Roschon Prince doesn’t mean this as a slight to any other teams, but when USA TODAY High School Sports rolls out our Super 25 boys basketball preseason rankings this week, Prince expects to his Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.) squad will be in the No. 1 slot.
“We want No. 1 bad,” said Prince, a senior swingman who will sign with Southern Cal this week. “Being the No. 1 team in the Super 25 is something we all want as competitors. That’s something you work for, and I feel like we’ve got what it takes to be on top. I really hope we get it.” Careful what you wish for. While being top dog comes with a great deal of prestige, the flipside can yield trouble.
“Guys just don’t know,” said N.C. State freshman point guard Tyler Lewis, who has experience with this sort of thing. “You think you want it, but there’s a lot that comes with it.”
Lewis said getting to the top “is the easy part; staying there is what’s so difficult.”
Last year, Lewis ran the show for Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), which opened the season as the No. 2 team in the Super 25. Forty-four wins and no losses later, Lewis finished with a national championship and the coveted No. 1 ranking.
The key? Mental toughness.
“When you’re a top team you’re always getting every team’s best shot,” Lewis said. “So you’ve got to have great chemistry and stay focused because one bad game can cost you the season.”
Or send you on a downward spiral.
That’s what happened to Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.) last season.
Fresh off its third consecutive state title, the Wolverines began at No. 4 and reeled of six-straight wins to back up the highest preseason Super 25 ranking in the school’s history.
Then on Dec. 15, Miller Grove lost a nail-biter to Oak Hill and “stayed in a funk for weeks.”
The Wolverines dropped eight of their next nine games.
“I think we put so much into being perfect and being that top team that we weren’t as loose,” Miller Grove coach Sharman White said. “You want to shake that loss off, but it’s hard. We just couldn’t. When you have all of that attention and you’re so focused on backing it up then you have a letdown, it’s crushing mentally. You have to really work through it.”
The Wolverines eventually shook it off to claim their fourth state title.
“That’s one good thing about being a top-tier team,” White said. “It can bring on some healthy adversity.”
It’s a message that Oak Hill coach Steve Smith preaches to his players on a consistent basis.
“We’re like every team’s state title game,” Smith said. “And that’s how it is for top five teams. That’s the biggest hurdle. But there’s a tradition here and the players know it. Every year we get new, talented players in and they want to go down as one of the greatest teams in our history. To do that, they’ve got to be ready for teams that will be coming at them. That’s the key.”
Xavier Rathan-Mayes has played the role of “hunter” in the past and he knows that this season he’ll be in for a role reversal with his talented Huntington Prep (Huntington, W.Va.) squad. Still, Rathan-Mayes has a direct message for teams licking their chops for a shot at the Express: “Let em’ come on!”
“We know we’ll get everyone’s best shot, but we want their best shot,” said Rathan-Mayes, a senior shooting guard who is committed to Florida State. “We are going to go at every team like they’re the No. 1 team so it doesn’t matter. We’re not afraid of anyone because we have the right mindset. Other teams won’t play us, but we’ll play anybody. So yeah, even with the bull’s eye, we’ll embrace that No. 1 spot.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter @JayJayUSAToday.