Central Section – Another entertaining high school basketball season in California has come to an end with Harvard-Westlake of Studio City winning its second consecutive Open Division State Championship with a win over Salesian of Richmond on Saturday, March 9th. This article provides the final Top 15 Team Rankings for the Central Section for the 2023-2024 season. This season was filled with major first-time accomplishments, intriguing match-ups, and spectacular individual records. Clovis North defied the critics and won its first Division 1 Central Section Title under the Connor Amundsen era over the defending Section Champs St. Joseph of Santa Maria, Centennial of Bakersfield won the Division 2 SoCal State Regional Championship, North Bakersfield won its first Section Title (Division 3) in school history and made it to the Final 4 of the Division 5 State Playoffs, and Bullard went 10-0 in CMAC play to wrestle the league title away from San Joaquin Memorial, as well as making it to the Final 4 of the Division 3 State Playoffs. Individually, Logan Kilbert of Sierra set the career scoring record for the Central Section and surpassed 3,000 points for his career, Julius Price of St. Joseph had a sensational season and showed why he needs to be a nationally ranked player for the class of 2026, Rippen Gill of Centennial won his 3rd straight league MVP, Connor Amundsen bounced back after missing his junior year and set the scoring and assist career records for Clovis North, as well as scoring a career high of 42 points, Tounde Yessoufou continues to impress and climb the national ranks as a legit pro prospect, and Bentley Waller had his first non-injury plagued season since his freshman year and put up great numbers all season. Clovis West and Clovis North gave us another classic to end TRAC play, Clovis North stunned most with a complete team win over the mighty St. Joseph Knights for the Section Title, and North Bakersfield and Sierra slugged it out in overtime in the Division 3 Title Game, as some of the highlight games of the year. These were just some of the highlights and accomplishments from the season in the Central section

In this article, I will provide a breakdown of each team’s ranking and how they ended up in that spot, as well as some minimal predictions for next season. For these rankings, I have taken into consideration performance in the postseason, strength of schedule, wins and losses against common opponents, and head-to-head match-ups. In particular, postseason play and how teams finished out the season were given significant weight for this final round of team rankings. I have spoken with coaches, media outlets, and others in the basketball community in the Central Section in putting these rankings together. The number in parentheses before the teams’ names is the previous ranking from my last updated ranking. We begin with a change at the top for these final team rankings that features the Broncos of Clovis North as the #1 seed for the first time all season. 

1. (2) Clovis North Broncos (Fresno CA) (28-7)

The Broncos had one of the more impressive seasons of any team from the Central Section in years, as it would win the Central Section Division 1 Championship over the highly favored Knights of St. Joseph and got to the Elite 8 in the State Open Division Playoffs before falling to Riordan of San Francisco, 69 to 57. The win over St. Joseph for the Section Title is the main reason I have moved Clovis North up to the #1 seed for these final team rankings. Clovis North went through a gauntlet of a schedule, toughest in the Section, playing in the Gridley Invitational, Classic at Damien (in the top division), Grindsession’s Crush in the Valley Showcase, Heart of California Classic, and Mission Prep’s Christmas Classic but took some losses early on that had many in the basketball community, including myself, doubting the Broncos ability to win their league, let alone a Section Title. But that treacherous schedule, along with great coaching and a team first mindset, prepared the Broncos for a second consecutive co-TRAC League title, shared with Clovis West, and its first Section Title during the Connor Amundsen era. Losses to state powers such as Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, Salesian of Richmond (State Open Division Runner-ups), Riordan of San Francisco, Division 1 State Champs St. John Bosco of Bellflower, and Windward of Los Angeles before the beginning of the New Year truly prepared Clovis North for an amazing 2nd half of the season. The Broncos earned wins over Jesuit of Sacramento, Vanden of Fairfield, Monterey Trail of Elk Grove, and a win over Clovis West in league play. Although it would lose to Clovis West in the final game of TRAC League play, which led to a split of the TRAC title, the Broncos earned the top seed in the Section Division 1 Playoffs that allowed it to stay away from the side of the bracket that featured Clovis West, St. Joseph, San Joaquin Memorial, and State Division 2 Runner-up Centennial of Bakersfield. After convincing wins over Edison of Fresno, Bakersfield Christian, and fellow TRAC opponent Clovis East, Clovis North would take down the mighty St. Joseph Knights in the Section Championship by a score of 69-60 led by Amundsen’s 21 points and fellow senior Jordan Espinoza’s 20 points. The Broncos will be graduating two of its core pieces from this year but will return junior Loukas Jones, sophomores Elias Gish and McKae Amundsen, along with a deep roster of battle tested players. Height will be an issue again for the Broncos but given that criticism being the main one lobbied against Clovis North this season, that may not be as big of an issue as it would seem on paper. Nevertheless, the accomplishments of this season will be hard to replicate next year and other teams are looking to make a jump in the TRAC and the CMAC. 

