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 short summer and fall after last year’s spring CIF season and another hectic off-season with player movement. Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth has some key new pieces and opens up the 2021-22 season as preseason No. 1 with defending CIF Southern Section Open champ Corona Centennial at No. 2. This is the fourth consecutive season the Trailblazers begin at No. 1 and technically they are still the defending CIF state champs. The CIF hopes to crown its first on-court open champ since the 2018-19 season at the Golden One Center in Sacramento on March 21-22, 2022.
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For a look at the teams we’ve ranked from No. 16 to No. 40, plus 15 more on the bubble, CLICK HERE.
To see where California teams landed in the preseason FAB 50 National Team Rankings, CLICK HERE.
For last season’s final state rankings, CLICK HERE.
To see where transfers landed for the 2021-22 school year, 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.
The theme of the off-season for boys basketball in California was “fast and furious,” meaning it literally was fast and the off-court activity furious. The 2020-21 CIF season was complete on June 19 when Etiwanda captured its first SoCal open regional title with a road victory over previously undefeated Torrey Pines of San Diego. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted CIF basketball for the second consecutive season, as NorCal did not host regional playoffs and CIF state championships didn’t take place once again.
The CIF is scheduled to crown its first official state champions since 2018-19 on March 11-12, 2022 at Golden One Center in Sacramento.
Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth captured the last on-court CIF state championship and the open regional championships have been dominated by CIF Southern Section clubs since its advent in 2012-13. Only once has a club outside the CIFSS captured the CIF open crown and that was the Ivan Rabb-led Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland club in 2014-15 in a memorable victory over 11-time CIF state champ Mater Dei of Santa Ana. Based on this year’s preseason analysis, the next CIF open champ is likely to come from the massive section in SoCal as well.
Centennial of Corona ended Sierra Canyon’s 21-game playoff winning streak in last year’s CIFSS open title game, then opted out of the SoCal regional championship when the dates interfered with the June NCAA live scholastic period. That was imperative for Centennial’s young core, which participated in the Section 7 tournament in Arizona. The Huskies’ players received a plethora of scholarship offers after capturing the live event’s top division championship over Las Vegas power Bishop Gorman.
While CIF basketball doesn’t have the participation numbers problem that football clearly does, especially in its inner-city public schools, it has a problem with its elite players being recruited and poached to prep schools and academy programs from out of state and others not part of the CIF. Accelerated by the pandemic, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to this trend. There will always be a place for neighborhood basketball and for players to develop into a worthy scholarship prospect at a CIF program, but elites coming and going threatens the overall quality of the product on the section and regional level. Many CIF coaches have come to the realization there is a good chance a true elite may not be in their programs for four years.
The movement of players continued in November, including talents being recruited by Donda Academy of Simi Valley, a start-up operation backed by multi-platinum rapper Kanye West. The recruitment of elite players simply doesn’t end when the CIF tips off its season on November 15.
Kylan Boswell, last season’s State Sophomore of the Year for Corona Centennial, was terrific at Section 7 for the Huskies, but eventually left for AZ Compass Prep in Chandler, Ariz. Would Centennial have opened up at No. 1 in front of Sierra Canyon had he remained? Centennial would have had all five starters returning, but Sierra Canyon has its core returning and added talents such as L.A. Windward strongman Kijani Wright and guard Isaiah Elohim of Northridge Heritage Christian, last year’s State Freshman of the Year and a special talent.
It would have been a tough decision, but Centennial now has to prove it can play to a more national level with a bit less depth. As long as something drastic doesn’t happen with COVID-19, most of the state’s elite programs will resume travel to play in out-of-state tournaments and showcases. Last season, of course, there was no tournaments and only CIF opponents because of the timing of the spring season. Sierra Canyon will play in at least four NBA arenas this season. It will play St. Vincent-St. Mary of Akron, Ohio, LeBron James‘ alma mater, at the Staples Center on December 4, will play Perry of Arizona at the Footprint Center on December 11 and have a monster game with national FAB 50 title contender Camden, N.J. at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on January 29 before meeting Simeon of Chicago at the United Center right before the dawn of the playoffs. The Trailblazers also compete in the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Missouri, Jan. 13-15.
