25 of the greatest high school basketball players of all time

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Choosing the most outstanding high school basketball players of all time is as difficult as it can be an argumentative stalemate.

It’s no secret that the game has changed, so looking at an icon from the 1960s might not equate to a player who dominated in the past five or so years.

But there is also an argument within the argument (the game behind the game, if you will) where historical talent is…well, historical talent—the fact that it occurred when Twitter didn’t exist has little meaning on the overall resume. And vice versa.

That thought process provided the foundation for answering our questions about the 25 greatest of all time. We wanted to look at dominant players throughout history—ones who could easily suit up and play tomorrow and have the same results as they would in any era.

Of course, the criteria needed more substantial elements beyond that as well. So, understanding that it would still finalize as an opinionated ranking, we included simple factors such as location and competition, plus weighed what the player meant to the team’s success—while trying our hardest not to consider what each player did after high school.

Once the research hoopla settled, we landed at these 25.

(2022’s best of the best: USA TODAY High Sports Super 25 Boys Basketball)

Honorable Mention

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For the Michael Jordan fans out there, His Airness came close to making the final list. We know that’s ranking insanity to many people, but the logjam of talent in the high school hardwood vault left Mike just outside the top crop.

A few others of note:

O.J. Mayo — Huntington (W. Va.)

Dajuan Wagner — Camden (N.J.)

Tracy McGrady — Mount Zion Christian Academy (Durham, N.C.)

Sebastian Telfair — Lincoln (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Mike Bibby — Shadow Mountain (Phoenix, Ariz.)

Rasheed Wallace — Simon Gratz (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Bill Bradley — Crystal City (Mo.)

Jerry Stackhouse — Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.)

Pete Maravich — Broughton (Raleigh, N.C.)

25. Bill Cartwright — Elk Grove Thundering Herd (Calif.)

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(Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

Speaking of former Chicago Bulls, Bill Cartwright opens up the top 25. The talented center was a three-time All-American and finished his career averaging over 19 points per game with over 1100 rebounds. In addition, he won consecutive Basketball Player of the Year honors in California in 1974 and ’75 and was also named the state’s High School Sports Athlete of the Year (’75).

24. Danny Manning — Lawrence High School Chesty Lions (Kan.)

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(AP Photo)

All-State in two states? Manning’s first impressive mark occurred his junior year at Page High School in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he led the team to a 26-0 record and a state title. Then, when his father Ed Manning took the Kansas Jayhawks assistant coach job, Danny enrolled at Lawrence High School, where he would earn Kansas Player of the Year honors.

23. Monta Ellis — Lanier Bulldogs (Jackson, Miss.)

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(AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)

In his high school, Ellis was a scoring machine, finishing his career with more than 4,100 points. He led the Bulldogs to two state titles while earning All-State honors four times and capped off his senior year by being named Parade’s Player of the Year.

22. Isiah Thomas — St. Joseph Chargers (Westchester, Ill.)

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(Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

In the late 1970s, Thomas stood out among the highly competitive area as a top-tier guard with the hot hand coming out the Chicago area. He made the most of the 90-minute commute to St. Joseph’s from the city, leading the Chargers to the state finals his junior season and eventually earning a Parade All-American nod.

21. Kevin Durant — Montrose Christian Mustangs (Rockville, Md.)

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(AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

It was a close competition for the top high school basketball player in 2006, with most giving the edge to Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. But Durant still deserves a spot on this list, with a resume that includes two Parade All-American honors, Washington Post’s All-Met Basketball Player of the Year and the 2006 McDonald’s All-American Game MVP.

20. Greg Oden — Lawrence North Wildcats (Indianapolis, Ind.)

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Greg Oden shared the spotlight with Durant in 2006, but the overall high school career was a tad more impressive. Oden led the Wildcats to three state titles in four years, earning Parade All-American honors three times, plus Gatorade State Player of the Year (twice) and National Player of the Year (junior year).

19. Chris Webber — Detroit Country Day Yellowjackets (Beverly Hills, Mich.)

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Syndication: Detroit Free Press

The image speaks for itself—fans and players alike were in awe of Webber’s dominance. He led the Yellowjackets to three Michigan State championships (MHSAA), finishing his senior campaign as Michigan’s Mr. Basketball and the National High School Player of the Year. Webber would also earn MVP honors at the McDonald’s and Dapper all-star games, which added to the incredible resume.

