It’s time to launch our winter basketball content on CalHiSports.com and we’ll do it with our preseason boys basketball state rankings. Two big off-season happenings is the continued impact Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) has on the boys basketball landscape and the NFHS recommended rule changes that eliminates the one-and-one foul shot in high school basketball. Of course, it was another hectic off-season of player movement that greatly affects these rankings. After all the dust has settled, the defending CIF Open champ is preseason No. 1 for the first time in school history and for the second consecutive season. In 2022-23, it was Centennial of Corona and this time Harvard-Westlake of North Hollywood opens up the 2023-24 season as preseason No. 1. Does NorCal have a chance to win the CIF Open title game for just the second time ever?
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Plenty has changed and the world is in a different place than it was in March 2020 when the pandemic began and so is high school basketball. The players have more participation options to showcase themselves for the next level other than traditional high school basketball and their next level options have grown, too. College basketball is still the destination for most, but elite prospects have the option to go pro overseas and some also take a serious look at the NBA’s G League Ignite team.
College basketball has changed dramatically in that time, too, and the changes certainly do not help California’s high school basketball players. The NCAA transfer portal has created a situation where college coaches look for, and prefer, more experienced players. One just has to look at the situation surrounding Memphis’ DeAndre Williams. He was recently denied NCAA eligibility this season. Had the 27-year old played, Memphis’ starting lineup would have averaged 23.8 years old. Yes, you read that right, a major college player was 26 years old last year. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out he’d probably have a big advantage over some 18-year-old freshman for playing time.
For the many talented players you’ll read about in our preseason 2023-24 Cal-Hi Sports State Boys Basketball Rankings, a college scholarship will be hard to come by. In fact, much harder than it was prior to the pandemic. That’s a harsh reality, but there is something still special about the traditional high school basketball landscape that we’ll be covering for the 44th consecutive year. The passion to represent a school, the long-existing rivalries and eager student bodies that cheer for their school have not come close to being replicated or replaced by alternative pathways to the next level.
The biggest off-court change to the recent landscape was the Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) policies that went into effect in July 2021 (designed for collegiate athletes) after NIL legislation in various states modeled after California’s “Fair Pay to Play Act” forced the NCAA’s hand. The financial freedoms associated with NIL revenue streams quickly trickled down to the high school landscape. At this time in 2022, nine state associations that fall under the leadership of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) sanctioned NIL freedoms for its participating student athletes. Currently that number is 33 (plus Washington, D.C.) and it’s not hard to figure out it’s only a matter of time before state associations in all 50 states allow NIL freedoms. CIF bylaws have long allowed athletes to enter into endorsement deals (think the numerous childhood actors who later played sports in California). It was always the NCAA where those athletes would get tripped up. That is not the case anymore.
Elite players are clearly looking for the best financial package, and in some instances it has created unrealistic expectations. The situation with Bronny James at Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth and Mikey Williams of San Ysidro were anomalies and as we’ve seen in recent months, NIL opportunities and circumstances can change rapidly.
While increased player options and NIL expectations are the big off-court happenings, there is a major on-court landscape changer as well. The recommended rule change announced by the NFHS over the summer for 2023-24 is going to affect games across the state and country. The one-and-one free throw situation is now eliminated in the boys high school game. The bonus situation now involves two guaranteed free throws that will occur at five fouls per quarter, instead of seven fouls per half. (High school hoops consists of four, 8-minute quarters.) The fouls will reset after each quarter and the opposition is shooting two on the fifth foul.
We’ve attended countless games (and evaluated countless players) over the past 40 plays years and the missed front end of 1-and-1’s have been the catalyst for many memorable comebacks. The gap between the best state ranked teams and also-rans is growing and our take is the elimination of the 1-and-1 situation favors the team ahead on the scoreboard, which is usually the more talented team.
The game is likely to flow better in the second and fourth period and the games could be faster, but it just became a bit harder to win for the team trailing on the scoreboard. Expect our state’s best teams to record even more blow out wins than they already do each season and for there to be an adjustment period for coaches, fans, and occasionally referees, who have been used to the game being played with no reset fouls per quarter and with the bonus situation.
