Everyone is a winner who got to play in the first-ever event last weekend at eight different schools in Orange County. The teams that enjoyed winning bracket titles on Sunday at Irvine High included Salesian of Richmond, Archbishop Mitty of San Jose and Centennial of Corona. Senior Carter Bryant and juniors Tounde Yessoufou and Brayden Burries were our top three performers over the weekend, but there were many other breakout players that caught the attention of college coaches who were there. We have many of those mentioned in these title game recaps.
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With the approval from the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) and the support of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the Southern California Basketball Coaches Association (SCIBCA) hosted California Live 2023, the first ever boys basketball event in California during one of the NCAA’s two June Scholastic Live Periods this past weekend in Orange County. It’s safe to say the inaugural event was a successful one and California’s high school basketball coaches — and players — are eager to participate in it once again in 2024 and hopeful to see it as a staple on the NCAA recruiting calendar for college basketball coaches.
With 163 teams participating from all over the state, there was plenty of talent on hand to evaluate and a bit of everything for the 190 plus college coaches from all levels in attendance over the three-day event held at various high school gyms in Orange County. There were 10 divisions with a bracket format for each that encouraged competitive play. That created plenty of incentive to win three games over the first two days, because all 10 championship games were played at Irvine High School, one of the hubs of college coach activity.
California Live 2023’s winners brackets were competitive games and displayed a good balance from various sections around the state. The finalists consisted of 10 schools from the massive CIF Southern Section, six of which went home winners on Sunday, including the three games that included two clubs from within the section. The Sac Joaquin Section, North Coast Section and San Diego Section produced two finalists each, while the L.A. City Section produced one. The Central Coast Section had three finalists and all of them were from the powerful West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL), which ended up 1-2 on championship Sunday.
Regardless of the games’ outcome, the Cali Live games were littered with college coaches, particularly the finals of the SoCal Chevy and Advocates4Athletes Sunday morning in Irvine’s large gym that included the defending CIF Open champion Harvard-Westlake of North Hollywood and three-time defending CIFSS open champion Centennial of Corona, both of whom are expected to field terrific teams once again in 2023-24. Those teams include a plethora of college-bound prospects and having an opportunity to evaluate individual talent in front of college coaches on California soil in a scholastic setting was the purpose of the event.
“It took a lot of work over the past few years to get the event approved,” said California Live 2023 co-director Chris Nordstrom of St. Margaret’s (San Juan Capistrano). “We appreciate the support of the NFHS, the CIF state office and the entire SCIBCA board in helping to make California Live a success.”
California Live 2023 Championship Rundown
SoCal Chevy: Salesian (Richmond) 56, Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood) 53
In arguably the most highly-anticipated final because of its NorCal vs. SoCal nature and the quality of the prospects on the floor, it was The Pride that won a close game using excellent teamwork and by not giving up after an extended scoring drought in the first half. Salesian, who is still searching for its first ever CIF open final appearance, jumped out to a 12-3 lead before Harvard Westlake, the 2023 Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year, went on a 11-0 run to take a 14-12 lead with 7:07 remaining in the first half.
Harvard-Westlake led 28-20 at halftime, but tied the game at 35-35 before the action went back-and-fourth for the rest of the game. With 2:57 remaining, sophomore (2026) Elias Obenyah, a 6-foot-2 guard and one of the event’s breakout performers, converted on a conventional 3-point play to give Salesian a 51-49 lead. The Wolverines battled tight until the end and with 35 seconds remaining, sophomore Amir Jones, a 6-foot-2 guard, hit a 3-pointer to cut Harvard-Westlake’s deficit to 53-52. With 21 seconds to go, however, senior (2024) Zander Jimenez, a 6-foot-2 guard, nailed two free throws to give The Pride the cushion it needed, especially after a late turnover gave coach Dave Rebibo’s club one last chance to tie the game.
