Preseason Boys BB Ranks (Part 1)

Corona Centennial's Khalil Ahmad was one of the most improved players in the state last summer and is one reason why the Huskies begin No. 2 in the state. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Corona Centennial’s Khalil Ahmad was one of the most improved players in the state last summer and is one reason why the Huskies begin No. 2 in the state. Photo: Willie Eashman.

It’s time to launch our winter basketball content on CalHiSports.com and Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland has the best player and is the preseason No. 1 team for the 2014-15 season. Mater Dei of Santa Ana is gunning for its fifth straight CIF title in California’s highest classification, but will have to do so without the best player in program history. Go inside here for teams No. 1 through No. 15 in our preseason State 35.

For Part II of these preseason state rankings, CLICK HERE.
For last season’s final state rankings, CLICK HERE.
For lists of state’s all-time coaching leaders (Gold Club), CLICK HERE.

To see the list of major tournaments and showcases involving California’s best teams, CLICK HERE.

California boys hoops is entering its third year of CIF Open Division playoffs at the regional level.

The concept creates a scenario for the North’s and South’s best teams to meet in the final game of the season. Because boys basketball in the state is dominated in a large part by private schools, the CIF Open Division also creates more opportunities for public schools in lower divisions that normally wouldn’t be in a realistic position to compete for a state title.

On the flip side, the CIF Open Division has gutted the North of some of the programs that would give the region its best chance to win a state title in the other five divisions. It has led to some blowout games in the CIF state finals and that is never a good thing.
CIF logo 216
On the section level, the CIF Central Coast Section has an open division and the Southern Section and San Diego Section added its versions last season.

While there was a mixed bag of reactions in San Diego, the Southern Section’s 16-team playoff division was a smashing success. It helps that the teams weren’t pre-determined before the season and that the section has a large quantity of quality teams.

Every game in the CIFSS’s open division playoffs had the feel of a regional playoff game and it made complete sense that all 16 teams made the regional playoffs in some division. After all, the CIFSS’s top teams traditionally dominate the weekly top 20 overall state rankings and that is unlikely to change during the 2014-15 season.

Per the CIF state office, the parameters of the CIF open division in the North and South will basically remain the same as last season. For sections with an open division, teams that make its section semifinals are now eligible to be placed in the CIF state open division.

2014-15 CAL-HI SPORTS PRESEASON
BOYS BASKETBALL STATE RANKINGS

(This is the 35th consecutive season that CalHiSports.com will provide state rankings; Last year’s final rating in parentheses with 2013-14 won-loss record)

Note: During the season, all of our writeups, analysis and predictions of what’s coming next will be content for our Gold Club VIPs only. To become a member of our Gold Club so you can check out all of our boys basketball content, including player rankings in each class, CLICK HERE.

Ivan Rabb is one of the nation's top recruits. Photo: Ronnie Flores.

Ivan Rabb is one of the nation’s top recruits. Photo: Ronnie Flores.

1. (3) Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 28-5
After the buzzer sounded on Mater Dei’s 71-61 victory over the Dragons in last year’s CIF Open Division state title game, the mantra was created for this season, “Win the last game.” O’Dowd is 1-8 all-time in CIF state finals but is a favorite to win No. 2 with one of NorCal’s most highly regarded teams in the preseason since Jason Kidd was at Alameda St. Joseph over 20 years ago. It starts with Ivan Rabb (6-10, Sr.), last year’s Cal-Hi Sports State Junior Player of the Year and one of the nation’s top recruits. Coach Lou Richie also praises the improvement of returning point guard Paris Austin (5-11, Sr.), who scored 23 points in the state title game and is headed to Boise State. Arinze Chidom (6-8, Sr.) gives O’Dowd a tremendous defensive presence, Isaiah Thomas (6-9, Sr.) should help keep teams honest in their defense of Rabb and newcomers Elijah Hardy (6-0, Fr.) and Mike Hauser (7-0, Jr.) will be needed at some point during O’Dowd’s national schedule. O’Dowd, which opened up No. 7 in the Grassroots Hoops FAB 50 national rankings, plays No. 4 Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic and top-ranked Montverde Academy (Fla.) on December 12.

