I remember going to the 16AAA media day at Whitehaven at the start of the season and wondering a little if the expectations might be a bit much for this East team. Sure, I knew they were defending champs but I also knew that this year, there would be a target big enough to fit on the side of the Fed Ex Forum on their backs, Every team in the city’s best shot, every night and it showed right at the beginning of the season. Melrose fought them hard in their first district game and was within 10 in the 3rd quarter of that game but after a 20 something to 4 run, East found it’s stride in that game and never looked back during the season.
By now we all know what the Mustangs led by Coach Penny Hardaway and Rocky Johnson did on Saturday, they repeated as TSSAA Triple A State champions beating Southwind in an all Memphis final for the second straight year in a row. It wasn’t easy though especially the second game having to come back down from 6 a few times in the game against a good Oak Ridge team to win it with some big plays down the stretch from their trio of Moss, Lawson and Alex Lomax. The title game I felt like was one that would be won in the 3rd quarter and I just knew that East would go on one of those runs like they always do and win in by double digits because I just felt like Southwind was a good team but they didn’t have enough scoring to be able to keep up with East.
Let me say this, the story is amazing in a sense because this was years in the making. We remember the story of Desmond Merriwether and fast forward up to now and you just shake your head and say wow. These Mustangs have been to the state tournament 3 straight years and if you really want to think about it, players like Alex Lomax, Pig Washington and Nick Merriwether have been to the state 5 straight years with 4 state titles if you want to include Middle School in as well (Lester). This is a group that I will remember for as long as been doing middle school and high school coverage as one of the more memorable teams that I can recall.
Chandler Lawson was named MVP of the state tournament with Lomax, Moss and Malcolm Dandridge making the all tournament. Christian Jones, Mark Freeman and Carlos “CJ” Marshall were also members of the all tournament team for Southwind. Southwind who won it a few years ago (2012) had a nice run to end the year I thought and Freeman and Marshall were their catalyst. Freeman will return next season along with Jones who played well in the state and Kameron Jones, a 6’7 touching 6’8 developing post who should start to draw interest from colleges this summer. Guard Quentin Williams who had some huge moments in the post season for the Jaguars will also return in a starters role and they should have big Kristian Williams back as well. Someone will have to take up the scoring slack for Marshall and rebounding of Robert Boyd in order for them to be in the running again next season but they will have as good a shot as anyone.
East could return 4 of their 5 starters for next season and it will likely not only make them the state favorite again but also be in the running as a top 3-5 team in the country next season. Some are saying number possibly and that would be incredible for the school located in Binghampton. Could be see a 3-peat for East? One would have to think that they have a pretty good chance but we can wait till next season to give a definitive answer but for right now, congrats to the East Mustangs, your 2016-2017 State Champs.
The 8th grade class is one that is interesting because there are a few nationally rated players at the top in Lawson, Chandler and Brown, so it has some flair to it. It’s one that interesting too because it’s one that a few players will be the main causes in their team success this season, a position that they haven’t been in before. 8th grade is crucial because it can set the tone going forward as these players head to high school next year. I’m really excited about a lot of these players this year and to see how they react to having the spotlight placed on them. The final rankings from the “Cream Of The Crop” Camp, the 2020 class.
Nehemiah Ausley (St George) was able to do some positives in camp. He came into against some of the best players in his class and held his own. Teaming up with Eli Federman this year, Ausley has a chance to get his name out there more. Fredric Morgan (Southaven) is a quick guard who should be one of the best players in that area this year. Jordan Hibbler (Southhaven) is a talented 2-3, who looked pretty good in drills. He along with Morgan had to leave a little before the games started otherwise he could have put himself up a bit more here. Justin Collier (Desoto Central) is another Mississippi product, long frame, another who is trying to change positions as he’s been primarily undersized at the 4 in the past. Ball skills, handle and becoming more confident in his ability as a player will take him up this list because the talent is there. Jaylon Holmes (Kirby) is a high high motor player who was every where during game play. Right now, his best attribute is as a rebounder and defender because he can guard 2,3,4 right now. He has infectious energy and is a worker and I think his upside is good with the ability to create offense for himself off his own and ball handling.