Obenyah had a terrific outing with 15 points and four rebounds for The Pride. Coach Bill Mellis has a deep team and he substituted liberally throughout and it paid off at the end of games and on the defensive end, especially since Salesian doesn’t have any real interior height. Senior Aaron Claytor, a 6-foot-3 point guard, senior Amani Johnson, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard, and junior (2025) Alvin Loving, a 6-foot-3 wing who can play a point forward and does a lot of the dirty work on the interior, all finished with nine points. Salesian also got plenty of production from senior Deundrae Perteete, a 6-foot-5 small forward who turned some heads in the college coaches section with his physique, offensive finishes and all-around two-way play, especially in the 61-56 semifinal victory over Roosevelt (Eastvale). Claytor, who is hearing most from Hawaii, Radford, and San Diego but can expect his recruitment to pick up as The Pride head to Section 7 next weekend in Glendale, Ariz., for the second NCAA live scholastic weekend, is the Cal-Hi Sports MVP of this division because of his smooth game, court awareness and all-around play.
“This is a great team win for us because they (Harvard-Westlake) are the defending state champs and a great team,” Perteete said. “Honestly, my goal is to improve my I.Q., learn to play better with my teammates in our system and play my role for our team.”
“For Elias, he’s been in the shadows, so this was a good coming out for him,” said Mellis, who missed Salesian’s Saturday games to attend the retirement party for NorCal coaching stalwart Don Lippi and flew back for Sunday’s title game. “We love playing these type of games. We get better when the game is close because we can use this to work on our end-of-game situations. We’re not tall, but we got a group that loves to battle.”
Junior Nik Khamenia, a 6-foot-7 position-less performer who played well throughout the weekend and is being highly-recruited, led Harvard-Westlake with 12 points. Senior Robert Hinton, a 6-foot-4 guard, added nine points, five rebounds and two assists.
Chevy Silverado: Mitty (San Jose) 57, Montgomery (San Diego) 51
Of the three WCAL teams that made a championship game at Cali Live, Mitty was the one that came out victorious over one of the major favorites (along with Advocates4Athletes consolation champion Carlsbad) to capture the 2023-24 San Diego Section open title. Mitty suffered more graduation losses than Montgomery, but showed it will once again have what it takes to compete for WCAL and CCS open crowns along with the other finalists plus Riordan of San Francisco, which is ultra-talented and scheduled to play next weekend at Section 7 in Arizona.
Mitty trailed Montgomery, which returns four starters off its section open finalist team from 2022-23 and defeated St. John Bosco (72-65) in its semifinal contest, by seven points (47-40) with 6:15 to go, then came back and took the lead when senior Nathan D’Abreu-Noronha, a 6-foot-2 guard, nailed a 3-pointer to give the Monarchs a 50-49 lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Mitty had runs of 8-0 and 13-2 after trailing by seven points to close a stellar weekend which included a 56-42 semifinal victory over Jesuit of Carmichael.
In addition to D’Abreu-Noronha, Mitty got a fine weekend from seniors Gavin Ripp, a 6-foot-7 forward, and Xavier Swanagan, a 6-foot-4 forward. Ripp definitely turned the heads of college coaches on the low D1 and D2 level with his smarts and all-around play.
Advocates4Athletes: Centennial (Corona) 66, Damien (La Verne) 47
Despite the loss of four college-bound senior starters, including 2023 State Mr. Basketball Jared McCain, the Huskies showed there will be little, if any, drop-off in 2023-24. The Huskies pulled away from Damien in the second half after holding a 28-26 halftime lead behind the play of senior Carter Bryant, a 6-foot-9 forward who is the No. 1 player in the 2024 Cal-Hi Sports Hot 100 and played his junior season at Sage Hill in Newport Beach. Bryant’s 3-pointer made the score 41-30 and a 3-pointer by senior Eric Freeny, a 6-foot-4 power guard, and a Carter dunk on back-to-back plays gave Centennial a 55-44 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the contest and it pulled away from that point on.
