For every American NBA player, their journey begins on the hardwood of an elementary school or youth program. This is where they discover their love for basketball, and develop it at an early age. They will also gain life skills like discipline, team building skills, and hard work. It also builds dedication for them to improve their skills by practicing every day. This is essential to their growth as players and as people overall during their adolescence.
As they work their way through Elementary School, Middle School, and High School the courts will serve as proving grounds for their talent. Elementary will help build their interest in the sport during their younger years, and introduce them to team-building. In middle school, they will begin to find their identity as a player and start to develop their physical frames. In High School, this will be the most important of all three stages because kids this age will begin to separate themselves from the competition.
They will have to fight for the attention of scouts along with other good players in their respective positions. The pool of competition becomes massive, and players hit their growth spurts while others do not. Trying to gain the attention of Division-1 scouts is extremely difficult, but certain players are so talented that it comes easy.
The top high school players in the world have multiple options, and they must choose the college that gives them the best opportunity. The #1 recruits for the class of 2024 have colleges excited for their arrival. Their school year has just started, and they have one more year before their careers hit the next level.
According to 247Sports, Zoom Diallo is the best point guard in the nation at the moment. He began his high school career in University Palace, Washington for the Curtis Vikings. He made a strong impression his freshman year showing flashes of his potential on the court. During the 2020-2021 season, the Vikings amounted to a record of 13-5 in a shortened season due to COVID-19. In the 2021-2022 season, the team showcased its true potential winning 27 games and losing only three times. The next season Zoom really made a name for himself, and the success of the Vikings attracted a lot of scouts to University Palace. During Diallo’s junior year, he averaged 20.2 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.4 RPG, and 1.3 SPG leading his team to a stellar record of 28-4 for the 2022-2023 season.
Diallo is described as a ‘power guard’ by some scouts because of his physicality and strength. He has great instincts in the pick-and-roll while using his big body to finish at the rim after the screen. Zoom excels at catch-and-shoot situations, and he can pull up off the dribble as well. Dictating the tempo is one of his best attributes especially since it’s his job to guide the offense. He doesn’t allow the defensive pressure to impact his decisions regardless of the situation and college coaches are going to love it.
His main weakness is his defensive awareness on the court. He has to get better at anticipating the passing lanes to intercept passes. Diallo is 190 lbs and 6’4 so he possesses the physical tools to be a good defender. The progression will come naturally as he develops mentally and physically as a player.
After dominating the competition in Washington he desired a change of scenery. Diallo moved to Napa, California for his senior year where he currently plays for Prolific Prep. Prolific Prep Alumni, Mohammed Gueye, accepted an offer from Washington State. After two years for the Cougars, Gueye was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2023 NBA draft. Mohammed provided evidence that the school produces NBA-caliber talent. Diallo has yet to commit to a school, but he has received offers from Arizona, Gonzaga, USC, and Washington State. On October 18th, he traveled to Arizona to see what the Razorbacks had to offer, but only time will tell what college he decides to commit to.
The shooting guards of today’s day and age are built like forwards and can dribble like point guards. The #1 shooting guard in the nation, Tre Johnson, literally fits that description. Johnson hails from Dallas, Texas where he made his name at Lake Highlands Academy under Head Coach Rob Wiley.
Tre is a very effective scorer at all three levels of the game. He is a 6’6 guard so he uses his size to slash to the rim, and he has a great dribble pull-up. During his sophomore season, Johnson averaged 23.8PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 2.3 APG leading the Wildcats to a 32-5 record. During the next season, He led the team to a 34-3 with a 16-0 district record, and the Wildcats made an appearance in the City Of Palms Tournament. Tre stood out during the tournament averaging 23PPG, 8 RPG, and 2.3 APG. Johnson also led his team to the championship of the Allen Holiday Invitational and put up 32 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks.
One of his best attributes is the ability to make contested jump shots. He could be compared to J.R. Smith in the way he will make his contested jumper at a consistent rate. Johnson is also efficient at moving off the ball using screens to get himself open. He possesses a variety of moves to score the basketball such as step-backs, post-ups, isolations, and drawing fouls strategically. He shot 80% from the free throw line in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, and he is also an underrated playmaker averaging 4.0 Assists. His versatility keeps teams guessing whether he will pass or score.