The best coaches will adjust to the new rules quickly and use them to their advantage, while gauging the temperature of the referees in regards to how they are calling the game. There is little doubt that some of the nation’s best coaches hail from CIF schools and for Harvard-Westlake’s Dave Rebibo, winning a CIF open state title in 2022-23 was extremely gratifying, but perhaps still not 100 percent satisfying. Winning the program’s first CIF open title was a special achievement, but there still is a hunger for Rebibo’s returning players to take it one step further. The Wolverines are still smarting from failing to advance to the CIF Southern Section Open Division title game. Rebibo’s club did not advance out of its four-team pool, as 2022-23 preseason No. 1 Corona Centennial won the coveted section open crown.
Similar to Centennial last year, Harvard-Westlake opens as Cal-Hi Sports preseason No. 1 in the state for the first time in school history. The Wolverines’ selection this year means 18 programs have had the talent, tradition and sustained success to begin preseason No. 1 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports since we started our weekly rankings 44 years ago. Those programs are Artesia of Lakewood, Bishop Montgomery of Torrance, Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland, Corona Centennial, Chino Hills, L.A. Crenshaw (four times), Dominguez of Compton (three times), L.A. Fairfax (twice), Inglewood, Long Beach Poly (three times), L.A. Manual Arts, Mater Dei of Santa Ana (11 times), Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth (four times), St. Joseph of Alameda (twice), St. Monica of Santa Monica, St. Bernard of Playa del Rey (twice) and L.A. Westchester (five times).
The defending CIF open champs have three college-bound returning starters and enough depth to open up at No. 1 in the state and No. 11 in the preseason FAB 50 national rankings. The Wolverines also have motivation, as they aim to begin at No. 1 and finish No. 1, while capturing CIFSS and CIF state open crowns along the way. Not making the section title game is something the Wolverines thought about after beating NorCal open champ St. Joseph of Santa Maria in the 2023 CIF open title game, thought about during the summer and fall and recently discussed at the Mission League’s media day.
The team that lost to Corona Centennial in the CIFSS open title game, Bellflower St. John Bosco, is a solid preseason No. 2 with four returning starters. Three-time defending CIFSS open division champ Centennial opens at No. 6.
One of the big questions going into this season is can any NorCal club reasltically take down the SoCal open champ in the state’s big championship game? It’s only happened once (by preseason 2014-15 Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland that season) since the advent of the CIF open division in 2012-13.
The CIF is scheduled to crown its 2023-24 state champions on March 8-9, 2024 at Golden One Center in Sacramento.
2023-24 CAL-HI SPORTS PRESEASON
BOYS BASKETBALL STATE RANKINGS
(This is the 44th consecutive season that CalHiSports.com will provide state rankings; Last year’s final rating in parentheses with 2022-23 won-loss record)
(Cal-Hi Sports co-founder and editor Mark Tennis contributed to these rankings)
1. (1) Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood) 33-2
It’s been a natural progression for the Wolverines to the top of the California high school basketball food chain. In 2021-22, they opened at No. 3 in the state and finished in that spot after advancing to the SoCal open semifinals. Last season, the Wolverines began at No. 2 and were able to meet tremendous expectations and capture the CIF open title to finish as Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year. The previous time the Wolverines were the state’s best team back in 1996-97, it was Dominguez of Compton that began as No. 1 in the state and country, while the Wolverines started No. 4 but turned out to be one of the best teams in state history.
This year’s club wants to accomplish what no other team in school history has: begin No. 1, win section and state open titles and finish No. 1. Last year it was preseason No. 1 Corona Centennial that won the CIF Southern Section open crown in grand fashion off a dunk by now graduated Aaron McBride (LMU), so the motivation is definitely there for a talent-laden club. The Wolverines do have the best combination of returning talent, experience and coaching to warrant the top spot.
It all begins with Trent Perry (6-3, Sr.), a returning all-state selection who averaged 16 ppg, 7 rpg, 6 apg. More than his averages, he can turn a game with a big play with or without the ball in his hands. Robert Hinton (6-4, Sr.) averaged 10 ppg and 4 rpg in 2022-23 and has tons of experience, is crafty and a tough shot-maker. Nikolas Khamenia (6-6, Jr.) can do a bit of everything and his statistical output (9.9 ppg, 6 rpg, 4 apg) will go up and relishes taking on tough defensive assignments. He took on the challenge of guarding Tounde Yessoufou of No. 19 St. Joseph in the CIF open title game and turned in a terrific performance.
