by Kellon Hassenstab / @Hoopniks

The 2012 high school graduating class, up until Wednesday, had a consensus ranked No. 1 player ins Shabazz Muhammad. The 6-6 wing from Bishop Gorman (NV) stood clearly above the rest.

Previously, Andre Drummond was Muhammad’s closest challenger, but that changed when Drummond made his surprise move to UConn in a late summer whirlwind. Muhammad’s status may have changed with the news that 6-10 center Nerlens Noel of Tilton School (NH), a native of Boston suburb, Everett, MA, was jumping back into the class he started high school in, after years of being considered a 2012 prospect. Considered a top-three player in the deep 2013 class, Noel immediately jumps into the conversation as the top prospect in the 2012 class.

While Muhammad has excelled on every stage he’s played on this year—at high-profile events like the City of Palms Classic before Christmas, and recently at the Spalding Hoophall Classic—Noel has an increasing groundswell of support. ESPN is the first ranking service to take the plunge in taking Muhammad’s crown as the top player in the class, as they’ve anointed Noel the new No. 1 just hours after his decision to switch classes.

Noel has drawn attention with his unique high-top fade haircut and frequently sporting pink kicks as he takes the court, but the real story when games start are his defensive abilities, and in particular his acumen for blocking shots. Also, it helped that Noel’s traveling team, Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC) won games and tournaments at a startling rate over spring and summer.

The knock on Noel has been a still raw, but oftentimes effective, offensive game. Though Muhammad puts up a high scoring average, to be fair, he also has improvement to make on the offensive game, particularly in ball-handling in half-court sets, and establishing more consistency as a three-point shooter. Muhammad does not takes games or plays off, and has a work ethic and devastating aggressiveness that allows him to overpower and outwork players at this level. That still begs the question, though: Has Muhammad exposed the majority of his potential as a basketball player, and if so, does Noel’s enormous upside make him a safe bet to be the new No. 1?

The irony at this point is that both Noel and Muhammad could conceivably end up on the highest-profile stage in college hoops, as both count Kentucky as among their college finalists. Regardless of where they end, both players are possible one-and-done prospects, should their development continue.

This new-found tangle for the top slot amounts to a classic hoops “production vs potential” argument, but the reality is that it’s hard to go wrong with either player at the head of this class. While other services will most certainly follow ESPN’s proclamation that Noel is the top dog, many other services will also recognize Muhammad’s unyielding production and history over the last four years and award him the honor as this class moves to college hoops.

PLAYER BREAKDOWNS

NameNerlens NoelShabazz Muhammad
Height6-116-6
Weight201195
Wingspan7-37-0
PositionPF/CSG/SF
Colleges ConsideringKentucky, Syracuse, Georgetown, Providence, Florida and North Carolina.Kentucky, UCLA, UNLV, Duke, Arizona, and Kansas.
Biggest PositiveTremendous defensive presence.Attacking style and all-around game with competitiveness.
Needs to ImproveOverall post game and offensive moves.Ballhandling and distance shooting.

TALE OF THE TAPE