Camden opened up at No. 4 in the 2021-22 preseason FAB 50 National Team Rankings. Sierra Canyon opened up at No. 9, which Centennial checking in at No. 14. The two main questions entering the season are which team is the best to challenge the state’s top two for the CIFSS open crown and can any NorCal team seriously challenge for the CIF open crown as California enters its 10th season of open division playoffs at the regional level.
2021-22 CAL-HI SPORTS PRESEASON
BOYS BASKETBALL STATE RANKINGS
(This is the 42nd consecutive season that CalHiSports.com will provide state rankings; Last year’s final rating in parentheses with 2020-21 won-loss record)
(Cal-Hi Sports co-founder and editor Mark Tennis contributed to these rankings)
1. (4) Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 16-2
For the fourth consecutive season, the Trailblazers open up as the preseason No. 1 team in the state. Of course, last season we didn’t do our usual preseason breakdown in November. We actually put together a preseason primer right when the games began in mid-March 2021 when a lawsuit allowed for games to be played right away. Sierra Canyon opened up 2020-21 at No. 17 in the FAB 50 and part of the reasoning was California didn’t have a strong senior class and similar to every other team in the state, didn’t have any opportunities to play out-of-state teams. This season, the Trailblazers have a strong core of seniors and will have terrific opportunities to play outside California. Hence they begin this season No. 9 in the FAB 50, five spots above state No. 2 Centennial. The terrific core of returning talent is led by the state’s best player in 2020-21 Mr. Basketball Amari Bailey (6-5, Sr.). The UCLA-bound shooting guard is one of the most explosive players in the country and returns sporting norms of 29.2 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 6.5 apg. Coach Andre Chevalier feels this team is much deeper and that might cause Bailey’s numbers to perhaps dip, but that depth should pay off in the post-season. Last year, Sierra Canyon relied too much on Bailey’s offensive talents and saw its 21-game playoff winning streak come to an end vs. Centennial in the CIF Southern Section Open Division title game. Its two most talented newcomers, State Freshman of the Year Isaiah Elohim (6-4, So.) from nearby Heritage Christian and USC-bound Kijani Wright (6-9, Sr.) from L.A. Windward, will have to sit out until Jan. 4 vs. Crossroads of Santa Monica unless there is a change of residency. The same applies for Jeremiah Nyarko (6-8, Sr.) from St. John Bosco of Bellflower, while Mikey Price (6-1, Jr.) comes over from Ribet Academy. That program no longer fields a basketball team, but Price followed his travel ball coach, which usually means a full season sit out. Among the returnees, the added depth means Shy Odom (6-6, Sr.) and Ramel Lloyd Jr. (6-6, Sr.) can play their more natural positions and should be even more dangerous. They both are capable of double-digit points and rebounds, while Tim Rudovskiy (6-9, Jr.) and former Grid-Hooper Josiah Phillips (6-4, Jr.) both gained valuable experience in extended fall league play. Bronny James (6-3, Jr.) is talented and always has the media spotlight on him, but similar to Bailey, sat out the fall league period and must work himself back into playing shape and the flow of the lineup. That shouldn’t be hard and James has always been unselfish, but it is going to be an adjustment period because of all the newcomers and different lineups Chevalier will have to employ until the team is full strength following the sit out period. Fortunately for Sierra Canyon, Chevalier has done a good job of meshing ultra talented teams the past four season and the schedule is loaded (see above). The last time another program besides this one started out as preseason No. 1 was in 2017-18 when Mater Dei of Santa Ana did. The Monarchs did defeat Sierra Canyon in the CIFSS open title game, only to lose in the regionals as Sierra Canyon won the first of back-to-back CIF Open Division state titles.
