The first time Jalen Green was called a “unicorn,” he was in practice at San Joaquin Memorial High School. A coach from Florida State lobbed the term at him, similar to the way Green’s teammates lob balls at the rim and expect him to go up and get it.
Green did as he always does—he caught it and made it his own.
The 16-year-old is living up to the unicorn nickname, boasting enormous potential and the ability to create plays on the floor. Across 55 games at San Joaquin, Green has tallied 1,479 points, 467 rebounds, 179 assists, 111 steals and 69 blocks. This summer, he casually dropped 27 points for Team USA against Croatia in the quarterfinals of the FIBA U17 World Cup, and there’s talk of him as a future No. 1 draft pick.
Special talent, rare skill for his age—that’s a unicorn.
Green has become one of the leading stars of “Unicorn Fam,” a cadre of up-and-coming elite prep players who have captured the attention of millions through their highlight-reel potential and creative usage of social media. And for the top-ranked player in the class of 2020, the unicorn moniker has become the embodiment of how special these players are considered amongst other top high schoolers.
“It means that I’m rare,” Green told Home Team Hoops. “No one is doing what I’m doing.”
In basketball, the term “unicorn” has been used to describe NBA players who are both versatile and dynamic. Think Kristaps Porzingis, the 7’3″ New York Knicks big man who can score, defend and make plays like a guard. Or 6’11” Milwaukee Bucks point forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is both an effortless scorer and a bully in the paint. Such versatility is a rare commodity on the court—a mixture of talent and skill that can transcend position and, in time, maybe the parameters of the game itself.
If unicorns in the NBA are unique—and like the mythical creature, hard to find—Green and his group are trying to prove the description can be bigger and more ubiquitous. In a recent interview, Green told Home Team Hoops that he can take the nickname to the next level.
“I’m going to make the unicorn big,” he said with a smile.
In an era of Instagram and viral sensations, high school basketball players are sprinkling magic all over the game, redefining cool. They’ve organized and branded themselves, and what they do on the court. It’s the “fams,” or squads, that are getting all the love.
Jelly Fam, led by Isaiah Washington (a rising sophomore at Minnesota) and Ja’Quaye James, invigorated the layup with inspiring creativity and charisma when they created their own signature finger roll. Jam Fam, led by incoming Duke freshman Zion Williamson and Georgetown freshman Mac McClung, soared to the rim for posterizing dunks, no pixie dust needed.
And then there’s Green, alongside fellow top recruits across the country, who have shown the world what the future of hoops looks like right now. They dunk viciously, drop dimes effortlessly and score plenty of buckets. They flood their Instagram—in the comments and captions—with unicorn emojis. In games, they flex by twisting their fingers into the shape of unicorn horns. (And they’re not limited to the men. St John’s College High School (Washington, D.C.) guard Azzi Fudd is also a member of the Fam.)
What they’re all doing is nothing short of special at such a young age. They’re proving magical creatures don’t just exist; they hide in plain sight.
Meet Unicorn Fam.
James Wiseman (Class of 2019)
The “Big Ticket” of the group, you can also call James Wiseman the No. 1 player in the country and a unicorn at his finest.
The 7’0″, 230-pound center from Memphis, Tennessee, has the full package: He can knock down jumpers around the perimeter and effortlessly finish in the paint with a clutch left-handed hook shot. As a sophomore at East High School in 2016-17, he averaged 20.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game while asserting himself as a defensive menace.
Wiseman was coached by four-time NBA All-Star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway—a unicorn ahead of his time?—both at East High and on his AAU team, Bluff City Legends (formerly known as Team Penny). Hardaway has compared Wiseman’s game to that of Chris Bosh and Sam Perkins, and his polished game has garnered him offers from Arizona, Texas, Kentucky and Hardaway’s own Memphis Tigers.
Despite all of his success, Wiseman carries himself with humility. No antics or yelling, just a 7’4″ wingspan that will surely take flight in college and the NBA.
Vernon Carey Jr. (2019)
Vernon Carey Jr. is a 275-pound pegasus who will dunk on you and then yell in your face. He flies toward the rim with a vicious ease, scoring and ankle-breaking his way to the rim.
The MaxPreps National Junior of the Year is currently ranked second in the nation, having averaged 26.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game at NSU University School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as a junior. He faced off against Williamson last summer, turning an AAU game into a dunk show, and he took on Wiseman at this year’s Nike Peach Jam, dropping 21 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and four steals.
In May, Carey revealed he’s deciding between Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Miami and Michigan State. Carey is sure to cause a commotion at the next level, as he’s already been dubbed a future NBA All-Star.
RJ Hampton (2020)
Don’t be fooled by the unicorn mask RJ Hampton wears on Instagram. With his mask off, he makes an impression few can forget.
Hampton is the top-ranked combo guard in his recruiting class, and it’s easy to see why. He’s a skilled ball-handler and excellent shooter, and he averaged an absurd 30.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game for Little Elm (Texas) High School last year.
Hampton earned All-State, district MVP, MaxPreps All-Sophomore and USA Today All-Texas first-team honors. He continued to dominate, leading the Under Armor Circuit in scoring (27 points per game), getting an invite to the Steph Curry Select Camp and drawing heavy interest from Kentucky and Memphis.
This unicorn is a star in the making.
Jalen Suggs (2020)
At the Under Armor Challenge this summer, Jalen Suggs yelled, “Don’t let me turn up!” while finishing for an easy layup. Confident, athletic and skilled, he’s a straight baller.
The second-ranked combo guard in the class of 2020 is also a 4-star quarterback for Minnehaha Academy (Minnesota). Known for his work ethic, athleticism and ability to perform on the floor, he takes 1,000 shots a day and it shows, as he averaged 16.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game this past season.
An all-around player who isn’t afraid to dive for loose balls—he was named the Independent Metro Athletic Conference Defensive MVP in 2017—Suggs led his team to its second straight Class 2A title and earned All-State honors this past season.
Weighing offers in both sports from top schools, including Minnesota and Ohio State, Suggs is a talent turning up high school hoops.
Zion Harmon (2021)
It’s no secret why Harmon is so highly ranked. The MaxPreps Freshman of the Year averaged an outrageous 32.7 points, 7.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game for Adair County (Kentucky) High School. He’s hoping to further develop his game at Marshall County High School in the fall and potentially reclassify down the line, according to Josh Moore of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
In the meantime, he joined Wiseman on Bluff City Legends this summer on the AAU circuit. With his athleticism, ball-handling, vision on the court and ability to finish in the paint, he could be basketball’s next big thing.
Get ready for the next magic show, because these unicorns are taking over the high school hoops scene.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified East High School and Bluff City Legends as East Catholic High School and Team Bluff. B/R regrets the error.
Deyscha Smith is a writer based in Boston. She is finishing her journalism studies at Mount Holyoke College. Follow Deyscha on Twitter @deyschasmith.