Last year’s team had terrific chemistry and there is no guarantee that will be repeated, but coach Dave Rebibo (193-54 at Harvard-Westlake) does have terrific role players and enough supporting talent for this team to meet its goals. Dominique Bentho (6-8, So.) is the team’s physical presence inside and must replace the 10 rebounds per game graduated big Jacob Huggins (Princeton) produced. Christian Horry (6-3, Sr.) is a quality playmaker and Amir Jones (6-2, So.) an interchangeable guard.
The Wolverines face nationally-ranked Perry of Arizona at Hoophall West in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Dec. 2) and head to the Les Schwab Invitational in Portland, Ore. (Dec. 27-30). That event will feature out-of-state teams such as Perry and FAB 50 title contender Columbus of Miami. Before the CIFSS open playoffs commence, this team also will face McEachern of Georgia on national television at the Spalding Hoophall Classic on MLK Monday. There’s also the Mission League tournament for the Wolverines, which have won or shared the league title for five consecutive seasons.
2. (3) St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 26-7
After the Braves captured the 2020-21 SoCal Div. I-AA title in the only season since 1979-80 in which there were no CIF championships, the expectations for them have steadily risen. They began at No. 19 in 2021-22 (but did not finish ranked) and at No. 10 last season when Bosco ended at No. 3 with a trip to the coveted CIF Southern Section open finals, where it lost at the buzzer to 2022-23 preseason No. 1 Centennial of Corona.
With the return of four starters and 11 lettermen, the expectations for coach Matt Dunn’s (447-183) program has never been higher and it has the necessary ingredients to meet them. It begins with Elzie Harrington (6-5, Jr.), one of the three players statewide named all-state as a 10th-grader last season who is primed for even better things after averaging 15.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.7 apg, 2.8 spg in 2022-23. The reigning Trinity League Player of the Year is flanked by Loyola-Chicago-bound Jack Turner (6-3, Sr.), a fearless competitor who isn’t afraid of the big moment and can demoralize foes with his scoring spurts. Kade Bonam (6-8, Jr.) is the key player on Bosco’s interior and his production (13.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.3 bpg as a 10th-grader) will be key to creating opportunities for others.
The defending Trinity League champions advanced to the CIFSS open title game last year and nearly won it and Brandon McCoy Jr. (6-4, So.) played a huge role in the Braves’ post-season success after transferring in from NorCal at the semester break. McCoy’s numbers (8.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.6 spg) don’t begin to do justice on his impact, as he might be the best athlete who plays hoops in California. He can score at a high clip and has great instincts as a shot-blocker and offensive rebounder.
In order for Bosco to survive its national schedule someone is going to have to help Bonam on the glass to offset the graduation loss of Xinyi Li (Manhattan College). Howie Wu (7-0, So.) will be counted on to fill that void and Jaison Joyce (6-7, Jr.) is another key cog who is counted on for his defense and play-making. Gavin Dean-Moss (6-0, So.) is a spark plug off the bench as a back-up to the talented perimeter lineup and additional depth is provided by fellow JV move-ups Dominic Perfetti (6-7, So.) and Chris Komin (6-0, Jr.).
The Braves take on highly-regarded Sunnyslope of Arizona at Hoophall West in Arizona (Dec. 2), but the competition will be even better at the Iolani Classic (Dec. 15-20) in Hawaii. After Christmas, it’s The Classic at Damien, where it could meet No. 4 Roosevelt but will have to beat a host of fine clubs to get that far in the 16-team Platinum bracket. Before the eight-team CIFSS Open division playoffs, Bosco will test itself at the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Springfield, Mo. (Jan. 11-13) along with preseason FAB 50 national title contenders Paul VI of Virginia and McEachern of Georgia, the same team top-ranked Harvard-Westlake meets on Jan. 15 in Springfield, Mass.
3. (12) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 29-7
When putting together this year’s preseason FAB 50 National Rankings (which live on Ballislife.com for the ninth consecutive season) two things were clearly evident. Since weekly national rankings began in the mid-1970s (by the late Dave Krider for Basketball Weekly), DeMatha Catholic of Maryland has been the only consistent program in terms of national contention. When Cal-Hi Sports became known nationwide for its polls when USA Today took national rankings to the next level in 1982-83, the Monarchs are the only program to consistently appear in our rankings year in and year out. That all coincides with the hiring of coach Gary McKnight, whose record now stands at 1,243-134 entering his 42nd season at the helm.
