore to win it.

Boozer is fresh off being named FIBA U16 Americas champion and MVP in Mexico in early June. He had a remarkable showing, averaging 28.3 points and 16.5 rebounds.

According to Synergy Sports, his production and efficiency is off the charts. He is averaging 33.9 points, 18 rebounds and 5 assists per 40 minutes in EYBL. He has shot an unprecedented 69% overall, 43% from 3 and 87% from the free throw line.

Last weekend, his high school team won the Section 7 championship in Arizona.

“Cam’s will win and to do it the right way is what drives him,” Christopher Columbus coach Andrew Moran said. “He plays to win, and he works extremely hard on his game so that he can continue to have a lot of success and make his teammate better.”

Boozer is looking for ways to improve when he is not sleeping or playing 2k like most teenagers.

“Me and [brother] Cayden go to our high school for open runs,” Boozer said. “My high school coaches [Moran and Jorge Milo] are NBA trainers, and they have very talented guys attend. NBA players, overseas players and local college players. Guys who are very talented, older and stronger. We see where we fit.”

He plays with advanced strength, balance, vision and footwork, which is uncommon at this stage. Experts could debate he throws the best and most accurate outlet pass compared to college stars and some NBA players.

A highly competitive prospect at 6-9 with a 7-1 wingspan, he has been impactful and, on most occasions, he is the best player in the game. Boozer looks to make the winning play, which includes reading the floor on both ends, scoring from behind the arc, midrange shooting and a low-post package. He is a smart cutter against zones, flashing from behind or the weak side and battles for offensive rebounds. In ball screens, he is equally adept spacing out to shoot 3s or playing out of a short roll or dive for a finish at the rim.

Boozer’s productivity level is most impressive, including on defense. Opponents will make him the focal point as the main threat on each possession. How he responds will be the power forward’s biggest challenge.

Recruiting is becoming more intense with more offers. Recently Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Missouri have jumped in hard. Duke, Florida State, Michigan, Miami, Arkansas, Florida and Memphis all have been involved for a while.

Dybantsa just returned home from the Jr. NBA festivities in New York and had a chance to witness the NBA draft up close.

“Hopefully I will have the potential to be there someday,” Dybantsa said.

After returning home he was right back in the gym with two workouts before noon: weights and conditioning early in the morning, work on shooting consistency with his father, Ace, late in the morning.

The shooting workout consisted of a lot of 3’s from stationary spots and shooting off the catch with movement.

“It was fun and exciting to be at the draft and I attended the junior NBA festivities and workout,” Dybantsa said. “Every day I hope to get one step closer. Entitlement can stop you from being your best. I need to stay consistent in my approach.”

At 16, his calling on the court is his combination of athletic ability and versatility to produce on both ends in different ways. He looks to dominate and plays to his strengths to win the game. He is terrific attacking the basket with force and finesse in transition.

As a passer he is alert with his head up to make the assist and is a low turnover player. He had 47 assists (3.6 per game) and 17 turnovers (1.3 per game) in 13 EYBL games. It’s hard not to love his wiry and quick-twitch frame (he’s 6-7, 200 pounds) with a 6-11 wingspan and dynamism. He is shooting 52.7% overall, 32.7% from 3 and 89.3 from the free throw line.

He already is a multi-position defender with plus quickness. When it comes to scoring, his transition ability is advanced and so is his drive game. His jumper has shown early promise and his handle has the fluidity for him to evade and get past defenders. His jumper has a quick release without rushing and he rebounds with explosive vertical ability and desire. The ability to elevate in tight spaces for tip-in putbacks is impressive.

He won the Gatorade Massachusetts boys Player of the Year when he attended Saint Sebastian’s in Needham. Recently he transferred to Prolific Prep in Napa, California. The recruiting process already is intense with Boston College, Providence, Georgetown, UConn, Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Alabama and Washington making their interest and intentions known to his coaches. (Schools can’t contact recruits until June 15 after their sophomore year.)

It’s Dybantsa’s approach, focus and humility alongside his giftedness that currently has him No. 1 in the class of 2026.

Risers, new faces

Where there is elite talent, there is little room for separation. The following risers and new faces in our latest player rankings have been impressive with their performances, production, potential and future projection.

Class of 2024

Previous ranking: 40 | New ranking: 9

Bethea (6-4, 175) has improved throughout his career so his most recent jump is no surprise. He came off the bench as a sophomore and last year was a dominant player for Philadelphia’s Archbishop Wood High. This spring Bethea has been a prolific shooting guard focused on scoring from different spots by way of his outside shot and his drive game. There is more to his game than scoring as he is a productive rebounder and assist maker. He is averaging 18 points per game on 42.6 % shooting behind the arc and 84.2% from the free throw line in the EYBL. His recruiting is intense, and he is serious about Villanova, Miami, Georgetown, Syracuse, Kansas, Kentucky and UConn.

Previous ranking: 60 | New ranking: 15

After the Peach Jam a year ago, Reid was on the radar and now he is one of the hottest names on the circuit. A consistent and efficient player for a loaded Team Thad, his stats back up the eye test as Reid is scoring at 57.0% overall, 42.3% from the arc and averages 6.5 rebounds. He has an attractive blend of size (6-7, 200), an ability to score in both transition and the half court and rebounding. Reid, from Grovetown High in Georgia, grew up playing multiple sports and his mother, Marie, played basketball at Memphis and South Carolina State. His recruiting has been constant with Ohio State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Kansas State, Ole Miss, LSU, Florida State and Alabama are pursuing him.

