Preseason Boys BB Rankings (Part I)

Legendary head coach Gary McKnight and national player of the year candidate Stanley Johnson lead the way for what should be another dynamite team at Mater Dei.

Legendary head coach Gary McKnight and national player of the year candidate Stanley Johnson lead the way for what should be another dynamite team at Mater Dei.

It’s time to launch our winter basketball content on CalHiSports.com and Mater Dei of Santa Ana has the best player and is the best bet to start in the No. 1 position for the the 2013-14 season. The Monarchs will be gunning for a historic fourth straight CIF title in California’s highest classification.

California hoops began a new era last season with the advent of the CIF Open Division regional playoffs and six teams crowned as state champions in boys and girls hoops.

This season, will be a first of sorts for the massive CIF Southern Section as it implements an open division in its section playoffs. The CIF San Diego Section will also conduct an open division. For purposes of state rankings, it will likely cause a fluctuation of movement after the regular season ends because the CIFSS’s top teams traditionally dominate the weekly top 20 rankings, whereas the Central Coast Section (which already conducts an open division) and the San Diego Section traditionally has one or two teams in the top 20.

Another difference is the CIFSS coaches we talked to seem to like the concept, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with coaches in San Diego, where depth and quality of teams pales in comparison to the CIFSS.

When we first heard CIFSS Rob Wigod was going to approve the open division, the first thought through our minds was there was going to be a huge wait between the section and SoCal regional playoffs for many state ranked CIFSS teams that lost in the first round of the open division. That problem seems to be rectified by the open division format.

Instead of all open division participants (up to 16) being guaranteed a berth in the CIF SoCal regional playoffs, the first-round winners are guaranteed a spot. There will be a consolation bracket and that winner will also be guaranteed a SoCal regional playoff berth. The other teams will need to apply for a berth in the regional tournament. This process should cut the wait time for some quality teams that otherwise would have advanced far in one of the CIFSS’s traditional playoffs divisions.

Per the CIF state office, the parameters of the CIF open division in the North and South will remain the same as last season.

2013-14 CAL-HI SPORTS PRESEASON
BOYS BASKETBALL STATE RANKINGS

(This is the 34th consecutive season that CalHiSports.com will provide 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 2012-13 win-loss record)

Note: During the season, all of our writeups and analysis and predictions of what’s coming next will be posts for our Gold Club members only. To become a member of our Gold Club so you can check out all of our boys basketball content, CLICK HERE. An updated all-time state record book will soon be part of that content.

1. (1) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 34-2
The Monarchs are an easy choice to pencil at the top of these rankings and are California’s preseason No. 1 ranked for the second time in three seasons. Long Beach Poly was No. 1 in 2012-13 and 2010-11. Mater Dei is going for a unprecedented fourth straight state title in the CIF’s highest classification and it all starts with small forward Stanley Johnson (6-6, Sr.). Last year’s Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year recently finished tied for third in preseason balloting conducted by Student Sports for national player of the year honors and will go down as Mater Dei’s best player ever. If Mater Dei wins another state title, it will be hard deny Johnson’s a place among the state’s all-time greats. He has just enough pieces around him to get the job done in Mario Soto (6-6, Sr.), transfer Rex Pflueger (6-6, Jr.) and center M.J. Cage (6-10, Soph.). Coach Gary McKnight (960-85) doesn’t have much depth, but his team’s experience and cohesiveness because Johnson plays in every summer and fall event with his teammates cannot be underestimated.

2. (2) Etiwanda 28-4
The Eagles finished last season No. 2 and open in the same spot with a solid blend of returnees and newcomers. Etiwanda also gets credit for being the only California team to defeat Mater Dei last year. Etiwanda won the coveted CIFSS Div. I-AA title, but lost the rematch to the Monarchs in the SoCal Open Division final. Coach Dave Kleckner (470-150) has USC-bound point guard Jordan McLaughlin (6-0, Sr.) plus two all-league performers in guard Dominick Alexander (6-0, Sr.) and forward Kenny Barnes (6-4, Sr.) back. Kleckner is a defensive-oriented coach and has won in recent years without a lot of true size in the post. That changes this year with transfer center Jordan Naughton (6-9, Jr.). Kameron Edwards (6-6, Jr.) is the top newcomer from an excellent 20-2 JayVee team. McLaughlin was named co-CIFSS Div. I-AA Player of the Year with Mater Dei’s Stanley Johnson, and throw in the fact the Eagles have some size this year, makes the Eagles a real threat to become the first team from the Inland Empire to win a state title in the highest classification.

3. (9) St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 24-7
This is the team everybody is curious to see because it has such a high ceiling, but there is also a real possibility it won’t be able to live up to tremendous expectations. The ceiling is so high because few teams in the country can match the scoring ability that Daniel Hamilton (6-7, Sr.), Tyler Dorsey (6-5, Jr.) and transfer Vance Jackson (6-8, Soph.) provide. Another transfer, Lorne Currie Jr. (6-2, Jr.) from L.A. Fairfax, has shown marked improvement in fall leagues and will man the other backcourt spot opposite Dorsey, one of the best juniors in the country who can play on the ball or score at a high level off it. The main concern for coach Derrick Taylor (286-67) is depth and post presence because his man cog underneath is a ninth-grader, Billy Preston (6-8, Fr.). St. John Bosco plays in a tough slate of showcases and tournaments and that should help Currie Jr. and Preston gain valuable experience for Trinity League play. In short, Bosco’s season will be defined by its two monster game versus Mater Dei on January 15 and February 7.