Mater Dei has been preseason ranked each season of McKnight’s tenure and this year’s club has the chance to be his best outfit since the 2017-18 club that won the CIFSS open title over a Sierra Canyon club that went on to win the state open crown. Brannon Martinsen (6-8, So.) showed glimpses of being a special talent (12.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg), although he missed a plethora of fall league games while nursing injuries. His game will be complimented nicely by Canyon of Anaheim transfer Brandon Benjamin (6-5, Jr.), a small forward with tremendous skill and feel for the game. He might not average 22.5 ppg and 8.7 rpg as he did as a sophomore at Canyon, but he’ll make the other Monarchs more dangerous because of high-post versatility. A new teammate who could be primed for a big year is Blake Davidson (6-8, Jr.).
Mater Dei also will stay around in games because its outside shooting will be superior to a vast majority of its foes, as Owen Verna (6-3, Jr.) is a terrific spot-up shooter (10.2 ppg) and Luke Barnett (6-2, So.) plays with the savvy of a senior. Brady Karich (6-2, Sr.) and Utah Tech-bound Scotty Belnap (6-5, Sr.) are backcourt veterans with size and experience and won’t have to score big to help this team reach its lofty goals.
McKnight owns a record 11 CIF state crowns and has won 39 league titles in 41 seasons, but last year was one of those two campaigns and Bosco deserves to begin in front of the Monarchs as the defending Trinity League champs. Mater Dei will play in the Hoopfest in Paradise event in the Bahamas (Dec. 15-16), and in the Sunshine Series at the City of Palms Classic in Ft. Myers, Fla. (Dec. 19-21). After Christmas it will play in the Desert Holiday Classic (Dec. 27-30) and its first league game with St. John Bosco will take place at Crypto.com Arena as part of the Coastal Catholic Classic (Jan. 6).
4. (NR) Roosevelt (Eastvale) 20-8
The Mustangs are preseason FAB 50 ranked for the first time ever in program history, so naturally they come in this spot right behind Mater Dei. Coach Steve Singleton’s club was not ranked at the end of last season, but expectations are sky high after adding two notable players who had eligibility issues at their old school and sat out 2022-23.
Brayden Burries (6-5, Jr.) is one of the top 2025 players in the country even though he lost his sophomore season after being forced to leave Riverside Poly. A physical specimen, Burries is a talented scorer and hellacious rebounder who could develop into a Mr. Basketball candidate should the Mustangs capture the Big VIII League title and challenge for the CIFSS open title. The second player to come over from Poly is guard Isaac Williamson (5-11, Jr.), a knock down shooter who is crafty and can create for others. He’s complimented in the backcourt nicely by Myles Walker (5-9, Jr.), a transfer from J.W. North of Riverside who teams will have trouble staying in front of. The returning starter is Darnez Slater (6-4, Sr.), an all-state underclass and all-CIFSS choice in 2022-23 who can punish teams inside or out and can play effectively without the ball.
Singleton has won CIF state titles at both Dominguez of Compton (2000-01) and at Roosevelt in D1 (2016-17) when the Mustangs finished just outside the FAB 50. There is plenty to like about this team, but in order to play at a national level, Roosevelt must show it can rebound and do some damage on the interior against its best foes. That’s where the play of Kevin “Tochi” Anigbogu (6-9, Sr.), a transfer from league rival Centennial of Corona, comes into play. Roosevelt is going to have to show it can get by the No. 6 Huskies and secure a top seed in the CIFSS open playoffs in order to remain in this position. If Williamson and Walker are consistent from the outside, this team will be a tough out throughout the season.
We’ll also see where Roosevelt is statewide at the Classic at Damien after Christmas (Dec. 27-30), as the Platinum Division will include No. 2 Bosco, the Huskies, No. 9 Salesian, No. 13 De La Salle, No. 14 Campbell Hall, No. 22 Clovis North, No. 24 Windward, and the host club.
5. (7) Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 23-11
The Trailblazers were preseason No. 1 for four consecutive seasons (2018-19 through 2021-22) but dropped to No. 4 last season when Amari Bailey moved on to college (UCLA). The Trailblazers ended up losing to preseason No. 5 Notre Dame four times, including 80-61 in the SoCal D1 final. This spot in our rankings came down once again to the two teams from the Mission League looking up to Harvard-Westlake (along with Centennial) and we went with coach Andre Chevalier’s club by a whisker.
