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 another hectic summer and fall with player movement, and there were some players still moving in and out of the state in early November. Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth has plenty of hype around its program and its players, but it was an easy call to go with the two-time defending CIF Open Division champ as the preseason No. 1 team for the 2019-20 season. This is the second consecutive season the Trailblazers are the preseason No. 1 with 11-time CIF state champ Mater Dei of Santa Ana coming in at No. 2. How many teams have a realistic chance to dethrone the champs and is a NorCal team one of them? Go inside for teams No. 1 through No. 15 in our preseason State Top 40.
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California boys hoops is entering its eighth season of CIF Open Division playoffs at the regional level. Six of the seven CIF open state crowns have been captured by CIF Southern Section programs. It took the presence of a franchise type, All-Decade player in 2015 Mr. Basketball Ivan Rabb of Oakland Bishop O’Dowd and a terrific second-half performance from guard Paris Austin (currently at Cal) to prevent CIFSS club Mater Dei of Santa Ana from winning its third consecutive CIF open crown, and fifth consecutive overall, back in 2015 when Rabb and Austin were seniors. Even then, the game went into overtime and Mater Dei had its chances against the highest-ranked club ever from Northern California since the advent of weekly national high school basketball national polls in 1975-76.
A talent such as Rabb doesn’t come around every year in NorCal and there doesn’t appear to be a talent of his caliber at a CIF member program in 2019-20. Last season, Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth became the second program to repeat as CIF Open champs following Mater Dei in 2013-14 in the first two years of the state open format. And this season, Sierra Canyon becomes the first program since Westchester of Los Angeles in 2003-04 and 2004-05 to go back-to-back seasons as state preseason No. 1. The Comets finished No. 1 in 2003-04 (even though it didn’t compete in the postseason) and came back the next season to win the CIF D1 state title to finish No. 1 again.
Sierra Canyon is looking to become only the second program in the modern era (post-1982) to win three consecutive CIF titles in the major division, joining the Stanley Johnson-led Mater Dei teams that won four in a row between 2011-2014. With its returning talent, talented newcomers including star forwards Brandon Boston of Norcross, Ga. and Ziaire Williams from Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks, and coach Andre Chevalier’s track record to get his team to play at its peak at the end of the season, Sierra Canyon is a fairly obvious choice to start as state preseason No. 1 for 2019-20. The big questions are, how many teams can realistically challenge the Trailblazers for the CIF Open crown and is there a team from the NorCal open regional that is one of them?
With the competitive equity model, much of the focus is on the CIF Open title game at the CIF State Championships (set for March 13-14, 2020 at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento) and, quite frankly, since that 2015 barn-burner between O’Dowd and Mater Dei, the marquee game has been anti-climatic. Sheldon of Sacramento, which comes in at No. 5 in our preseason state rankings, is NorCal’s top-rated club to start the season, but did not appear in the FAB 50 national preseason rankings as it did last year. Whether it does turns out to be Sierra Canyon, one of the other three SoCal clubs that appear in the preseason FAB 50 National Rankings, or another club that emerges from the SoCal open playoffs, the NorCal open entrant is going to have to prove it can rise to the level of play we’ve seen in recent years from SoCal clubs such as Chino Hills, Bishop Montgomery of Torrance or the Trailblazers. The Huskies, and every other highly-regarded NorCal open club, are going to have to prove they can play at the level.
Almost all the programs that participate in the SoCal and NorCal open regional appear in our weekly state rankings, and because all but two get knocked out in the regionals, a vast majority of the state’s best teams don’t make it to Sacramento. In the interest of competitive equity, a wide variety of programs (including more public schools) play for state championships, but general fans of basketball who want to follow future college and pro players and long-time CIF followers are simply not seeing the quality of teams or players they once did. The talent level, nor interest level, is simply not there compared to what we experienced prior to the advent of the open division and competitive equity.