Thomas Kizer (MUS) put himself in the conversation as one of the best shooters in this class. He hit several deep spotting up, hitting the wing 3, handled pressure well and showed fight as a defender. I think he is capable of more offensively because of his jumper. Would love to see him add the pull up from 10-15 feet out in the future but Kizer is a good young player. Eric Roberts (Bellevue) Aggressive tough guard who can score and get to the rim. Strong with it, Roberts is player who you can depend offensively and I think he’s in route to a spurt that will really help him going forward. You can play him at the 1 some, 2 and against some teams, some 3 as well. Jace Lockhart (Arlington) one of the best on ball defender in this class, easily, he will draw the other teams best player nightly. You can put him on bigger guards or smaller guards, Lockhart competes has good hands and good instincts and quick feet that make for an elite perimeter defender. I’ve seen him score in the past so I know the ability is there however, in camp, his biggest impact as as an on ball defender.
Ethan Roberts (Houston) Roberts is another shooter in this class who’s up there as a top 3-5 shooter in 2020 but that’s not all he can do. He’s a better than you think passer, can lead as the point guard as well. Really smart as a player, he’s another that plays to his strengths but again, the shooting ability stands out for him. Dorian George (White Station) Strong frame makes him able to play inside and battle with bigger players but shows some future as a really good player who you can put on a guard as well. His future projects as a guard and he’s been working on that as he showed the 2 and 3 dribble pull up from mid range and he’s improved as a jumper maker. He can be a bit loose with the ball at times which can lead to turnovers in open court but those are things he can tighten up on by staying lower on the dribble.
Tyler Harrington (Briarcrest) New to the scene in 2021, Harrington is arguably a top 2 shooter in this class right now. He has good mechanics on his shot which makes him a consistent knock down 3 shooter right now. He makes the right pass, uses the shot fake to get the defenders in the air where he can step in and take the jumper. Late bloomer type who can move up this list in time.
Bryson Potts(Houston) another player who keeps getting better, Potts was really good when he set his feet on the jumper and he put it on the floor where he used the floater. He’s gotten a lot more confident in himself as a player and it shows in his play. Potts showed a willingness to drive it tough to the rim, something that I haven’t seen in the past well. He’s coming along as a player and will be counted heavily this year at Houston. Eli Federman (St George) has blown up from fall leagues and he played well in camp. The thing you notice about Eli first is his scoring ability, off the dribble pull ups, the 3, off the catch, Federman can fill it up. He’s a player who can get into a groove and get you 25 in games. Just knows how to fill it up and by now, most middle school fans will be familiar with him by the end of the season.. More of a 2 right now, Federman’s ability to be a pg in the future by creating for others by penetrating to find instead of to score.
10. Zander Yates (Briacrest) Upside, Upside, Upside!!! Reminds me a lot of Austin Nichols at the same age but Yates is bigger, Yates has the look of a high major player down the line. Runs the floor, soft hands, has the turn over the left shoulder short hook, keeps high on the rebound, has touch around the rim and can play with his back to the basket. Yates offensively is still raw but the key is, he shows that he’s capable of being a consistent back to back post because right now, he’s a traditional post player. As I said though, right now, more of a 4-5, he will need to be able to face up and take the dribble and power up and shoot the free throw line jumper so he’s not just a back to the basket player. He’s still growing into his body so it may take a little longer because he’s a big however, all signs point to him being really good and I wouldn’t bet against that right now.
9. Jelani Willis (White Station) Plays extremely hard, Willis is not going to let you out work him. He’s extremely effective free throw extended where he can use his athleticism and finish and get off the floor quick for put backs off offensive rebounds. An improving ball handler, Willis is much better spotting up than creating off the dribble for his shot but will shoot the pull up. He’s multi-dimensional defender who you can play against 1-4 spots and he will defend those spots well. As he becomes better with creating for himself going both directions and becoming a more consistent jumper maker, he will become a much more versatile player but right now, he’s highly effective because of his motor.