18. Ralph Sampson — Harrisonburg High School Blue Streaks (Va.)

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(Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

Before Sampson’s iconic run at the University of Virginia, the lengthy talent dominated the Virginia high school basketball courts. The 7-footer won two state basketball championships (1978 and 1979) while also earning Parade All-American honors.

17. Dwight Howard — Southwest Atlanta Christian Warriors (Atlanta, Ga.)

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(Michael A. Schwarz-USA TODAY Sports)

Dwight Howard created a legendary resume in high school, especially his senior year in 2004. He dominated the Georgia basketball scene that year, leading the Warriors to a 31-2 record and a state title while averaging nearly a triple-double. And the amount of hardware he racked up fit the effort:

Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award

Morgan Wootten High School Player of the Year Award

Gatorade National Player of the Year

McDonald’s National High School Player of the Year honor

Co-MVP McDonald’s All-American Game

16. Kenny Anderson — Archbishop Molloy Lions (Queens, N.Y.)

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(AP Photo/Tami Chappell)

Anderson was getting accolades before he was a teenager, and the build-up was certainly not a letdown when he stepped on the court in high school. He would end his career as New York state’s leading scorer (which held until Sebastian Telfair broke the record in 2004) and with three Parade All-American nods to his name. Like Dwight Howard, the awards he racked up were incredible:

McDonald’s All-American

New York State Mr. Basketball

Gatorade High School Basketball Player of the Year

New York State Sportswriters Association Player of the Year

Naismith Prep Player of the Year

15. Bill Walton — Helix Highlanders (La Mesa, Calif.)

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Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

While much of Walton’s notoriety came at UCLA and today as a colorful commentator, his high school career is nothing to overlook. The big man was a Parade All-American, averaging nearly 30 points his senior year while leading the team to a 33-0 record. Walton added two San Diego sectional championships to the achievement shelf before making waves in both the NCAA and NBA.

14. Jerry West — East Bank Pioneers (W.Va.)

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(AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)

When the school you attended ceremoniously changes its name to honor your hardwood achievements, it’s an automatic addition to this list. While West Virginia’s overall competition might not rival many big city programs, it’s hard to overlook what Jerry West accomplished at East Bank—which, yes, would change its name every March to “West Bank” in honor of the legend. (And really, the larger-market comps might be drastically overrated too.)

West was All-State in each year and an All-American his senior year. He would finish with a state title and distinction of becoming the first basketball player in West Virginia history to score over 900 career points.

13. Alonzo Mourning — Indian River Braves (Chesapeake, Va.)

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(Photo by Mike Powell/Getty Images)

The Class of 1988 was led by Alonzo Mourning—over players like Christian Laettner and Shawn Kemp—and his resume backed up such a distinct honor. The Indian River Braves rattled off 51 straight victories during Mourning’s time, which included a state title. As expected, his on-court dominance created the off-court buzz, too, with Mourning earning USA TODAY Player of the Year honors, as well as Parade, Gatorade and Naismith nods as well.

12. Shaquille O'Neal — Cole Cougars (San Antonio)

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(USA TODAY Network)

The Cougars and Shaq—who checked in at 6-foot-10 by the time he was a sophomore—lost only one game during the 1988-89 seasons, with a state title mixed in the impressive run as well. O’Neal’s dominance has long been explained in one otherworldly stat from 1989: 791 rebounds.

11. Earvin Johnson — Everett Vikings (Lansing, Mich.)

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(Lansing State Journal-USA TODAY NETWORK)

Johnson overcame the unfortunate battles with racism during his high school career to become one of the best players in history. He excelled early, earning the now-iconic nickname “Magic” his sophomore year, and would continue to flourish, ending his career with a state title, Michigan Player of the Year honors and the Parade National Player of the Year nod.

10. Patrick Ewing — Cambridge Rindge and Latin Falcons (Cambridge, Mass.)

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Imagine learning the game basketball and becoming the most dominant player in the country within a matter of a few years — that’s what happened with Patrick Ewing. The 7-foot center was a quick study, honing his basketball acumen to complement his size and strength. As a result, he was considered the top player in 1981, a three-time Parade All-American with three state titles to his name and nearly 1800 points.