Making matters more difficult for fans (and the media covering games) is the absence of a weekend regional final where fans can see more than one game or star player at a time. Similar to last season, both the CIF NorCal and SoCal regional finals this season are slated for a Tuesday (March 10, 2020) with the regional playoffs and state championships conducted over a two-week period. In past years, the regional finals were a chance to see many top teams at one site, but starting last season home sites were used for regional final games and we had to choose where to go for that one game. Last year we were able to witness a terrific come-from-behind road win by Chino Hills over Etiwanda in the SoCal D1 regional final, but we’d be remiss to not state the fans got more bang for their buck being able to see more than one game spread out over a day, rather than choosing one and following the others on social media.
We’ll be closely following the action as we have on a weekly basis for the past 40 years, keeping alive a tradition of expertise started by late founder Nelson Tennis in the 1970s and enhanced since the early 1980s by longtime editor Mark Tennis, but will there be a renewed excitement for the CIF regional playoffs and state championships? Or will this year’s event simply serve as another Sierra Canyon coronation?
2019-20 CAL-HI SPORTS PRESEASON
BOYS BASKETBALL STATE RANKINGS
(This is the 40th consecutive season that CalHiSports.com will provide state rankings; Last year’s final rating in parentheses with 2018-19 won-loss record)
(Cal-Hi Sports co-founder and editor Mark Tennis contributed to these rankings)
1. (1) Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 32-3
The Trailblazers’ program has reached new heights in recent seasons and this year the attention and hype will reach unprecedented levels because two sons of famous players are on the roster. It’s the talent level and what has transpired in recent years, not any hype, which makes Sierra Canyon an easy choice to start at No. 1. It is the first program to open as back-to-back preseason No. 1 in 15 years (L.A. Westchester) and perhaps it’s a good omen because that Comet team (led by current NBA vet Amir Johnson) won the CIF D1 title. Interestingly, only 14 programs (and just two from NorCal) since 1988-89 produced teams containing all the necessary ingredients to open up as state No. 1 and presumably, as one of the best teams in the country. Should Sierra Canyon go on to win the CIF Open crown on March 14, it will become only the second program to win three consecutive state titles in the highest classification (open/D1) in the modern era (post 1982) and the first one in state history to win three consecutive since the advent of the open playoffs (2013). Mater Dei of Santa Ana won four consecutive between 2011 and 2014, with the final two in the open division. Coach Andre Chevalier has the pieces to make history, as McDonald’s All-American candidate Brandon Boston (6-6, Sr.) joins the team from Norcross, Ga., and could emerge as a state Mr. Basketball candidate. Ziaire Williams (6-8, Sr.) comes over from nearby Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks and is even more-highly regarded than Boston by many recruiting experts. TCU-bound Terren Frank (6-8, Sr.) is a key cog that can excel at either forward spot and returns after averaging 11 ppg, 7 rpg and 2 apg on last year’s state and CIFSS open title-winning team. Amari Bailey (6-4, So.) is the returning starter in the backcourt and although his numbers were modest (8 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg), he showed what he could do on the big stage in the state title game, had a terrific summer and will be a cinch double-digit scorer this season. Bailey is an explosive point guard who can slide off the ball when Tookey Wigington (5-6, So.) runs the show or when Florida transplant Zaire Wade (6-2, Sr.) or LeBron James Jr. (6-0, Fr.) are in the lineup. Wade is the son of former NBA player Dwayne Wade and James is the oldest son of the current L.A. Lakers’ star. Sure, the media frenzy is larger because of the presence of James and Wade, but neither have the enormous pressure to carry the team as they would at a school with lesser talent. James is rapidly improving and has a great feel for the game and loves to get his teammates involved, so he and the other high-profile players should have no trouble coming together to meet team goals. Chevalier has done an excellent job managing talented rosters and big egos the past two years, so there is no reason to believe he can’t do it with this group. Boston transplant Shy Odom (6-5, So.) is just what the doctor ordered in terms of having a rugged player up front and on the wing willing to do the dirty work who doesn’t need the ball in his hands in order to make an impact. Sierra Canyon wants to make a serious run at the FAB 50 national title, and plays a national schedule that includes many nationally televised appearances on ESPN, in addition to games streamed on ESPN+ and televised locally on Fox and KDOC. Sierra Canyon’s FAB 50 title hopes will be put to the test in Minnesota on January 3-4 against Patrick School of New Jersey and local powerhouse Minnehaha Academy. The Trailblazers also face LeBron James’ old high school (2003 FAB 50 champ St. Vincent-St. Mary of Akron, Ohio) on December 14 and if all goes to plan, Williams will be eligible for the title game of The Classic at Damien on December 30, where the opponent could be No. 3 Rancho Christian.