2. (5) Centennial (Corona) 29-4
The Huskies lost in last year’s CIF Division I state final to a hot-shooting Monte Vista team while they shot 28 percent from the field. In that game, it was evident Centennial would be a top five team in the state this preseason, but a couple of factors pushed them to the top spot in SoCal. Shooting guard Khalil Ahmad (6-3, Sr.) emerged as one of the state’s best guards over the summer and the Huskies now have impactful size underneath in Ike Anigbogu (6-7, Jr.) and Jalen Hill (6-9, So.) that they didn’t possess last year. The perimeter-oriented Huskies have the speed and length to harass nearly any team out of its offensive game plan and being a senior-oriented group should help them in close games. What you see it was you get with the Huskies – SMU-bound point guard Sedrick Barefield (6-0, Sr.) and Kyle Hamilton (6-3, Sr.) have performed well in many big games, but the Huskies will have to demonstate they can replace the contributions of graduated wing Deontae North if they are to win a CIF state title.

Sierra Canyon sophomore Cody Riley was one of the nation's top freshmen last season. Photo: Nick Koza/sportsamp.com

Sierra Canyon sophomore Cody Riley was one of the nation’s top freshmen last season. Photo: Nick Koza/sportsamp.com

3. (17) Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 29-4
Some analysts and respected recruiting gurus peg this as the state’s most talented team, but the Trailblazers will have to show they have the chemistry and maturity to capture a CIF Southern Section Open Division and state title. The bulk of this team is still sophomores, led by last year’s State Freshman of the Year, power forward Cody Riley (6-7, so.), the team’s most productive player. The player who is most spectacular and makes the Sierra Canyon go is point guard Devearl Ramsey (5-9, Jr.), who is backed up by equally explosive Remy Martin (5-10, So.). Up front, Riley is complemented by Ira Lee (6-7, So.), who does most of his work around the paint while Riley loves to face the basket and drive. Adam Sieko (6-3, So.) and Terrance McBride (6-2, So.) would be star players at nearly every other program in the state and both are versatile guards with plenty of big-game experience. Last year’s loss to Cantwell Sacred Heart in the SoCal Div. IV regional left a bad taste in Sierra Canyon’s mouth. It upgraded the schedule with trips to the City of Palms Tournament in Florida and a date with FAB 50 No. 2 Oak Hill Academy at the Nike Extravaganza so it’ll be ready for the rigors of the post-season.

M.J. Cage (right) is flanked by his father, former NBA rebounding champion Michael Cage. Photo: Ronnie Flores.

M.J. Cage (right) is flanked by his father, former NBA rebounding champion Michael Cage. Photo: Ronnie Flores.

4. (1) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 35-0
One credible human poll had the Monarchs as last year’s mythical national champion while all the others pegged Montverde Academy of Florida. Regardless of one’s opinion on that subject, there is little doubt last season had to be one of the most rewarding in the long coaching career of Gary McKnight, who enters the season with 995 wins against 85 losses and a state record 11 CIF state titles. Mater Dei is looking for state title No. 5 in a row, but it will have to do so without graduated Mr. Basketball Stanley Johnson, now at Arizona. He is one of the most accomplished players in state history and there is little doubt Mater Dei will drop a notch this season, but it doesn’t mean the Monarchs aren’t serious state title contenders. Rex Pflueger (6-3, Sr.) will be the go-to scorer and Michael Cage Jr. (6-10, Jr.) played well in every big game last year and is only going to get better. The point guard situation is a bit unsettled, so the production of Oaks Christian transfer K.J. Smith (6-3) will be key. Freshmen Michael Wang (6-7, Fr.) and Harrison Butler (6-4, Fr.) are expected to play big roles and that can be dicey for a program at this level. Mater Dei, however, does as good a job as any of getting mileage out of role players and putting players in position to excel because of the coaching staff’s experience and preparation.

