The start of the high school basketball season is days away in California, with some teams scheduled to play their first official game Friday, November 12th. Over the last week, I have been fortunate to watch some of the projected top teams in the Central Section, as well as some of the top players, as teams have been playing in round-robin style scrimmages to prepare for the season. This article takes a look at 10 teams from the scrimmages I have attended and evaluates how they look heading into the season, the players expected to make significant contributions for these teams, and some predictions on where these teams will be at the end of the regular season.
Featured Player in Photo: Jhase Boston (Stockdale HS)
Clovis North Broncos:
The Broncos look ready to take on the challenges that are coming their way this season, with exceptional depth and play at the guard position. Leading the charge at the helm are senior Niko Jones and super sophomore Connor Amundsen, who have great chemistry and experience in high pressure games. Amundsen has had a productive 2021, ramping it up over the past few months and setting the bar for top prospects in his class in the Central Section. Clovis North does not have the size they have had the past few seasons, but junior Jaylen Bryant and sophomore Jordan Espinoza hold their own on the glass, and have the physicality and craftiness to finish around taller players. Freshman Loukas Jones had an impressive showing and will fit in nicely, as he moves well off the ball and shoots off the catch with good depth on the three ball. I can see the Broncos contending for the Open Division, but with the youth of the roster and being guard heavy it may be more likely that the Broncos make a run at Division 1 Sectional Champs. Really fun team to watch that is well coached and play at a fast pace.
Centennial Golden Hawks/Bakersfield:
The Golden Hawks have a nice blend of perimeter play combined with the ability to battle in the interior with decent size and physicality. Centennial had an impressive, albeit short, season last year and are looking to establish themselves as one of the top programs in the Central Section this season, as they return a majority of their core players. Junior point guard Elijah West has really come into his own as a lead guard that is capable of facilitating and running the system, as well as having the skill set to create his own offense. Senior shooting guard Blake Dibble is capable of scoring off the dribble, as well as creating open looks moving off the ball for catch and shoot opportunities. In the interior, Centennial has enough size and toughness to battle on the boards, get second chance scoring opportunities, and protect the rim on the defensive end. Juniors JayJay Jones and Malachi Hogg-Madden both have the perimeter skill set to attack off the wing, and the physicality and creativity to battle in the post against taller players. Despite the depth of the roster, the Golden Hawks feature player is super sophomore Rippen Gill, who is a match-up problem for any opponent. The 6’5 point-forward has a good handle on the ball, moves to create off the perimeter, is efficient from the three point line, and has a nice mid-range pull-up shot. Gill also has nice post-moves, good footwork to maneuver and create open looks around the basket, is a solid rebounder that has the guard skills to push the ball in the open court. Sophomores Godwill Fomusoh and Donqavious Bolton will provide the size, athleticism, and energy off the bench and are two pieces, along with Gill and freshman point guard Michael Guttierez, that should make Centennial a contender for the foreseeable future. The Golden Hawks were in Division 2 last year for the playoffs but with the new format I could see them earning a spot in Division 1 for the Sectional Playoffs. Given the youth of the roster, this could be a team that contends for an Open Division spot next year.
Bakersfield Christian Eagles:
The Eagles are coming off back-to-back Division 3 Central Section Championships, and return some key players that give Bakersfield Christian a chance to make a run at the Open Division this season. Similar to last season, the Eagles have one of the toughest schedules of any team in the Section, if not the toughest, and for the first time in four years will not have Seth Marantos running the show, as he has taken his game to the collegiate level with the Fresno Pacific Sunbirds. Although this is a huge hole to fill in the roster, senior guards Jackson Tucker and Erick Chaney have the experience and the game to keep the engine running, as they were the top two scorers from last year’s team. The senior duo compliments each other nicely, as Tucker relentlessly pressures the defense by attacking downhill and Chaney is one of the deadliest threats from beyond the arc in the state. Taking over at the lead guard spot will be super sophomore Bentley Waller, who will benefit from his experience last season, and has the skill and confidence to expand his role on both offense and defense for the Eagles this season. Junior Charlie Stump will be expected to anchor the team on both offense and defense, as he is solid on the glass, can alter shots around the rim, and can stretch the floor from the 3 point line. Bakersfield Christian will also rely on the role play of senior guards Zach Hiebert and Quinnton Ocampo to knock down shots and get to the open spots, ready for catch and shoot opportunities. The Eagles have a chance to jump up divisions for the playoffs with the new format, and with their experience and success over the years they will make a play for the Open Division. If they do not make the Open Division, I see the Eagles contending for the Division 1 Championship as a realistic outcome.
