It’s time to re-launch basketball content on CalHiSports.com and Long Beach Poly has the returning firepower to start the 2012-13 season in the No. 1 position. It could be one of the best years ever, though, for teams and top players from Northern California. By Ronnie Flores & Mark Tennis.
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California hoops begins a new era this season for not one but two reasons.
First, with the advent of the CIF Open Division regional playoffs and state finals, history will be made this year when six different state champions are crowned.
Second, for the first time ever, no CIF L.A. City Section program has cracked the preseason Top 20.
The open division could mean major changes for traditional Division II, Division III and Division IV powers, but for teams that competed in the loaded Southern California Division I regionals in recent seasons, the bracket may not seem much different.
And if the open division format is popular and leads to increased interest and attendance, it could have ramifications across the nation.
2012-13 CAL-HI SPORTS PRESEASON
BOYS BASKETBALL STATE RANKINGS
(First 20 teams with long writeups, next 15 with shorter writeups, then group of next best teams to watch)
(Last year’s final rating in parentheses with 2011-12 win-loss record)
1. Long Beach Poly (Long Beach) 29-3 (4)
The Jackrabbits open as the preseason No. 1 for the second time in three years and have plenty of incentive to capture the famed program’s first state title since 1984 and third overall. The core of coach Sharrief Metoyer’s team is now seniors and last year’s CIF Southern Section Div. I-AA runner-ups want to erase the memory of its shocking loss to Fresno Bullard in the SoCal Div. I regional playoffs. SF Roschon Prince (6-6, Sr.), headed to USC, is one of the most productive players in the country and is a matchup nightmare for most high school players. No forward in the country can block shots as well as PF Jordan Bell (6-8, Sr.) and Metoyer would love 12-14 points from him every night. Excellent depth is provided by guards Ke’jhan Feagin (5-9, So.), Brandon Staton (6-0, Sr.) and newcomers Chris Sullivan (6-2, Jr.) and Kam Murrell (6-2, Jr.). In fall leagues, the confidence and physical strength of the Poly roster is noticeably greater than other SoCal teams, but it’s no secret Poly’s achilles heel in recent seasons has been its outside shooting. If it can show improvement in that area and wins big games before Kameron Chatman (6-7, Jr.) becomes eligible January 1, the Jackrabbits have the chance to be special after the Jefferson (Portland, Ore.) transfer is inserted in the lineup.
2. Salesian (Richmond) 33-2 (2)
Three starters return for the defending CIF Division IV state champs, but the newcomers make Salesian a solid No. 2 behind Poly. The top returnee for coach Bill Mellis’ club is wing Jabari Bird (6-6, Sr.), a strong Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year candidate headed to Cal. He netted 24 points in last year’s state title game victory over L.A. Price and turned heads against national competition at the Under Armour Elite 24. In the backcourt, Mario Dunn (6-0, Sr.) and Markel Leonard (6-0, Sr.) are experienced and great defenders. Jermaine Edmonds (6-4, Sr.) will take on an expanded role in the frontcourt, but it’s Liberty of Brentwood transfer Jonathan Galloway (6-8, Jr.) that is key for the Pride to be able to handle the teams on their national schedule. Players such as forwards Lance Coleman (6-5, So.) and Ben Kone (6-7, Fr.) also should provide depth. Salesian will head to the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic in December, the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, W.Va., in January and face No. 3 Sheldon on February 2.
3. Sheldon (Sacramento) 29-6 (7)
There was consideration to rank Archbishop Mitty ahead of Sheldon, but the defending NorCal Division I champions just have too much overall talent and play a demanding national schedule. There is not quite an Aaron Gordon on the roster, but coach Joey Rollings has five potential D1 recruits in his lineup. Both Dakarai Allen (6-5, Sr.) and D’Erryl Williams (6-3, Sr.) were second five all-state juniors last year and rival Poly’s Roschon Prince and Jordan Bell as the top duo in the state. Sheldon’s duo is headed to San Diego State. Another D1 recruit is guard Darin Johnson (6-4, Sr.), a transfer from Franklin of Elk Grove who averaged nearly 17 ppg as a junior and is headed to Washington. Returning starter Ryan Manning (6-5, Sr.), the son of 1988 Cal-Hi Sports Div. IV State Player of the Year Rich Manning, can play inside or out while the fifth future college player is guard Armani Hampton (5-11, Jr.), who was sorely missed in last year’s state title game. The major question mark for the Huskies is who will pick up the slack for graduated inside bruiser Nate Iese.
4. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 31-3 (3)
The two big questions for the two-time defending Division II state champs will be which role players step up to replace the four starters that graduated off last year’s team and how will Mitty generate enough offense not if but when it’s placed in the new open division bracket? The outside shooting and toughness of graduated Neil Vranicar will be hard to replace, but Connor Peterson (6-2, Jr.) is a capable scorer. Brandon Farrell (6-6, Sr.) will play a bigger role down low and has improved having to go up against Aaron Gordon (6-8, Sr.) every day in practice. Gordon, of course, is the player that makes everything go for Mitty and is the reason Mitty would have a puncher’s chance in the open division. Gordon was last year’s Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year and he’s gone for 51 points and 41 rebounds in the last two state title games alone. Should Mitty make a strong showing in the open division, Gordon will have a shot at becoming California’s first national player of the year since Jason Kidd in 1992.
5. St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 25-8 (25)
If our rankings criteria didn’t consider past success and was compiled only based on player personnel, the Braves would surely be higher than Mitty and perhaps Sheldon. On paper, coach Derrick Taylor has the personnel to advance deep in the open division playoffs and there is also a lot of incentive to erase the memories of completely blowing an 18-point lead in the SoCal Div. III Regional final versus eventual state champ Alemany. Taylor is eyeing his first state title with Isaac Hamilton (6-5, Sr.) and brother Daniel Hamilton (6-8, Jr.) back in the fold. Isaac averaged 24.3 ppg as a junior and was third five all-state while many feel Daniel could be better long term with his length and ball-handling ability. Taylor didn’t have much size last year, but that is solved by Devin Burleson (6-9, Jr.), who starred on the JV team, and Darien Williams (6-8, Sr.), a transfer from Orange Lutheran. The backcourt got even stronger with the addition of Tyler Dorsey (6-4, So.), who flirted with attending Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) before settling in at Bosco. With the talent in place, he should average close to 10 assists per game after hitting for over 20 points per game at Ribet Academy of Los Angeles as a freshman.
6. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 34-2 (1)
During the early stages of building his dynasty in the 1980s, veteran coach Gary McKnight (926-81 won-loss record) and his staff tended to be more credited with the ability to attract players and not the ability to coach. Time tends to change things and more than once in recent seasons, McKnight’s staff has led a group that overachieved, including a junior-dominated club that won the Division I state title two years ago. For McKnight to capture his 10th CIF state title and third in a row, this group will have to overachieve a bit, too. Only two starters return from a team that went No. 1 wire-to-wire and graduated state senior player of the year Katin Reinhardt (UNLV) and Xavier Johnson (Colorado). The key cog is Stanley Johnson (6-7, Jr.), last year’s state sophomore of the year who’ll have to increase his scoring load and guard the opposition’s top scoring option at times. The other returning starter is guard Jordan Strawberry (6-1, Sr.) while another who’ll have to show marked improvement is wing Elijah Brown (6-4, Sr.). With the expected improvement of that trio, the key for Mater Dei will be its team chemistry and the defensive contributions of newcomers Michael Cage Jr. (6-9, Fr.) and Jayce Johnson (6-9, Fr.).
7. De La Salle (Concord) 28-3 (10)
Serious consideration was given to place talented Deer Valley in front of the Spartans, but coach Frank Allocco’s 2011-12 unit beat the Wolverines in the CIF North Coast Section Division I title game 54-31. There is enough talent returning to win another section title, which would be Allocco’s eleventh, and make a strong showing in the CIF Open Division, which seems a likely destination for the Spartans given their track record and likelihood of doing well in the NCS playoffs. Among the eight lettermen returning are forward Elliott Pitts (6-5, Sr.), a second five all-state underclass choice last year, and Jeremy Gunder (6-2, Sr.), one of the better all-around guards in the Bay Area.