2. (2) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 29-5
The Monarchs begin the season in the same spot they finished 2018-19, as Mater Dei eyes its 12th CIF state crown under legendary head coach Gary McKnight. Sierra Canyon was fairly dominant in its run to state and CIF Southern Section open titles last season, but this underclass-dominated club that opened No. 6 in the state gave the Trailblazers a competitive game (82-73) in the SoCal open final and returns all five starters and 13 lettermen. Last year’s team somewhat overachieved and that has actually happened at least two other seasons in the past decade under McKnight, the nation’s active winningest coach (1,136-110 since 1982-1983). There will be a bit more pressure and expectations this time around, so the leadership and play of Kentucky-bound Devin Askew (6-4, Jr.) is key. Last season’s State Sophomore of the Year averaged 14.0 ppg, 6.8 apg, and 2.1 spg to lead a balanced attack. Wilhelm Breidenbach (6-9, Jr.) got plenty of experience against big-time post players on the travel ball circuit and that should help his development (12.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg as a tenth-grader) this season. USC-bound Harry Hornery (6-9, Jr.) is a versatile talent (11.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and double-digit scorers Ryan Evans (6-2, Sr.) and Aidan Prukop (6-4, Sr.) can spread any defense with their timely outside shooting. In all, McKnight returns five double-digit scorers with Nick Davidson (6-8, Jr.) just missing with averages of 9.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg. McKnight really likes the size and shooting he has to work with, and if this team proves it can defend on the perimeter well, it clearly is one of the teams with a realistic chance to dethrone Sierra Canyon in the postseason. The Monarchs travel to Phoenix for Hoophall West (December 7) and also play in the Corona Del Mar Beach Bash (December 10-14), with the big tests before the New Year coming at the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas and the Les Schwab Invitational in Portland, tournaments in which national power Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas participates in. The Monarchs’ game versus preseason FAB 50 No. 3 DeMatha Catholic of Maryland at the Cancer Research Classic in West Virginia on January 5 also will be a great national barometer and back home, the Monarchs will return to facing their Trinity League does in a home-and-away series after facing each team only once last season.
3. (4) Rancho Christian (Temecula) 25-6**
It was a close call last season to place the Eagles right behind Bishop Montgomery in the FAB 50 and at No. 3 in the state and once again they begin in this spot in a close call with Mater Dei. Ironically, there is slightly less preseason pressure and expectations, even though the Eagles actually begin the season three spots higher in the FAB 50 (No. 21) than they in did in 2018-19. Isaiah Mobley is off to USC, but after his family briefly considered re-classing Evan Mobley (7-0, Sr.) up to join his brother in college, it was decided he would play a fourth season at Rancho Christian. Last year’s Cal-Hi Sports State Junior of the Year was a state Mr. Basketball finalist and is a returning All-American after averaging 19.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 4.7 bpg and 3.3 spg after injuries and growing pains limited his production, at times, as a freshman and sophomore. There is little doubt the Eagles have the best prospect in high school basketball and if fall leagues are any indicator, Evan Mobley is now producing like he’s the best player in the country. The returning guards from last season are also faster, bigger and more experienced to give the Eagles the necessary ingredients to seriously challenge Sierra Canyon for state and section open titles. At the high school level, sometimes it proves difficult for two talented post players to operate together and at times last season, the Eagles’ offense stagnated as the brothers tried to operate together. This season the formula is simpler, as coach Ray Barefield wants to push tempo and open up the floor for his guards on the fast-break and get the ball to Mobley down low in the half court to create scoring opportunities for Luke Turner (6-7, Jr.) and Gonzaga-bound Dominick Harris (6-4, Sr.). The less congested driving lanes also make Bryson Stephens (6-0, Sr.) and Jayden Byers (6-0, Jr.) more dangerous offensive threats. Turner has the ability to keep defenses from totally collapsing on Mobley with his perimeter shooting and Harris will be in the lineup the whole season (as opposed to last season’s 30-day sit out), so that should help with continuity come playoff time. As if that personnel wasn’t enough, the Eagles added a nice piece in Missouri transplant Jayce Catchings (6-5, Sr.), a capable defender and board man. Although Rancho Christian faltered in the playoffs last season, it showed what it was capable of in the last game of the regular season when it handed Sierra Canyon its only loss to a California club. The two teams could meet in the championship tilt of The Classic at Damien on December 30 and will definitely meet on January 11 at Pasadena City College. Similar to No. 2 Mater Dei, Barefield’s club faces DeMatha Catholic of Maryland and will get a late-season test at the Nike Extravaganza versus Gonzaga of Washington DC, which hails from the same Washington Catholic Athletic Conference as DeMatha and is currently considered the best high school basketball league in the country.