2. (1) Centennial (Corona) 21-2
Head coach Josh Giles’ squad got over the hump to capture the 2021 CIF Southern Section open crown with a road victory over then state No. 1 Sierra Canyon, a contest that ended that program’s 21-game playoff winning streak. After Etiwanda knocked off Sierra Canyon in the SoCal open semifinals and the Eagles went on to knock off unbeaten Torrey Pines in the SoCal open final, it propelled Centennial to Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year honors, the first ever from Riverside County. In our preseason primer for last spring’s CIF season, Centennial was considered “one year away” with a lineup of four sophomores and a junior and began at No. 6. The Huskies did lose to Torrey Pines early in the season, but improved rapidly as the season wore on and showed they were a force to be reckoned with despite the youth. Had State Sophomore of the Year Kylan Boswell not transferred out to AZ Compass Prep in Arizona it would have been a super close call for the preseason No. 1 spot between the Huskies and Sierra Canyon. In the end, we decided to go with the Trailblazers because they added pieces, while Centennial lost a key cog and has less depth. Centennial’s only other loss last season came in the CIFSS open playoffs in a contest in which Boswell did not play because of USA Basketball participation. Regardless, Centennial still has four dynamic pieces from last year’s club, led by New Mexico-bound Donovan Dent (6-2, Sr.), last season’s Riverside Press-Enterprise Player of the Year and co-CIFSS Open Division Player of the Year with Sierra Canyon’s Amari Bailey. He averaged 15.4 ppg and 4.apg and was the catalyst in many big games. Jared McCain (6-2, Jr.) also returns and could vastly improve on his averages (14.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.6 apg) without the presence of Boswell. He’s a big-time shot maker and clutch performer and many associated with the program felt he was snubbed of local and statewide post-season honors so he comes into his junior campaign highly-motivated. The other two returning starters, Aaron McBride (6-7, Jr.) and Devin Williams (6-9, Jr.), both made the all-state sophomore team along with McCain. McBride is the team’s physical presence inside who can defend multiple positions, while Williams is just scratching the surface of his vast potential. His length and shot-blocking were key in last year’s playoff run and his rim-protecting will be vital in the big games this season. Giles, the 2020-21 State Coach of the Year, feels comfortable with a 3-guard attack, so Ramsey Huff (6-0, Jr.) will slide into the spot previously occupied by Boswell and brings toughness and good play-making. If Giles wants to go bigger, the first option is Eric Freeny (6-4, So.). The Huskies still have plenty of motivation to prove they can finish as the state’s No. 1 team for the second consecutive season and it has nothing to do with personnel changes. First, the program still hasn’t won an on-court CIF state title (none have been played the past two years) and two, the Huskies didn’t get a chance to prove they were one of the nation’s best public school programs last season because of the CIF spring schedule. This year, they will travel to Dallas to face Texas power Duncanville in the Thanksgiving Hoopfest and take on Arizona power Sunnyslope at Hoophall West on Dec. 11. They will also face highly-regarded Patrick School of New Jersey at Hoophall Central (Dec. 17-19) in Sioux Falls, S.D., before returning home to face many of the other teams vying for a spot in the CIFSS open playoffs at The Classic at Damien, Dec. 27-30.
3. (10) Harvard-Westlake (Studio City) 17-6
Taking a look at California’s top teams from a national scale, we knew the first two main questions from a rankings perspective would be which team falls in this spot and would it be nationally ranked in the FAB 50? After reviewing personnel, last year’s results and our off-season notes, the Wolverines were a solid choice in this spot. In the end, Harvard-Westlake was just outside the FAB 50, as there is a clear separation between the top two clubs in the state and the rest of the pack. With three returning starters and seven lettermen, we like coach Dave Rebibo’s team just a bit more to challenge the top two for the CIFSS open crown and make a deep run at the CIF state crown. Penn commit Cam Thrower (6-4, Sr.) returns after earning second team all-state honors and making the first team all-CIFSS open team. He led the team in scoring (16 ppg) but doesn’t shoot a high volume and can blend in or take control offensively if need be. Brady Dunlap (6-7, Jr.) had a big impact after the 30-day sit out period and is one of the most talented players in the state regardless of class. Like Dunlap, Trent Perry (6-3, So.) was named all-state underclass and should make a big jump this season as far as his numbers. That’s saying a lot because he doesn’t need to score to make an impact and it’s been that way since his first varsity game. Up front, Brown-bound Landon Lewis (6-7, Sr.) and Jacob Huggins (6-8, Jr.) are good rebounders and team oriented players who will be counted on against the best teams on a good schedule. Robert Hinton (6-4, So.) will also play a big role and Nicholas Khamenai (6-5, Fr.) may force Rebibo to give him some minutes. Rebibo really likes this team’s length and shooting ability and when you combine it with the experienced gained last spring, there is plenty of optimism. After all, Harvard-Westlake did beat 2020-21 CIFSS Open champ Centennial and SoCal open champ Etiwanda during the regular season.