8. Kameron Jones (Cordova) Best shooter in this class, hands down, you can’t leave the lefty guard. He can get it with the step back, off the crossover dribble, spotting up, Jones is a consistent 3 point shooter. Creating his own jumper was a concern for me a year ago but not anymore. Jones impacts games as a scorer and is deceptive with his handle and deliberate. He has the soft runner at the basket and stops and shoots the 15 ft shot which he didn’t do a lot of earlier in his 6th, 7th grade days. He’s definitely added to game from somethings that I saw in camp. As a player who will have the ball a lot this year in the go to role, Jones will have an opportunity to prove that he’s learning to be a point guard as well. I think he’s capable as a defender but taking certain angles will be important for him. Was kind of uncharacteristic at points during the camp with his shooting but again, he’s a great shooter so I expect the confidence to be there because he does it well. I think he’s headed for a great year and with that, a move ahead in the rankings is possible.
7. Tadarius Jacobs (Bellevue) Added confidence from big time end to the summer, Jacobs is in the “elite” group of defenders in Middle School. In fact, I will that he is the best perimeter defender at the 1 and 2 position in the city because of his instincts and anticipation on the ball. Even when he’s not scoring, he’s going to defend his man and make an impact late with a steal or get in the passing lane for a deflection. His demeanor never changes on the floor, takes and makes big shots, another really good shooter who gets through gaps in defenses using his slender frame, offensively his game is expanding. He’s a finisher in transition and makes the right decision with the pass in transition as well. Takes on challenges and is another player who score 15 quiet points and gets 4-5 rebounds because of his athleticism. I would love to see him attack the rim more because I think he’s one of the best finishers in the class.
6. Kaeden Laws (Center Hill) Should be the best player playing in Mississippi Middle Schools locally this year, Laws name is here and it will be here for awhile. A player who’s getting better and better, Laws known as more of post last year, now he’s putting it on the floor more shooting the jumper off the dribble and hitting the occasional 3 using his expanded ranged but still showing the face and post game. He doesn’t force much, he’s patient offensively and is very unselfish and he works well from the high post. Laws is also a good passer who displayed that on several occasions during camp and he finishes around the rim. He doesn’t give up on plays and he and his motor is pretty good. Continuing progression as a guard/wing with added ball skills will be important to him.
5. Deebo Coleman (Lausanne) The 6 ft guard has made tremendous strides since the last time I saw him. For one, he’s added inches to his frame and he has a lot of confidence in himself now. He was driving to rim expecting contact, something I hadn’t really seen him because he’s been known as more of a shooter in the past. He looked more fluid with the dribble, attacked in both directions and hit the pull up jumper on multiple occasions and just was always on the attack when it was there to attack. Like most taller young guards, Coleman tends to stand upright at times especially when tired and sometimes when all else fails, he goes his strong suit, the 3 when he could attack off the dribble. Coleman should be the best player in Private School this year.
4. Calvin Jennings (Snowden) Had the most motor of anyone in camp, Jennings was absolutely relentless during the camp. He attacked, attacked and attacked again. If you played up on him, he attacked, if you played off, he attacked, he wasn’t letting his man off the hook at any point. A junk yard type of mentality, he tried to get every rebound, he pushed it in transition and he had a mind to score it by any means necessary. Didn’t turn down any challenge defensively either contesting and closing out on everything and plays a physical style of basketball that will bother other teams and he’s ultra competitive. At this stage, not sure if he’s a combo forward of big guard as he hasn’t really defined his self with a position. He’s stretched out some and will likely stretch some more because of his frame. Handled the ball well in attack situations and drove it hard one direction, would love to see him add going both directions and finishing strong with either hand. You just have to love how hard he plays right though and that alone make him one that could swing Snowden into the mix of things in their tough league.
3.Jalen Brown (Kingsbury) Another year but Brown has come back much longer than when some remember him from last year. A natural scorer, simply no other way to put it, a get the bucket type player, Brown does it with the best. Takes driving lanes never afraid of big games or big situations, Brown has clutch game in him because he has taken and made huge shots in games. You can’t keep him from getting to his spots on the floor, handles it well and is one of the few players that shoots the mid range jumper on the regular with pull ups at the free throw line. Operates on the baseline, really good touch near with the float game and a better than you think shooter, there just isn’t a way that he can’t score it. Is a natural 2 right now but has some combo guard in him, he showed some underrated vision during camp leading teammates with passes for lay ups. Can finish with the bump and is a really good free throw shooter when he gets there. Will be he go to guy easily this year for Kingsbury and I expect him to have a huge year for the Falcons. Would love to see him use his length for steals, he could create problems because he’s long. A good rebounder at his position as well and while he shoots the mid range jumper well on the move, hitting that 3 off the dribble and creating separation on it will be somethings he can work with. I can see him getting 30 on multiple occasions this season at his new school.
