With the high school basketball season about to kick off around the country, we’ve been taking in showcases and fall leagues to take one last look at teams and players before we release our preseason Cal-Hi Sports rankings. We’ve also saw some things that will surely cause change in our next player rankings shuffle.
Before we get into the player rankings, there are a few commitments worth nothing. It was big news when 6-7 forward Tavrion Dawson from Serra of Gardena, ranked No. 12 in the 2014 Cal-Hi Sports Hot 100, gave a verbal commitment to Cal-St. Northridge. Dawson is a major get for coach Reggie Theus and his staff, which is trying to get things done in the Big West Conference in rapid fashion. Ironically, Dawson is similar to another small forward already on the Matador’s roster — 6-6 Amir Garrett, a Victorville, Calif. native who signed with and played two seasons at St. John’s for coach Steve Lavin out of Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.). Garrett, who went to Leuzinger of Lawndale as a junior, is also a talented baseball prospect in the Cincinnati Reds organization.
Cal-St. Northridge is known as a commuter school in Southern California and there are high schools in the region with comparable or even better facilities. New CSUN athletic director Brandon Martin, who played for former CSUN coach Bobby Braswell at Cleveland of Reseda before playing at USC between 1992-1996, has big ambitions to make CSUN a major player by building alumni support for a new gymnasium. Keeping the current staff and attracting players such as Dawson to the program is a step in the right direction.
Another Serra player on his way to a Big West Conference School is 6-6 small forward Ron Freeman, ranked No. 20 in the 2014 Hot 100. On Thursday night, the senior made a pledge to Dedrique Taylor’s program at Cal-St. Fullerton. Not too many recruiting analysts or connected people on the Southern California hoops scene would have ever thought the Serra duo would both commit to local Low-Major Plus programs.
The state’s biggest uncommitted prize, of course, is 6-7 small forward Stanley Johnson of three-time State Team of the Year Mater Dei of Santa Ana. Johnson has removed UCLA from his list and is going to sign in the spring from among Kentucky, Arizona, Southern Cal, Oregon and Florida. How the Bruins’ 2014 recruiting class shapes up will be the talk of the California basketball community this upcoming high school basketball season. The highest ranked unsigned senior in the state after Johnson is 7-0 center Thomas Welsh of L.A. Loyola. Welsh played well this summer against bigs with bigger reputations nationally and according to his high school coach Jamal Adams, will choose between UCLA, CAL, Stanford, Colorado and Boston College.
Another recent commit was 6-3 small forward D.J. Ursery from Crespi of Encino to the University of Pacific. Ursery improved his stock over the spring and summer with some spectacular outings for Ryan Silver’s Earl Watson Pangos Elite grassroots program. He should fit in well and eventually excel at the West Coast Conference level.
Speaking of Silver’s program, a player who will move up plenty in the next California player rankings shuffle is 6-4 Daylan Lawrence of Rancho Cucamonga. He wasn’t well known on the recruiting trail, especially after missing his junior season with injury, but this fall he’s been playing well at showcases. He’s a major athlete whose basketball skills are rapidly improving. Along with seniors 6-0 Victor Joseph, 6-1 Jordan McNellys and 5-10 senior transfer Brian Beard Jr., Rancho Cucamonga is a team that is going to get stronger consideration for our preseason state rankings than originally anticipated.
Another team that falls in that category is Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Montebello. Coach George Zedan’s team has been giving good teams fits at the St. John Bosco and Inglewood fall leagues. Zedan demands excellence and his players buy in with a team-first mentality. Senior 6-2 guard Joey Covarrubias knows how to make winning plays, but it’s two Serbian transplants that make this team really intriguing. Six-foot-10 junior Gligorise Rakocevic is not a high major athlete, but he is a load in the middle and solidly skilled. The other Serbian is 6-10 junior Balsa Dragovich and he has high major written all over him. In fact, no player in the state will make a bigger rankings leap than Dragovich, who has a multitude of offensive skills.