As the summer begins and we get the last of basketball with the NBA season ending in June, it’s time to look ahead. There is an immensely talented group of prospects going into their freshman year of collegiate basketball, but patiently waiting right behind them is the class of 2023. With the fall season right around the corner the class of 2023 will begin committing to the next chapter of their basketball journey, but before that they have one more year of high school ball. Here are the top five ranked players in the class of 2023.
The defending NCAA champions are only getting better. Ernest Udeh Jr., a top 25 prospect in the class of 2022 from Orlando, Florida, will be suiting up for the Kansas Jayhawks next season. The 6’10” center was mulling offers from schools like UCLA, Texas Tech, and the University of Florida until ultimately deciding to make the jump to Lawrence, Kansas. Udeh joins fellow McDonald’s All-Americans Gradey Dick, and M.J. Rice at Kansas, solidifying them as a top ranked recruiting class this off-season.
“The Fans can expect, first and foremost, the chemistry,” Udeh told the media at the McDonald’s All-American game. “Being here with these guys and knowing them before committing, the chemistry is going to be really good. Just going into next year with all our focus, we’re trying to win every game and be the best group in this class.”
Udeh jr., is your prototypical big. He excels at defending the paint and is always primed to grab extra rebounds on either end of the floor. His ambition to play on the boards gives Udeh Jr. a number of second chance baskets every time he steps on the floor. Possessing a 7’2” wing-span, he has ample time to make adjustments on the defensive end, which regularly leads to blocks.
On the offensive end, Udeh Jr., is a lethal lob threat. Whether it’s catching the ball off the rim or soaring through the air for an alley-oop slam, you will see plenty of Ernest Udeh Jr. at the rim. There is room for him to improve shooting the basketball. Udeh Jr. doesn’t have a reliable mid-range game, but that is somewhat typical for high-school big-men. If he can find a way to engineer a cool jumper, Ernest Udeh Jr., could transform into one of the best bigs in the country.
The Jayhawks undoubtedly have big expectations next season coming off a national championship. A stacked recruiting class and the confidence of knowing that your program can actually win it all, Kansas is looking to be just as lethal next March. It’s not crazy to think Kansas could be the first repeat national champions since the University of Florida in 2006-07.
Cultivating a winning culture in a locker room is an age-old dilemma that coaches have been struggling with since the beginning of time. Getting your players to buy-in and put everything they are into that sport is no small feat. Eric Musselman, the head coach of the University of Arkansas men’s basketball team, has created that environment in just two short years. In-turn, Musselman has captured the hearts of some of the best recruits in the country and built the top three recruiting classes in the country. The highest ranking of those recruits being a home-town kid by the name of Nick Smith Jr. Smith is the sixth ranked player in his class, and for good reason.
Nick Smith Jr. is a 6’4” shooting guard out of Jacksonville, Arkansas. What makes Smith so great is what he is able to do in transition. As soon as he gets the ball off of a defensive rebound, Smith is immediately running in transition with rarely anyone being able to keep up. At the McDonald’s All-American game in late-March I was able to witness his speed and IQ on the break in person and it was spectacular. He also participated in the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest, which saw him as the competition’s runner-up. Smith will be a perfect fit to an Arkansas scheme that is hell-bent on running and getting out in transition.
Nick Smith Jrs. talent has been apparent from a young age. When Smith was just a ninth grader in high school, Musselman was right there recruiting him in his first year as the Arkansas head coach in 2019. Musselman is now seeing that recruitment effort come to fruition as Smith gears up to attend Arkansas this fall. Smith is looking to add to an already explosive lineup with his cunning speed and knack for getting to the hoop on the break. I asked Nick Smith Jr about what it’s been like to watch Arkansas make deep run’s in March the last two seasons and he detailed that experience saying:
“It’s been pretty fun, you know, watching the state of Arkansas and in general just having a good time watching, and you know Arkansas winning. I feel like winning in each and every sport has been fun, the past two years, especially for coach Mussleman and the program, and you know next year the guys we got coming in, we just got it going and just work hard in the summertime you know. it’s not guaranteed we’re gonna make it to the elite 8 next year, but at the same time we have to have that same mindset that we could win a national championship and that’s what we’re gonna try and do.” – Nick Smith Jr.
