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Jarace Walker, a 6-foot-2 seventh-grader on Southern Middle School's ninth-grade team, is ranked among the Top 10 players his age in the country. And he can dunk the ball in games. Chris Dunn, York Daily Record

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They are in the business of rating junior high basketball players.

That is part of the work for the Futures150 staff and general manager Eric Hampford. They evaluate and rank the nation's seventh graders all the way through high school.

Judging one talent against another, from different parts of the country, seems abstract enough for high school juniors and seniors. But 13- and 14-year-olds?

That's where New Freedom's Jarace Walker comes into play. The 6-foot-2 seventh-grader is ranked in the Top 15 nationally by a handful of these Internet sites.

Certainly, he can dunk and shoot 3-pointers and dribble with the best of them. However, Futures150 evaluations are based just as much on player development projections. These ratings and evaluations are wanted, Hampford said, because college coaches are now offering scholarships to kids before they even start the ninth grade.

It's all about gaining a recruiting edge, any edge possible.

"Now there's an arms race, (coaches) feel they need to get younger and younger recruiting to get a leg up. ... I say the demand from the college coaches is growing," Hampford said. "I'd say basketball as a whole, the industry has blown up so much and the demand for legitimate information and the rankings. It's kind of had trickle-down effect to the middle school level."

Some complain that ranking seventh- and eighth-grade kids produces harmful expectations. Hampford counters by saying his work promotes athletes and helps them get noticed for potential scholarships.

The Top Five kids in the Futures150 for the Class of 2022 range from a 6-foot-5, 180-pound forward from Michigan to a 5-10 point guard from Texas.

Rankings will even take into account "blood lines," such as siblings' athletic ability and parents' body size, Hampford said.

According to those qualifications, Jarace Walker is a Top 10 prospect.

"He's got explosive athleticism," Hampford said. "He already plays above the rim, which you don't see many kids doing. ... There's a lot of growth left in the tank for him. It's easy to see him (grow into) a 6-5 to 6-7 wing.

"He definitely jumps off the page as an elite kid right now. He checks all the boxes for a kid right now and down the line."

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