4. (11) Etiwanda 28-6
The Eagles started out No. 32 in the state last season after losing a strong senior class that advanced to the 2018 SoCal open final against eventual state open champ Sierra Canyon. Etiwanda’s young talent, however, developed and jelled quicker than expected in 2018-19, and the Eagles proved to be a major CIFSS Open title contender with a young nucleus. Coach Dave Kleckner’s club once again advanced to a SoCal regional final, this time in D1 against Chino Hills, and was four minutes from its first CIF state title game appearance when the Eagles were grounded. They gave up 13 unanswered points in the final four minutes and lost 49-47. What had to be even more gut-wrenching was it came at the hands of a fellow Baseline League member in a year in which Etiwanda won the league title outright. This season, the expectations are to challenge the state’s top three ranked clubs for the CIFSS Open Division crown and statewide supremacy, and the blend of coaching, experience and motivation should produce terrific results. Point guard and Cal Poly SLO-bound Camren Pierce (6-0, Sr.) is a blur with the ball and excels getting into the key to finish or setting up teammates. He was named all-state underclass, as was Jahmai Mashack (6-4, Jr.), who made a successful transition from Etiwanda’s JV program to provide defensive toughness, rebounding and clutch plays. Tyree Campbell (6-5, Sr.) provides athleticism and the ability to defend in the post or perimeter, while Brantley Stevenson (6-4, Sr.) is a versatile performer who can excel on or off the ball. After sitting out the 30-day period, Jaylen Clark (6-6, Sr.) could provide a post-season spark with his rebounding ability and transition play. The Corona of Centennial transfer is one of the state’s most talented forwards and if he fits into the “Clamp City” culture, this team might erase its regional playoff demons. Kleckner (620-196), the 2018 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year, won his 600th career game in a two-point win over St. Bernard at last season’s BattleZone Tournament but has yet to coach in a CIF state title game.
5. (9) Sheldon (Sacramento) 28-7**
There was little doubt the Huskies would open as NorCal’s No. 1 team, it was just a matter of how many SoCal teams deserved to be ranked ahead of coach Joey Rollings’ club to open 2019-20. In the final analysis, Sheldon begins in the same rankings spot it did last season, but does not begin ranked in the FAB 50 after starting out at No. 41 in 2018-19. The Huskies are the two-time defending NorCal Open champions and have appeared in the NorCal finals five times in the past eight seasons. From an open division perspective, however, NorCal clubs must prove they can close the gap on their SoCal counterparts, as the South sports a 6-1 record in CIF open title games with the one North victory coming in overtime. Quite frankly, last year’s open title game between Sheldon and Sierra Canyon wasn’t that competitive, but Sheldon’s coaching staff attributes that more to injury than anything else. While the 2018 Sheldon club somewhat surprised teams on a statewide level, last year’s club played right to par. This year’s squad could be even better than the previous two if it catches the right breaks and remains injury free. In fact, from top-to-bottom this could be the deepest NorCal club we’ve seen perhaps since the St. Joseph of Alameda clubs in the late 1990s that were back-to-back NorCal D1 champs and opened up at No.1 in the state in 1997-98. It begins with Marcus Bagley (6-8, Sr.), a returning all-state pick who averaged 19.9 ppg and 7.9 rpg and is headed to Arizona State. Named Sac Bee co-Player of the Year alongside graduated Justin Nguyen, if Bagley has a big season, Sheldon could easily climb into the national rankings picture. Xavion Brown (6-2, Sr.) is an all-state talent, but he must show more consistency and play to his potential every night in order to create opportunities for others. Brown is Sheldon’s best rebounding guard (4.8 rpg) and top assist man (4.1 apg) and is complimented at the point by Yaru Harvey (6-3, Jr.), who didn’t play much last season but already holds D1 offers from Eastern Washington and Santa Clara. Xavier Brown (6-4, Sr.), no relation to Xavion, provides scoring, while Dontrell Hewlett (6-3, Sr.) has starting experience and showed what he could do with a 26-point outburst versus Dublin. Darren Tobias (6-6, Sr.) and Pierce Davis (6-8, Sr.) are two key cogs upfront while Josh Williams (6-2, Sr.) is the only returning player who didn’t miss games last season. There are plenty of athletic defenders, but the Huskies will need someone else besides Bagley to step up in the scoring department. Another key factor will be finding minutes for deserving players and keeping substitutes engaged. Once again, Sheldon will participate at the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas (December 17-21) and the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic in San Diego (December 26-30), while also taking a trip to the Midwest to play in the Quincy (Ill.) Shootout versus FAB 50 ranked Vashon of Missouri and highly-regarded Memphis East.