4. (8) Campolindo (Moraga) 15-0
Yes, Campo did finish ranked ahead of No. 3 Harvard-Westlake last season, but without NorCal regionals or even sectional playoffs in the CIF North Coast Section, it still remains to be seen how competitive the Cougars can be with Sierra Canyon or Corona Centennial in the race for the state’s first CIF open championship since 2018-19. We know Harvard-Westlake can be, but Campo’s core group of players just didn’t have the opportunity to play teams of that caliber in 2020-21. Still, head coach Steven Dyer’s team enters the season with three returning starters and 10 lettermen off a club that was NorCal’s highest-rated last season and capturing the 2019-20 NorCal D1 championship. St. Mary’s-bound Aidan Mahaney (6-2, Sr.), the Bay Area Player of the Year in 2019-20, is back and what’s really interesting is last year’s team excelled with him playing only six games. At full strength, Mahaney makes Cade Bennett (6-0, Sr.), a second team all-state underclass choice at the son of St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, a better player. With second team all-Diablo Athletic League choice Shane O’Reilly (6-3, Jr.) and Logan Robeson (6-3, Jr.) back, Dyer has a backcourt that can rival any in the state. The Cougars can really shoot it as a team, and the terrific chemistry helps offset what the front court may lack in athleticism. Veterans Matt Radell (6-6, Sr.) and Nicolai Bell (6-8, Sr.) give this team size and the ability to give the opposition multiple offensive looks while opening up opportunities for Mahaney and Bennett. As if the 10 lettermen returning aren’t going to make this team a tough out, Campo also had a 15-0 JV team, with Tyler Bergren (5-6, So.) and Dylan Mansour (6-2, So.) the best of the lot moving up for a group on a current 19-game winning streak. That streak will be tested vs. No. 26 Dublin at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 27.
5. (2) Etiwanda 14-2
Similar to Inland Empire rival Centennial, the Eagles exercised some major demons in last year’s post-season by knocking off Sierra Canyon in the SoCal open semifinals and defeating state No. 1 Torrey Pines to win the program’s first SoCal regional championship. Prior to last year’s compacted spring season, Etiwanda was 0-5 in regional championships, including two heart-breaking losses to Sierra Canyon. The Eagles lost more firepower than Centennial, but have plenty of talent to make another run at a section and regional open title. Coach Dave Kleckner (664-202 won-loss record) has another talent-laden squad and some young players coming up that should keep the program strong for at least the next three years. Jimmy Baker (6-1, Jr.) is a good all-around point guard and was a second team all-state underclass choice. Curtis Williams (6-5, Jr.) is an athletic wing who could be one of the state’s break-out performers. He was first team all-state underclass. New Mexico-bound Quinten Webb (6-6, Sr.) is one of the state’s most athletic wings and if he develops consistency in his offensive attack that will only make Williams, Alton Hamilton (6-6, Jr.) and Channing Cade (6-5, Jr.) that much more productive. A strong core of young players, including Amaree Campbell (5-10, So.), Jeremy Williams (6-2, So.), Carrington Pierce (6-0, So.), and Zion Booker (6-4, Fr.) means Clamp City will be tough for years to come and a few may be contributors come playoff time. This is a typical Etiwanda club of recent years with plenty of interchangeable parts and excellent man-to-man defense that must show it can knock down big perimeter shots and free throws against key opponents. Last season, Etiwanda finished No. 2 in the state for the fourth time since 2012-13, but has still not captured a CIF state crown.
6. (11) Modesto Christian 15-0
The Crusaders are the top team in the CIF Sac Joaquin Section and will be a prime contender for the NorCal open title as long as the team stays healthy. The program has been hit by the injury bug in recent seasons and last season, of course, there were no section or regional playoffs for this talented unit. Jamari Phillips (6-3, So.) is one of the best players in his class nationally and returns with norms of 18 ppg while shooting 40 percent from 3-point range. B.J. Davis (6-1, Jr.) was all-state underclass last season (12.5 ppg, 3 apg, 4.5 spg) then completely blew up this summer. He’s one of the state’s quickest point guards and makes Darius Smith (6-2, Jr.) even more dangerous in coach Brice Fantazia’s three-guard attack. Smith averaged 10 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 4.5 apg. Up front, Manasse Itete (6-6, So.) is a load to handle, while Prince Oseya (6-10, Jr.) provides rim protection and length on the boards. Alex Argandar (6-2, Sr.) and Devin Day (6-3, Sr.) provide senior leadership and Argandar in particular is underrated statewide. As if that’s not enough, newcomers Ty Virgil (6-3, So.) and Zeke Davis (6-3, Fr.) provide even more depth for a club that should be excellent defensively. Modesto Christian will open with No. 15 San Joaquin Memorial at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic. The Crusaders also participate in the Nike Clovis West Invitational (Dec. 7-11) and the Quincy Shootout in Illinois against Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis and St. Rita of Chicago.
