SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- At the HoopHall Classic, some of 2018's top dogs had their chance to make a claim at the top spot and on Monday current No. 1 R.J. Barrett showed why he is still the man to beat. That plus more in Monday's takeaways.
BARRETT NOT LETTING NO. 1 GO WITHOUT A FIGHT
The race for No. 1 in the class of 2018 is in full swing and will to come down to the wire. After two strong performances -- 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists in Monday's win over Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei -- at the HoopHall Classic, incumbent R.J. Barrett remains the favorite.
Now maybe Barrett has an advantage because I was able to see him twice over the weekend while competitors Cameron Reddish, Zion Williamson and Bol Bol only played once. But, it's not an extra game that gives the 6-foot-7 wing the edge in my mind. It's a body of work over four years that was backed up in Springfield.
Barrett isn't the most athletic -- though he is certainly athletic -- and others may shoot or handle better, but there aren't any more complete basketball players in the high school ranks. He's simply a basketball player's basketball player. More importantly, there isn't anybody who is more willing to accept the challenge of the big moment and because he's also elite on the defensive end, the future Duke Blue Devil still gets my vote as the best player in the class of 2018.
DEFENSE ISN'T LOST IN HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
If anybody has any issues about the commitment to giving effort and competing on the defensive end at the high school level, they would have been pleased to see some of the elite defensive players at the HoopHall Classic. Especially when it comes to defending the perimeter.
After watching several standout wing and on the ball defenders on Saturday and Sunday, I was blown away by the defensive efforts of Ohio State bound four-star senior Luther Muhammad and top 50 junior Jahmius Ramsey.
Hudson Catholic had Baltimore (Md.) John Carroll scouted about as well as any high school team could possibly scout another, but it still takes execution from the players to make it work. Faced with the task of stopping five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley, Muhammad got physical, dug in and really made the Kentucky-bound Quickley work for everything he got. Because he's a stud with pride himself, Quickley went to his jump shot more and made some nice things happen in the second half, but the tone Muhammad set early left a huge mark on the game and gave his team momentum they never let go. For my money, Muhammad is as good a perimeter defender as there is in the class of 2018 and he may one day compete for Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten.
Later on in the night, Ramsey was tasked with slowing down Cameron Reddish. Despite giving up five inches in height and at least 25 or 30 pounds to 2018's No. 2 ranked player, Ramsey accepted the challenge and put forth a whale of an effort. Reddish was still pretty clearly the best player and prospect on the floor, but Ramsey tested him physically and refused to give up any easy buckets. I remember seeing current Boston Celtic Marcus Smart at the same age and Ramsey reminds me an awful lot of him. Since leaving his home state of Texas for Bradenton (Fla.) IMG, Ramsey has seen an already strong list of schools continue to grow and he now has offers from Kansas State, Virginia Tech, Illinois, Virginia, Florida, Texas A&M and many others.
WHEN LOUIS KING IS ON HE'S AS GOOD AS ANYBODY IN AMERICA
Here we are again with Louis King. When I saw the five-star wing headed to Oregon play his first game last month at the City of Palms, I thought he was ready to make a big move in the 2018 rankings. However, he didn't quite match his early production throughout the event and while he still moved up some in our most recent rankings update, King didn't make the jump he could have made.
After seeing King again at the HoopHall Classic, where he was dominant in a 32-point performance in a Hudson Catholic win over John Carroll, he's again looking like a kid who could be a top 15 or even top 10 prospect in the senior class.
With his future coach Dana Altman watching, King came out on fire early and his personal 10-2 run to start the game helped to end things before they really got started. With 6-foot-7 size, the ability to shoot from deep and tools to one day be a multi-positional defender, he's one of the most intriguing guys in the senior class. At the end of the day, Altman will demand consistency from King and if he gets him he could have as much of a "steal" as you can have with a five-star prospect.
UNDECIDED RAMEY IS BACK AND AS GOOD AS EVER
At this point, undecided four-star point guard Courtney Ramey has only been back from a broken wrist for a couple of weeks. But after playing three games in the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions over the weekend before traveling to the HoopHall for an early morning Monday game, Ramey looks to be as good as ever.
Ramey is cut out of the traditional point guard role and is at his best getting others involved, playing defense and making plays happen off the dribble when he needs to. Monday, he added some scoring and had one of the best all-around lines of the weekend scoring 27 points on 11-for-13 shooting, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out eight assists.
Formerly committed to Louisville, he's been to Oklahoma State and Texas for visits and will see UCLA and Villanova during February. Missouri is also involved and faced with the prospect of perhaps having to replace Trae Young a year or so earlier than expected, Oklahoma has thrown their hat into the ring.
MONDAY SCOUTING NOTES
.... Headed to Kentucky, Keldon Johnson is one of the more polished scorers in the class of 2018. Blessed with one of the most impressive set of shoulders of any wing in the country, Johnson knows how to use them to create space an finish through contact. What I like most about him is that every move he makes is toward the basket and he always put the pressure on his defender.
.... His University School team couldn't quite hang with Johnson and Oak Hill, but Vernon Carey Jr. backed up his No. 1 ranking in the class of 2019. He was a bully when he needed to be, he showed skill and touch and he competed from tip to buzzer. His claim to the top spot in his class remains strong.
.... I wrote about IMG Academy's Jahmius Ramsey above, but teammates Noah Farrakhan and Josh Green were also outstanding in their win over the Westtown School. A sophomore, Farrakhan is thin point guard who is a natural scorer. He can shoot from deep but what really stands out is the extra gear he's got off the dribble. A junior, Green just made a move to five-star status and he backed it up. A big-time athlete who is underrated for his ball skills, Green flirted with a triple double and finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in a big win.
.... Former Arizona commit Jahvon Quinerly had a relatively quiet game but the Hudson Catholic senior took a lot of pride in seeing his teammates Louis King and Luther Muhammad go off. As he's done since backing off of Arizona after allegations that he was induced to commit emerged, Quinerly declined to discuss his recruitment. We can only speculate, but Rutgers and Seton Hall definitely appear to be involved and Villanova is hanging in there. Quinerly's coach mentioned that Oklahoma and Georgetown have also made recent contact.
.... I would make a pretty heavy bet that 2018's No. 2 player Cameron Reddish would be the first to say that he didn't have his best game in Westtown's loss to IMG. That being said, it's scary to think that he had 25 points, five rebounds and four assists on an "off" night. With big-time size, ball-handling and a pure jump shot, Reddish is supremely gifted on the offensive end and will surely be a monster playing alongside R.J. Barrett at Duke. Monday, he settled for a few too many jumpers and was unstoppable going to the rim. It's all about balance and it's pretty easy to expect that Mike Krzyzewski will demand that from him in Durham next year.
.... Finally, it's going to be a long time before class of 2022 guard Dariq Whitehead graduates from Montverde (Fla.) Academy, but the 13-year-old is going to be one to watch. In some mop up minutes he showed big time athleticism, some ball handling ability and a nice looking stroke. Playing as an 8th grader in an event like the HoopHall Classic and looking like he belonged was impressive and it looks like he's a guy we will see a lot from in coming years.