Tre needs to work on his defensive commitment to take himself to the next level. He is adding muscle to his frame consistently every year, and as he gets stronger it’ll be easier to guard opponents on the perimeter. Since he will alternate between the shooting guard and small forward positions he will need to improve his on-ball defense. This is considered the biggest hole in his game, but as he continues to add muscle his defensive improvements will be evident.
Johnson transferred to Link Academy in Branson, Missouri to play under head coach Bill Armstrong for his senior year. The lion's season began on November 25th, and Tre had already committed to a college program before the season. On November 15th, 2023 he signed to the Texas Longhorns to play college ball under Head Coach Rodney Terry.
The forward positions are two of the most important in basketball. Of course, every position is essential on the court, but the small forward is meant to guard the wing which is vital to a team’s success. The power forward is meant to back up the Center position protecting the paint, and secure defensive rebounds to continue the flow of transition offense. The 2 best high school forwards in the world always get a lot of attention because of the purpose they serve on the court.
According to 247 Sports, Airious “Ace” Bailey is the best small forward playing high school basketball at the moment. Bailey is from Powder Springs, GA where he plays at McEachern High School under Head Coach Tremayne Anchrum Sr. Bailey has great size for a wing his age and extreme athleticism. Every time he goes for a dunk he is above the rim showcasing his outstanding leaping ability. The lateral movement is something to behold due to his physical attributes such as wingspan. Bailey stands at 6’8 and weighs 210 pounds. Weighing over 200 lbs in high school is a bonus for college coaches because it will not take long to add more muscle to his frame.
In terms of his weaknesses, Airious needs to improve his shot selection. Right now his jump shot is considered to be inconsistent and he will settle too much. Scouts want him to work on his post-game to add more versatility instead of settling for jump shots most of the time. Crossovers still need some work because they lack fluidity and his current level of ball handling will lead to turnovers at the collegiate level. His body possesses the tools to be a good defender, but he just needs to build defensive discipline to avoid biting on shot fakes
During his junior year, he averaged 22.0 PPG, 14 RPG, 3.0 APG, and 4.0 BPG. Bailey led the Indians to a 23-7 record, and an 8-0 regional record. On December 3rd, 2022 he put on one of the best high school performances in McEachern’s history. He scored 34 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 blocks in 3 quarters versus the South Cobb Eagles. This past summer, he played in the SLAM Summer Classic in New York City and scored 40 points leading all players in scoring.
All of these great performances got the attention of Rutgers University located in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The Scarlet Knights offered him a scholarship on October 24, 2022, and on January 15, 2023, Airious announced his commitment before signing the letter of intent on November 11th. He will arrive at the university in the fall of 2024, and it will be interesting to see how he develops under Head Coach Steve Pikiell.
The state of Florida has been underestimated for its love of basketball. During the Miami Heat’s run from 2010 to 2014, the sport became more popular than ever in the Sunshine State. Now over 10 years later, Florida is producing some of the best high school players today in Cooper Flagg. Cooper Flagg is hailed as the #1 power forward in the class of 2024 right now, and he has been living up to the hype. He began his high school career playing for the Nokomis Warriors located in Newport, Maine. During his freshman year, he led the Warriors to a 25-1 record under Head Coach Ryan Martin.
Flagg led the Warriors to the State Championship and averaged 20.5PPG, 10.0 RPG, 3.7 SPG, and 3.7 BPG. He became the first freshman to be named “Maine Gatorade Player Of The Year.” at 14 years old. After dominating the Nokomis regional scene he wanted to face better competition, and he decided to attend Montverde Academy in Montverde, Florida. The Montverde Eagles are led by Head Coach Kevin Boyle. Last season, Boyle led the Eagles to a 22-5 record, and Cooper made an immediate impact when he arrived. He led the entire team in blocks and steals per game. The Eagles finished their 2022-2023 season with a record of 24-3 and 3-0 versus district competition.