2. (1) St. Joseph Knights (Santa Maria CA) (31-4)

The Knights were considered the top team in the Central Section for a majority of the season by most basketball minds in the area and beyond, and had been at the top of these team rankings for the previous 3 rounds. However, with the loss to Clovis North in the Section Title Game, 69 to 60, as well as both teams exiting the Open Division State Playoffs in the Elite 8, I moved St. Joseph down a spot to #2 for these final team rankings. After the loss in the Section Championship, the Knights would earn the #6 seed in the Southern California Regional Open Division and defeated #3 Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth on a buzzer beater by nationally ranked top 25 junior Tounde Yessoufouf by a score of 69-68 to advance to the final 8 and a rematch against Roosevelt of Eastvale. The Knights lost a close one to the Mustangs back on January 6th at the Redondo Union Take Flight Challenge, 62-61, but the rematch game at Roosevelt’s gym would prove much more challenging for the Knights, as fellow standout junior Bradyen Burries would lead the Mustangs to a 58 to 41 win to end St. Joseph’s season. The Knights are bringing back the majority of its roster, including the elite duo of Julius Price and Yessoufou, along with an improved supporting cast with size, athleticism, and an additional year of experience. The Knights will be my preseason #1 seed next season unless something crazy happens with regards to transfers. St. Joseph got big wins this season over Branson of Ross, Duncanville of Texas, Lincoln Part of Pennsylvania, Weston Ranch of Stockton, Sierra Canyon, and Clovis West of Fresno. 

3. (3) Clovis West Golden Eagles (Fresno CA) (28-7)

The Golden Eagles stay locked in at the #3 seed for these final team rankings but I had tinkered with the idea of moving the Golden Hawks of Centennial ahead of Clovis West based on its outcome in the Division 2 State Title game. However, given the lop-sided loss Centennial suffered to Oakland Tech and the much better strength of schedule that the Golden Eagles played in comparison to the Golden Hawks, it made it easier for me to leave Clovis West at the #3 spot. Clovis West played one of the toughest schedules in the Central Section, with appearances in the Tarkanian Classic (top division), its own Nike Invitational, and the Visit Mesa Basketball Challenge in Arizona, along with some one-day showcases. I had Clovis West ranked at the top in my preseason rankings, as well as the second version of this year’s team rankings and it never slipped out of the top 3 all season. The Golden Eagles split the TRAC League Championship with Clovis North, as it got a buzzer-beater win over the Broncos to close out league play, and earned the #2 seed for the D1 Central Section Playoffs. The Golden Eagles fell to #3 St. Joseph in the semifinals of Section play by a score of 88 to 73. Clovis West was awarded the #1 seed in the NorCal Regional Division 1 State Playoffs and made it to the Elite 8 before being knocked off by Granada of Livermore for a second consecutive year, 70 to 53. The Golden Eagles got quality wins over Clovis North, San Joaquin Memorial, Coronado of Nevada, Brophy College Prep and Pinnacle of Arizona, Vanden of Fairfield, and Inderkum of Sacramento. Clovis West will return some core pieces from this year’s roster and if it can land another offseason transfer in the like of Chris Baudreau from last offseason, the Golden Eagles will be a top 3 team going into preseason next year. 

4. (5) Centennial Golden Hawks (Bakersfield CA) (28-8)

Moving back into the #4 spot for this final round of team rankings is the Golden Hawks from Bakersfield. I had Centennial in this spot for most of the season, and despite its relatively weaker strength of schedule compared to the other top teams in the Section, the Golden Hawks proved to be a top tier team as it would capture the Division 2 State SoCal Regional Championship before falling to Oakland Tech in the State Championship Saturday night, by a score of 79 to 55. I had considered moving the Golden Hawks ahead of Clovis West for this final round of team rankings, as I did last year with San Joaquin Memorial after its State title, but the one-sided loss to Oakland Tech was enough to keep Centennial one spot behind the Golden Eagles for this final round. Nevertheless, Centennial had another productive season winning the SYL-River League going undefeated, avenged a loss to Bakersfield Christian from the previous season to earn South Valley bragging rights as the top team, and were runner-up in the Division 2 State Playoffs. Led by senior Rippen Gill, the Golden Hawks got over a 3-year slump of no postseason wins and got an opening round win in the Division 1 Section Playoffs over Sanger before falling to St. Joseph by 12, 71 to 59, but only trailed by 1 going into the 4th quarter. The Golden Hawks learned a lot from that game and used it as fuel to make a run in the state playoffs that resulted in a SoCal Regional State Title over #1 seed Heritage Christian of Northridge, 68 to 56. The Golden Eagles earned big wins over Heritage Christian, Bakersfield Christian, Thousand Oaks, Hoover of Fresno, and Sanger. Centennial is graduating 4 of its 5 starters, along with relevant bench players but the loss of 3 time league MVP Rippen Gill will be the one that is most difficult to replace. The all around stats he has put up for his career are impressive and, to date, there is no one currently at Centennial that can fill those numbers. 

