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Best since LeBron? Big men Oden, Howard lead loaded group

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Recruiting Blogger
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When Joakim Noah was on his way to Florida, Dwight Howard went No. 1 in the '04 NBA Draft. (Getty Images)  
When Joakim Noah was on his way to Florida, Dwight Howard went No. 1 in the '04 NBA Draft. (Getty Images)  

LeBron James is the standard bearer for high school players in the modern era. James was the most hyped, most talented amateur player of the millennium, getting the Sports Illustrated and ESPN treatment before it became a trend. The attention he received as a high school player upped the ante for every prospect that followed in his footsteps.

Since James left high school, no one has come close to him in terms of hype and stardom. There have been a few players anointed the "next LeBron," but most don't live up to the billing. I didn't even cover high school basketball when he was at St. Vincent-St. Mary, but it wasn't hard to tell he was on an entirely different level than everyone else -- and everyone else since 2003.

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With SI putting junior Jabari Parker on its cover, though, James' high school career is back in the nation's eye. The magazine anointed Parker the "best high school basketball player since LeBron James." On the surface, that statement seems like a huge stretch. However, with the lack of true star high school players over the past few years, it's not as far-fetched as one might think. It's a difficult task to judge players from different eras and different competition levels, especially now that professional careers have affected our outlook on certain players -- but we set out to see how Parker truly stacks up to the rest of the high school players, post-LeBron.

(Many thanks to Rivals.com's Eric Bossi, CBSSports.com's Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman, Dave Telep of ESPN.com and Justin Young, who wrote for Rivals.com for many years. They helped me compile the rankings, and compare players from before I started covering the sport.)

1. Greg Oden, Class of 2006, Lawrence North (Ind.)

Oden, a 7-foot center, was the consensus No. 1 player in his class. At Lawrence North, Oden won three straight state championships and was a two-time Gatorade national Player of the Year. He separated himself from the competition by bringing high-level effort on a nightly basis, and simply dominated. For a No. 1 player, his work ethic was unparalleled. As Goodman said, "He was a lunch-pail guy who was the No. 1 player in the country."

2. Dwight Howard, 2004, Southwest Atlanta Christian (Ga.)

Aside from Oden, the only other consensus No. 1 in his class was Howard. He wasn't always at the top, but his potential was through the roof. At the time, he had a more versatile offensive game than he does now, with the ability to knock down outside shots. Before declaring for the NBA Draft straight out of high school, Howard was named Naismith Prep Player of the Year.

3. Kevin Durant, 2006, Montrose Christian (Md.)

If not for Oden, Durant might have been atop his class -- and possibly this list as well. Durant bounced around a couple of high schools, but excelled at each stop. Nearly everyone who watched him play said he was one of the most impressive players, skill-set-wise, they had seen in a long time. He was a difficult matchup for nearly every opponent, and he became even tougher when he kept growing until his senior year.

4. Derrick Rose, 2007, Simeon (Ill.)

Despite not being ranked No. 1 in the class by any of the major scouting websites, Rose was ranked as the best high school guard by every scout we polled, including one that said he was the best guard he had ever seen in person. He won two straight state championships while at Simeon, and dominated Brandon Jennings in a head-to-head matchup during Rose's senior year.

5. Kevin Love, 2007, Lake Oswego (Ore.)

Love was another member of the loaded 2007 class and came out of that season with the Naismith, Wooden, USA Today, McDonald's and Parade Magazine Player of the Year awards. Moreover, Gatorade named him the National Male Athlete of the Year. Love finished his career as the all-time leading scorer in Oregon boys' basketball history, and Love led Lake Oswego to three straight state title games, winning one (he lost to Kyle Singler's South Medford team twice).

6. Andrew Wiggins, 2014, Huntington Prep (W.Va.)

The sky is the limit with Wiggins, a Canadian forward with sports in his genes -- his mother was an Olympic track star, while his father was a former NBA player. He's still a couple years away from finishing his high school career, but it's tough to imagine anyone passing him in the 2014 rankings. His athleticism is outstanding and he continues to expand his offensive game. Wiggins has been dominating for several years, and the future is extremely bright. In five years, he could be No. 1 on this list.

7. Jabari Parker, 2013, Simeon (Ill.)

The player who spurred the idea for this column, Parker is one of the most grounded No. 1 prospects we've seen in awhile. His basketball IQ is extremely high for someone his age and he continues to improve. Despite having one year left in high school, Parker already has his share of accomplishments: three state championships, Gatorade National Player of the Year, USA Basketball Men's Athlete of the Year. He's not done yet, either.

8. Michael Beasley, 2007, Notre Dame Prep (Mass.)

Like his one season at Kansas State, Beasley was extremely productive in high school. He used his inside-outside ability and versatility to score in different ways, creating problems for any defender. Beasley did bounce around from high school to high school, but that didn't slow him down; the Maryland native averaged 28 points and 16 rebounds during his final year at Notre Dame Prep in New England. Beasley also dominated during his time on the USA Men's U-18 National Team.

9. Anthony Davis, 2011, Perspectives Charter (Ill.)

Heading into the spring of his junior year, Davis was known mostly as a regional mid-major prospect. That changed quickly once people noticed his massive growth spurt and tremendous defensive ability. Suddenly, he was in the mix for the No. 1 spot in the country -- but not the consensus top-ranked player. Davis could block shots as well as anyone in the country, but he also still had the guard skills from the days before his growth spurt.

10. Eric Gordon, 2007, North Central (Ind.)

Yet another stud from the 2007 class, Gordon was overshadowed on a national level by O.J. Mayo and had to share the regional spotlight with Rose. He even played on the same AAU team as Oden for a bit. During one nationally televised game against a team that included Michael Jordan's two sons, Gordon dropped 43 points, cementing himself as an elite prospect. He wasn't as athletically explosive as some other recent prospects, but Gordon could score with anyone.

Just missed

Harrison Barnes, 2010, Ames (Iowa)

As close to a consensus No. 1 player as we have seen since Oden, Barnes dominated opponents despite not being a physically imposing big man or possessing ridiculous athleticism.

John Wall, 2009, Word of God (N.C.)

Wall wasn't always the top-ranked player in his class, and some services still had him ranked behind big man Derrick Favors at the end of his high school career. Wall's ability to get from end to end with the ball is what separated him from the competition.

Brandon Jennings, 2008, Oak Hill Academy (Va.)

Jennings was ranked No. 1 by most scouting services, and had been a highly touted prospect since his younger days on the circuit. When he was at his best, there was no one in his class more fun to watch.

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