As the one-and-done becomes ever more prevalent as each season passes, it’s not crazy to say that Nick Smith Jr. could be on an NBA floor in just a year’s time. Under the guidance of Coach Musselman, the ceiling is the roof for Nick Smith Jr. I can’t wait to see what he and the rest of Arkansas’ stacked class can accomplish this upcoming season. The future is bright for Arkansas, and especially for Nick Smith Jr.
Earlier this week the top-ranked high school basketball players in the country took to the court to showcase their abilities in the annual McDonald’s All-American game. Chance Gray, a 5’9” guard, who will be taking her talents to the University of Oregon this fall, turned heads all weekend with her outstanding play. Gray has a DEEP bag of tricks. She’s capable of stringing together a flurry of dribble moves, has a silky smooth jump shot, and can easily finish at the rim.. At the McDonald’s game this week Gray found most of her success on the three-point line, which may be a sign of things to come next season. We had the opportunity to chat with Chance Gray during media day and here was our conversation.
ONE37pm: You were able to play last season with your father Carlton and sister Amber on the coaching staff. What did that mean to you to have them right there on the sidelines for every game?
Chance: It meant a lot to me just because those are the people who inspired me and taught me the game. My dad has pretty much been my coach since I started training, and my sister was a McDonald’s All-American. Just to follow after them and be able to be coached by them, it was the best feeling for my last season.
ONE37pm: Your sister Amber was a former McDonald’s All-American, what kind of things have you been able to learn from her and her experience as she’s already been through the circuit of high school basketball?
Chance: She’s taught me a lot mostly on the mental side. Just to stay in it, stay focused and don’t get distracted by outside things. Just to keep myself going through the ups and downs, especially times with my dad or anything like that, so she definitely inspires me.
ONE37pm: Your former AAU teammate at Sports City U and fellow McDonald All-American Grace VanSlooten is also committed to the University of Oregon. What does that mean to have someone familiar with you and your style of play also attending Oregon next year?
Chance: Me and Grace bonded right from the jump. We’ve been playing AAU with each other for three years, now another four years at Oregon together next year. She’s definitely someone I knew I wanted to play with in college. Great person on and off the court. We bond well. She’s really funny, we have our little inside jokes, so she’s a really cool person to be around and I’m really glad I get to spend four years with her.
ONE37pm: I know that you have plans on pursuing law school in the future, what has it been like trying to balance basketball with academics?
Chance: My parents embedded the student comes first in student-athlete just from the start when I was younger. It’s gotten easier as I’ve gone on and gotten older just to stay organized and stay focused. I’m gonna major in English and probably attend law school after.
Giving an interview is not easy. You have to be prepared to answer any and all questions, and most likely you are talking to someone you’ve never met before. Some people, however, are born to be in front of the camera. It is just natural for them. Flau’Jae Johnson, a hybrid hooper-musician, is an example, and that’s because this is nothing new to her. Johnson has been in the lime-light since she was 13 years old on shows like “The Rap Game” and “America’s Got Talent”. The 5’10” guard will be continuing both her basketball and rap careers at Louisiana State University next season under Coach Kim Mulkey, and It’s going to be exciting to see what’s next for the 2022 McDonald’s All-American. Check out ONE37pm’s chat with the impressive rapper-turned-baller.
ONE37pm: One of the taglines on your merch is “it’s hard where we come from”. Can you tell us a little about the meaning behind that?
Flau’Jae: Yes, thank you. I made a song called “Come From” and it was just speaking on how I’m from Savannah, Georgia, and a lot of people don’t come out. [There’s] violence, poverty, and murder, and stuff like that. It’s hard where we come from, and I just wanted to put that on a shirt and put that out because a lot of people can relate to that.
ONE37pm: What does that mean to you to represent Savannah, Georgia?
Flau’Jae: It means everything to me, because that’s what my father was doing before he was tragically murdered in the city. He was doing his music and he was rapping, he was putting on for the city, so I feel like it’s my duty to carry on that legacy.
ONE37pm: With the new Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deal in place for college athletes you’re now able to pursue and profit off of your music career. Before the current NIL rules were put in place, did you ever think that you’d have to choose between your two passions and if so what was that like?
Flau’Jae: That was never a thought for me, because a lot of people don’t know I really just started taking basketball seriously two years ago. I started getting training and just got on the EYBL [Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League] circuit and so in my head I’m like I’m just a rapper you know what I mean? I didn’t even know anything about college and didn’t plan on going to college. I just planned on pursuing music, so the fact that the NIL deal came into effect by the time I was coming to college was just a blessing honestly. That’s how I looked at it. I never thought I’d have to choose. I remember I was getting recruited by colleges and they were like, “well, which one do you want to do?” and I was like, “you’re scratched off the list.” So when I talked to coach Mulkey at LSU and she was like “we’re gonna put you on both, we’re gonna make you the best person you can be overall”, that’s when I knew I was at the right school.