7. (5) Damien (La Verne) 29-4
Similar to their Baseline League rival Etiwanda, the Spartans have plenty back from a CIFSS open club and should once again contend for a berth in the prestigious playoffs championship in the state’s largest section. We have to rank Etiwanda slightly ahead, however, as the Eagles have dominated the rugged league in recent seasons, winning four consecutive Baseline crowns. This is a group that could give Damien its first league crown since 2014-15, when it won the CIF D3 state crown before the competitive equity era under former head coach and current St. John Bosco coach Matt Dunn. This will surely be the group that gives veteran coach Mike LeDuc (986-257) his 1,000th career win, as Colorado-bound R.J. Smith (6-3, Sr.) will be the No. 1 scoring option and play-maker now that Malik Thomas and his 2,469 points are at USC. Jimmy Oladokun (6-8, Jr.) has made tremendous strides and should be one of the best pivot players in the CIF Southern Section. A big addition up front will be Caleb Smith (6-7, Sr.), who sat out last season and is a fine scorer inside who can also face up and make defenses pay off the dribble. Spivey Word (6-1, Sr.) should be much improved and leads the backcourt, while Malik’s younger brother, Stanley Thomas Jr. (6-3, So.), adds depth. Not only is Damien trying to get over the hump and win the league crown, it wants to erase the memory of the last game of Thomas’ career when the team played poorly against Torrey Pines in the SoCal open semifinals. If Damien plays better on the road, this is a team that could be a dark horse to unseat Centennial and capture the CIFSS open crown.
8. (6) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 27-4
At first glance it may appear the Monarchs are too decimated by graduation to rate this high, but they played well and showed improvement throughout the fall and summer, earning a trip to the finals of the Ron Massey Invitational against a field with five other CIFSS open division contenders. The Monarchs should earn a spot in the CIFSS open playoffs and are the only team to be selected each year since its advent in 2013-14. The talent is not overwhelming, but coach Gary McKnight (1,188-122), the state’s winningest coach with a record 11 CIF state crowns, likes his team’s interchangeable shooting and good length that makes up for the lack of starting experience. Two veterans in Zach Davidson (6-7, Jr.) and Gabriel Quiette (6-3, Sr.) return and will provide steady contributions with timely buckets and play-making. The third tri-captain, Kaden Minter (6-7, Sr.), is the team’s most talented offensive player. He’s capable of 25-point plus nights and is also unselfish. Young talents such as Scotty Belnap (6-5, So.) and Brady Karich (6-2, So.) play big roles in Mater Dei’s success and if Tee Bartlett (6-8, Fr.) continues to makes strides with his all-around game and conditioning, this will be an ultra-dangerous team come playoff time. There is no sure-fire favorite or big-time player clearly better than everyone else in the Trinity League, so until someone actually takes the outright Trinity crown from Mater Dei, the program deserves to be the league’s top-ranked team considering its won or shared a league crown for a remarkable 33 consecutive seasons.
9. (22) St. Augustine (San Diego) 14-7
The Saints have four starters and nine lettermen returning off a team that fell just short to eventual SoCal Div. I-AA champ St. John Bosco in their regional opener. St. Augustine was no match for Torrey Pines in the CIF San Diego Section semifinals, falling 84-59, so Saints still have to show they can compete with teams gunning for the state’s No. 1 spot. Coach Mike Haupt’s club should be able to with Jurian Dixon (6-3, Jr.) leading the way. He’s a strong candidate for San Diego Player of the Year honors if the team plays up to expectations. Ian De La Rosa (6-4, So.) is Saints’ other returning all-Western League performer and he had a terrific summer, which included a 40-point performance in a championship victory over No. 21 Mitty in the second highest division of the NCAA live period Section 7 event in Arizona. Saints also defeated No. 6 Modesto Christian in the semifinals. Prince Adjej (6-7, Sr.) is the top player up front, while Lawrence “LoLo” Rudolph (6-1, So.) is beginning to play like one of the best 10th-grade guards in SoCal. As if that isn’t enough, Jaden Matingou (6-2, Jr.) is another talented point guard while Foothills Christian transfer Derrius Carter-Hollinger (6-1, Jr.) is the player that can take this team to the next level. With the talent level and experience, anything short of a CIF San Diego Section open title will be a disappointment to Saints’ faithful.