6. (13) St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 25-8
We opened up the Braves last season one spot ahead of Sheldon at No. 4, but this season Etiwanda deserves that spot while Sheldon is a bit deeper than Bosco and deserves a higher preseason ranking as the dominant NorCal open team. Bosco did lose some key seniors, but its final ranking last year was predicated by some key injuries (particularly to University of Pacific recruit Jonathan Salazar in December), so if this group can stay healthy it could develop into a serious CIFSS Open Division title contender. The key cogs that must remain on the floor are all-Trinity League point guard Josh Camper (5-10, Sr.), the team’s returning leading scorer (11.8 ppg), and Lamaj Lewis (6-5, Jr.), another all-leauger with good all-around ability. Wynton Brown (6-6, Sr.) played on the JV level two years ago and hardly saw the floor last season, but is now on his way to Northern Arizona and primed for a big senior season. Scotty Washington (6-4, Jr.) didn’t have big numbers last season, either, but has loads of potential and could be a difference-maker in the postseason. Depth up front is provided by talented Jeremiah Nyarko (6-6, So.), who led last year’s 27-0 JV team, and transfer Randi Ovalle (6-7, So.), who like Nyarko will eventually attract heavy D1 interest. Coach Matt Dunn (366-171) likes his backcourt and his team’s defensive ability because of its size, but is a bit concerned about a slow start because the new roles his talented players must grow into. Bosco will join No. 1 Sierra Canyon, No. 3 Rancho Christian and No. 4 Etiwanda at The Classic at Damien and will attempt to keep No. 2 Mater Dei from capturing its 32nd consecutive league title.
7. (NR) Windward (Los Angeles) 25-7
It was real temping to place the Wildcats in front of St. John Bosco, but in the end there were three reasons why we went with the Braves. One, Bosco has experience in the loaded CIFSS Open Division playoffs and last year qualified and played Sierra Canyon tough (75-72) despite not having its best player for a majority of the season. Second, Bosco has a senior point guard and more depth, whereas Windward’s best players are still sophomores. Lastly, Bosco defeated Windward by 18 points (65-47) in a game last season, without Jonathan Salazar. So, have the Wildcats made up those 18 points? Based on what we’ve seen this summer, they just might have. Windward was one of the most impressive teams we saw all summer and coach Colin Pfaff’s club made a splash by winning a division of the competitive Section 7 Tournament in Arizona during the NCAA’s new live period for high school teams. Kijani Wright (6-9, So.) and Dylan Andrews (6-2, So.) are the two talented 10th-graders and both made the all-state freshman team last season when the Wildcats lost by only two points to eventual D1 state champ Chino Hills in the CIFSS D1 playoffs. Wright is considered one of the best players in the nation in the 2022 class and Andrews, who has made tremendous strides in the past six months, is a fearless playmaker. The player who could take this team to the next level, though, is Devin Tillis (6-4, Sr.), a jack-of-all-trades who has improved all facets of his game in the past year and is a coach’s dream with all the attributes he brings to the table. Marcus Joseph (6-4, Sr.) and Jaren Harris (6-2, Jr.) provide experience and do the small things to help this club win, while Brandon Richard (6-7, Jr.) is a key cog inside. Windward has an early test on November 30 with Clovis West of Fresno at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic and is yet another highly-ranked team in the main draw at The Classic at Damien. The Wildcats will tangle with No. 1 Sierra Canyon in a Gold Coast League showdown on January 23 and must qualify for the CIFSS Open Division playoffs to maintain a ranking this high.
