Preseason Boys BB Ranks (1-15)

These two top guards from preseason state No. 7 Modesto Christian disagree with the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section rival Sheldon of Sacramento being higher than them in the preseason. Both Dathan Satchell (left) and Michael Pearson have getting to the CIF Open Division state final as their one and only goal. Photo: Mark Tennis.

It’s time to launch our winter basketball content on CalHiSports.com and we’ll do it with our preseason boys basketball state rankings. It was a hectic summer and fall with player movement, but it’s not hard to predict the team at the top. Players came and went to and from California, left CIF programs, but when it’s all said and done, it’s an easy call to go with defending CIF Open Division champ Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth as the preseason No. 1 team for the 2018-19 season. For the second consecutive season, Bishop Montgomery of Torrance is No. 2, but after the top two spots there are many teams vying for a berth in the open regional playoffs and more than a few that believe they can dethrone Sierra Canyon. Go inside for teams No. 1 through No. 15 in our preseason State Top 40.

Note: We hope you enjoy this free post. 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, please CLICK HERE.

For a look at the teams we’ve ranked from No. 16 to No. 40, plus 25 more on the bubble, CLICK HERE.

For last season’s final state rankings, CLICK HERE.

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

To see a list of all-time preseason No. 1 teams in our current state Top 20 format (1988-89), CLICK HERE.

California boys hoops is entering its seventh season of CIF Open Division playoffs at the regional level. For the first two seasons, Mater Dei of Santa Ana captured the CIF State Open Division championship on the back end of a historic run of four consecutive CIF state titles. Even after 2014 Mr. Basketball Stanley Johnson graduated, the Monarchs nearly made it five in a row in 2015, but they fell to Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland in a memorable overtime game at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley. Besides that win by 2015 Mr. Basketball Ivan Rabb and crew at O’Dowd, CIF Southern Section programs have dominated the open regionals, winning five of the six state crowns.

The massive CIF Southern Section began its own open division playoff format in 2014 (a year after the CIF Central Coast Section did) and last year the section reduced its open entrants from 16 to eight. This year, the CIFSS will tweak its format again, as there will be open division pool play, and a scrap of the consolation bracket. There will be two, four-team pools full of state-ranked teams and the teams will be seeded into a bracket based on a win-seed-based point system.

What that means is there will be some playoff re-matches, and this only makes sense because the CIFSS has dominated the SoCal open regional and because there are now showcases involving state-ranked teams every weekend leading up to the section playoffs. When good teams play each other more than once, one thing we’ve learned over the years is rematches often lead to an increased number of upsets where the lower ranked team wins the second or third time around.

In addition to looking out for playoff upsets, the two big news items surrounding CIF basketball is the start up date for the regular season and the regional playoff dates. The regular season now begins November 12 and the CIF State Championships are the weekend of March 8-9, 2019 at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. The season traditionally concluded on the last weekend of March, but beginning for 2018-19, the CIF sports calendar is now more aligned with the traditional school calendar, so spring sports championships are not conducted a week or two after most school districts let out for the summer.

What that means for this year, in addition to more compacted January weekend showcase schedules, is both the CIF NorCal and SoCal regional finals are slated for Tuesday, March 5. With the regional playoffs and state championships being conducted over a period of two weeks compared to three weeks as it was done in the past, the regional finals will take place on a weekday.

While we agree teams require less practice time at the end of the season, a weekday regional final could be a tough deal for fans. According to the CIF state office, as of now, home sites are going to be used with neutral sites a possibility. There won’t be one site anymore where fans will watch more than two games of their liking and that’s a bummer for fans who want to watch multiple boys (or girls) regional finals as they have been able to in the past. We count ourselves as among those fans and will really miss those regional finals and don’t look forward to having to choose where to go or simply staying home by the computer re-tweeting and tweeting updates of games happening at the same time.

The teams that play state finals on Friday, March 8 are also at a bigger disadvantage because it’s one less day to prepare for an opponent in an already shortened week and one less day for the media to give Friday teams positive pre-championship game coverage. Whereas the teams had six days to prepare in the past, now there are two and travel up to the game in some instances on Thursday evening. For the media, it basically has two days before games begin on Friday.

As for the teams, there are six California programs in the preseason FAB 50 National Rankings. It was stated in those rankings that Sierra Canyon is looking to become the first back-to-back CIF Open Division champ, but what was meant is the Trailblazers are trying to become the first team to repeat while also playing in a section open playoff format. Sierra Canyon didn’t win the CIFSS Open Division last season, but came back to win at the state level.