5. (2) Etiwanda 27-5
The Eagles opened up last season No. 2 behind Mater Dei in the state and that is the position they finished after falling to the Monarchs in two overtimes in a thrilling SoCal Open Division regional semifinal contest. Mater Dei and Etiwanda have built a great post-season rivalry in recent seasons and it wouldn’t be surprising to see those two lock horns again this post-season. Coach Dave Kleckner (497-155) lost point guard Jordan McLaughlin to USC and only lost the one game to Mater Dei when NcLaughlin played a full game. That graduation loss is big, but Etiwanda’s personnel is still top notch and it will still play is trademark brand of suffocating man-to-man defense. Pepperdine-bound Kameron Edwards (6-6, Sr.) is the top returnee and a healthy Jordan Naughton (6-9, Sr.) will give this team a dimension it hasn’t had in recent seasons. The maturity of point guard Garrett Carter (6-0, Jr.) will be key and Delewis Johnson (6-4, Sr.) and transfer Marquis Reed (6-4, Sr.) provide depth and athleticism to a team that has plenty of capable guards to spell Carter.

6. (10) Redondo Union (Redondo Beach) 25-6
This is the first spot where we could have went in a number of directions with Chino Hills, Westchester and Long Beach Poly all getting serious consideration. We went with the Sea Hawks because they have enough returning talent and experience to play with the state’s top teams. With Reggie Morris Jr. they also have a top-notch coach and are always prepared. Redondo will feel the loss of Ian Fox (Idaho State) and Terrell Carter (Fresno State), but newcomer Billy Preston (6-8, So.) will provide a versatility no other player Morris has coached at Redondo possesses. It Preston develops consistency, this team will be a force to be reckoned with because Leland Green (6-2, So.), Cameron Williams (6-4, Jr.) and Ryse Williams (6-1, So.) can really defend and make clutch plays. If Jeremiah Headley (6-7, Sr.) and Cameron High (6-0, Sr.) are healthy and make steady contributions, this will be a legit CIF state title contender by the time the playoffs roll around.

Sophomore LiAngelo Ball (left) and his older brother Lonzo Ball were prominent members of last year's all-state freshman and all-state sophomore teams. Photo: Ronnie Flores.

Sophomore LiAngelo Ball (left) and his older brother Lonzo Ball were prominent members of last year’s all-state freshman and all-state sophomore teams. Photo: Ronnie Flores.

7. (6) Chino Hills 29-6
If the Huskies hadn’t lost post Nnamdi Okongwu (6-8) to a tragic skateboarding accident over the summer in which he died, they would be a spot or two higher on this list. Lost in the tragedy was the graduation of all-CIFSS choice Mark Williams, Bishop Mency and K.C. Cyprian, all three who provided rebounding and toughness. That trio is being replaced by younger, more offensive-minded talents, to compliment the unique ability of Lonzo Ball (6-6, Jr.). The UCLA commit continues to grow physically and continues to amaze with his ability to consistently lead at the frenetic pace Chino Hills likes to play while getting teammates involved. His favorite target is younger brother Gelo Ball (6-4, So.), who had an excellent freshman season and has improved other aspects of his game besides long range shooting. Ayala of Chino Hills transfer Shane Hopkins (6-7, Jr.) will give the Huskies a much-needed inside presence, but he has to sit out the 30-day fall transfer period.