8. (3) Salesian (Richmond) 31-1
After losing 2018 NorCal Player of the Year James Akinjo, we started The Pride No. 20 in last year’s rankings and it proved to be much too low, as coach Bill Mellis’ club was rolling along at 31-0 and looking like a potential formidable CIF open title game opponent for Sierra Canyon before a shocking 56-55 loss to Modesto Christian in the first round of the NorCal open playoffs. We won’t make that same mistake again, as Salesian has an excellent core returning (three starters, 10 lettermen) and a terrific team concept. Leading scorer (13.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg) Shane Bell (6-4, Sr.) is back along with Te’Jon Sawyer (6-6, Sr.), the team’s top inside threat who averaged 9.1 ppg and joined Bell on the all-state underclass team. The Pride have excellent depth bolstered by Austin Johnson (6-3, So.) and 14-year old Courtney Anderson Jr. (6-3, Fr.), the latter who gained valuable experience at the USA Basketball Mini-Camp in October. Mellis loves his team’s depth, experience, and balance in regards to post and perimeter scoring, but certain players are going to have to step up if The Pride are going to once again challenge for the CIF open championship because the graduation loss of the McClanahan twins (Jaden and Jovon) is a big blow on both ends of the floor. Sawyer must improve his rebounding (3.9 rpg) and veterans Demarshay Johnson (6-8, Jr.) and Tyler Brinkman (6-5, Sr.) are going to have to double their output in order for Salesian to maintain its lofty ranking. There’s little doubt this group will be formidable, and is another team that will test its wares at The Classic at Damien, but similar to No. 4 Etiwanda it’s going to have to exercise some demons in the regional playoffs. Since the NorCal open playoffs were established in 2013, The Pride are 0-5 all-time.
9. (14) Modesto Christian 26-9
The Crusaders began 2017-18 at No. 6 in the state and last season at No. 7, and right outside of the FAB 50, and fall in the same range to begin this season. It was a tough decision to choose between Salesian and coach Brice Fantazia’s team for the No. 2 NorCal slot behind Sheldon, but we went with The Pride because Salesian has a few more lettermen with experience playing together and has gotten off to a better start to its regular season in recent years. The Crusaders also lost all-state freshman Devin Day (6-2, So.) to injury and have to mesh together more new pieces than the Pride. Fantazia feels the team can avoid a slow start because the pieces fit well and because of the return of two-time all-state underclass point guard Michael Pearson (5-9, Sr.). He’ll likely be a four-time all-league player and the Crusaders return two other players with all-league credentials: Cal-St. Northridge-bound Alex Merkviladze (6-8, Sr.), one of the state’s most underappreciated talents, and Stanislaus St.-bound Baljot Sahi (6-0, Sr.). Oziyah Sellers (6-3, So.) also will play D1, Alex Argandar (6-0, So.) is another talented 10th-grader and Chris Fan (6-9, Jr.) has plenty of potential. What could push the Crusaders to their first NorCal open title is the arrival of transfers Jaden Phillips (6-4, Jr.) and Myles Clayton (6-7, Jr.). Phillips helped Foothill of Bakersfield win the CIF D5 state crown last season and Clayton doesn’t mind doing the dirty work defensively. Modesto Christian is not as athletic as some of its recent teams, but has good overall shooting and scoring punch inside. Modesto Christian wants to get off to a good start versus NorCal power Bishop O’Dowd at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic (November 30), have a good showing at the Clovis West Invitational (December 10-14) and beat No. 14 Riordan of San Francisco at the Merza Christmas Classic on December 21.