Previous ranking: 67 | New ranking: 17

The big man is building from a strong junior season at Arlington, Virginia’s Paul VI High School. Ngongba has parlayed an improved body with a dominant low post game on both ends. At 6-10, 240 pounds, he has a wide frame with skills and is a force inside. Ngongba is learning how to go slow with his back to the basket, a sign of a maturing post player. He is a smart and strong passer out of the post against the double team and traps. Basketball is in his family. Both Ngongba’s parents played at George Washington University. He has made visits to UConn, Duke, Kansas State and Providence. Virginia, Iowa and Indiana all are in the mix. “He has grown so much over the last year,” Paul VI coach Glenn Farello said. “I am excited for him. He never lost sight of dominating inside first as his skill has grown.”

Previous ranking: 54 | New ranking: 20

A hard-charging wing, Richmond is a big producer on offensive end and displays defensive ability by blocking and contesting shots as well as staying in front of the ball. His explosiveness and long frame (he’s 6-7, 190) enhance his scoring, rebounding and playmaking ability. The next step for him is to get comfortable through practice shooting and making stationery and movement jumpers off the catch. Consistency and touch from deep will open his drive game, which is at a high level. Inside the arc and at the free throw line is where the bulk of his points come from. Richmond, from Camden, New Jersey, is still wide open as Kansas, Kentucky, UConn, Michigan, Villanova, Miami and others are recruiting him.

Class of 2025

Previous ranking: none | New ranking: 39

Pitt, from Dream City Christian in Glendale, Arizona, knows where he is best and has been extremely productive all spring. He’s a high percentage scorer who stays within his range of 15 feet. Two numbers standout in his 13 points per game average: his overall shooting at 61.6% and his free throw shooting at 77.8%. An active and excellent rebounder on both ends, he averages seven per game. Pitt, who is 6-7, 220 pounds, is best when attacking the rim as he finishes with excellent position, strength and smart angles. He takes pride in playing defense both in the low post and away from the basket with effort and quick footwork.

Previous ranking: none | New ranking: 49

Few if any are most efficient than Pinkins, the son of Texas Tech assistant Al Pinkins. His metric according to Synergy Sports have him behind only Cameron Boozer in the 16U at 1.20 points per possession. The 6-5, 170-pounder from Wolforth, Texas, is shooting 56.3% overall, 45.7% from 3 and 87.5% from the free throw line. He owns a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio which means he values the ball. As much as everyone loves highlights plays, when you break the game down at the highest level it’s all about performing in a consistent and proficient manner.

Moustapha Thiam: New

Previous ranking: none | New ranking: 51

Thiam, from DME Academy in Daytona, Florida, stands 7-2 with a 7-6 wingspan, has fluid strides and shows athletic movement and mobility, which is uncommon in his grade. This rapidly improving big man has ball skills that include finishing inside and a face-up jumper that stretches to 15 feet. What has been noticeable is his feel to pass the ball and his solid hands to catch it. His greatest impact now is his rim protection, but the forward-facing growth is evident and is one to monitor.

Previous ranking: none | New ranking: 52

The sharpshooting guard from Long Island Lutheran is the son of 10-time NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony. “We work out every day,” Kiyan said of his father. “He pushes me. We have worked on my jab step to help create space for my shot. He has also been on me to use my voice as a leader.” Kiyan Anthony has made progress on both his body (6-4, 175) and his scoring skills. He is accruing smart weight to take contact and finish more often. His footwork is in order, and it creates space for his both his 3-point shot and his pull-up jumper. Off the bounce he gets to his spots from one or two hard dribbles and rises with confidence to knock down shots. His 3-point shooting (30.9%) is not where it will be in the future, but he has made 68 3’s in 16 games. Other parts of his game are starting to come together: finishing, ball movement and his assist-to-turnover ratio (2.4 to 1). Anthony said Michigan, Florida State, Tennessee, Illinois, Memphis and Syracuse have reached out.

Previous ranking: none | New ranking: 59

With only 60 spots, there is not much separation between prospects who fit in this range. Abaev, who was born in Israel and came to the United States when he was 4, has had has a strong affinity for the game since childhood. The more you evaluate his game the more you see a shooter and a prospect who has range and touch from anywhere. His shot-making along with his big wing size (6-7, 185) and his joy for the game have been impressive. Whether it’s an open shot or a contested one, he shoots with the same mindset of it going in. It’s early in the process but his recruiting is starting to take shape as LSU, St. John’s , Illinois, Miami, Creighton and others are pursuing him. “I am looking for a program based on how I connect with the coaches,” Abaev, from Calvary Christian in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said. “A real relationship. I need to ask the right questions. It is not based on who they had in the past or how they have done in the past.”

Class of 2026

Kendre Harrison: New

Previous ranking: none | New ranking: 18

A true football and basketball prospect who is being recruited at the highest level on the gridiron, Harrison is a rising sophomore and one of the best tight ends in his class. On the basketball court, the 6-7, 230-pound player from Reidsville (N.C.) High has displayed a forcefulness in rebounding, scoring inside and blocking shots. An outstanding athlete with secure hands and light footwork, Harrison is unique because he is an elite-level two-sport athlete.

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