For the past five seasons, our preseason No. 1 ranked team has gone on to win the CIF state open crown, except for last year when we pegged Mater Dei of Santa Ana No. 1. Bol Bol (now at Oregon) transferred after the preseason FAB 50 was released and we decided to stay with the Monarchs at No. 1 even though it would have been justified to make a change and have a different statewide pecking order. Had we made a change, our No. 2 team was Bishop Montgomery of Torrance and No. 3 was Sierra Canyon. We felt the Monarchs were still formidable and they did go on to beat Sierra Canyon for the CIFSS Open Division title, only to fall in the first round of the CIF SoCal open regional to Fairfax of Los Angeles.

Sierra Canyon is a clear-cut statewide No. 1 this season as it tries to become the first back-to-back CIF open champ to compete in a section open playoff format. The Trailblazers defeated Sheldon of Sacramento, 75-62, and the Huskies are the NorCal No. 1 to start this season. The Huskies’ main threat to a repeat NorCal open title is Modesto Christian, which is looking for its first ever NorCal open title and its second berth in a major division state final (the other came in 2001 in D1). It would be an upset of sorts if a program besides one of those two is representing the North, while Sierra Canyon has more firepower back than any of the previous defending CIF Open Division state champions.

Will the Trailblazers repeat? Or will a state-ranked team it perhaps already faced earlier in the season knock them off before the state final? It’s going to be an entertaining ride to the Golden 1 Center and the only thing guaranteed is that the season will end sooner that it ever has since the advent of the modern day CIF state tournament in 1981.

Sierra Canyon’s Cassius Stanley is one of the best players in the nation for the Class of 2019 who hasn’t announced a college destination. Photo: Dylan Stewart/CIFSS.org.

2018-19 CAL-HI SPORTS PRESEASON
BOYS BASKETBALL STATE RANKINGS

(This is the 39th consecutive season that CalHiSports.com will provide state rankings; Last year’s final rating in parentheses with 2017-18 won-loss record)
(Cal-Hi Sports co-founder and editor Mark Tennis contributed to these rankings and writeups)

1. (1) Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 27-4
Last season, the Trailblazers became the first team ever from the San Fernando Valley to win a CIF state title in the highest classification (Open/D1) and this season is another first: Sierra Canyon is the first team ever from the region to start out as state preseason No. 1 since our Top 20 format began in 1988-89. In that time, Sierra Canyon becomes the 14th program (and 12th from SoCal) with the combination of returning talent, pedigree, and tough schedule to earn preseason No. 1 acclaim. Since the advent of the CIF Open Division in 2012-13, only Mater Dei of Santa Ana has repeated as champion (in 2013-14) and Sierra Canyon is trying to become the first to repeat while also navigating through a section open division playoff (which started in the CIFSS in 2013-14). Of all the previous defending CIF Open state champions, this Sierra Canyon team is returning more firepower than any of them. The one comparable team is 2016-17 Chino Hills (coming of a mythical national championship season with four returning starters), but replacing Duane Washington (now at Ohio St.) is not quite as daunting a task as replacing Lonzo Ball (now with the L.A. Lakers). If someone steps up to take (and make) the clutch shots like Washington did last season, this club shouldn’t miss a beat and could be in the thick of the mythical FAB 50 national title race. K.J. Martin (6-7, Sr.), the team’s leading scorer (17.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.2 bpg), returns and with Arizona commit Christian Koloko (7-0, Sr.) now in the fold, Martin’s burden inside against other elite teams is lessened and it will also help to keep him out of foul trouble. The improvement of Scotty Pippen Jr. (6-1, Sr.) over the second half of last season was key to the state title run and his presence makes a ton of difference in the big games. Cassius Stanley (6-5, Sr.) is primed for a big senior campaign after he went for 16.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.1 apg, and 1.9 spg following a 30-day sit out. Much improved Terren Frank (6-8, Jr.) is a big-time talent and L Simpson (6-2, Sr.) would be a star at a majority of the quality programs around the state; he can spell multiple positions and is a defensive spark. Against a difficult schedule that includes dates at the Iolani Classic in Hawaii and the Les Schwab Tournament in Oregon, not to mention a date with preseason FAB 50 No. 1 Montverde Academy of Florida at the Hoophall Classic, Sierra Canyon needs to be firing on all cylinders right away in order maintain its No. 8 national ranking. From a statewide perspective, it can lose a game at one of the showcases and still work its way back to No. 1 in the state. Helping Sierra Canyon in its quest for repeat CIF Open Division state titles is improved depth including Andrew Austin (6-7, Sr.) and Amari Bailey (6-4, Fr.).