Carter, who is bound for Arizona, finished with 27 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots. Freeny, who performed well at the recent Pangos All-American Camp, had 18 points versus Damien. In the Huskies’ 84-74 semifinal win over JSerra (San Juan Capistrano), Bryant and Freeny combined for 42 points. Bryant protected the rim well vs. JSerra and in the 83-59 quarterfinal victory over NorCal open contender Branson of Ross and is the Cal-Hi Sports MVP of the Advocates4Athletes division. In four games, Bryant averaged 20 ppg and 9.8 rpg.
Junior Nate Garcia, a 6-foot-11 center, led Damien with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Senior Xavier Clinton, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, added 14 points. Garcia, who led the event in rebounding (12.3 rpg), is one of the state’s most improved players since the beginning of the 2022-23 season. Clinton is an excellent sharp-shooter who should draw some recruiting interest the rest of the summer and into his senior campaign after averaging 20 ppg.
Damien scored a mild upset with its 76-68 semifinal win over St. Joseph of Santa Maria, which was one of the top seeds in this divisions and had the loss that prevented any CIF Central Section clubs from making it to a title game. Junior Tounde Yessoufou, a 6-foot-5 power guard who recently was offered by Kansas and contacted by a plethora of college heavyweights since rising juniors (2025s) were able to be contracted by colleges on June 15, was second in the tournament in scoring (28 ppg) behind junior McKel Shedrick, a 6-foot-3 guard from Hillcrest of Riverside who averaged 28.3 ppg. Yessoufou was particularly good in St. Joe’s 62-49 quarterfinal victory over Heritage Christian of Northridge with 28 points, eight rebounds and four steals to go along with a variety of spectacular finishes, and had a 30-point, 10-rebound outing in an opening round 74-61 victory over Redondo Union of Redondo Beach.
Bryant, Yessoufou and Roosevelt’s Brayden Burries, a 6-foot-4 junior who did not play CIF ball last season at Poly of Riverside, would get our nod as the three players who individually stood out from the rest at the event, with Khamenia, Claytor and sophomore Brandon McCoy, a 6-foot-3 guard at St. John Bosco, not far behind. Burries single-handily kept Roosevelt in the semifinal game vs. Salesian with his rebounding prowess and strong finishes around the basket.
While Centennial has two big senior guns, its success will be dependent on the development of its sophomore class. Coach Josh Giles’ program is loaded with fine 2026 prospects and more than one is starting to catch recruiters’ attention. Isaiah “Slim” Rodgers, a 6-foot-1 point guard, is much improved and he made a big impact in this live period event with his play-making. He had a huge second half in the semifinal win over JSerra, scoring 15 points. Justice Griffith, a power-packed 5-foot-10 athlete and the sophomore who played the most last season, makes winning plays and had 17 points vs. JSerra.
“With our senior class moving on, there is alot of opportunity and spots open, so this was a great opportunity,” Rodgers said. “Playing with that group, especially Jared, he showed us what real leadership looks like.”
“We know we are not good right now, or not as good as we will be, but our effort is 100 percent every game,” Griffith said.
BallerTV: Monterey Trail (Elk Grove) 55, Bellarmine (San Jose) 54
Mark Fields, the head coach at Monterey Trail, felt coming in his team is going to be much better than last season’s 15-14 outfit and the Mustangs made a statement by defeating a sound team from the WCAL in Sunday morning’s first game. The contest was close throughout until the Mustangs got a big 3-pointer from junior Rashawn Inglemon, a 5-foot-10 guard, with 2:47 remaining in the game to give his team a 52-46 lead. Bellarmine actually closed strong and had two late chances to tie the game on 3-pointers from junior Brayden Harris, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, but they were off-target.