8. Etiwanda (Rancho Cucamonga) 30-3 (17)
It’s getting to the point every year when you pencil in a spot in the top 20 for coach Dave Kleckner’s program. A great teacher of man-to-man defense, Kleckner never seems to have great size but when his guards are strong watch out. Two starters return along with eight other lettermen. Guard Jordan McLaughlin (6-0, Jr.) plays much bigger because of his leaping ability and is rapidly becoming one of the nation’s best prospects in the 2014 class. Wing Sheldon Blackwell (6-5, Sr.), one of the state’s most unsung players, will be counted on to carry a much bigger scoring load. The program last won a section title in the Southern Section’s major division with another talented point guard, the Dallas Mavericks’ Darren Collison, leading the way back in 2005.
9. Deer Valley (Antioch) 28-9 (NR)
Depth in the lineup will need to come through for the Wolverines to make a serious run at De La Salle in the NCS. This is one team, too, that doesn’t have the track record to get lifted up into the new CIF Open Division so it could be a legitimate team to watch for a Division I state crown. Deer Valley no doubt has the prime-time players at the top of its roster to go far. Center Marcus Lee (6-10, Sr.) signed a letter of intent on Wednesday with Kentucky, spurning an offer from Cal. Lee was one of the highest-rising seniors in the nation over the summer and if Kentucky wants you that says a lot. Also back for the Wolverines is guard Kendall Smith (6-2, Sr.), who tossed in nearly 17 points per game as a junior. Guard Nsimba Webster (6-0, Jr.) could be a player to watch after leading Deer Valley’s football team this fall as a quarterback.
10. Lincoln (San Diego) 24-10 (23)
The Hornets have the pieces in place to challenge for a Division II state title and compete in the open division. Head coach Jason Bryant feels this team is better than last year’s, but not quite on the level of his 2010-11 team that was considered the state’s most gifted. You have to like a team with two talented twins such as Tyrell and Tyree Robinson plus four other letterwinners with size. Tyree (6-4, Sr.) averaged over 21 ppg last season and is one of the better shooters in the state, while Tyrell (6-4, Sr.) averaged 17 ppg and is more of a slasher. The duo has the ability to play both basketball and football at Oregon. Jeremiah Turner (6-8, Sr.) is Lincoln’s inside threat and Bryant expects marked improvement from Daniel Melifonwu (6-9, Jr.).
11. Alemany (Mission Hills) 33-4 (5)
The defending CIF Division III state champions have some graduation losses to overcome but also have some key returnees. The two biggest holes to fill will be Cal-Hi Sports Division III State Player of the Year Marqueze Coleman (Nevada) and super-quick point guard Max Guercy (Rice). Still, it looks like returning forward Bear Henderson (6-5, Jr.), guard Brandon Boyd (6-0, Jr.), guard K.J. Moffett (6-2, Jr.) and transfer center Bennie Boatwright (6-7, Soph.) are going to be golden. Henderson averaged 12 points per game last year while Boyd had 15 points each against top opponents Crespi and Price.
12. Loyola (Los Angeles) 26-6 (6)
The Cubs begin right behind Mission League rival Alemany in the ratings because that team beat them two out of three times last year en route to a Division III state title. Alemany might have more firepower back, but Loyola’s track record against top competition in recent seasons and the presence of point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright (5-10, Jr.) keeps the Cubs in the top dozen. Jackson-Cartwright was the state freshman of the year two seasons ago and can dominate games with his floor generalship. Max Hazzard (5-11, Soph.) will have an expanded role this year and also moving into the starting lineup is Thomas Welsh (7-0, Jr.). If Welsh can log major minutes and stay productive, Loyola will be a team to be reckoned with at season’s end.
To see teams ranked No. 13 through No. 35, CLICK HERE
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