2.Kennedy Chandler (Briarcrest) Chandler has went from being a score first type to more of a true pg and it’s showing. Ball on a string, Chandler handles it better than anyone in Middle School, in traffic, in tight spaces and he puts pressure on the defense and his defender by always trying to to push tempo and find or if you play off, hit the jumper. More shifty than quick, Chandler works out of hesitation dribbles and the crossover and uses them to get off the jumper with his quick release on his shot. Just always seem to be relaxed and under control as a point guard, he sees the entire floor has a IQ and great overall feel for how to play his position. Knows when to look for his shot and can get it off on bigger defenders where he gets them off balance with his handle and he just has a knack for big shots. Knocks down the 3 and understands how to play off the pick roll, is a play maker off penetration looking for shooters and he has vision, chandler just knows how to play basketball. Improving quickness and getting better athletically for Kennedy are things to work towards but he’s not afraid of the work and doing what it takes to get to where he trying to go.
1. Johnathan Lawson (Bellevue) Do it all type of forward, Lawson is a combination of all his brothers before him. KJ’s fiery demeanor, Dedric’s passing ability and versatility , Chandler’s length, Johnathan is only getting better. A 6’5 touching 6’6, Lawson oozes high major talent, more of a play maker early on and it’s still in him but now he’s scoring it more to go along with that ability. Lawson is just hard to guard for anyone, to long for guards because he can finish and shoo over the top of them, to skilled for bigger players because he can go around them, he’s a mismatch nightmare for opposing coaches. As a scorer, he scores at all 3 levels and with his length, it’s just hard to keep him out of lane and as a passer, he can see over the top of smaller players and find teammates for scores. He’s the best big passer in middle school and he can raise up the level of play of others. Can score with his back to the basket as well with the jump hook and face He rebounds it well, gets it and goes to find teammates for finishes at the rim. He can be almost to unselfish at times but when it’s time, can take over games. Probably a better 3 point shooter than a mid range shooter right now but that’s something that will improve over time for him. There’s a reason why a few websites across the country have him as high as #7 in the country in the 2021 class. He could end up being the best of all the Lawson brothers.
This is the first time, I’ve done rankings in awhile and it takes sometime, some will hate them, some will like them, some will love them however it’s what makes the basketball world go in Memphis. I do not look at other rankings when I do my own locally. Well, why is this person over this person and on this site, they are higher than that person on another site. The answer, I don’t know but I don’t base my opinion on the opinion of another because that’s their opinion. Thank you to those who continue to support the site.
1. Johnathan Lawson 6’2 Guard/Forward (Memphis Wildcats) – The last in line of the Lawson brothers, Johnathan definitely takes after his siblings. The freakish long 6’2 pushing 6’3 guard has a piece of each brother which could lead him to become the best brother of them all, high praise but if you watch him, you don”t have to watch long to see. More of a playmaker, than dogged scorer of older brother KJ but he’s very capable, showing it when it’s needed. Highly skilled, Johnathan is a big gamer, Lawson doesn’t shy away from the moment and isn’t afraid of the moment when it arises. He handles like a player much smaller, has vision in the open court as a passer and can finish to the basket. More driver make it happen type right now, he can keep you honest with the 3 and be a shot maker, taker but is at his best finding where he uses his length to his advantage where he is creative with the pass to find the easy scores. He’s anticipates well defensively and knows when and when not to gamble in the passing lanes for a steal and can guard both guard positions as well as the 3 spot when needed. His basketball IQ is as high his age as any of his brothers and his will to win is in measurable. Lawson has the tools to make his own name and be not only the last out but the best in a long line of his brothers.
2. Willie Foreman 6’2 PF (M33M) -Relentless worker on the glass, offensively and defensively, Foreman’s biggest strength is his motor and ability to finish around the rim. He fights for every rebound, using his long arms and is an improving offensive player outside of 5 feet where he can step out to the free throw line and make the jumper and shows some ability to handle in the open court off the rebound but will mostly score off energy and hustle. He’s a good help side defender where he can be a shot blocker/ shot alter type and he will go to war with bigger players for rebounds. He will expand his offensive game because he seems to be a hard worker which will help him become more versatile as offensive player.