There is no doubt after Harvard-Westlake and St. John Bosco, we could have gone in various directions with our rankings and a month ago Sierra Canyon would have been pegged a few spots lower. In fall leagues, however, it played with an edge, the Trailblazers are big and physical, and the improvement of Justin Pippen (6-4, Sr.) was stark. He’s a catalyst and has helped take this team to a level where it will be an extremely tough out because of its teamwork on both ends of the floor.
Jayden Alexander (6-2, Jr.) also is one of those team-first guys who flys around the backcourt making things happen, as does Bryce Cofield (6-5, Jr.) in the frontcourt. Cofield loves to get downhill and benefits on offense from the opportunities created by the team’s defense. Noah Williams (6-6, Sr.) is another veteran who can get things done around the basket and guard multiple positions. If Majok Chuol (7-0, Sr.) continues developing and provides first-rate rim protection, this will be a dangerous post-season team. We haven’t even mentioned Isaiah Elohim (6-5, Sr.), one of the most gifted offensive players in the state who battled injuries last season and during the summer. If Elohim plays to his peak, it will make Sierra Canyon a dark-horse to win its first CIFSS open division crown since 2019-20.
Sierra Canyon was impressive in the fall in many games without Elohim so it will be interesting to see how he meshes with the core as the season rolls along. Incredibly, Sierra Canyon is FAB 50 ranked for the tenth consecutive season, but this season has a different feel to it. With Bronny James (USC) moving on and Bryce James transferring to Notre Dame, this team has less of the limelight and doesn’t seem to mind it. In fact, some of the players seem to relish it and are eager to show media and the fans that they can win at a high level without the off-court happenings being chronicled as much as the wins and losses.
6. (2) Centennial (Corona) 30-4
Last season the Huskies were the first Riverside County team to begin as state preseason No. 1 after going wire-to-wire as the state’s No. 1 team in 2021-22. The Huskies were a close call over Harvard-Westlake to begin at No. 1, but it was the Wolverines that got the big win in the SoCal open final, 80-61, to end Centennial’s 51-game in-state winning streak.
Centennial graduated a fine senior core responsible for three consecutive CIFSS open titles, but don’t cry for the Huskies as they have a fine group that gives them a realistic shot at a four-peat. It begins with UCLA-bound Eric Freeny (6-4, Sr.), an all-state underclass choice who averaged 13 ppg, 5 rpg and 3.2 apg while shooting 56 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3-point range. He took his game to another level last season and this year he’ll look to help make others around him more comfortable as the elder statesman. That would greatly benefit Arizona-bound Carter Bryant (6-9, Sr.), a transfer from Sage Hill in Newport Beach who is arguably the most talented senior in the state. If he meshes with Freeny, and if the underclassmen make the strides coach Josh Giles expects, this team will give No. 4 Roosevelt everything it can handle in defense of its Big VIII League crown.
Three sophomores join the lineup, with Justice Griffith (5-11, So.) being the one who earned the most meaningful playing time in 2022-23, Isaiah “Slim” Rogers (6-3, So.) the one who has made the most strides in the last year, and Markee White Jr. (6-5, So.) moving up from the JV level. Griffith’s intensity never takes a day off, Rodgers’ play at point guard will be key and White’s contributions around the basket will be important to keep defenses honest on Bryant. Centennnial’s youth kept it just a hair outside the FAB 50 but we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Huskies jump in down the line as the starters jell.
Giles’ (482-136) program is not only the defending league champ, it is the six-time defending Big VIII champs, so the games with Roosevelt could be the toughest league showdowns we’ll see in the state this season. Centennial plays a loaded schedule, too, meeting No. 35 Rancho Christian and highly-regarded Sunnyslope of Arizona at the BattleZone (Nov. 17-18) before taking on No. 13 De La Salle at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic (Nov. 25). The Huskies then meet FAB 50 title contender Archbishop Stepinac at Hoophall West in Arizona (Dec. 2) before playing in three holiday tournaments: The Pro Image Holiday Classic (Dec. 15-17) in Idaho, the Tarkanian Classic (Dec. 18-21) and the Classic at Damien (Dec. 27-30).
7. (4) Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) 27-10
Head coach Matt Sargeant’s team might be starting out No. 3 in the rugged Mission League, but will be strong contenders to not only challenge Harvard-Westlake for league honors, but gain a CIFSS open playoff berth. The graduation losses of Caleb Foster (Duke) and Dusty Stromer (Gonzaga) will be felt, but Sargeant (187-119) has a strong core and it will be formidable come league play.
