Posted On: 06/29/18 4:55 PM
So June summer league ball is almost over and most of the cream has risen to the crop. While there are still a few teams that have kept a lower profile this month while a lot of summer leagues and tournaments were happening, it was a pleasure getting a sneak preview into some of the state’s top teams and programs.
It was also a pleasure being in attendance for some great high school team events this summer. There were a whole lot of quality events being put together. Powerhouse Hoops had a quality round-robin style of event with three of the top teams in the state and a team from New Mexico. Marc Beasley shut it down with the Monarch Sports Prime Time tournament with most of the top high school programs involved. The GCU Team Camp July AAU tournament trail.
- Shadow Mountain (Phoenix)- Shadow Mountain did not play in any events this summer but you just know Head Coach Mike Bibby is in the lab cooking like a mad scientist. They returned the most talented backcourt in the state in 2019 guards Jaelen House (ASU Commit) and Jovan Blacksher, who head one of the most frantic and best defenses this state has seen in a very long time. They will both be coming off big spring and summers on the EYBL. While you could probably just leave it at that, you still have super athletic wings in 6-4 senior Jalen Williams and 6-4 junior Shemar Morrow and a supporting cast that has them as the heavy favorite to win their fourth state championship in a row. Though, as it stands, they are still undersized, their style of play in the state of Arizona is just so hard to match for the entirety of a game. Add in the fact that there are not many quality big men in the 4A conference, and it almost becomes a mute point.
- Buckeye (Buckeye)- No team in the state is hotter than Buckeye right now. They swept the field in a super loaded ASU Team Camp and defeating Hillcrest Prep on their way to the championship. 6-5 senior wing Otis Frazier III and 6-1 junior guard Tay Boothman are back together for another year after a breakout season as a dynamic duo in 2017-18. They bring in a factor in new transfer and Division-I level 6-4 senior guard Isaiah Marin. 6-8 senior forward Adam Hamilton has grown atleast two inches since last year and is playing so much more confident and 6-3 senior wing Xavier Hall is looking to be a difference maker and might be the teams biggest X-Factor this season.
- Salpointe Catholic (Tucson)- Salpointe is another squad that has been quiet this summer but will undoubtedly be ready come high school season. They return their own dynamic duo in 6-5 nationally ranked senior wing Majok Deng and 6-3 star junior guard Evan Nelson. The two make up for one of the highest scoring duos and talented pair in the state. It should be interesting in what they have to work with as a supporting cast and if some of those role players that knocked down big shots for them last season during their state championship game run can knock them down again.
- Deer Valley (Glendale)- This team has lost a lot of production from last year and three of their starting 5. It will be hard to replace the interior scoring that 6-7 Bryce Davis gave them and what they got out of the backcourt with Keyvaughn Williams and Ari Danzy. However, they still have the Allen twins, Jaret and Jalen, on a senior laden roster and Jaret in particular has looked amazing this summer. Both look like they have grown and inch or two and Jaret looks a little more bouncier than usual. 6-foot-7 senior forward Brandon Savage has looked good around the rim for them and is becoming a more aggressive shot blocker and rebounder than he was last season. Their 5-10 senior point guard Johnny Diaz will have to be a bucket for them at times, while still creating scoring opportunities for others this season for the Skyhawks as they transition down into 4A this season.
- Peoria (Peoria)- This is one of those teams that could easily find themselves in Grand Canyon Arena and in the final four this season as much as they could be scattered in the stands dressed in their street clothes and watching. There are times when this team looks like one of the toughest to get with in the state and times where they looked a bit checked out. But they have some potential and pieces, led by 6-0 junior guard Isaac Monroe. Monroe is a killer on the perimeter with the ball and his hands and can get hot in a hurry. He should lead this team in scoring all year long. 6-7 senior forward John Price is their work horse and does all the dirty work in the paint. He plays so hard and is so unselfish. 6-4 sophomore wing /forward Kevin Kogbara could be a huge difference maker for them this season and they will need a lot of production and maturity out of the talented underclassmen.
- Millennium (Goodyear)- Millennium has had one of the busier summers of any team in the state and the experience has shown over the course of the last month. Head Coach Ty Amundsen has started to build a well-oiled West Valley machine in Goodyear. It helps when you mix his X’s and O’s coaching with one of the most talented sophomore duo’s in the state. 6-8 forward DaRon Holmes has blown up as of late with three division one offers in the last month and 5-11 point guard Justus Jackson has picked up where he left off in what was one of the better freshman seasons we saw all of last year. Look for 6-3 sophomore wing Coleman Fields to have a huge impact this season for the Tigers as well as they will try to get ahead of schedule and snatch them up a state championship in their first year in transitioning down to 5A.
- Apollo (Glendale)- Apollo has possibly the best 1-2 punch today in 6-7 top-100 ranked wing Emmanuel Taban and 6-3 sophomore guard Paris Woods. Both give them the ability to scorch teams from deep and outscore anybody in this conference. The point guard position might end up needing a little bit of help for Head Coach Jac Marin, but they do have some toughness and athleticism on that roster. If they can keep the turnovers down and they get production out of their role players, Taban might be able to end his high school career off in style with a state ring before heading off to the next level.