Monterey Trail junior Derron White, a 5-foot-11 guard, and Inglemon both had some key moments, but the stars of the team over the weekend were senior Damarion Vann-Kelly, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, and senior Brandon Gibson Jr., a 6-foot-5 wing. Vann-Kelly, who combines a nice pull-up game with a sleek physique and good agility, was one of the event’s scoring leaders at a 24.3 ppg clip. Gibson (19.7 ppg) and Vann-Kelly will definitely see an uptick in their recruitment after their performances this past weekend.
Passport: Poly (Riverside) 47, Serra (San Mateo) 37
The Bears played well in the second half of a game that was tied 20-20 at halftime to serve notice that its young core will be a tough out in 2023-24. Junior Chris Holland, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard, impressed with his play-making ability and averaged 20.8 ppg. Sophomore J’Rob Croy, a 6-foot-4 point guard and the son of a college coach, is another that played well for the Bears. Junior Kory Dodson, a 6-foot-4 forward and the son of former Poly head coach Yancy Dodson, has improved his skill level and physical conditioning.
Serra defeated Dublin, 58-53, in its semifinal, while Poly defeated Sheldon of Sacramento, 58-55, in the other semifinal.
SCIBA: Rocklin 57, Clayton Valley (Concord) 44
The Thunder were the second Sac Joaquin Section club to win a Cali Live title after jumping out to an early 17-6 lead and never looking back. Junior Mark Lavrenov, a 6-foot-7 forward, is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get prospect. There is nothing fancy about his game and he knows what his role is for Rocklin. He was impressive throughout for a team that easily downed Mater Dei of Chula Vista in its semifinal, 84-64. Clayton Valley, which was led all tourney long by junior Elijah Perryman, a 6-foot-2 combo guard, edged St. Ignatius of San Francisco in its semifinal, 48-47.
Perryman was one of the fast-risers in the event along with names such as 6-foot-3 senior Tanner Jones (Campbell Hall, North Hollywood), 6-foot-2 sophomore Myles Jones (Modesto Christian), 6-foot-2 junior Xair Mendez (Montgomery, San Diego), 6-foot-3 junior Josh Palmer (St. Bernard, Playa Del Rey) and 6-foot-1 freshman (2027) David Lee Johnson (Parker, San Diego),
Beach: Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach) 64, South Pasadena 57
The Mustangs lost a solid senior core off a team that went 25-2 during the 2022-23 regular season, but coach Neal Perlmutter feels he has one of the best junior cores in the Southern Section. Some of them didn’t play much behind seniors last season, but wasted no time showing they will be a team to watch next year by out-lasting a game South Pasadena club. The best of the Mira Costa lot is junior Jacob De Armas, a 6-foot-4 wing guard who can do it all. South Pasadena couldn’t slow him down and he’s sure to get low D1 and D2 recruiting interest over the course of the next year.
Sunshine: Alemany (Mission Hills) 56, St. Anthony (Long Beach) 52
The Warriors look to show improvement in the rugged Mission League after a winless league campaign last season and displayed grit by out-lasting the battle-tested Saints in this division. Alemany’s interior size is boosted by transfers, most notably sophomore Samuel Mbingazo, a Congo native who played last season in Iowa at Iowa City High School.
NHSBCA: Arcadia 53, Del Norte (San Diego) 40
The Apaches downed Del Norte, as San Diego Section programs went 0-2 in title games on Sunday. Sophomore Noah Edwards, a 6-foot-2 guard, graded out well vs. Del Norte, while his teammate Jordan Dollar was also impressive. In fact, Dollar, a 6-foot-2 senior, led this division in scoring at 23.3 ppg for a club that beat two Southern Section teams and two from San Diego (the other being Vista) on the way to a title.
Destination Irvine: Lakewood 55, Rancho Dominguez (Long Beach) 47
The Lancers downed the lone L.A. City Section finalist as head coach Duane Cooper, a former all-state guard at Lakewood in the late 1980s and a former NBA player, pointed out the play of two standout juniors. That duo who led Lakewood were 6-foot-1 guard Anthony Williams and 6-foot-2 wing Keaton Lewis.