10. (29) Crean Lutheran (Irvine) 20-3
These different Saints will have to make a big jump up to play at a Top 10 level after losing handily to Mater Dei (75-31) and Harvard-Westlake (78-44) last season, but we like their chances. They did lose to No. 28 Santa Margarita in the SoCal Div. II-A final, but return one of the best players in the state in Koat Keat (6-9, Sr.). A dominant post presence with some perimeter skill, Keat sported norms of 20 ppg and 15 rpg and was even better in the playoffs, going for 22.4 ppg and 18.4 rpg. He’s already been a two-time divisional CIFSS Player of the Year, last season in 2A after the team won the section crown, and his supporting cast is more talented this time around. Having James Agany (7-0, Sr.) around means teams have to play Keat a bit more honest. Parker Tuttle (6-5, Sr.) is a big guard, while Jack Fairchild (6-2, Sr.) is one of the better all-around athletes in Orange County. What could take this team to the next level is the ability of Vyctorius Miller (6-4, So.), an elite 10th-grader with a big national reputation who transferred in from a local academy-type team. Fellow transfers Rui “Harry” Hahn (6-4, Sr.) and Darrell Morris (5-9, So.) add depth and a change of pace off the bench when they get eligible. Crean Lutheran could be quite dangerous come playoff time if all the pieces mesh.
11. (27) Heritage Christian (Northridge) 20-8
Last season, Heritage Christian was in the thick of the race for a coveted spot in the CIFSS open division playoffs and came up just short. As it stands in our preseason outlook, the Warriors would be the eighth and final team in. Obviously there are many contenders for the final couple of spots for the CIFSS open division, so head coach Paul Tait’s club will have to remain healthy and build continuity because of the key players coming over from Ribet Academy. That program did make the open division last spring, but no longer fields a team. Last season, Heritage Christian played in many games without its full lineup and that is something Tait hopes to avoid this season. The key returnee is Malik Moore (6-5, Sr.), one of the best all-around guards in the section who is an unselfish talent and capable of taking over a game. Moving over from Ribet Academy is point guard Barrington Hargress (6-1, Sr.), a first team all-CIFSS open choice last season and in many eyes that talented team’s key cog. He can power his way to the basket, set up offense or knock down big shots. Pierre Geneste (6-10, Jr.) is a terrific rim protector and energy player and if Devin Curtis (6-10, Jr.) overcomes his injuries, his presence could help take this team to the next level. Deacon Perry (6-6, So.) is one of the many talented young players on the roster, while Roman Fisher (6-3, Fr.) started in many fall league contests. Depth is added by Adam Grissom (6-6, Fr.), a strong athlete, and DeMarco Johnson (6-1, Fr.), a terrific defender.
12. (NR) St. Bernard (Playa del Rey) 7-4
The Vikings are the No. 9 team from the CIFSS ranks in our preseason pecking order and the crop of teams from the massive section in this range have plenty to prove, whether because of pedestrian 2020-21 seasons, limited playoff success or graduation losses. Coach Tony Bland, a former college coach and star player at L.A. Westchester, has a nice blend of newcomers and returnees to make a run at a CIFSS open berth. Tyler Rolison (6-1, Jr.) made the all-CIFSS D1 team as a 10th-grader and proved over the summer to be one of the better guards in the state. Rolison is as skilled as he is tough and that’s saying a lot because he has a take-no-prisoners mentality and is a clutch performer. His backcourt mate is Darius Carr, like Rolison a first team all-state sophomore performer. Carr transferred from L.A. Cathedral and is eligible right away. Jason Hart Jr. (6-0, Sr.) is primed for a big senior year after not playing in the spring season as a junior, while backcourt depth is provided by the likes of Rayniel “AI” Wright (6-0, Sr.) and Deven Tillett (6-0, Jr.). The question marks for this team are up front, as Joaquin Strong transferred to Villa Park and starting center James McCallum (6-6, Jr.) must sit out the 30-day period. That means Malachi Roach (6-5, Sr.) and Kendyl Sanders (6-5, So.) will have to step up for a team that won’t have McCallum at the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas (Dec. 17-21). No. 9 St. Augustine, No. 17 West Ranch, No. 18 Salesian and No. 20 Sheldon will also test their wares in the event’s platinum division.