4. (11) Westchester (Los Angeles) 29-7
Two years ago, the Comets had one of the best JV teams in the state and now that core group of players are seniors. Last year’s team was supposed to be a “year away” from being an elite team, but Westchester used its team-first concept and trademark depth to capture its 12th L.A. City Section title under Ed Azzam. This year, Westchester won’t be as deep, but it has a solid combination of size, athletic ability and experience to contend for the CIF Open Division title. Nick Hamilton (6-3, Sr.) is a hellacious rebounder (10.8 rpg) and Myles Stewart (6-4, Sr.) is much improved and LMU bound Elijah Stewart (6-4, Sr.) get it done on both ends of the floor. Akil Reese (6-2, Jr.) provides stability in the backcourt, but the play of Josh Rideau 6-8, Sr.) inside may hold the key to the Comets’ fortunes. Azzam (791-227) will surpass legendary Crenshaw coach Willie West as the L.A. City Section’s winningest coach, but state title No. 7 for Azzam won’t be an easy road.

Ivan Rabb of O'Dowd will be NorCal's most watched player in 2013.

Ivan Rabb of O’Dowd will be NorCal’s most watched player in 2013.

5. (26) Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 26-4
Northern California’s top-ranked team is in a similar boat to No. 3 St. John Bosco. The Dragons have a tremendous ceiling, but they must show improvement in the consistency department. Coach Lou Richie (who played on O’Dowd’s 1988 NorCal Division I championship team) is optimistic with four returning starters and 10 lettermen back from a North Coast Section Division III title team, including State Sophomore of the Year Ivan Rabb (6-9, Jr.). Guard Paris Austin (5-11, Jr.) had a breakout sophomore campaign and is quickly developing into one of NorCal’s best players in his own right. The pieces around O’Dowd’s inside-outside combo are a bit undervalued as well and that’s what makes this team dangerous. Guard Juwan Anderson (5-11, Sr.) was an all-leaguer and had a standout summer while Isaiah Thomas (6-7, Jr.) flanks Rabb up front and gives the Dragons a frontline that few teams in the state can match. If O’Dowd’s consistency can match it talent, and if Rabb plays like one of the nation’s best players, this team should be a tough out in the NorCal Open Division regional.

6. (16) Loyola (Los Angeles) 25-8
The Cubs have experience, size and depth and are just looking for the breaks to go their way this season. The past two seasons, highly-regarded point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright (5-9, Sr.) has battled injuries during the latter part of the season and left the SoCal Div. I regional final with a leg injury before Santa Monica won the contest on a last-second 3-pointer. If the breaks go Loyola’s way, it could challenge for the Southern Section Open Division title. Besides Jackson-Cartwright, coach Jamal Adams (179-53) has center Tom Welsh (7-0, Sr.) back in the fold and he’s one of the most improved post players in the country. Max Hazzard (6-0, Jr.), the grandson of former UCLA great Walt Hazzard, gained valuable experience last season while Yale-bound Khalil Bedart-Ghani (6-3, Sr.) can play in both the backcourt or frontcourt and gives Adams an athletic defender and rebounder. This is a compete team that will be tough to beat if it shoots a high percentage because of its inside-out ability.

7. (17) Centennial (Corona) 26-3
The Huskies cracked the preseason Student Sports FAB 50 at No. 49, but they still have to prove they have what it takes to compete with the state’s upper echelon in the post-season. After being upset by Silverado of Victorville, 77-75, in the CIFSS Div. I-AA playoffs, that team was completely shut down by No. 2 Etiwanda, 43-28. The talent is in place with players such as Sedrick Barefield (6-0, Jr.), much improved Deontae North (6-5, Sr.) and Khalil Ahmad (6-3, Jr.). The play of Jordan Griffin (6-3, Soph.) should give Centennial a spark, but it will be fellow 10th-grader Ike Anigbogu (6-7, Soph.) that could hold the key because of his needed size. If Josh Giles can get his perimeter-oriented team to consistently defend at a high level, this team could be a factor in the CIFSS’s new open division.

