If you’re not familiar with Dereck Lively II by now, it’s time to reserve your spot on the hype train. Seats are filling up fast and the train is pulling away from the station.
The 7-foot-1 center out of Bellefonte, PA came into the spring as a consensus four-star, top-50 prospect, seen more as a complementary frontcourt piece on Nike EYBL powerhouse Team Final alongside the nation’s top prospect, Jalen Duren. As high-profile events began ramping up, though, Lively not only held his own, he proved his status as a four-star would not last long.
On the defensive end of the floor, the major UK target is the most fascinating shot-blocker in the rising senior class, constantly swatting away and altering attempts around the basket with ease. The seven-footer also has the length and lateral quickness to defend out on the perimeter, regularly tipping 3-point and mid-range shot attempts desperately thrown up by the opposition. Instincts, timing, length, it’s all there.
On offense, Lively is a rim-running specialist and lob-catcher with growing range and comfort as a shooter out to the 3-point line. Look at one end of the floor and you’ll find the standout center pin a shot on the backboard in demoralizing fashion, followed by a vicious poster dunk on the other end. He does it all.
As we head into the heat of summer, the secret is out. Lively is no longer an under-the-radar, diamond-in-the-rough prospect, he’s in the conversation for the top spot at his position.
Don’t believe me? Ask Jalen Duren, a projected top draft pick and the most sought-after prospect in the nation.
“I tell people all the time: Dereck Lively is my favorite player,” the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect told KSR at the Pangos All-American Camp in Las Vegas.
Typically sharing the frontcourt on Team Final, Duren and Lively spent their time at Pangos anchoring the middle on separate teams. With an NBA-ready body and skill growing by the day, the former doesn’t have much else to prove at this level. Talks of a reclassification remain for Duren, with a post-Peach Jam jump whispered as a possibility.
The latter, however, is anxious to prove in the coming months the gap between him and Duren isn’t as significant as the current rankings may indicate. In fact, Lively feels he’s firmly in the conversation for the best big in the rising senior class.
“I should definitely be in the conversation,” Lively told KSR. “Even though Jalen is there, I could definitely give Jalen a run for his money any day of the week. We go at it in practices and refine our skills with each other.”
You won’t get much fight from Duren on the matter. In his eyes, Lively – now the No. 14 overall prospect in Rivals’ updated rankings – is a top-five prospect in the nation.
“I’ll be honest with you, playing with Dereck is so easy because he doesn’t do anything wrong, doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary, he’s just so consistent,” Duren told KSR. “Him being on the team is such a huge factor. People who try to say it’s just me, it’s not me, it’s the whole team.
“Dereck is the one — we have a lot of good players, but Dereck is the most consistent. I tell everybody he’s my favorite player. He should be way higher than what he is now, even top 15 is too low for me. He’s top five.”
Regardless of what the rankings say – 247Sports still has the 7-foot-1 center ranked No. 42 overall – Lively plans to continue proving his doubters wrong with his play on the floor.
“A ranking is a ranking, I don’t care too much about that,” he said. “It’s definitely an achievement to reach top 15 and I plan to keep going up, but just because I got top 15 doesn’t mean anything is going to change. I still have more to show.”
What does he plan to show?
“I can step outside on the floor, I can guard guards, I can guard anyone from outside the three, I can step out and take threes myself, and I can put the ball on the floor if I need to,” Lively added.
Duren is currently ranked No. 1 overall by Rivals.com, with ESPN and 247Sports both listing the five-star prospect at No. 2 overall, respectively. Either way, the 6-foot-10 center is widely considered the top big man in high school basketball, and he credits Lively for helping him reach that status, even with his Team Final teammate nipping at his heels looking to dethrone him as the nation’s best.
“Me and Dereck definitely go at it a lot, we just want to make each other better,” Duren told KSR. “I respect Dereck’s game a lot, and I know he respects my game. That’s one of my guys. We just compete, make each other better in practice.”
Could we see those head-to-head battles continue in practice at the collegiate level? Duren welcomes the possibility with open arms, adding that while they will do what’s best for each of them individually, it would be “amazing” to team up in college.
“I feel like both parties — he’s going to do what’s best for him, I’m going to do what’s best for me,” Duren told KSR. “Us playing together, if that happens, that’s great. If it doesn’t, that’s great too. For me, I’m always going to do what’s best for me and I want him to do what’s best for him. I don’t want to try and persuade him on a decision, he knows exactly what he’s doing.
“If it happens, that would be amazing. If it doesn’t, it’s still all love.”