Cooper has great defensive instincts already at his young age. He has great timing when blocking shots, and good tenacity on close-outs. The verticality is very useful to contest shot attempts at the rim, and he has good body control to avoid unnecessary fouls. He is a decent defender on the perimeter for his size, and he is also incredible on the fastbreak. When he is able to get out and run it is a sight to behold. Flagg is also a creative playmaker for the power forward position, and he is always trying to set his teammates up. The competitive fire is very noticeable, and he is always confident regardless of the matchup.
His weakness is the offensive inconsistency and trying to improve his jump shot. The form looks good when releases the ball, but Cooper can go through cold spells from beyond the arc. The mid-range is fine, but college coaches nowadays want all of their players to be able to shoot for spacing purposes. He can create the space to get the shot off, but he isn’t a top-tier ball handler yet. Although he is strong for the high school level his body will need to add more muscle to maintain his status as a lockdown defender in college. He appears to be on course for natural body progression, but he has to stay consistent in the weight room to reach his full potential.
He is a Senior year now, and Cooper has already committed to his future college team. On October 20th, Cooper and his family took a trip to Duke University after receiving an offer letter. 10 days later on October 30th, he announced he was going to play for the Blue Devils under new head coach Jon Scheyer who was hired in 2022, and Scheyer recently signed a 6-year contract extension. On November 8th, he signed the letter of intent making it official and he will join the team in the fall of 2024. NBA scouts will have their eyes on Flagg since he is one of the best prospects at one of the best schools, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure.
The center position is one of the most important in basketball. They are the last line of defense when guarding the interior, and it is their job to grab rebounds. These tasks require a lot of aggression and physicality on a nightly basis. In the current era of basketball, centers prefer to shoot threes and dribble like guards so traditional defensive-minded centers are rare now. The #1 high school center in the world, Flory Bidunga, reminds you of the era of athletic-defensive-minded big men.
Kokomo, Indiana is the home of the best young center in the world. Bidunga currently plays high school ball for the Kokomo Wildkats. He arrived at the school during the 2021-2022 school year with a lot of hype behind him. Led by head coach, John Pickenbagugh, Flory came in and dominated the competition. In his Sophomore year, he averaged 17.5PPG, 13.3 RPG, 1.0S SPG, and 5.3 BPG. The Wildkats finished that year with a 6-3 conference record and an overall record of 19-8. The athleticism of Bidunga put the team on notice because of his great performances.
His athleticism makes him a lob threat when running the pick-and-roll, and he uses his strength to get to the rim. He is very fast for his position and he possesses very good footwork for his age. On offense, he uses his speed to cut to the rim for scoring opportunities and to grab offensive rebounds. Scouts hail him as the best finishing big in the class, and he will attract fans with his emphatic finishes play-after-play. He has a 40-inch vertical in high school which can be used on both ends of the floor, and Bidunga is nowhere near the final product.
On defense, he needs to work on his defensive awareness. He tends to float around without much activity, and when his opponent gets the ball he will bite on pump-fakes. Flory has great shot-blocking instincts, but it can cause him to get overzealous leading to unnecessary fouls. His physical tools give him the potential to be a great defender due to his broad shoulders and 7’5 wingspan. Bidunga has to sharpen up his defensive discipline, and that will come naturally as he gets older.
Flory’s junior year for the Wildkats 2022-2023 season was extremely dominant averaging 20.2 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 4.5 RPG, and 81%FG resulting in multiple offer letters. He received offers from the Michigan State Spartans, Florida Gators, Louisville Cardinals, Kentucky Wildcats, UCLA Bruins, and Auburn Tigers. On September 19th, 2022, The Kansas Jayhawks sent him an offer letter and it piqued his interest. He took an official visit to the school on May 12th, 2023, and was enamored by the university’s basketball culture. On August 12th, he announced he would be joining the Jayhawks after graduating high school, and he signed the letter of intent on November 9th. He will join Jayhawks Head Coach, Bill Self, and the rest of the team in the fall of 2024.
All of these young men have bright futures as they continue down their respective paths. The pool of competition is about to be deeper and wider than they have ever imagined. They were the highest touted prospects for their positions, and that will raise the level of expectation to insurmountable heights. Scouts will have them under microscopes and their opponents will have their sights set on them every night.