Each year, looking at past rankings and cross-analyzing them with college production allows for a meaningful reflection process. While every individual has their own system of ranking high school players, there isn’t necessarily a “correct” way to deduce or determine who will emerge in college. In terms of this re-rank, it’s based heavily on role and raw production, but the level of competition also matters. This ranking is purely objective and merely intended as a fun exercise. We’ve already re-ranked the top five for the most recent graduating class, so this article will turn toward North Carolina’s Class of 2021—which had a ridiculous level of hype. Interestingly enough, the general projection turned out to be far too lofty, and very few players in this class would actually go on to exceed expectations. Let’s look (Their final ranking on Phenom Hoops is in parenthesis)…
1. (6) 6’4 Terquavion Smith (NC State)
(Freshman): 16.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, and 1.3 SPG with 40/37/70 shooting splits
(Sophomore): 17.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.1 APG, and 1.4 SPG with 38/34/70 shooting splits
Ranking anyone other than Smith first would be a laughable offense, simply because he’s been that much better than everyone else. The masses have always been able to clearly identify his electric scoring prowess, but it was unclear how it would translate to the ACC level. Well, the proof is in the pudding. Smith was an obvious focal point for the Wolfpack, leading them to their highest AP ranking since 2018-19 and first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017-18. In addition to being named to the ACC All-Freshman Team, All-ACC Team, and All-ACC Tourney Team, he also finished second in the ACC in made three-pointers. It’s expected that Smith will be selected in the upcoming NBA draft.
2. (17) 6’6 BJ Freeman (Dodge City/Wisconsin-Milwaukee)
(Freshman): 13.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.2 APG, and 1.0 SPG with 44/37/75 shooting splits
(Sophomore): 18.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, and 2.9 APG with 47/34/83 shooting splits
Different than everyone listed, Freeman should receive a ton of credit for betting on himself, staying the course, and parlaying his JUCO production into a new home at Wisconsin-Milwaukee—where he’s been nothing short of phenomenal. In his first season on the roster, he finished second in assists while leading the team in scoring and rebounding. He was named to an All-Horizon Team and finished top 20 in over 30 statistical categories across the Horizon League. Freeman’s versatile game has allowed him to seamlessly transition into a leadership role and help the Panthers reach their best record in 18 seasons. It seems highly likely that he’ll continue to dominate for this group over the coming years.
3. (9) 6’7 Ben Burnham (College of Charleston)
(Freshman): 7.7 PPG and 4.3 RPG with 47/32/65 shooting splits
(Sophomore): 8.8 PPG and 3.7 RPG with 53/45/72 shooting splits
It’s probably fair to say that Burnham was among the very few guys in this class to truly exceed expectations, and it started the moment he stepped on campus. His toughness, athleticism, and nonstop motor have allowed him to carve out a consistent role for the Cougars. Burnham was named to the CAA All-Freshman Team and even ranked within the top 20 of various categories (blocks, offensive rebounds, and offensive win shares) throughout the CAA during his freshman year. Despite starting in 26 games as a freshman, Burnham actually played less and came off the bench as a sophomore—yet his numbers improved across the board. It’s rare to see someone get more efficient and productive in less opportunities, which merely speaks to Burnham’s value and adaptability for this group.
4. (22) 6’3 Trae Benham (Lipscomb/High Point)
(Freshman): 8.3 PPG and 3.2 RPG with 47/42/65 shooting splits
(Sophomore): 6.6 PPG and 2.8 RPG with 38/36/63 shooting splits
Albeit some ups and downs, there’s no denying the success Benham has enjoyed during his time with the Bisons. He proved to be an immediate contributor as a freshman, especially as a knockdown shooting threat, and quickly found ways to carve out a productive role. He finished second on the team in three-point percentage (and third in attempts) despite receiving considerably fewer minutes than the two guys with more attempts. Benham’s production got him named to the A-Sun All-Freshman Team. Although things took a slight dip during his sophomore campaign, he still had quality success and solid production. After inserting his name into the transfer portal, Benham has chosen to further his journey at High Point University.
5. (21) 6’2 Terence Harcum (Appalachian State)
(Freshman): 2.1 PPG in 8.4 MPG
(Sophomore): 11.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG, and 1.4 APG with 39/36/83 shooting splits
After receiving minimal playing opportunities as a freshman, Harcum made a lot of noise during his sophomore campaign. The numbers speak for themselves, as he more than tripled his minutes, points, and rebounds from last season. Across the A-Sun, Harcum ranked sixth in turnover percentage and eighth in three-point field goals. Given how his role expanded between the two seasons, one would expect him to continue gaining responsibility for the Mountaineers.