Underclass Players Of The Year

Sophomore-to-be Josh Jackson is one of the nation's best players regardless of class. Photo: Ronnie Flores

Josh Jackson is one of the nation’s best players regardless of class and potentially Michigan’s top prospect since 1991 Mr. Basketball USA Chris Webber. Photo: Ronnie Flores

Underclass Players of the Year Ben Simmons, Josh Jackson and Jalek Felton made a tremendous impact this season and are selected the nation’s top players among juniors, sophomores and freshmen, respectively. The next end-of-season honors squad published with be the 20th Annual Student Sports All-American team. 

RELATED: Cliff Alexander Is Mr. Basketball USA | Final Mr. Basketball USA Tracker |  All-Time Mr. Basketball USA Honorees | All-Time Underclass Players of the Year | 2014 Student Sports All-American First Team | 2014 Student Sports All-American Second Team

Junior of the Year
Ben Simmons, Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) 6-9 PF

For summer circuit followers, the 2012 Pangos All-American Camp was Simmons’ coming out party and for followers of the nation’s top teams, last year’s NHSI was their first glimpse at this do-it-all forward.

Simmons put it all together in his first full-season of American high school basketball, leading Montverde Academy to their second consecutive Student Sports FAB 50 national title while living up to lofty expectations. Simmons averaged 22.7 points and 9.5 rebounds for a team that lost one game on the court playing arguably the nation’s toughest schedule. Simmons was co-MVP of the prestigious City of Palms Classic and also earned MVP honors at Dick’s Nationals (previously the NHSI), where he led Montverde Academy to the tournament title by averaging 20.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in three games against nationally-ranked opponents.

The son of an Australian pro player originally from the Bronx, N.Y., Simmons is lauded for his team-oriented game and his all-around passing, shooting, rebounding and ability to run the court. He’s one of two young world-class players, the other being likely 2014 NBA Draft lottery choice Dante Exum, that are expected to lift Australia’s basketball profile in international competition in the years to come.

Simmons, who will play on the Nike EYBL circuit with Each 1 Teach 1, is the third player of the year selection among juniors in the past six seasons from a Florida school. Austin Rivers of Winter Park was the choice in 2010 and Brandon Knight of Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest earned top honors in 2009. Simmons is also Montverde Academy’s first ever class player of the year.

Sophomore of the Year
Josh Jackson, Consortium College Prep (Detroit) 6-7 SF

Burst onto the scene last summer playing for the Dorian’s Pride club team and emerged as one of the nation’s most fluid prospects regardless of class. Jackson  lived up to tremendous preseason expectations, earning Associated Press Class C Player of the Year honors.

Jackson is already a two-time first team All-State choice and was the only unanimous choice this season. Arguably the top player in Michigan regardless of class, Jackson used his uncanny natural instincts and advanced scoring ability to average 28 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists for a 25-2 club that defeated Pewamo-Westphalia to capture the MHSAA Class C state title. Jackson led the way for the Cougars in the title game with 24 points and 13 rebounds.

Jackson, who starred for the Consortium varsity and averaged 17 points, 6 rebounds and five assists as an eighth-grader, is the first sophomore selection from Michigan since Anthony “Peeper” Roberson of Saginaw in 2000. Between 1989 and 2000, the state produced four national sophomores of the year, including future NBA all-star forward Chris Webber in 1989. Some analysts feel Jackson may be the state’s finest prospect since Webber.

Freshman of the Year
Jalek Felton, Mullins (Mullins S.C.) 6-2 PG

Similar to our sophomore choice Josh Jackson, Mullins played varsity ball as an eighth-grader and improved his game this year for a 20-8 club that captured the Region 8-2A title.

After averaging 14.5 points and 4.3 assists as a middle schooler playing varsity, this rangy athlete with spectacular ball-handling skills used an improved shooting stroke to average 21.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game this past season. Felton drew raves reviews from national recruiting analysts at the Beach Ball Classic and the Chick-Fil-A Classic, averaging 24.6 points in three games against solid competition at the latter.

Considered one of the top dozen or so national prospects in the national 2017 class, Felton was highly-regarded as a youth player and this year some of those elite prospects, such as 6-foot-10 center DeAndre Ayton, did not compete in interscholastic competition. Others such as guard Darien Jackson of Blue Valley Northwest (Overland Park, Kan.), guard Quade Greene of Newman-Goretti (Philadelphia, Pa.) and forward D.J. Harvey of DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) either sat behind talented upperclassmen or played secondary roles on nationally or regionally-ranked teams.

Others strongly considered for this honor included wings Brian Bowen of Arthur Hill (Saginaw, Mich.), James Walker Jr. of Jonesboro (Jonesboro, Ga.), Jarred Vanderbilt of Victory Prep (Houston) and power forward Cody Riley of Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.).

Felton, the nephew of 2002 Student Sports First Team All-American and NBA guard Raymond Felton of Latta, S.C., is the Palmetto State’s first ever national player of the year in any class dating back to 1970.

Note: ESPN selections 2010-2012; EA SPORTS selections 2003-2009; Student Sports selections prior to 2003; Selections are based on high school accomplishment, not future college/pro potential, and are reflective of those that lead their teams to state championships. The editors of StudentSports.com do not knowingly select fifth-year players, and those ineligible due to age or academics, Mr. Basketball USA or to its various All-American teams.

Ronnie Flores is the editor of StudentSportsBasketball.com. He can be reached at ronnie@studentsports.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores

Updated: April 23, 2014

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