With Houston-bound Mercy Miller (6-3, Sr.), the Knights have a go-to scorer and a player to rally around when the going gets tough. Angelino Mark (6-2, Jr.) is coming into his own and is one of the most underrated guards in the CIFSS. What this team lacks in height and strength inside, it makes up for it with speed, athleticism, and unselfishness. Against the better teams, the contributions of Jayden Harper (6-7, Sr.) and Zach White (6-6, So.) will be key. Harper is a four-year veteran who will sell out for teammates and White is rapidly becoming one of the best sophomores in a gifted California class who can make an impact both inside and on the perimeter.
Dante Ogbu is the third graduation loss, but his younger brother Caleb Ogbu (6-2, So.) is part of the impressive depth and interchangeable players, while minutes will also be found for Sierra Canyon transfer Bryce James (6-5, Jr.), the younger brother of Bronny James (USC).
The Knights will meet No. 14 Campbell Hall on Dec. 6 and face No. 13 De La Salle on Jan. 6 at the Catholic Coastal Classic at the Lakers’ NBA arena.
8. (20) Archbishop Riordan (San Francisco) 23-7
The Crusaders rate as the early favorite to represent NorCal in the CIF open title game, a contest the region has won only once (2015 preseason No. 1 Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland) in 11 years of existence. The last time Riordan played in the top division title game came in 89-90 when it lost to a blue-collar Mater Dei team that won its second of 11 CIF titles under its current coach Gary McKnight.
Riordan is looking to capture the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) title and Central Coast Section open crown before harboring regional thoughts and it has the experience and personnel to do just that. Jasir Rencher (6-5, Jr.) is a talented wing scorer, while Andrew Hilman (6-3, So.) is coming off a terrific first-year and is the best CIF NorCal sophomore in California’s loaded 2026 class. Nathan Tshamala (6-5, Sr.) is a strong shooter who had some terrific fall league games when the Crusaders won the Pacific Division of the Border League event in Las Vegas.
Coach Joey Curtin has a new addition inside in transfer Steve Emeneke (6-9, Sr.), while talented forward Zion Sensley (6-8, Sr.) is also in the fold after returning from Prolific Prep of Napa (which is not a CIF program). Depth is added by yet another newcomer in Eastern Washington-bound guard Jory McKenzie (6-3, Sr.) while Ryder Bush (6-2, Sr.) is a physically strong guard with experience.
We’ll get a gauge of where the Crusaders are (and a barometer for how close NorCal teams are to their next open title) when Riordan opens its season with No. 4 Roosevelt at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic. The Crusaders are also in the Gridley Tournament (Dec. 7-9), which fields its finest set of teams in many years. Curtin’s crew also has plenty of motivation, as it won the CIF Central Coast Section open crown in 2022, beat last year’s open champ Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco twice, only to see its season end short-handed in the NorCal D1 regional semifinals following a scuffle at the end of its regional quarterfinal victory.
9. (19) Salesian (Richmond) 26-9
Another strong contender for the NorCal open crown is the Pride, as coach Bill Mellis returns six of his top seven veterans from a club that made it to the NorCal D1 final and also beat preseason No. 1 Harvard-Westlake in the top division of the Cali Live ’23 June scholastic period event.
It all begins with an honors filled back-court led by Hawaii-bound Aaron Claytor (6-3, Sr.) and Amani Johnson (6-3, Sr.). Johnson has twice been all-state underclass, while Claytor was a first team choice last season and the Tri-County Rock League MVP in his first season as part of the program. Alvin Loving IV (6-4, Jr.) was another all-state underclass choice who can do a bit of everything, from doing the dirty work inside to handling the ball. Zander Jimenez (6-3, Sr.) also is as tough as nails and an ace defender and clutch play-maker. As if that is not enough, Elias Obenyah (6-3, So.) is just as highly-regarded as Riordan’s Andrew Hilman among 10th-graders and will be a key cog.
This team is perimeter-oriented, so the play of forward Deundrae Perteete (6-5, Sr.) will be key as The Pride navigates through a tough schedule. Salesian plays No. 14 Campbell Hall at the O’Dowd Thanksgiving Showcase, will face No. 21 Mitty at Chabot College (Dec. 2) and is part of the loaded Gridley Invitational. The Pride join No. 6 Centennial at the Pro Sports Image Holiday Classic in Idaho before Christmas and are part of the top bracket at the Classic at Damien. The Tri-County Rock League shouldn’t be an issue, but we knock down The Pride (and indirectly Riordan) just a hair because Salesian has to get over the hump of its 0-5 all-time mark in the NorCal open playoffs.