10. (16) Damien (La Verne) 25-6
Coming from the same Baseline League as No. 4 Etiwanda, the Spartans should be in the thick of the CIFSS Open Division playoff race after missing out on last season’s eight-team pool play format, which will once again will be in play for 2019-20. Plenty of returnees got valuable experience after the team’s best player (Jarred Hyder of Fresno St.) was lost to injury and that could pay dividends this year. Coach Mike LeDuc (931-244, the second-winningest coach in state history) welcomes back four players with starting experience and nine lettermen, including Malik Thomas (6-3, Jr.), the 2018 Cal-Hi Sports State Freshman of the Year who had another productive season in 2019. R.J. Smith (6-3, So.) also earned all-league laurels as a freshman and is steadily improving his game, while Austin Cook (6-4, Sr.) is one of the better outside shooters in the CIFSS ranks. Damien took a hit inside when sophomore Kaleb Smith and freshman Jazz Gardner transferred out after the start of the school year, but all that means is LeDuc will rely more on his shooters and gives young players such as Harry Han (6-3, So.) the opportunity to step up. Damien will look for a good showing as the host club of The Classic after Christmas and the two games against No. 4 Etiwanda in the Baseline League will likely tell the tale of Damien’s section open chances especially since Chino Hills is no longer considered a major statewide threat due to heavy graduation losses.
11. (24) Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood) 21-9
The Wolverines start as our Mission League favorites for the second consecutive season. Similar to St. John Bosco and Damien, Harvard-Westlake benefits from learning how to play a big portion of the 2018-19 season without its most talented player. Johnny Juzang played in 15 games last season and could have helped this team start near FAB 50 level, but he re-classed and left for Kentucky. Coach Dave Rebibo still welcomes back his other four starters off a club that won the Mission League tournament over a L.A. Loyola team that won the regular season title. Princeton-bound Mason Hooks (6-10, Sr.) is the team’s retuning leading scorer and rebounder (16.4 ppg, 12.1 rpg) and is a load to handle with his combination of physicality, smarts and true post play. Trumann Gettings (6-8, Jr.) can hurt teams inside and out while Brase Dottin (6-6, Sr.) will join Hooks and Dottin as a D1 recruit. “Our size and veteran leadership will help us tremendously,” Rebibo said. Rebibo really likes his team’s competitiveness and chemistry and his backcourt will ultimately decide how far this club can rise in the rankings. Adam Hinton (6-3, Jr.), Cam Thrower (6-3, So.) and Spencer Hubbard (5-9, Sr.) will need to knock down shots and excel in transition defense in order to take advantage of the Wolverines’ interior strengths and impose their style of play on faster or more athletic opponents. Harvard-Westlake will see those types of teams at the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina after Christmas and have a late regular season date with FAB 50 power Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas at the Nike Extravaganza.
12. (20) Weston Ranch (Stockton) 31-2
The Cougars weren’t on anyone’s preseason radar last season, but put together a terrific season, losing only one regular season game (to No. 24 Mitty) and winning the Sac-Joaquin Section D3 crown before losing to No. 28 De La Salle in the first round of the NorCal Open playoffs. Weston Ranch returns its club en masse, losing only one productive player (Devin Small) to graduation. Gavin Wilburn (6-4, Sr.) is a warrior on both ends of the floor and simply makes winning plays and should improve on numbers of 11.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.4 apg. He was an all-state underclass selection, as was leading scorer (15.3 ppg) Donjae’ Lindsey (6-1, Jr.), a cat-quick guard who gets into the key as well as any backcourt player in NorCal. Mi’Son Coilton (6-2, Jr.) is a glue player, and similar to Wilburn, can do a bit of everything (9.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.5 apg). The Cougars’ bolstered their chances to make some noise in the NorCal Open playoffs with the frontcourt addition of Jordahn Johnson (6-4, Sr.) from San Leandro. Weston Ranch does start off higher than Mitty and De La Salle because of its veteran personnel, but it won’t be sneaking up on anyone on its schedule. The Cougars face No. 31 Dublin at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic and face No. 14 Riordan on December 10, then head to the Gridley Invitational.
