Nisine Poplar might be the most intriguing college basketball prospect in Philadelphia.
He has a dozen NCAA Division I scholarship offers and less than two years of experience in the sport.
Poplar, a 6-4 junior swingman, is averaging 19.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists for Math, Civics, and Sciences, a team to watch in the Philadelphia Public League playoffs as well as the PIAA Class 2A state tournament.
Rangy and athletic, with the ability to score from distance and finish at the rim, Poplar has offers from local schools such as Temple, St. Joseph’s, La Salle, and Drexel as well as distant programs such as Virginia Tech and Cal-State Bakersfield.
“The talent is there, the skills are there,” MCS coach Lonnie Diggs said. “He’s still learning how to be the alpha guy.”
Poplar still is learning everything about basketball. That’s why he’s such an unusual prospect in the Class of 2021.
Poplar is playing basketball in organized fashion for just the second season. He didn’t play in elementary or middle school. He didn’t even play as a freshman.
“I was all baseball,” Poplar said. “I played [pickup] basketball but never really worked out or took it very seriously. I didn’t really care about it that much.”
Poplar’s rise has been meteoric, considering that he wasn’t known to anyone but a handful of friends when he showed up for MCS’s tryouts before the start of last season.
“He was in 10th grade when he came to our school,” said Diggs, whose team will host George Washington on Tuesday in the second round of the Public League playoffs. “He knew some of the kids and they told me about him, but the first time I saw him play was in tryouts.
“I was like, ‘Hey, this kid is pretty good.’ ”
Poplar ended up as a key contributor for an MCS team that won the PIAA Class 2A state title last season. He scored 12 points in the championship game against Bishop Guilfoyle in Hershey.
Poplar’s game took off last spring and summer while he was playing AAU basketball for K-Low Elite. He began to draw serious attention from college coaches and picked up his first few offers.
“I didn’t know what offers were during my ninth-grade year,” Poplar said. “I thought you just went to college. It’s been exciting.”
Poplar probably is the most gifted player on an MCS team that finished the Public League regular season with an 17-5 record, including an 8-2 mark in Division A, and earned the top seed in its quadrant of the league playoffs.
Diggs said his dynamic junior is still developing a feel for the game and an understanding of his ability to impose his will on the action and control play.
“He just has to mature more as a leader,” Diggs said. “Last year we had guards who were more alpha guys. He was more a secondary guy even though he was our leading scorer. He’s still working himself into a new role and it takes time.”
Poplar’s inexperience is one of the things that makes him a unique prospect. He’s highly talented but he’s also raw with a lot of room for improvement.
“It’s very unusual to see a player emerge this quickly as one of the best players in the city, really without having much of a background in the game,” Diggs said. “Sometimes, you’ll see a 6-9 kid come out of nowhere. But not a smaller player.
“Last year, he didn’t even know who [Temple coach] Aaron McKie was.”
Poplar, who lives in North Philadelphia, went to Vaux Big Picture High School as a freshman. He didn’t play any organized sports after ending his baseball career as a middle-school athlete.
Poplar knows he has the potential to develop his game and become even more of an impact player for MCS next season and at the college level, too.
“I think I need more dog in me,” Poplar said. “I ain’t selfish. I like to get my team involved. But I know I have to keep working. I can’t be satisfied.”