2. (2) Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) 28-2
After opening the 2016-17 season as the top-ranked team in the state and going on to win the CIF Open state crown that season, this marks the second consecutive season in which the Knights open up at No. 2. Sure, they will miss the contributions of Fletcher Tynen (Boston University) and the 23.8 ppg of Davy Singleton (UCLA), but last year’s team had to replace similar firepower in 2017 Mr. Basketball Ethan Thompson (Oregon St.) and Jordan Schakel (San Diego St.) and didn’t miss a beat. This team actually has more inside firepower than any recent Doug Mitchell team and a veteran backcourt led by Oregon St. bound Gianni Hunt (6-2, Sr.) and underrated Montana-bound Josh Vazquez (6-3, Sr.). All-leaguers Will Crawford (6-5, Sr.) and Nick Schrader (6-5, Sr.) are the veterans up front and provide discipline, intensity and steady play. It’s the newcomers, Isaiah Johnson (6-5, Jr.) and Bradley Ezewiro (6-8, Jr.), which can really take this team to the next level. The athletic Johnson can make big plays on both ends and the powerful Ezewiro is the inside matchup problem Montgomery’s opponents haven’t worried about in recent seasons. With this program’s returning talent, newcomers and knack for big-game preparation, it edges out Rancho Christian for the No. 2 spot. Bishop Montgomery’s regular season schedule is not nearly as overwhelming as Sierra Canyon’s or Rancho Christian’s, but Mitchell will have his unit prepared late in the season as it develops chemistry following Johnson’s 30-day sit out period. Montgomery did lose senior Oscar Lopez to an academy program, but the improvement of Jordan Archie (6-2, Sr.) and depth provided by the likes of Jalen “Butter” Vazquez (5-11, Fr.) makes this team a serious threat to win its second CIFSS and CIF Open Division state crown in three seasons.

Evan Mobley’s status as one of the most elite next level prospects in the nation has skyrocketed in recent months. Photo: @ncalpremierball / Twitter.com.

3. (14) Rancho Christian (Temecula) 29-5
This program started No. 12 in the preseason last year and finished in the range projected for them, but this season the expectations are much greater. Rancho Christian is ranked No. 24 in the preseason FAB 50 right behind Bishop Montgomery (at No. 20), but the Eagles have a big opportunity to move up and even get in the mythical national championship race if they win the big games on their schedule. This team has experienced players, college size, and scoring ability, but it must prove it can get by the local competition and fare well in the CIFSS and SoCal Open Division regional playoffs. It starts with Isaiah Mobley (6-9, Sr.), last year’s Riverside Press-Enterprise Player of the Year and a shoo-in McDonald’s All-American and Mr. Basketball candidate. Mobley (19.9 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg) has improved his overall game and mobility, but ultimately it will be his younger brother Evan Mobley (7-0, Jr.) and how he’s utilized that will be the tell tale for this team. His numbers last season were not overwhelming (14.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 3.2 apg), but his size and coordination have caught up to each other and for many talent evaluators that makes him the best long-term prospect in high school basketball today. That’s great for blogs, social media, and NBA Draft boards, but for the purposes of high school basketball the Eagles’ offense must consistently involve him in the team’s big games, as Rancho Christian looks to capture the CIFSS Open Division playoffs. Point guard play will be key and although Jordan Montgomery (5-11, Jr.) has plenty of experience and transfer Jayden Byers (5-11, Soph.) can be a spark off the bench, it’s the play of Dominick Harris (6-4, Jr.) that could take this team to the next level. This is the season coach Ray Barefield (a former standout at Hoover of Fresno) has pointed to for three years and he’s scheduled aggressively as the country gets a good look at the Mobley brothers. The Eagles have two must-win games at Hoophall West in Phoenix (Dec. 7-8), they will be the No. 2 seed at the Tarkanian Classic (Dec. 17-22) in Las Vegas) and they’ll participate in the Montverde Academy Invitational (Jan. 24-26). Barefield’s club also meets James Wiseman and Memphis East on Jan. 11 in West Memphis, Ark., plays FAB 50 title contender McEachern of Georgia at the Hoophall Classic (Jan. 21) and has a regular season date set up with state No. 1 Sierra Canyon. The Eagles have to be excited about the opportunities this schedule provides, but can’t afford inconsistency in order to survive it.