ONE37pm: That is really awesome to hear. You recently broke the Sprayberry High School single-game three-point record hitting 12 three-pointers in a game. What was that moment like for you to have the whole crowd behind you wanting to break that record and being that locked in?
Flau’Jae: It felt like I was on the highest mountain in the world. You’re on cloud nine during those moments and my team was just finding me, getting me the ball. I told them, I feel it today. I was in warmups. I went like twelve for twelve. I said oh yeah, it’s that time. Give it to me. I got you, and I did my thing. I broke the record, and it was just an honor for real for real. Everybody was cheering. It was lit.
ONE37pm: Thank you so much Flau’Jae and we want to wish you the best of luck on your journey!
Flau’Jae: Thank you so much!
On Tuesday, March 29th, the future of men’s basketball took the floor at Wintrust Arena to showcase their talents in front of 8,261 fans. The top 24 ranked men’s hoopers in the class of 2022 absolutely put on a show for the city of Chicago. This class is extremely well rounded with some of the most athletic high-school athletes the game has seen. In a game littered with high-flying alley oops and perfectly timed full-court passes, the East was able to defeat the West in a 105-81 contest. Here is what you missed at the 2022 McDonald’s All-American men’s game.
There were a number of incredible performances throughout the game, but no one was more consistent and took a bigger leap than future Duke Blue Devil Dariq Whitehead. Whitehead was able to knock it down from deep going 3-7 beyond the arc, all while nearly dropping a triple-double. The most shocking part is that Whitehead isn’t a traditional point guard but was tasked with carrying out the role this weekend by his coaches. Whitedhead explained in the post-game press conference: “I had no intentions of coming here and playing point guard, when we got here and coach Bosley said “you’re playing point guard”, I was like, what do you mean i’m playing point guard? He said you have to, and you know, me being a team-player and always wanting to win, that’s something I had to do for my team.” Dariq Whitehead went above and beyond this weekend and undoubtedly earned his MVP award.
The best defender of the night goes to #1 prospect and future Duke Blue Devil, Dereck Lively II. Lively is a 7’2” center with an excellent wing span and a knack for getting in position to jam it home on defenders. In an early sequence during the first quarter it looked like Nick Smith Jr. had beat him to the rim, but Lively was able to get back in position and swat the layup attempt. Lively was also perfect from the field hitting all five of his shots, with a majority of those coming off alley-oop passes. Duke is getting an untamed rim protector in Dereck Lively, and the rest of the NCAA should be afraid.
The breakout performance of the night goes to another future Duke Blue Devil in Mark Mitchell. Mitchell is a 6’9” forward who plays fiercely inside. Mitchell is keen at backing down defenders and finishing at the rim, but expanded his range for this game. He was able to knock down two threes and shot 62% from the field. Mitchell’s 19 points were tied for a game high with future Nova’ Wildcat Cam Whitmore. The future is bright for Duke and it looks like they are going to continue their winning ways.
There may be no consensus #1 recruit in this class, and that’s because the talent overall is at such a high level. Every player on the court could be a lottery pick in the next two years and for good reason. This class is littered with some of the most athletic boy’s in recent history and that talent will translate beautifully on the collegiate stage next year.
On Tuesday, March 29th, the future of women’s basketball took the floor in an exhibition to showcase the top talent in the class of 2022. This was one of the most well-rounded groups of McDonald’s All-American we’ve seen in recent years and the box score backed that up. The East team was able to get out to an early lead and never looked back, beating the West team 95-75. There was plenty of action and highlights so here are the best moments from the game.
There were a number of stand-out performances, but no two players had a more stellar night than future UCLA teammates Gabriela Jaquez and Kiki Rice. Jaquez was constantly racking up rebounds and nearly secured a double-double with 9 rebounds. She also led the West in scoring, knocking down two threes en-route to a 17 point performance. Kiki Rice was able to put in 17 points as well, but did it with cunning efficiency shooting 70% from the field. It looked like there were five Kiki Rice’s on the floor at one point as she did everything from facilitating teammates to grabbing boards. Both women expressed their deep gratitude for being selected as McDonald’s All-Americans after the game, a true showing of the maturity these athletes possess at such a young age. The Bruins have a very bright future ahead of them.