8. (NR) Compton 20-10
This is the first gut-wrenching decision of the rankings. We could have went with Modesto Christian or even Long Beach Poly, but we decided to go with the Jackrabbits’ Moore League rivals. Their experience and talent level warrants perhaps an even higher rating, but the Tarbabes have underachieved in recent seasons. Their core, however, are now seniors so we did not penalize them for prior seasons as much as we could have. It starts with lefty point-guard Kyron Cartwright (5-11, Sr.), one of the most underrated guards on the West Coast. When he’s on and under control in the open court, the Tarbabes can run nearly anyone out of the gym. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better pair of wings than Fresno State-bound Isaiah Bailey (6-6, Sr.) and All-CIFSS performer Iziahiah Sweeney (6-3, Sr.). Robert Lewis (6-2, Jr.) is an excellent spot up shooter and Raysean Scott (6-4, Soph.) provides athleticism and scoring ability. Similar to St. John Bosco in relation to Mater Dei, Compton’s season will be defined by its performances against Long Beach Poly.

9. (22) Modesto Christian 29-4
The Crusaders easily could have been rated higher than Compton and even Bishop O’Dowd. After all, Modesto Christian did beat O’Dowd 57-42 in the opening round of the CIF NorCal Open Division regional. The Crusaders, however, lose major firepower off last year’s club whereas O’Dowd and Compton basically return its units intact. Anthony Townes (6-6, Jr.) is rapidly developing into one of the NorCal’s top frontcourt layers and Mason Washington (6-0, Sr.) provides a steady presence in the backcourt. Both he and newcomer Jeff Wu (6-1, Jr.) will play D1 basketball. Another newcomer that will greatly contribute is Kevin Hamlet (6-6, Jr.) and national scouts already have Christian Ellis (6-2, Soph.) on their radars. After all the newcomers and transfers mesh, this could be a juggernaut come February.

Kelton Conway of No. 10 El Camino Real stands with his father, Curtis, the former Hawthorne High and USC track star.

Kelton Conway of No. 10 El Camino Real stands with his father, Curtis, the former Hawthorne High and USC track star.

10. (20) El Camino Real (Woodland Hills) 28-4
The Conquistadors could have been a spot or two higher, but they must replace the scoring ability of 2013 L.A. City Section Player of the Year Michael Thomas (Hawaii) and are going through a coaching change as Dave Rebibo left for the college ranks. Former assistant Joe Wyatt (one of the state’s scoring leaders and an all-state pick at Granada Hills Kennedy in 1993) inherits a program with four returning starters and eight lettermen. Evan Wardlow (6-4, Sr., No. 23), Julian Richardson (6-3, Sr., No. 36) and Maleke Haynes (5-10, Sr., No. 83) are all among the state’s Hot 100 prospects for the Class of 2014. Wardlow displayed marked improvement during fall leagues and Richardson has an innate scoring ability. Adding depth is Julian Rochelin (6-6, Sr.) while Kelton Conway (5-11, Sr.), the son of former 100-meter state champion and NFL standout Curtis Conway, provides a spark with his defensive intensity.

11. (18) Redondo Union (Redondo Beach) 28-8
Coach Reggie Morris Jr. (232-98) chuckled when he heard where some national rankings compilers were thinking of placing his team. After all, the two-time Cal-Hi Sports Coach of the Year in two different CIF divisions lost four starters off a team that won its final 21 games and won the CIF Division II state title. Still, Morris Jr. will field an excellent team with a nice blend of experience, youth and athleticism. Guard Ian Fox (6-0, Sr.) was the CIFSS Div. II-A co-Player of the Year with graduated teammate Derek Biale and returns as the leading scorer (15.4 ppg) and floor leader. Guard Leland Green (6-2, Soph.) and forward Jeremiah Headley (6-7, Soph.) played quite well at times on the grassroots circuit, so it’s just a matter on translating that to in-season production. The X-factor for Redondo Union is West Torrance transfer Terrell Carter (6-8, Sr.), who is rapidly dropping weight and improving his game. He gives this well-coached team a dimension on the interior it didn’t have last season.

12. (3) Long Beach Poly (Long Beach) 28-4
The Jackrabbits are in a transition year after competing for state and national acclaim the past three seasons. Poly was shooting for FAB 50 No. 1 honors during the 2010-11 and 2012-13 seasons, but without graduated standouts Roschon Prince and Jordan Bell, the Jackrabbits will be competing to move up instead of defending a lofty perch. Poly not only lost two mainstays, it also won’t have 10-year veteran coach Sharrief Metoyer on the sidelines after he was suspended for a season for playing ineligible Kameron Chatman (who has since left the program) in a regional playoff game versus Mater Dei. Shelton Diggs, a 1998 Poly graduate who previously coached the JV club, takes over and the same brand of basketball will be on display. Kameron Murrell (6-2, Sr.) and Chris Sullivan (6-3, Sr.) will provide senior leadership and can really get after it defensively. Transfer Jordan Dallas (6-9, Jr.) is needed to provide rebounding and timely shooting and K.J. Feagin (5-10, Jr.) is a steady backcourt performer. If Chatman was still around, Poly could have been as high as No. 6 or No. 7, but without him a Moore League title and a CIFSS Open Division berth are the immediate goals.

To see teams ranked No. 13 through No. 35, CLICK HERE

For more national basketball updates and features, please visit StudentSportsBasketball.com and for in-depth national player rankings, please visit hoopscooponline.com.

Ronnie Flores is the managing editor of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at ronlocc1977@yahoo.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores


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