9. Jerry Lucas — Middletown Middies (Ohio)

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Lucas might not carry the name recognition like others on this list, but the man from Middleton is not one to overlook. During Lucas’ tenure, the Middies were unstoppable, winning two state titles and losing only one game in his final two seasons. And the competition was not meager walkovers; the team played some of the best in Ohio and came out victorious each time. Lucas could rebound, shoot—from the floor and the line—and was twice named player of the year while earning two Parade All-American selections (both first team), with he first one marking Parade’s inaugural list in 1957.

8. Kevin Garnett — Farragut Admirals (Chicago)

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(Anne Ryan-USA TODAY Sports)

Garnett was a massive talent in high school, and though off-court issues forced him to transfer from South Carolina’s Mauldin High School to Farragut in Chicago, his overall resume speaks for itself. He led the Admirals to a 28-2 record as a senior, earning USA TODAY Player of the Year honors as well as Mr. Basketball in Illinois. The Most Outstanding Player of the McDonald’s All-American Game in 1995, Garnett finished his high school career with a mesmerizing stat line: 2,553 points, 1,809 rebounds and 737 blocked shots.

7. Kobe Bryant — Lower Merion Aces (Ardmore, Pa.)

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Eileen Blass-USA TODAY

Kobe Bryant had star power before ever donning a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. A true phenom on the hardwood, Bryant led Lower Marion to a state title his senior year, where he would finish an incredible career with two Pennsylvania Player of Year awards as well as Parade All-American honors. And his nearly 2,900 career points is among the best of all time in the state.

6. Moses Malone — Petersburg Crimson Wave (Va.)

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Before Moses Malone, zero high school stars went directly to the pros. He’s “that” guy, a talent who amassed an impressive resume on the Virginia courts, winning two state titles while also racking up multiple Parade All-American honors. And from there…well, the story is now the stuff of legend. While the University of Maryland awaited the talented hoopster, it would be the ABA’s Utah Stars (and a $1 million contract) that would serve as Malone’s next stop on his basketball journey.

5. Oscar Robertson — Crispus Attucks Tigers (Indianapolis, Ind.)

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(Maurice G. Burnett/Indianapolis Star-USA TODAY NETWORK)

Robertson (pictured second from the left) helped lead the Tigers to a state title in 1955, making history as the first all-Black school to accomplish the feat in all of high school basketball. The follow-up during Robertson’s senior year was equally groundbreaking, as the team went undefeated (45 straight wins overall) while winning a second state title. For Robertson’s part, the prolific scorer earned Mr. Basketball in Indiana honors as well as a Scholastic Coach All-American nod.

4. Wilt Chamberlain — Overbrook Panthers (Philadelphia)

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Before Chamberlain was terrorizing defenses in the NBA (and college), he was dominating the Philadelphia-area high school game as the key piece to a dynamic Overlook Panthers team that won two city titles while only losing three games during his tenure. A legend in the making, Chamberlain once rattled off consecutive games of 74, 78 and 90 points.

It’s no wonder a defense once quadruple-teamed him during a game.

3. LeBron James — St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish (Akron, Ohio)

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Brett Hansbauer-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James’ high school dominance arrived at a time when sports television was at a pinnacle. So, while some of the other legends on this list were hearsay and newspaper clippings, much of the fantastic show that James put on was something the nation could quickly flick over to ESPN and watch.

And by the way, what a show it was …

During his tenure, LeBron ran the table against the competition, winning three state titles while totaling nearly 2,700 points during his career. In addition, he earned Ohio’s Mr. Basketball honors three times, matching that total with three Parade All-American nods as well.

2. Jason Kidd — St. Joseph Notre Dame Pilots (Alameda, Calif.)

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(John O’Hara/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

In a state that’s historically loaded with high school talent—the sheer size and number of schools in California is uncanny—Jason Kidd stands out as one of the best basketball players of all time. He led the Pilots to consecutive state titles, finishing his career as the state’s all-time assists leader and in the top 10 in scoring. As expected with that type of output, the impressive number of accolades were fitting—Naismith, Parade and USA TODAY Player of the Year honors, as well as multiple state player of the year awards and a McDonald’s All-American selection.

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor) — Power Memorial Panthers (New York)

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And then, there was one Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, who would become a prominent figure in basketball history as the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He’s the best player on arguably the greatest team in high school basketball history. He lost six games his entire high school career, of which five occurred during his freshman year. He earned Parade All-American honors three years in a row—as a first-team selection in each, mind you—and would end his career in the top three all-time leading scorers in New York.

Skyhook high-five, Kareem — you’re the top of our list!

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