8. (8) Westchester (Los Angeles) 30-7
The Comets don’t have the star players of some of the other top teams, but what they do have is a system that has brought great results since fielding back-to-back CIF Division I state title teams in ’09 and ’10 with multiple D1 recruits. Westchester relies of a stable of athletes, all of whom defend and buy into the system of building up upperclassmen from the lower levels. Last season, Westchester was stung by El Camino Real in the L.A. City Division I title game, but bounced back to take Mater Dei down to the wire in the SoCal Open Division Regional final. Ed Azzam, in his 36th season, welcomes back point guard Ellis Salahuddin (5-10, Sr.) and Akil Reese (6-2, Sr.) should give Westchester a spark when he returns from a summer ACL injury. Forward L’Kielynn Taylor (6-6, Jr.) also could develop into a big-time player and transfer Keith Fisher (6-7, Jr.) gives the Comets length and energy. Calvin Fletcher (6-7, Jr.) and Evan Council (6-5, Jr.) are the top players up from a 26-0 JV team who add size and depth.

Center Jordan Dallas was a standout at Long Beach Poly as a junior. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Center Jordan Dallas of Long Beach Poly has made tremendous strides as a prospect and is headed to Weber State. Photo: Mark Tennis.

9. (21) Long Beach Poly (Long Beach) 26-8
The Jackrabbits felt they belonged in the CIFSS Open Division playoffs last year and responded by winning the program’s 20th section title in Division I-AA. With three starters back and some talented up-and-comers, second year coach Shelton Diggs fully expects to win the Moore League title again and earn an Open Division berth. Returning All-CIFSS Division I-AA co-Player of the Year Ke’jhan Feagin (5-11, Sr.) is a clutch performer and one of the state’s most underappreciated talents. Drew Buggs (6-0, Jr.) should earn a D1 scholarship while improved big man Jordan Dallas (6-9, Sr.) is headed to Weber State. How far Poly goes in the post-season will depend on the offensive improvement of forward Devon Edmonds (6-5, Sr.) and the contributions of Harrison Bonner (6-3, Jr.) and Zafir Williams (6-5, So.).

10. (20) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 27-5
Big-game experience, coaching and the presence of dominant pivot man Ben Kone (6-8, Jr.) lands the Monarchs in the top 10. Kone, who weighs over 235 pounds, continues to improve and is the top player in the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL). There are enough pieces around Kone to make the Monarchs the favorites to capture another CIF Central Coast Section Open Division title. Mitty also defeated No. 16 Modesto Christian and No. 20 Moreau Catholic during the regular season on the way to its section title. How much of a chance coach Tim Kennedy’s club will have against Bishop O’Dowd in potential regional playoff game will depend on building depth and the development of forward Sebastian Much (6-7, So.). Dakari Monroe (6-2, Sr.), a fine all-around athlete, heads up the backcourt.

11. (11) Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) 28-6
The Knights are ranked right where they left off in 2013-14 when they went through a gauntlet of teams in the SoCal Division IV regional and routed Moreau Catholic to win the state title. All-State guard Stephen Thompson Jr. (6-2, Sr.) is back after averaging 22.0 points and 2.1 steals per game as a junior. Veteran coach Doug Mitchell will miss the gamesmanship of graduated Division IV State Player of the Year Justin Bibbins (Long Beach St.), but players such as Ethan Thompson (6-3, So.), Stephen’s younger brother, and Jordan Schakel (6-5, So.) will take on bigger roles. Mitchell always develops effective role players that don’t get a lot of fanfare, such as Christian Oshita (6-4, Sr.). He stepped up during the championship run and Ethan or Schakel is expected to do the same this time around in the post-season.

Point guard Jordan Ford led Folsom to CIF Division II state final. Photo: Willie Eashman.

Guard Jordan Ford of Folsom led team to CIF Division II state final. Photo: Willie Eashman.

