To commemorate the end of 2017, the staff of USA TODAY High School Sports debated the dominant storylines of 2017 to determine the five most important and resonant of the year.
2: MORE ELITE ATHLETES SKIP SENIOR YEAR
2017 may go down as the year where senior year didn’t seem to matter for some athletes.
Athletes have been reclassifying down for years, but increasingly, elite athletes are reclassifying up, enabling them to skip their senior seasons.
This allows athletes to play earlier in college and potentially, earlier in the professional ranks as well. The increasing number of advanced placement classes and the availability of internet courses has made the transition easier academically.
Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.) forward Marvin Bagley III would have been the No. 1 recruit in the 2018 class and a likely repeat first-team American Family Insurance ALL-USA boys basketball player this year, but in August, he was cleared by the NCAA to enroll early at Duke.
Through 13 games at Duke, he’s averaging 21.1 points and 10.9 rebounds.
Jontay Porter would have been an elite senior recruit, but graduated early from Nathan Hale (Seattle) so he could play alongside his brother, ALL-USA forward Michael Porter Jr., at Missouri. While Michael is out with a back injury, Jontay is averaging 7.5 points and 6.8 rebounds through 13 games as a backup for the Tigers.
LaMelo Ball would have been a junior guard this fall at Chino Hills, Calif. He didn’t reclassify, but after his father, LaVar Ball, had a dispute with his coach at Chino Hills, LaMelo was pulled out of school and is now playing professionally with his brother, former UCLA forward LiAngelo, in Lithuania.
Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) quarterback J.T. Daniels was named to the American Family Insurance ALL-USA football team after leading his team to a state title and the No. 1 ranking in the Super 25. He would have likely been a top recruit in 2019, but instead recently announced he had completed his graduation requirements a year and a half early and would be enrolling at Southern Cal.
The best-known success story for a player skipping their senior season is outfielder Bryce Harper.
He skipped his junior and senior years at Las Vegas High to play junior college baseball and went on to be the 2015 National League MVP and is a five-time All-Star outfielder.
For most athletes, however, skipping their senior season isn’t a surefire path to stardom.
The first big-time high school football player to miss their senior season was John David Booty, a highly regarded junior quarterback at Evangel Christian (Shreveport, La.). In 2003, he skipped his senior season, but wound up spending his three years at Southern Cal as a backup to Matt Leinhart.
Jake Bentley didn’t play his senior year at Opelika, Ala., enrolling early in 2016 at South Carolina, where his father Bobby Bentley is the Gamecocks’ running backs coach. Bentley started South Carolina’s final seven games as a freshman in 2016. This season, he was the starter all season for the Gamecocks, throwing 16 passes with 11 interceptions.
Forward Courtney Ekmark was the state player of the year in 2013 at St. Mary’s (Phoenix), but was home schooled her senior year and didn’t play. The Connecticut signee averaged two points a game while playing 61 games with the Huskies and is now playing at Arizona State.
Quarterback Christian LeMay was the 2009 state player of the year as a junior at Butler (Matthews, N.C.), but he didn’t play his senior year after being suspended for 30 days for violating the school’s code of conduct. He was a backup as a redshirt freshman at Georgia before transferring to Jacksonville State. His LinkedIn account now lists his occupation as a personal trainer for Arrow Quarterback Training.