Without a doubt the best defensive performance of the night was future Gamecock Ashlyn Watkins. The winner of the previous night’s dunk contest, Watkins was a force to be reckoned with in the paint. She constantly was challenging driving opponents which resulted in 3 blocks and was active on the board grabbing six rebounds. South Carolina is getting a fierce defender in Watkins and the SEC will find that out soon.
The breakout performance of the night goes to the #1 ranked guard in the class of 2022 and future Seminole Ta’Niya Latson. Latson is a quick guard who finds great success at the rim. Tonight she was able to expand her range and knock down two threes. Of her fifteen points, Latson shot 50% from the field, 67% from three, and didn’t miss a single shot from the free-throw line. Latson even tallied a block and did this all in only thirteen minutes.
Overall this was an incredible weekend for the future of women’s basketball. NCAA women’s basketball is getting one of its most outstanding classes next year, and it will only help grow the game. These girls have the potential to elevate women’s basketball to a whole new level on a national scale and I am honored to get to witness their greatness in person.
On Monday, March 29th, the future of basketball took the stage for the first night of events at the McDonald’s All-American Powerade Jam Fest. The opening night of events showcased a skills challenge, three-point contest, and dunk contest similar to the structure of the NBA’s Saturday night all-star event. Here is our recap of the 2022 high school basketball all-star event.
The skills challenge for the girls consisted of four competitors. The first-round matchup saw future Wildcat Paris Clark go up against future Bruin Gabriela Jaquez. In a tight race, both girls got to the final three-point shot at the same time but Clark was able to knock it down first and advance. The other half of the bracket saw Stanford commit Indya Nivar face off against future blue devil Ashlon Jackson. Nivar was able to get out to an early lead and secure the win by making her first three-point attempt.
The championship match was set and Paris Clark faced off against Indya Nivar for the right to be named the girl’s skill challenge champion. In the championship round Nivar shot out of the gate to an early lead weaving through the Powerade obstacle course, but Clark was able to tighten the gap by the last shot. Clark’s efforts weren’t enough however, and Indya Nivar took home this year’s skills challenge for the girls.
The first round of the boy’s skills challenge saw Duke commit Mark Mitchell go up against UCLA commit Amari Bailey. Bailey was a little slow out of the gate weaving through the Powerade obstacle course, and Mitchell took advantage, winning this round handily. In the second matchup we had Villanova commit Cam Whitmore compete against future Razorback Anthony Black. Black got out to a fast start and it looked as though he would come out on top, but Whitmore just elevated to another level to sprint back into it. Whitmore would ultimately advance.
The boy’s championship round was set and Cam Whitmore would face off against Mark Mitchell. Mitchell got out to an incredible start and it was all over from there. Mitchell was able to get to the final three-point shot first and knocked it down on his first attempt, crowning him this year’s boy’s skills challenge winner.
The three competitors for the girl’s three-point contest were Oregon commit Chance Gray, Notre Dame commit K.K. Bransford, and Ashlon Jackson who also participated in the skills challenge. Ashlon Jackson made her lethal three-point shooting known, dominating the competition with the highest overall score of the night securing 18 points. The loudest the arena got all night was easily when Jackson got to her last two racks and started knocking down a string of shots. It was incredible to see all the other McDonald’s All-Americans get on their feet and support Jackson down the stretch of the competition.
The boy’s three-point contest saw Baylor commit Keyonte George, Kansas commit Gradey Dick, and Duke commit Dariq Whitehead. Keyonte George took an early lead and put up a score of 12 points. Gradey Dick started hot, knocking down a flurry of shots on his first two racks. Dick lost energy towards the end though and his shots began to fall short, securing Keyonte George the win. I asked Keyonte George after the event if he was nervous once Gradey Dick began knocking down shots or if he knew he had it in the bag and George told me:
I thought Gradey was gonna rack it up… you know, he missed a couple shots, and then I was able to win
The dunk contest this year had six total participants. The four boys participating were Dillon Mitchell, Chris Livingston, Nick Smith Jr., and Jordan Walsh. The two girls participating alongside the boys were Ashlyn Watkins alongside Ayanna Patterson. There was a litany of perfect dunks awarded a 60 score by the panel of judges. Distancing themselves from the rest of the field, Smith Jr., Watkins, and Mitchell advanced to the final round. Ashlyn Watkins secured this year’s dunk contest with a powerful alley-oop jam off the backboard. Watkins became the second winner of the dunk contest for the girls in back-to-back years, a truly outstanding achievement.