12. (15) Folsom 32-3
The Bulldogs’ football team is looking to win a CIF state title and the hoops team is right behind them in what could be a memorable school year. The defending NorCal Division II champs are led by returning all-state and Sacramento Bee Player of the Year Jordan Ford (6-0, Jr.), a cerebral point guard who must be accounted for at all times. Folsom’s second best player off last year’s team, Portland-bound Colin Russell (6-7, Sr.), also returns and is one of the state’s most under-appreciated talents. Sacramento transfer Tre Finch (6-1, Jr.) will give Folsom another dimension in the backcourt and should help keep opposing defenses honest in their defense of Ford. This team is a major CIF state title contender, but if it wins consistently the Bulldogs will move up slowly because the schedule isn’t overwhelming and if they play in the open division, the road to a state title will be much tougher. Folsom is talented, but keep in mind it also lost to Moreau Catholic last season and the St. John Bosco team that defeated the Bulldogs in the Division II state title game was a first-round loser in the CIFSS Open Division playoffs.

13. (NR) Fairfax (Los Angeles) 22-11
This should be veteran coach Harvey Kitani’s best team since 2008-09 when two-time All-American Renardo Sidney and future NBA forward Solomon Hill were in the lineup. With Westchester losing Elijah Stewart (USC) and other veterans and Fairfax returning three starters and nine lettermen, why are the Comets still ranked ahead of the Lions? Mainly because Westchester has been winning in recent seasons without star players and since that 08-09 season, Fairfax has only beaten Westchester twice (both in 2011-12) and hasn’t beaten its Western League arch-rivals in the post-season since the 2007 SoCal regional finals. Kitani (696-254) loves his team’s chances to win the L.A. City Section Division I title because of its quickness and speed, especially in the backcourt. All-City point guard Lindsey Drew (6-3, Sr.) returns as does flashy Lorne Currie Jr. (6-2, Sr.). The improvement of Donald Gibson (6-4, Jr.) has been steady and he’s now one of the City’s best shooters. Babacar Thiombane (6-7, Jr.) leads a frontcourt that is not afraid to mix it up and if there is improvement in the frontline’s ability to score, this team could be moving up.

Bennie Boatright can do little wrong on the basketball court. Photo: Ronnie Flores.

Bennie Boatright is one of the best long-range shooters in the country. Photo: Ronnie Flores.

14. (27) Village Christian (Sun Valley) 27-5
The Crusaders won the CIFSS Division IV-A title over Windward last season, but this season a berth in the CIFSS Open Division is more likely. Head coach John Shaw’s club is led by Bennie Boatwright (6-9, Sr.), a USC commit and one of the state’s best shooters and scorers. Last year, the team didn’t jell until the end of the season because of injuries and this season there could be a jelling period because of transfers. Newcomers in the backcourt are Clifton Powell (6-4, Sr.) from Woodland Hills Taft and Khalil Simplis (6-0, Sr.) from North Hollywood Campbell Hall and that duo should give this club a lift. Jalen Riley (6-2, So.) is a talented guard who gained a ton of experience in last year’s championship run. If everything meshes, this team could be a dark horse contender to win the CIFSS Open Division.

15. (NR) Maranatha (Pasadena) 14-14
Before Village Christian can even begin to think about a repeat section title, it will have to deal with Maranatha in the Olympic League. Don’t let last year’s record fool you — the Minutemen will be major CIFSS Open Division contenders with Tyler Dorsey (6-5, Sr.) and Trevor Stanback (6-10, Jr.) in the fold. Dorsey, one of the nation’s top guards, transferred to his hometown after helping St. John Bosco to the CIF Division II state title last season. Stanback, the Cal-Hi Sports State Freshman of the Year in 2012-13 at West Hills Chaminade, is a force on the defensive end with his rebounding and shot-blocking ability. Holdover Odera Nwobi (6-8, Jr.) also gives Maranatha some muscle inside and the backcourt has some experienced players to compliment Dorsey. Veteran coach Tim Tucker (398 career wins) had some excellent teams in 18 seasons at Pasadena, but this team, his second at Maranatha, has as much potential as any of those Bulldog teams if the unit comes together and gets some breaks along the way.

For Part II of these preseason state rankings, CLICK HERE.

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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