13. (27) Mayfair (Lakewood) 26-8
After beginning 2018-19 ranked No. 31, the Monsoons finished right in that range after capturing the CIFSS D2AA title then losing in a tight game to Chino Hills in the SoCal D1 playoffs. In order for Mayfair to finish in this year’s preseason range, it will have to be in the running for a spot in the eight-team CIFSS Open Division playoffs. The catalyst for last season’s title run was Josh Christopher (6-4, Sr.) and he’ll need to have a big season and rally other players around him to help the Monsoons challenge for a section open berth. Christopher is more than capable, as he went for 24 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in the section title game win over Rancho Cucamonga and scored 44 points in that loss to Chino Hills. On the season, the explosive and charismatic shooting guard averaged 25.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 5.2 apg and 3.2 spg and gives the Monsoons a chance in nearly every game. His production is well-known and accounted for, so it will be the contributions of complementary players such as Amir Kirkwood (6-0, Sr.) and Elijah Shadid (6-2, Sr.) that will determine the fate of Mayfair’s season. The X-factor will be what New York transfer Dior Johnson (6-1, So.) brings to the team. He’s an exciting and talented play-maker, but also another guard, so if he learns how to make Christopher a more dangerous player and helps off-set the Monsoons’ lack of size inside, this team will have an excellent opportunity to make some serious postseason noise.
14. (NR) Archbishop Riordan (San Francisco) 18-9
The West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) didn’t have any team last season ranked anywhere in this range, as the Crusaders began at No. 36 and Mitty at No. 40. We expect that to change big-time and we don’t expect the CCS open champ to have a .500 record like Sacred Heart Cathedral did last season. There hasn’t been this much excitement around Riordan basketball in nearly 20 years, since all-stater Marquise Kately led the Crusaders to two state title game appearances and the CIF D3 crown in 2001-02. There is plenty to like about this club and coach Joey Curtin feels the biggest weakness is simply its lack of time on the court together. In Sam Houston St.-bound Bryce Monroe (5-11, Sr.) and Nevada-bound Jelani Clark (6-3, Sr.), Riordan possesses arguably NorCal’s top backcourt which produced a combined 33 ppg, 9 rpg, and 8 apg last season. The frontcourt is what could separate the Crusaders from the WCAL pack, as Mor Seck (7-0, So.) is a big-time talent and Riiny Riiny (6-8, Sr.) has untapped potential. Additional length and size is provided by Robert Viahola (6-7, Jr.) and Chan Ngot (6-7, Sr.), with Lee Hubbard III (6-1, Jr.) adding depth to the backcourt. Riordan takes on No. 17 JSerra at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic and faces No. 12 Weston Ranch after hosting the 61st Crusader Classic (December 4-7).
15. (6) Fairfax (Los Angeles) 27-2
It was a tumultuous off-season for this storied L.A. City program, as former Harvard-Westlake assistant (and former Compton Dominguez and Arizona St. player) Steve Moore announced on social media he accepted this coveted job after former coach Steve Baik stepped down. After the school year began, there was plenty of speculation as to why Fairfax hadn’t officially introduced Moore as the coach. Finally on September 7, former Pepperdine assistant coach Reggie Morris Jr. was officially announced as the new coach of the defending L.A. City Section Open Division champs. Fairfax did lose plenty to gradation, including Ethan Anderson (USC) and Daylen Williams (Cleveland St.), but has enough returning players, along with Morris Jr.’s excellent high school coaching resume, to once again begin as L.A. City favorites. A big reason why is San Diego St.-bound Keith Dinwiddie (6-2, Sr.), one of the state’s best shooters who could follow Anderson as section player of the year. Justin Gladney (6-0, Sr.) and Justyn Hunter (6-0, Sr.) also are tough defenders and capable scorers who shined with their travel teams this summer. Barry Wilds (5-10, Jr.) is another backcourt player with experience, but Morris will have to develop some dependable rebounding and toughness up front that the graduated Robert McCrae provided. It won’t be an easy task for the Lions to move up in the rankings from this spot, but if any coach can make an immediate impact on a program it’s Morris, who led Redondo Union to a CIF state crown in his first season as coach (2013) and St. Bernard of Playa del Rey to a SoCal title in his first season with the program two years earlier.
For a look at the teams we’ve ranked from No. 16 to No. 40, plus 20 more on the bubble, CLICK HERE.