It’s 5:00 am and the sun hasn’t risen. My phone alarm begins blaring and immediately my fight or flight kicks in. Do I hit snooze and go back to sleep or roll out of bed? I had no option, it was time to get up. I groggily arose and dragged myself into the shower before heading to the McDonald’s All-American practice yesterday morning on March 27th. I have never covered any event in-person, so it’s no exaggeration when I tell you I was painfully anxious. As I make my 35 minute commute into the beautiful city of Chicago my anxiety slowly dissipates and by the time I’m in my seat my nerves have shifted to excitement. I look to my left and see a single file of chairs with around 40 scouts occupying them. I turn my head to the right and am met with the same image. That’s when the sudden realization hit me of the real type of pressure that’s on these 18 year old kids every time they step in a gym.
I don’t think “18 year old kids” is the right way to describe the 48 men and women selected to participate in this high school all-star event because they are far from kids. Most weekends these athletes are traveling the United States showcasing their skill to scouts and media at different camps, so this is just another walk in the park for them. I was blown away by the motors that these athletes possessed. We watched for two straight hours as they ran drill after drill. I don’t think we as media and fan’s really take the time to think about how much work these athletes really put in and the sacrifices they have to make to get to this level.
To get to this level you also have to possess the highest level of competitiveness. I enjoyed watching the girls practice because a lot of their drills had them competing against each other to avoid a punishment. Each side of six girls on their half of the gym had to hit six three pointers, and if they did first the other half would have to do push ups. One of these drills came extremely close and as the coaches whistled that the farthest side won, I saw future University of Tennessee forward Justine Pissott playfully but adamantly contest that they had won. The drive to win even a normal drill like that is what separates these athletes from the rest of the country playing basketball at their age.
Even with the pressure of having a gym packed with media and scouts as you take every shot, the most prominent thing I saw was the smile on these athletes’ faces. Everyone protruded a sense of gratitude to be there and were more than happy to share that excitement with their teammates. I watched as guys like Dereck Lively II who will be a Duke Blue Devil and Chris Livingston a future Wildcat laughed and interacted as they gave each other advice. It’s that type of humility that shows the bonds and relationships athletes form with their graduating class.
I leave this practice with a new perspective on basketball players and young athletes in general. These athletes have never really had a break. The second they reach a national audience for their abilities on the court they are thrusted into this media and basketball circus that is almost never ending. The respect and admiration I have for these athletes has never been higher and I am so grateful for that experience.
The high school basketball circuit in the United States is in incredible shape. Over 500,000 boys participated in varsity basketball, and that number continues to grow. With having such an overabundance of talent, it can be difficult to tell who will rise above the rest. A tell-tale sign of development is when one of these high school prospects attends a prep school like Oak Hill Academy, Montverde Academy, or IMG Academy. These programs have done an exceptional job at preparing kids for the collegiate level and beyond. Jaden Bradley who played his last year of high school basketball at IMG Academy is proving he has what it takes to be an elite guard at the next level. Let’s talk about it.
Jaden Bradley is a 6’3” point guard from Rochester, New York. In his sophomore year at Cannon School in North Carolina, Bradley was a dominant floor general dropping 23.1 points, grabbing 6.4 rebounds, and dishing out 6.1 assists per game. Those marks were good enough to earn him the North Carolina Boys Basketball Gatorade Player of the Year.
What makes Bradley so special on the offense end is his shifty speed, incredibly high basketball IQ, and decision making. You can tell by his body language that Bradley relishes his role as the primary ball handler. Bradley is able to use that combination of speed and high IQ to dominate in transition. Another key aspect that makes Bradley so elite in transition is his on-ball defense. An absolute pest to any offensive player, Bradley was able to secure 2.9 steals per game.
At the Nike EYBL-Peach Jam last summer, Bradley played on Chris Paul’s AAU team, Team CP3. Putting up 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists per game, the #2 ranked point guard in the class of 2022 showed that he is more than equipped to face off against other top-level talent in the country. It should come as no surprise that Bradley was selected to participate in this year’s McDonald’s All-American game.
Bradley will be attending the University of Alabama next season under coach Nate Oats. Bama runs one of the highest paced offenses in college basketball, which makes Bradley the perfect fit for their offensive scheme. The sky’s the limit for Jaden Bradley next season at Alabama and I could not be more excited to see what he can do.