STEPPING UP — My Take: As Coastal Plains improves, its star’s stock falls

Published 11:50 am Friday, January 23, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS TOP PROSPECT: Northside’s Edrice Adebayo is averaging a career-high in points and rebounds this season, but recently dropped two sports in the ESPN Top 60 recruit ranking for the Class of 2016.

TOP PROSPECT: Northside’s Edrice Adebayo is averaging a career-high in points and rebounds this season, but recently dropped two sports in the ESPN Top 60 recruit ranking for the Class of 2016.

On Wednesday, ESPN released the newest edition of its high school recruit-ranking database and there was a bit of a surprise regarding a standout local product.

Northside’s Edrice “Bam” Adebayo went from the No. 6-ranked prospect in the country for the Class of 2016 to No. 8. The drop won’t make too much difference in where the 6-foot-8, 220-pound Panthers center lands after his senior season, but considering the circumstances, the shift is puzzling.

Adebayo has received a great deal of criticism for staying at Class 1-A Northside, his hometown high school, for the first three and likely his fourth year. Reasons for the disparagement have ranged from a lack of regional exposure to a deficiency in quality competition. In other words, those outside looking in don’t think a five-star, top-rated recruit should be playing at a 1-A level against smaller schools with no nationally recognized talent. While the actual reasons for the fall in rank are unknown, his personal decision to stay at Northside likely factored into it.

But there are a few elements the scouts haven’t considered. It begins with his growth and improvement in nearly every area from his sophomore to junior year. When I first had the opportunity to watch him play in January 2014, I was initially skeptical of his national rank. He was tall, could hand the ball well for a 6-foot-8 paint presence, but his mid-range shooting and free throw shooting were suspect. Also, it was tough to gauge his ability to drive the lane against competition 7 to 8 inches shorter than him. As the year progressed, so did my opinion.

For those who have seen Adebayo play this year, the improvement is impossible to miss. Not only is he averaging seven more points and over three more rebounds a game, but his free throw percentage in pressure situations has also developed. Against Washington on Tuesday, Adebayo went a perfect 8-for-8 from the line, the difference in an eight-point Panthers win. The late-game nerves that were prevalent last season seem to be a thing of the past.

He’s also added a series of spin and shuffle moves in the post this offseason that have elevated his play, making it easier for him to work through not just one, but a series of defenders to get to the hoop.

And those opposing defenders, well, they’ve also improved, as the team around Adebayo has shrunk, making him the sole defender of the paint for the Panthers. Comparing this season to last, the Coastal Plains Conference has significantly upgraded across the board. Now, again, for those on the outside looking it, that may mean very little in terms of Adebayo’s stock, but for those at the games watching the state championship-worthy rosters Northside has to face, it’s an element that needs to be considered. East Carteret, the defending state runner-up, has returned nearly its entire guard-heavy, pure-shooting starting five and Pamlico County, which had a gritty, hit-you-in-the-mouth style of defense last year has stayed true to form in 2015.

Then there’s Southside. The Seahawks suffered a series of early season injuries last year, but finished strong. Now, with guards Donshae Miller and Rashaun Moore peaking, they’re competing for a top spot in a top-heavy conference. And while marginal, even Bear Grass and Lejeune have improved, though neither is at the point where they can compete against the conference heavy weights.

Frankly, loyalty to a team, no matter where that team may be, isn’t something the ESPN scouts consider. They want to see the top recruits matchup against the top recruits — something Adebayo makes sure to do in the offseason. Loyalty, trust and character are very underrated attributes when scouting a high school athlete. Some could argue they’re the most important and valuable qualities in a 16 or 17-year-old basketball star, especially considering the influx of negative press regarding college athletes in revenue sports of late.

Again, the drop in rank will have little effect on Adebayo’s future. If anything, it’ll serve as a nice piece of motivation moving forward.

Adebayo plays in one of the toughest 1-A conferences in the state, is a model student and sportsman, has spent the last year polishing his game and, above all else, is loyal to his institution. At this point, for “Bam,” he’s already earned the national recognition he needs. It’s not his choice in allegiance or the conference he plays in that should be disregarded, but rather, it’s the rank itself.