4. (13) St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 25-8
We seriously considered the Braves for the No. 3 spot in front of Rancho Christian. After all, coach’s Matt Dunn’s program defeated the Eagles three times last season, including twice in the post-season on their way to a SoCal D1 regional final berth. We decided, however, Rancho Christian’s monster schedule warranted a higher spot, and also the fact Bosco started out No. 31 last season, meaning they won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around. This perimeter-oriented team was one solid quarter away from a CIF D1 state final berth, as it was outscored 27-2 by Chino Hills in the fourth quarter of the SoCal regional final and if the Braves had advanced and won, it would likely have been in front of Rancho Christian regardless of schedules. National high school basketball fans are not too familiar with the Braves’ lineup, but it’s one of California’s most balanced and Dunn has the luxury of five returning starters plus good depth. It begins with Jonathan Salazar (6-6, Sr.), an absolute load to handle; he’s one of the toughest checks in the country underneath and a steal for Damon Stoudamire at the University of Pacific. Joshua Adoh (6-3, Sr.) is a returning all-CIFSS choice and Christian James (6-2, Sr.) is also all-section material. James and Fernando Gomez (6-1, Sr.) are two of the better shooters in SoCal and players such as Jaylen Mansen (6-5, Sr.), Josh Camper (5-11, Jr.), Scotty Washington (6-4, Soph.) and Lemaj Lewis (6-5, Soph.) provide interchangeable parts and ratchet up the defensive intensity. Bosco is looking to capture the Trinity League crown and make No. 6 Mater Dei a second division team for the first time in 32 years.

Anyone who saw the 2018 CIF Open Division state final knows how explosive that guard Xavion Brown of Sacramento Sheldon can be in many situations on the floor. Photo: Willie Eashman.

5. (4) Sheldon (Sacramento) 29-6
Similar to St. John Bosco, the Huskies had a bad fourth quarter (outscored 19-6) at the wrong time, in Sheldon’s case during a loss to Sierra Canyon in the CIF Open Division state title game. Sheldon is preseason FAB 50 ranked at No. 41, but similar to Bosco, it started a lot lower last season. The expectation is a return trip to represent the North in the CIF Open Division title game. Sheldon is actually more talented and deeper than last season, but opens one spot lower than it finished in the rankings in 2017-18. Why? Mainly because there has only been two NorCal programs (St. Joseph of Alameda with Jason Kidd and later Ray Young and Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland with Ivan Rabb) since 1988-89 to open as the preseason state No. 1 and only one team from the region to win a CIF open title (O’Dowd with Rabb) since 2012-13 season. So for NorCal teams, they usually have to climb to No. 1 and Sheldon definitely has the horses to do it. Graduated guard Dale Currie will be missed, but Justin Nguyen (5-9, Sr.) is a catalyst and always seems to spark the Huskies at the right time. As he showed in last year’s state title game, Xavion Brown (6-2, Jr.) is one of the most explosive guards in the state and just needs a bit more consistency to make Sheldon a national level team. The defending NorCal Open Division champs have better size in the middle with Long Beach St.-bound Josh Morgan (6-10, Sr.) and another quality body in Brennan Newsome (6-7, Sr.). Cal-St. East Bay-bound Kaito Williams (6-2, Sr.) can play a variety of positions and Xavier Brown (6-4, Jr.) also brings tons of energy and experience. The difference maker could be Marcus Bagley (6-6, Jr.), an excellent shooter who moved into the area after his older brother Marvin Bagley III was drafted by the Sacramento Kings. Before coach Joey Rollings’ club can think about a return trip to the Golden 1 Center, it must navigate a schedule that includes a trip to the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas and the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic in San Diego, a game with FAB 50 ranked Rainier Beach of Seattle at home, and a contest with FAB 50 ranked Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas on the road during MLK weekend.