10. (14) St. Bernard (Playa del Rey) 23-7
In our rankings scenario, the Vikings would be the No. 8 team in the CIFSS open division playoffs, which is two pools of four teams with the winner of each pool meeting in the title game. In 2021-22 when the Vikings started No. 12 (the ninth CIFSS team), it went on to capture the CIFSS D1 crown and last season was the No. 7 seed in the CIFSS open playoffs (0-3) when it opened No. 8.
Coach Tony Bland’s club should be right in the same range with a core that includes one senior, Kendyl Sanders (6-6, Sr.), and talented underclassmen. Sanders can do the dirty work or score the ball in a variety of ways. He’s complemented on the inside by Christian Collins (6-8, So.), an oozing talent that like Sanders who can handle the ball a bit when necessary. Caleb Versher (6-2, Jr.) is the team’s most experienced and reliable scorer, while Josh Palmer (6-4, Jr.) is the best shooter and a deft perimeter defender. Tajh Ariza (6-7, So.) also is a gifted big guard who will make the Vikings awfully tough to beat when he’s hitting from the perimeter. When the going got tough, guard Tyler Rolison (now at Nevada) was the go-to player the past two seasons, so if Versher is consistent and the young talent jells this team could be considerably better in February than it will be in December.
11. (24) Clovis West (Fresno) 30-4
The Golden Eagles get the nod as the top team from the CIF Central Section as they look for their third consecutive 30-win season under veteran coach Vance Walberg. Clovis West has the ingredients to compete for the NorCal open crown as well after losing in the NorCal D1 quarterfinals to eventual NorCal champ Granada of Livermore last year. Walberg’s dribble drive motion offense and scrappy defense will always be there, but the team has lacked size the past few years, even when it captured the 2022 Central Section open crown. That changes this year with Bishop Gorman of Nevada transfer Chris Baudreau (6-9, Jr.), who is rapidly improving and getting acclimated to Walberg’s system.
The Golden Eagles’ perimeter is lights out once again despite the graduation of Isaac Martinez. D.J. Stickman (6-1, Jr.) had a standout summer while Jackson Young (6-1, Jr.), will hit for double figures in scoring for the third consecutive season. Marshel Sanders (6-1, Sr.), headed to Fresno St. for football, is arguably the best athlete in the Central Valley. He is a lights out defender and athletic playmaker and a Cal-Hi Sports Hot 100 choice in both sports. For the Golden Eagles, it will have to hold off No. 22 Clovis North in the TRAC and show it has what it takes to get by No. 19 St. Joseph of Santa Maria, which beat Clovis West for last year’s Valley open championship.
12. (38) St. Pius X-St. Matthias (Downey) 30-5
There is little question top-ranked Harvard-Westlake and No. 2 St. John Bosco lead the pack, not only statewide, but in the CIFSS open race. There is a gap after the first two clubs and a glut of teams in the middle of the pack and the Warriors are clearly one of those teams that can make a move up. They’ll challenge for a CIFSS open spot with all their core back from a club that captured the CIFSS D3AA crown.
The play of Tyrone Riley (6-6, Sr.), who was clutch in the playoffs and averaged 25.6 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 4.7 apg and 2.5 spg, has Warriors’ fans thinking state title after setting a school record for wins last season. The third team all-state selection is flanked by another major honors candidate in Doug Langford (6-8, Jr.) a no nonsense back-to-the basket threat who is a load for any team to handle. Tariq Bridges (6-4, Jr.) is another veteran capable of double-digit scoring while three newcomers could help take this team to the next level. Transfers David Mack (5-9, Sr.) and Dayvion Gates (6-4, So.) should make the offense more potent and efficient, while Omari Cuffe (6-5, Fr.) is one of the more talented ninth-graders in the Southland.
Last year Riley was the 3AA Player of the Year, but should St. Pius-St. Matthias not be selection for the open division, it will be a major threat in the CIFSS D1 playoffs. The Warriors will play in the top division of the Tarkanian Classic (Dec. 18-21) along with No. 6 Centennial, No. 11 Clovis West, No. 14 Campbell Hall and No. 16 Branson, among others.