Clovis West Golden Eagles:
The Golden Eagles will have a different look this season as they look to a new era of basketball post-Cole Anderson, who became the school’s all-time leading scorer last season and provided huge scoring contributions on a nightly basis. A majority of those points will likely fall to the 6’8 senior forward/center Tyus Parrish-Tillman, who made his long-awaited debut with the Golden Eagles last Saturday, after missing his entire junior season due to a knee injury. The bigman looked solid in his return and asserted himself in the paint on both ends of the court. Parrish-Tillman was dominant on the boards, altered and blocked shots around the rim, showed his nice touch and strength to get shots off through contact, and knocked down a few mid-range buckets to show his touch. The Golden Eagles will have an advantage in the post against nearly every team in the Central Section, as they will have junior Kaleb Jackson once football is over to either back-up Parrish-Tillman or play with two bigs in the post. Although Clovis West will miss the play of Anderson, the Golden Eagles have nice depth and skill on the perimeter that will be led by junior Issac Martinez, who averaged double-digit points and was the team’s second leading scorer last season. Sophomores Jackson Young and Marshel Sanders will have an expanded role for Clovis West this season, and will be expected to pick up some of the scoring load, along with Parrish-Tillman and Martinez. Freshman DJ Stickman showed that he has the game and poise to handle the varsity level of high school basketball. Stickman did a nice job of running the offense, played within the system, attacked the defense downhill, made nice use of his lengthy wingspan on defense by disrupting passing lanes and creating turnovers. The Golden Eagles, who have been one of the four Open Division teams the past two seasons, and despite the departure of one of the top all-time scorers in the Central Section, will contend for an Open Division spot and another TRAC league championship.
The Titans had a solid start to last year before their season was up-ended by Covid, and they never really reached their full potential. This season, Frontier has added a key piece to go along with one of the top players in the South Valley and are set to be one of the top teams in the South Yosemite Conference. The Titans will be led by senior lead guard Tyler Silva, who looked great this past week in the scrimmages at their home gym on Tuesday. Silva keeps the ball on a string, constantly surveys the court to pick apart the defense, he has nice handles to create separation from his defender, and can score it at all three levels effectively. Frontier has added standout sophomore 6’5 Zykiar Henderson to the roster, which should compliment Silva’s style of play at the point. Henderson has the size and strength to control the boards, he has nice touch around the basket and can finish through contact, and has sneaky bounce to protect the rim on the defensive end. Henderson can also create off the perimeter, with solid handles, moves, and efficient shot making ability from 15 feet and beyond. Beyond the one-two punch of Silva and Henderson, the Titans will look to senior guards Elijah Saavedra and Cooper Sherill to fill it up from the perimeter and be ready to fire from beyond the arc off the catch and shoot passes from Silva. The Titans were a Division 3 team last season, and if they were to end up in that division for playoffs they could make a deep run in the Sectional Playoffs. I see Frontier’s ceiling as making the Division 2 Playoffs.
The Falcons are returning all their core players from last season, a season in which the program was hit hard by Covid Protocols and did not get a chance to defend their Division 2 Central Section Championship from the 2019-2020 season. The Falcons will feature one of the top prospects in the Section in 6’6 senior combination guard Cameron Brown, who earned Most Outstanding Player recognition in the Falcons 19’-20’ Section Championship as a sophomore. Brown is a versatile player that impacts the court on both ends. Brown has great court vision, is able to create scoring opportunities for himself at all 3 levels, demands a lot of attention from opponents and finds open teammates routinely, and is a high level shotblocker in transition. The Falcons have a lot of depth at the guard position with the likes of seniors Michael Pineda and D’Amonte Moten, as well as a trio of talented freshman guards in Gabriel Gutierrez, Ethan Eckels and Amarius Rowel. Guttierrez has looked the most poised for the varsity level of play and was the most consistent player for the Falcons at last Saturday’s scrimmages at Bakersfield High. Independence also has good size and length to complement Brown with 6’5 junior Tyron Tyler Jr. and 6’6 senior Kyriaun Davis. Tyler can also space the floor from 15 feet and beyond as a perimeter threat. Independence has a lot of depth and talent and should be one of the top teams in the Central Section, with their ceiling being the Open Division for Sectional Playoffs. The Falcons have been Division 2 in previous years and if they end up in that division for the postseason they will have a great chance to reclaim their Section Title.