6. (6) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 23-7
This is the first spot where our rankings get really interesting because quite frankly this is not a vintage Mater Dei team like ones we’ve seen over the years from a program that has opened as preseason No. 1 nine times since 1988-89 and won a record 11 CIF state titles since its first in 1986-87. It’s a talented, albeit, young team trying to extend Mater Dei’s league title streak to 31 consecutive seasons. It won’t be easy, as No. 4 St. John Bosco is in the driver’s seat, No. 12 Santa Margarita is extremely talented and No. 15 Orange Lutheran is much improved. The track record of success for coach Gary McKnight (1,105-105 won-record since 1982-83) and his program’s penchant for developing and getting better as the season wears on makes us feel comfortable about placing the Monarchs in this spot despite the youth. Wilhelm Breidenbach (6-9, Soph.) was all-Trinity League last season and should see a great jump in production while Devin Askew (6-4, Soph.) could develop into the most physically dominant lead guard in McKnight’s tenure. The transfer of shooter Ryan Evans (6-1, Jr.) and Nicholas Davidson (6-7, Soph.) over from Santa Margarita helps this ranking, as Evans’ production and development will be key for a team that relies on execution and quality shots. Aidan Prukop (6-4, Jr.) and Harry Hornery (6-8, Soph.) bring intangibles and toughness while players such as Gabriel Quiette (6-3, Fr.) and Logan Cremonesi (6-6, Jr.) provide depth. This will be one of the greatest challenges of McKnight’s coaching career to get this team to play at the CIF SoCal Open Division level but the veteran coach loves the chemistry and the fact the pressure is on other teams to start out the season.

Bryce Fantazia is starting his third season at Modesto Christian and is excited about team’s upcoming schedule, which includes a matchup at the Nike Extravaganza at Mater Dei in February against fabled national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy of Virginia. Photo: Mark Tennis.

7. (10) Modesto Christian 29-4
The Crusaders began last season No. 6 and begin right in the same range this time around and just outside the FAB 50 national rankings. This regionally ranked team is an easy call as the No. 2 NorCal team behind Sheldon as informal polling of NorCal coaches brought forward the uniform sentiment that it’s the Huskies and Crusaders in the North and then everyone else. Head coach Brice Fantazia loves his roster with 10 lettermen off a team that defeated Sheldon for the CIF Sac Joaquin Section D1 crown, but must get over the hump in the NorCal Open Division playoffs. UC Davis-bound Aaron Murphy (6-7 Sr.) can do a bit of everything for Fantazia and the health and productivity of Tsotne Tsartsidze (6-9, Sr.) is key because he gives this team a different dimension when he’s on the floor. The backcourt of Mike Pearson (5-10, Sr.) and Dathan Satchell (6-3, Sr.) gives him four of the best seniors in NorCal and Earvin Knox (5-10, Sr.) provides a spark. There are also five players 6-foot-7 or taller on the roster while quality reserves such as Devin Day (6-2, Fr.) will get plenty of playing time during league contests. It’s the results of showcase and tournament games that will determine this club’s national ranking potential going into the playoffs. The Crusaders take on No. 12 Santa Margarita at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic (Nov. 24) and face FAB 50 ranked Gonzaga Prep of Spokane, Wash. at Hoophall West (Dec. 7) and national power Oak Hill Academy of Virginia at the Nike Extravaganza (Jan. 26).

8. (5) Westchester (Los Angeles) 29-6*
In last year’s off-season data collecting, we made the decision that as long as head coach Ed Azzam (875-271) and his veteran staff is in place, the Comets will be in our preseason rankings. Last year, they started off No. 20 and once again proved to be one of the state’s best teams, winning their second L.A. City Open Division crown in three years even with Missouri St. bound Jordan Brinson (6-3, Sr.) missing the section title game with injury. Brinson could be the best guard in the City and the team got a big boost when Kaelen Allen (6-6, Sr.) was granted another season of eligibility and is a returning L.A. City Section Player of the Year and third team all-state choice. There is another experienced and talented post player in Kaveon Batiste (6-7, Sr.) and excellent backcourt depth with Jeremiah Turley (5-11, Sr.), Kevin Bethel (6-2, Sr.) and transfer Jared Barnett (5-11, Sr.). Azzam has won six CIF state titles and it was easy to predict future NBA players on some of those clubs. This team is like the ones in recent seasons with excellent high school players that can compete with any team in the state. The depth and talent gives Azzam a good opportunity to win section title No. 15.