3. Kennedy Chandler 5’5 PG (Team Izod)– Diminutive in stature, Chandler gets it done with great ball handling and knack for scoring off the jumper or the drive on floaters and runners. What he may not have in size, he makes up for with skill and toughness and he can run a team in the half court and he can make shots from all over the court which makes him a very viable scoring option. He’s a sneaky good passer and pest as a defender able to bother his opponents using good positioning and quick hands for steals. He plays with excellent pace and savvy beyond his years and never gets rattled under pressure. While not the quickest, Chandler gets by you with handle and is good enough to get his shot on the pull up. Chandler already known around the country as one of the best players in the country, should be among the best players in this class for years to come especially locally.
4. Jaylen Brown 5’9 Guard (Memphis Wildcats) – Puts constant pressure on the defense by always being in attack mode, Brown is a classic scoring point guard that many have become accustomed to in Memphis. Can play off the ball and on, Brown scores it with an assortment of runners, pull up jumpers and hits the 3 at a above average rate so you just can’t play him for the drive. Tough to the basket, where he’s not afraid of contact from bigger strong players. He just has that ability to make the big shot in big moments for his team and seems to relish in that opportunity. He seems to really work well from baseline where he utilizes the floater game and the short jumper and can create space for the jumper from the free throw line to the short corners. He seems to be more comfortable scoring but over time, I think he becomes more of traditional point guard who can score but also facilitate when needed.
5. Kameron Jones PG 5’5 (Memphis WarEagles) -Shooter to the core, Jones is one of if not the best 6th grade shooters in the city. Off the spot up is where he excels especially spotting up in the corner but is a better than given credit for off the catch and shoot 3. He was productive primarily as a shooter but will be asked more of this year at Cordova to be a ball handler and player who can make his teammates better in half court and in transition off the pass. His knock is size but shooting is value and Jones does it as well as any in this class in Memphis.
Who is the best player in 2021? I get it, for some people, it’s to far away right? These young guys are to young to be talked about as far as ranking as the best. You shouldn’t do this, your setting them up for failure, your stopping them from working hard by doing this so soon because if they see this, they will think they have arrived. I think that the furthest thing from the truth and here is why, that class locally will have a huge impact on the middle school season next year because I think it’s better than the 2020 class in Memphis. How can the younger class be better than the older class? Well, 2021 boast a very talented group up top and some more players who show potential to be really good players looking towards the future.
4 of the players in the class have garnered national attention already including Johnathan Lawson (Memphis Wildcats/Team Penny), Kennedy Chandler ( and Willie Foreman and Jalen Brown Chandler has been seen as high as #5 according to some while Lawson has seen himself in the top 10-15 range as well as Brown who’s been ranked as the 20th best player in the country by one source. Chandler is more of a scoring point guard right now but he gets it done from the 3 and in an assortment of ways. The knock on him maybe size but Kennedy’s production is big time. Foreman is worker around the rim, a high motor rebounder with some ability to step away from the rim as well and hit the free throw line extended jumper. Improving handle will elevate him more. Brown is in the mold of the classic Memphis guards, a get the basket type through the floater and jumpers. He’s trying to get back into the swing after a light leg injury but Brown in the conversation. Lawson is the last of the Lawson brothers but the talent didn’t stop at Chandler and he might end up being the best of them all. Already at 6’2, he has vision from the pg position, where he’s a big guard, he loves to get others involved but has the take over attitude when needed. He’s much improved offensively over the last year but I think it comes from just wanting to instead of not having the the ability . Several other players will have a chance to become pretty good over the next fews year in this class including, Kameron Jones, a knock down spot up 3 point shooter who might be the best in the city in that role, athletic defender but with scoring ability, Tadarius Jacobs, Ethan Roberts and 5’9 Dorian George.
When I decide to rank this group, I will not base on national rankings but on my own merit because I’ve seen them so much locally as I will do with all rankings that I will do from now on but the discussion starts now, who’s the best 6th grader in the city?