The Knights are coming off a turbulent season that had roster changes, some tough losses, and ended on a high note with winning the Division 1 Central Section Championship. The Knights are returning one of the top senior prospects in 6’5 Lejuan Watts. Watts has a physical and athletic frame combined with great touch and feel for the game to impact both ends of the court in a variety of ways. Watts has the size and physicality to operate in the post, is a high level rebounder with quick bounce to get off the floor, has the handles to push the tempo off the glass in the open court, the court vision to make plays and find open teammates, and can stretch the court from beyond the arc. Sophomore guards Jaleel Jackson and David Rios Jr. had solid showings at the Bakersfield High scrimmages last Saturday, and looked poised to provide the guard play and ball handling needed to allow Watts to operate off the ball and in the post. Both can stretch the floor from the 3 point line, play tough defense, and make good decisions with the ball. Bullard has been a Division 1 team in previous seasons, but with the new playoff seeding framework, I would say Division 1 is the Knights ceiling but may end up in Division 2 where they would have a better chance at making a run in the postseason.
The Mustangs, like most teams from the South Valley, had a tough season last year due to Covid Protocols and never really got things going until Summer League play. Stockdale has a solid roster but is waiting on news of when standout junior point guard Joaquin Rios will return. Despite the absence of Rios in the line-up, the Mustangs looked good this past Wednesday in a scrimmage at North HS of Bakersfield. In particular, the Mustangs were led by 6’3 junior combination guard Jhase Boston, who was running the point with Rios out of the line-up. Boston has a physical build to attack the defense and get tough buckets around the basket through traffic, as well as the skill and handles to create his own offense from the perimeter and is effective from the 3 point line and the mid-range jumper. Boston showed impressive court vision in the open court and in the half court setting, where he was finding open teammates off the drive and kick-out pass or feeding players in the post. Boston has made strides and showed maturity on the court that will be much needed, especially if Rios is out for a significant period of time. Senior Adeola Adekoba does a great job enforcing his will in the post and plays much bigger than his actual height. He is a beast on the glass, has good touch around the basket, and uses his frame to bully his way through contact. He attracts fouls and showed to be efficient from the foul line. Junior guard Myles Elam also played well off the ball, and depending on Rios status for the season, Elam will be relied on to take on more of a role with the ball in hand. It is hard to predict where Stockdale will end up with the status of their best player in the air, but if he does return the Mustangs would be a tough out in Division 1 and could make noise in Division 2.
The Wolfpack have had a few down years as a program but things are looking up with a talented sophomore class making their presence felt early on. Ridgeview will look to senior guard Ruben Singh and junior guard Mekhi Johnson to provide the veteran leadership, as both enter their 3rd year of varsity level play. Defensively, senior Makhi Black and junior Fred Milsap fly around and cause havoc for opposing ball handers. However, the trio of sophomores that have already had big contributions through Summer League and Tuesday’s scrimmages at Frontier High School were Jovarie Hayden, DaCory Deans-Boldon, and Cameron Macabaug. I expect the Wolfpack to have a much improved season, with next year being a season where they could compete for a league title.
The Spartans will be led by junior lead guard Prince Ellis. Ellis is one of the more dynamic players in the South Valley and will be the scoring catalyst for South this season. Ellis has elite handles, able to score the ball from all 3 levels, and is an underrated playmaker capable of finding open teammates when he is on the attack. Ellis showed nice chemistry with the lengthy and athletic wing Shane Carr. South should be near the top of their league and depending on where they are placed for the postseason, could make some noise.