9. (17) Mission Bay (San Diego) 27-6
This team was on our Top 20 radar last preseason (opening at No. 29), but its development was accelerated because of the improvements of Rejean “Boogie” Ellis (6-3, Sr.) and Ronnie Latting (6-7, Sr.). The result was the first league crown for the Bucs in 29 years, a CIF San Diego Section Open Division title and Top 20 ranking. Coach Marshawn Cherry welcomes back five starters, including the returning section/Hall of Champions Player of the Year in Ellis (24.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.0 apg) and Latting, who is an all-state candidate this season. Ellis is a serious Mr. Basketball candidate, but it’s the development of players such as Jaymarree Norton (6-1, Sr.) and Anthony Scott (6-3, Fr.) that will determine if the Bucs can win a game in the eight-team SoCal Open playoffs. Cherry likes his team’s chances stating, “We have a Top 25 player in the country and we are bigger, faster and more mature this season.”

Ethan Anderson is starting his fourth season on the Fairfax of Los Angeles varsity. Photo: SportStarsMag.com.

10. (11) Fairfax (Los Angeles) 23-10
Expectations were sky-high last season for the Lions (opened No. 4), but they couldn’t get by nemesis Westchester in the L.A. City Section playoffs, although they were able to down CIFSS Open Division champ Mater Dei in the first round of the SoCal Open Division playoffs. This season, Fairfax opens right around the spot it finished last season, as third-year coach Steve Baik is hunting his first-ever L.A. City Section Open Division crown and the program’s first since 2015. Westchester has more experienced talent inside, so the production of Daylen Williams (6-7, Sr.), the son of former L.A. Crenshaw legend John Williams, is key. In the backcourt, the pieces are all there as Baik looks to UNLV-bound Ethan Anderson (6-1, Sr.) for big scoring nights and clutch plays on a team that plays nearly as fast as some of Baik’s vintage Chino Hills teams. Robert McRae (6-4, Sr.) is a versatile talent who can play multiple positions and if he becomes consistent on the offensive end, this team could move up. Excellent guard depth is provided by Ronald Mitchell (6-3, Sr.), an underrated college prospect, Justin Gladney (5-9, Jr.), Barry Wilds (5-10, Soph.) and transfer Keith Dinwiddie (6-1, Jr.), who will quickly prove himself as one of the best shooters in the section. Fairfax plays Westchester at home Jan. 18 and the return game is Jan. 25.

11. (19) San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno) 25-7
The Panthers finished 2017-18 in the exact same position awarded them in the pre-season and even though some talented seniors moved on to the college ranks, expectations are a bit higher for this club. That’s because of the return of Jalen Green (6-5, Jr.), last year’s Cal-Hi Sports State Sophomore of the Year and one of the most gifted players to come down the pike in the CIF Central Section in some time. He averaged 27.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.6 spg and will have many spectacular games. With some big outings in key games, Green could develop into a serious Mr. Basketball candidate as a junior. He’ll produce, but with so much defensive attention, the season will ultimately come down to the development of the role players. Coach Brad Roznovsky doesn’t have quite the overall talent level of last season, but he likes the depth better this year and that could pay dividends if he finds the right combinations. Justin “Juice” Huelskamp (6-3, Sr.) is an experienced combo guard who can score and make plays, while Mason Machado (6-8, Jr.) gives the team some experienced muscle inside. The X-factor will be the production of Braxton Meah (6-11, Sr.), a transfer from Utah who will surprise teams with his mobility and skill level. Another reason the Panthers are a heavy favorite to repeat as section D2 champs is the emergence of Jo Jo Hunter (6-3, Fr.), a talented wing who is an excellent passer, and Devin “211” Newsome (5-11, Fr.), who scraps on defense and has surprised with his development.

12. (28) Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita) 20-10
We made a serious consideration to starting out the Eagles in front of San Joaquin Memorial at the same spot we started them out last year (No. 10), but we didn’t for two reasons. One, the Eagles lost two talented transfers (guard Ryan Evans and forward Nick Davidson) and lost them to Trinity League rival Mater Dei. Second, the Eagles didn’t finish near their preseason projection last year and will have to prove they can close strong against yet another challenging schedule. Coach Jeff Reinert likes the balance on this team and believes the arrival of Kendall McHugh (6-0, Sr.) solves the point guard dilemma that was noticeable in the big games last season. UCLA-bound Jake Kyman (6-7, Sr.) is the most consistent performer, but the consistency of USC-bound Max Agbonkpolo will be a key to this team’s fortunes. BYU-bound Shengzhe Li (6-10, Sr.) has made marked improvement and if he stays out of foul trouble this team could be a force. The Eagles would love to get the season off on the right foot with a win over No. 7 Modesto Christian at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic and league games will be absolute wars as the Trinity League goes to one round of games this season.