- Sunnyslope (Phoenix)- There might not be another team in Arizona that lost more from last year than the defending state champions, including last year’s leading scorer in Kyle Fischer and their enforcer inside in Chris Orozco. However, while this team will look completely different from last year, they are much more athletic and able to get out and run a little bit more than last season. They still have one of the better X’s and O’s coaches in the state in Head Coach Ray Portela and a system that has stood the test of time. Look for a big season out of 5-10 senior point guard Zach Paloma from the lead guard spot. Though he is inconsistent at times, 6-4 junior athletic guard Chance Garland has looked great in June and provided some YouTube worthy dunks in the last month. The sophomore frontcourt duo of 6-6 forward Grady Lewis and 6-10 center Carson Basham should have be a factor for them this season, as this team is by far the biggest in the 5A Division.
- Cactus Shadows (Cave Creek)- This team could very well be this years version of who Sunnyslope was last year, with a group of seniors that can slow the game down and force teams to play at their pace. The team that will rock you to sleep before hitting you with a gut punch. They play at their own methodical pace and ride the back on the offensive side of 6-0 senior point guard C.J Nnorom, who has one of the more reliable shots and games in the state. He also sets the tone on the defensive side of the ball.
- McClintock (Tempe)- The ‘Tock is a sleeper this year in the 5A conference. It is true that 6-2 senior guard Josh Baker will need some help on the offensive side of the ball somewhere so defenses don’t double and triple team him and force the ball out of his hands. Look for 6-1 junior wing Armani Johnson to be there Mr. Do Everything for them. While the team is filled with quick guards that can pressure the ball, Johnson will have to be huge for them with his rebounding and ability to finish in transition. It should be a very interesting year for the Chargers.
- Pinnacle (Scottsdale)- Two words, Nico. Mannion. There is very little you have to say past that. After leading his team to a state championship in his sophomore season, the 6-3 nationally coveted junior guard is prime for another state title run, as Head Coach Charlie Wilde and the Pioneers will go into the season as a favorite to take it all again. The decision by 6-2 senior guard Spencer Rattler to give up basketball to focus on his football career will sting a bit, however, 6-2 senior guard Trent Brown looks like he is back and on the right track with his movement and that sweet stroke he has been known for, for so long. 6-6 senior wing Jordan Mains will be the wild card. In their bigger games, they will need their sharp shooting senior to be healthy and ready to go. 6-9 junior big man Tosh Baker might turn some heads this year with a year of maturity and another year of traveling on the Nike EYBL circuit. If he can catch up to the speed of the game when the talent level rises, Baker could be a difference maker with his size and skillset down low. Pinnacle will be the favorites walking into the 2018-19 season.
- Perry (Gilbert)- Head Coach Sam Duane Jr. has put his magic touch on this program and that thing is starting to look like a well oiled machine. 6-4 senior guard Jalen Williams will make a case for a 1st-Team All-State type of season as he will lead the Puma’s into a very top-heavy 6A Division. 6-5 senior wing Kyle Patterson will be his main wing man this season with his ability to score from all three levels and his pure physicality. 6-10 Freshman phenom Dylan Anderson is coming along smoothly and will undoubtedly make a big impact for them this season.
- Mountain Pointe (Phoenix)- Head Coach Duane Eason has seen a little bit of a roster shake up at the Pointe this year on a team that took them to the state championship game last season. They lose key starters in wings Amarion Cash and Ryan Pate but return one of the better cores in 5-10 senior guard Khalid Price, 6-7 junior forward DeAndre Henry and quite possibly the best big man in the AIA in 6-9 athletic senior forward Jalen Graham. Much of the success will depend on Graham and how he can effect both ends of the floor with his shot blocking and interior scoring ability. Price is the consummate point guard for Coach Eason’s full court pressure system, as he is one of the better on-ball defenders in the state. As solid as Henry was last season, look for him to have a different kind of breakout season this year. If they can get some solid production out of 6-6 senior wing Jonah LaBranche, they should be in good shape.
- Cesar Chavez (Laveen)- Chavez will go into this season with one of the most talented backcourt duos in the state in sophomore tandem 6-2 TyTy Washington and 5-11 Ricardo Sarmiento. The two took the Champions to the playoffs last season as freshman and should be equipped to make a deeper run this season if the team can remain disciplined and keep the turnovers to a minimum. Washington will be a candidate to lead the state in scoring this year amongst AIA school and Sarmiento is the glue that keeps a team full of athletes together. Their 6-5 junior wing/forward Nyjier Andrews is so vital for them this season. Though they are a physical squad, they are undersized. Andrews, at 6-5, plays like he is 6-9 with long arms and a chip on his shoulder. If he can hold down the interior in a 6A conference that holds some premium big men, they should be in good shape for the 2018-19 season.
- Gilbert (Gilbert)- This is a new addition to these rankings for me but I can’t get myself to leave out a team that has two juniors that have looked so good on the spring AAU circuit in 6-2 Brycen Long and 6-8 Griffin Lamb. Though they play at a pace that makes you wonder what they would look like with a shot clock, you can’t deny that talented tandem of inside/out scoring abilities. Long is one of the deadliest shooters in the state from outside and Lamb is one of the craftier and skilled power forwards. 5-10 senior point guard Doc Self will give them their steadying and calming influence on the court and allow them to play their methodical, pick-you-apart style-of-play that had them in a lot of games last year that, from a talent perspective, did not look like they belonged in. The talent part should not be a problem for them this season.