Hepburn, Sallis

Chucky Hepburn, left, and Hunter Sallis, right, battled each other during AAU games this summer. They're the top two players in the state for the 2021 class.

The first iteration of the 2021 player rankings was issued on March 27, 2018, shortly after the players’ second high school season. But much has changed after another summer of traveling the country for camps and AAU tournaments.

There are two tiers developing within the top 10. The top two, Bellevue West guard Chucky Hepburn and Millard North wing Hunter Sallis, are in a tier all their own that doesn’t look to change anytime soon.

For this iteration, Hepburn remains No. 1 for the same reason he was named No. 1 in 2018: He is the more proven and tested player to this point in his high school career.

Hepburn has been the starting point guard for the T-Birds since his freshman year and has led them to two state tournaments, including a semifinal run as a freshman. Hepburn is already a mature leader, and besides his high level of skill, he displays intangibles that make his teammates better. That leads to wins, as his high school record can attest.

But Sallis is growing and he continues to gain considerable traction, particularly on a national level, where his production against top competition is evidence of big things to come.

Here is where the word potential comes into play. Based on potential, Sallis is likely the better college prospect. His length, skills and natural athleticism are evident, and as he grows physically, Sallis’ star will continue to rise.

Second Tier

Even with the loss of a Division I prospect in Preston Murphy Jr. to St. Andrews School in Rhode Island, the class is starting to develop depth.

The tier of players behind Hepburn and Sallis is filled with guards, which tend to develop quicker than post players. Ajantae Hogan (Lincoln Southeast) jumps one spot to No. 3, the position once held by Murphy Jr. Hogan's combination of measurables and talent is the best in the class.

Joining Hogan in that second tier is Greg Brown (Omaha Burke) at No. 4; Denim Johnson (Omaha Benson), who stays at No. 5; and No. 6 Jadin Johnson, a transfer from Abraham Lincoln in Council Bluffs, Iowa, who has significant Division I interest.

After a strong summer, Jaren Marshall climbs from No. 10 to No. 7. With play this winter at Omaha Burke similar to what he displayed during the summer, Marshall could even rise higher in the future.

​Why Jadin Johnson?

Some might have an issue with ranking Johnson, who is yet to play a game for a high school team in Nebraska. However, Johnson is a proven commodity in Metro basketball circles. He grew up in Omaha and has played with and against kids from Nebraska his whole life. That, and the fact that I have seen him multiple times with his AAU team and at A.L. give me confidence in his high ranking.

Stock Risers

The biggest riser is Brown, from No. 13 to No. 4. Brown grew physically and showed good development from the start of the summer to the end, and he has a coveted offensive skill set.

Back to the tiers

There is a third tier developing inside and just outside of the top 10.

BRLD’s Lucas Vogt moved from No. 6 to No. 8 after the addition of Johnson and movement of Marshall. Auburn's super-shooter Cam Binder checks in at No. 9. Bellevue West forward Frankie Fidler had a productive summer and debuts in the rankings at No. 10.

There was a jump from No. 15 to No. 11 for Omaha Central guard Faisaun Germany. Lincoln North Star wing Kwat Abdelkarim jumps into the top 15 at No. 12 from No. 18.

Rounding out the third tier is Millard North forward Tyler Sandoval, who I feel is one of the breakout players of the summer. He debuts at No. 13.

The Process

A big factor for me is scholarship offers. College coaches make their living evaluating players. Some coaches evaluate better than others, but nonetheless, to ignore the level of college offers and the number would be wrong-headed.

I spend hours watching film, I keep notes from practices, games and camps that I observe. I also receive feedback from high school and AAU coaches who are typically very honest about their own players and players on teams they face. Coaches know it does no good to over-hype a player. No one wants to get a kid in over his head in college or blow their own reputation.

Also, statistics from the season are taken into consideration. I also review notes from the summer and AAU seasons. Another factor is how players perform both on and off the court including at our Top 50 Summer Showcase.

Finally, I use feedback from college coaches and all the information I glean from hours I spend in gyms across the country during the year.

Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.