The Big O — Onyeka Okongwu of Chino Hills — will be attempting to become a back-to-back Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year. Photo: Willie Eashman.

13. (9) Chino Hills 26-11
After an up-and-down 2017-18 regular season, the Huskies finished right in the range projected of them in the preseason (No. 8) and more importantly, captured the CIF D1 state title with a sound defeat of Walnut Creek Las Lomas. Teams simply didn’t have an answer for Onyeka Okongwu (6-9, Sr.), who dominated post-season play and finished with season averages of 28 ppg, 12 rpg, and 4 bpg. He was named Mr. Basketball as a junior and we’ve evaluated every big game of Big O’s high school career and he has yet to have a poor outing. Phaquon Davis (5-10, Sr.) missed the post-season with injury, but he’s quick and has experience in high-level games as well. Nicholas Manor-Hall (6-6, Sr.) is athletic and can make the big defensive play, while Will Pluma (6-0, Sr.) is a shot-taker and shot-maker. The play of Aibigho Ujadghele (6-1, Jr.) will be key as his older brother Ofure Ujadghele has graduated and he needs to pick up some of the slack left behind. There is plenty to like about this club, and the Big O gives it a chance in every game. But before the Huskies can move up, they must prove the contributions of Ujadghele and Andre Ball (Pepperdine) can be adequately replaced.

14. (27) Rancho Verde (Moreno Valley) 23-11
This is perhaps our first surprise placement in the rankings, as the Mustangs are talented and recorded some big wins last season. No. 19 Poly of Riverside is receiving plenty of preseason acclaim, but it was coach Brandon Baker’s club that beat Poly twice in league play. With No. 21 Notre Dame of Riverside joining the newly revamped Ivy League with Rancho Verde, Poly and J.W. North, look for some terrific games similar to the ones we’ve seen in the Baseline League in recent seasons. Baker has his two big guns back in Cal-St. Fullerton bound Tory San Antonio (6-3, Sr.) and Grid-Hoop stud Jaxen Turner (6-1, Sr.). San Antonio is a hellacious defender and a relentless scorer, while Turner has a knack for making big plays at the right time, none bigger than the half court buzzer beater he made to knock off Santa Margarita in the SoCal D1 playoffs to close out a 30-point effort. Against a schedule of tough league contests and games at the Inland Empire Classic, Corona Centennial Battlezone, and The Classic at Damien, the production of forwards Emmanuel Agubata (6-5, Sr.) and Derrick Nettles Jr. (6-5, Soph.) will be key.

15. (NR) Lutheran (Orange) 11-17
The Lancers are the first club listed that weren’t in our final 2017-18 rankings. Coach Chris Nordstrom welcomes back all five starters, some depth from a 20-6 JV team and some talented newcomers. Among the veterans there’s all-Trinity League selections Cade Potter (6-8, Sr.), who is headed to Utah St., and Isaiah Pope (6-5, Sr.), who already has D1 offers. The veteran in the backcourt is Garrett Anderson (5-11, Sr.) but what has Lancers’ fans excited is the arrival of Makur Maker (7-0, Sr.). The cousin of NBA big man Thon Maker who started out at Chaminade of West Hills is now back in SoCal after a stint out of the country. If he plays to his vast potential and fits in with the veterans, the Lancers could shake up the Trinity League. Maker also has a talented back up in Jorge Ochoa (6-8, Fr.), who can step outside and score and will only get better everyday in practice. There is plenty to like about this club, but it must cut the loss total in half and show it has what it takes to get past No. 3 St. John Bosco, No. 6 Mater Dei and No. 12 Santa Margarita in league play, not to mention talented JSerra of San Juan Capistrano.

For a look at the teams we’ve ranked from No. 16 to No. 40, plus 30 more on the bubble, CLICK HERE.

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


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2 Comments

  1. phil60
    Posted November 14, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Ronnie or Mark,
    How many teams will there be in the regional finals? Thanks.

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted November 14, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Nothing changes for the format. Eight team Open Divisions both north and south. Open, D1, D2, D3, D4 & D5 regional finals and then state finals. It’s just the dates and no more one-day of regional finals at a place like Galen Center or Santa Clara.

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