13. (15) De La Salle (Concord) 22-9
We peg the Spartans as the No. 3 team from NorCal and one of the favorites to win the North Coast Section open crown along with Salesian of Richmond as it returns eight lettermen from a club that fell by a point in the NorCal open semifinals to Modesto Christian.
Coach Marcus Schroeder (44-15) does lose three senior leaders, but the team’s best player is back in all-stater Alec Blair (6-6, Jr.), who averaged 16 ppg, 5 rpg, 2 spg and shot 52 percent from the field. Blair plays within the framework of the team, but this might be the season where he’ll need to break out and put up some monster numbers in Sparta’s biggest games. Blair, the 2022-23 State Sophomore Athlete of the Year, is also a highly regarded outfielder/hitter for De La Salle’s nationally ranked baseball team.
Others to watch include Leo Ricketts (6-0, Sr.), a veteran backcourt performer and A.J. Morgan (6-3, Sr.), who allows Schroeder to play big or small to create mismatches. This team is one of the most explosive offensively in recent DLS history and now has the missing ingredient inside via transfers David Balogun (6-7, Jr.) and Braddock Kjellesvig (6-7, Jr.). There is depth, too, with the likes of Ibrahim Monawar (6-0, So.) and Arshawn Salkhi (6-2, Sr.) for a club that is an excellent perimeter shooting team. The Spartans will meet No. 6 Centennial at the NorCal Tip-Off Classic and are also in the top division of the Classic at Damien (Dec. 27-30).
14. (NR) Campbell Hall (North Hollywood) 14-13
With a veteran team and a new coach, the Vikings are looking to make enough noise to challenge for a CIFSS open berth. Aaron Powell (6-2 Sr.), the son of former Bishop O’Dowd standout and long-time L.A. Clippers athletic trainer Jason Powell, is bound for Cal Poly SLO and returns sporting averages of 17.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg and 3.9 apg as a junior. Isaiah Johnson (6-0. Jr.) averaged 12.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg and 4.1 apg and Aliaun Iscandari (6-2, Sr.) completes the three-guard attack with returning averages of 12.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg and 2.9 apg. Tanner Jones (6-3, Sr.) also averaged 12.3 ppg and 6.3 rpg and is one of the most athletic wings in the CIFSS.
New coach David Grace, a former college assistant, had this veteran team playing with terrific intensity in fall leagues and got just what the doctor ordered on the interior in transfer James Bass (6-10, Jr.). Campbell Hall will have plenty of tests before the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas, playing No. 23 Etiwanda at the BattleZone (Nov. 18), No. 9 Salesian at the O’Dowd Thanksgiving Showcase (Nov. 25), No.7 Notre Dame (Dec. 6) and top-rated Harvard-Westlake (Dec. 13).
15. (NR) Santa Margarita (Rancho SM) 21-9
The Eagles begin three spots higher than they did last season and are hoping for a better showing in the rugged Trinity League, where they finished tied for third place at 5-5 with No. 17 JSerra and Orange Lutheran.
Santa Margarita has a deep club with seven returning lettermen and three talented newcomers in Drew Anderson (6-7, So.), John Gazzaniga (6-7, Jr.) and Rodney Westmoreland (5-11, So.). Anderson is a terrific all-around talent, Gazzaniga is a Grid-Hoop stud who stood out last season at Orange Lutheran and will help the interior while Westmoreland is one of the more gifted lead guards in a terrific 2026 class who gives coach Justin Bell (71-33) a quality ball-handler off the bench.
The backcourt at SMC is led Jonathan Moxie (6-2, Sr.) while Santa Margarita is loaded on the wings. Brayden Kyman (6-8, So.) is one of the best shooters in the state, Dartmouth-bound Cameron McNamee is a much improved talent with Dallas Washington (6-8, Jr.) also returning. If Washington can unlock his vast potential to its fullest this team will be tough to beat during Trinity League play.
Should the Eagles finish among the top two in league play they’ll be a good bet for the CIFSS open playoffs, but if not, they’ll be a tough out in the CIFSS D1 playoffs. After Christmas they’ll play in the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic along with league foe JSerra, No. 21 Mitty, highly-regarded St. Edward of Ohio, Waxahachie, Texas and FAB 50 ranked Oak Cliff Family Faith of Dallas.
For a look at the teams we’ve ranked from No. 16 to No. 40, plus 15 more on the bubble, CLICK HERE.