13. (16) St. Joseph (Santa Maria) 27-3
The Knights come in as the team to beat in the CIF Central Section over the team they beat in last year’s open final, No. 15 San Joaquin Memorial. Coach Tom Mott (401-189) does lose plenty of senior firepower, but he has a talented unit led by Dre Roman (6-3, Sr.). The point guard was an all-state underclass choice and showed a glimpse of his capability by scoring 22 points in a loss to then state No. 1 Sierra Canyon. Luis Marin (6-4, Jr.) played for Puerto Rico in the FIBA 16U tournament in Mexico this past summer and could have a breakout campaign. St. Joe’s also had a 17-1 JV team and David Vidor (6-9, Sr.) and Will Kuykendall (6-3, So.) will be impact players. Kuykendall averaged 21 ppg and Vidor, a native of Hungary, had to play JV as a transfer and averaged 16 ppg. San Luis Obispo transfer Darian Mensah (6-3, Jr.) also is eager to get out on the court after siting out the spring CIF season, while Tounde Yessoufou (6-5, Fr.) likely will emerge as one of the top 2025 prospects in the state. St. Joe’s will have to come together quickly to retain this ranking. The team will compete at the Mission Prep Christmas Classic (where it could face FAB 50 ranked Seattle Prep, No. 11 Heritage Christian and/or No. 22 Bishop Montgomery), has another game with No. 1 Sierra Canyon on Jan. 5 and will play in the Alaska Airlines Classic in Anchorage (Jan. 20-22) where a potential foe is regionally-ranked Thunder Ridge (Colo.).
14. (NR) Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) 5-11
Similar to No. 12 St. Bernard, the Knights have plenty to prove after a ho-hum CIF spring season. Coach Matt Sargeant has the talent and the team gained plenty of experience together in summer and fall leagues. Notre Dame played in Section 7 in Arizona in front of college coaches and Ben Shtolzberg (6-3, Sr.) is now headed to Creighton. Dusty Stromer (6-7, Jr.) is a big guard with a multitude of skills who will punch his ticket to nearly any college in the country when he makes a decision. He didn’t play last season and his contributions could take this team to the next level. Kendall Hailey (6-3, Sr.) can play on or off the ball and is headed to Army. Donte Ogbu (6-3, Jr.) is another returnee who can make noise, while Alemany transfer Jayden Harper (6-7, So.) is oozing with talent and potential. If Harper continues his normal development and becomes a defensive stopper, this team will battle for one of the final spots in the CIFSS open division playoffs. Right off the bat, SOND is likely to face No. 11 Heritage Christian in the title game of a four-team tournament on November 18.
15. (18) San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno) 22-3
The Panthers rate as a close No. 2 team from the CIF Central Section behind No. 13 St. Joseph and have a chance to finish higher than their preseason forecast just as they did last season (opened up No. 21). The No. 1 reason is, of course, is the play of returning first team all-state choice JoJo Hunter. The Fresno St. commit is capable of big scoring outbursts and carrying this team to victories over higher ranked teams. The Country/Metro MVP averaged 24.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg and 4.4 apg last season. Mike Davis Jr. (6-6, Jr.) was named second team all-state sophomores and is a rugged rebounder and inside scorer who takes pressure off of Hunter. Clovis West transfer Dre Davis (6-7, So.) should help make Davis Jr. an even better player and give coach Brad Roznovsky more attacking options. After Pueblo (Tucson, Ariz.) transfer Amari Carraway (5-11, Sr.) finds his role, this team could be dynamic for the playoff stretch. Depth could be an issue until after football season, so Roznovsky hopes Hunter has one of his big scoring outbursts when the Panthers open the season with No. 6 Modesto Christian at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic at Dublin on Nov. 27. SJM will also play in the Clovis West Nike Invitational, the Tarkanian Classic and at The Classic at Damien.
For a look at the teams we’ve ranked from No. 16 to No. 40, plus 15 more on the bubble, CLICK HERE.