5. (4) Bullard Knights (Fresno CA) (26-9)

Rounding out the top 5 for the final round of these team rankings is the Knights of Bullard. Bullard is coming off a great season which saw it win the CMAC League going undefeated at 10-0 and taking the reins from league rival San Joaquin Memorial. Bullard got a first round win in the Central Section Division 1 Playoffs over Central of Fresno before falling to Clovis East in the quarterfinals. However, the Knights were awarded the #6 seed in the NorCal Division 3 State Regionals and made it to the Final 4 before falling to Santa Cruz, 63 to 53. Bullard looked like it might be one of the more intriguing teams in the Sectional D1 Playoffs with the dynamic sophomore backcourt of Ja’Vance Coleman and Dalen Felder, but things looked shaky when Coleman went down with a broken foot. But the Knights showed it was more than just two elite guards, with big play from seniors Jaleel Jackson and Kyshawn Johnson and got some key wins to make a run in the State Playoffs. The Knights got key wins this season over San Joaquin Memorial, Hoover, Justin-Siena, Sanger, Birmingham of Lake Balboa and Clovis East. Despite the loss of those key seniors, Bullard will return a great cast of players led by the dynamic duo of Coleman and CMAC MVP Felder, and who knows who else may look to join the young and talented squad. San Joaquin returns a majority of its roster and this rivalry will be one to watch the next few seasons. 

6. (7) Bakersfield Christian Eagles (CA) (21-12)

The Eagles finish out the season ranked at the #6 spot, moving up one from from the previous team rankings. After a solid opening round win in the Central Section Division 1 Playoffs over Buchanan of Clovis, the Eagles earned a rematch against Clovis North, a team it had upset in last year’s playoffs. This year would prove much different, as Bakersfield Christian ran into the hottest team in the Section with Connor Amundsen in the line-up this year and were defeated handily, 85 to 38. Had that been the end of the Eagles season, it would have put them lower in these final rankings, but Bakersfield Christian got some impressive wins in the first two rounds of the SoCal Division 2 State Regionals before falling to #1 seed Heritage Christian of Northridge, which is why I have them at #6 and ahead of Clovis East. Also, Bakersfield Christian went undefeated in SYL-Valley play at 8-0 to win its league. The Eagles were the #12 seed in the D2 State Regionals and had to travel to SoCal to play Long Beach Poly and won 51 to 49 behind the dynamic play of Bentley Waller and Gabe Gutierrez. In the Round of 16, the Eagles knocked off the #4 seed La Costa Canyon of Carlsbad, 75 to 68. Bakersfield Christian’s D2 State run would come to an end in the Elite 8 with a loss to top seeded Heritage Christian, 83 to 63. The Eagles earned quality wins this season over St. Francis of La Canada, Brophy College Prep and Pinnacle of Arizona, Hoover of Fresno, North Bakersfield, and the wins in the state playoffs mentioned above. Bakersfield Christian will return standout guard Gabe Gutierrez, along with Drew Minnear, and freshmen standouts Jeremias Killebrew and Taiwo Daramola. I’ve been hearing the Eagles will have one of the top 8th graders enrolling next year as well to help with the scoring load, but the absence of Waller will be evident in the early goings. Coach Brown will schedule tough and the team will be ready for league and postseason play.     

7. (8) Clovis East Timberwolves (CA) (21-12)

The Timberwolves have hovered around the #8 seed for most of this season’s team rankings and finish the year off on spot ahead of the last round of rankings at the #7 spot. Had the Eagles of Bakersfield Christian been knocked out in the first round of the D2 State Playoffs, Clovis East would have been moved ahead but lack of winning league and no Section title is why I have the Timberwolves one spot behind the Eagles. Clovis East was the epitome of team basketball this season, as it seemed to have a different guy leading in the box score each game. Clovis East lost Dalen Felder to transfer, which was not just its top scorer last season but the top scorer in the TRAC League. This season, wins and scoring came more by committee but led by seniors Jeremy Pierro and McKay Olsen, sophomores Aidan Beechler and Lydel Farmer, and standout freshman Asher Thompson. The Timberwolves avenged a loss to Bullard from the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoop Classic in the 2nd round of the Division1 Central Section Playoffs and made it to the Final 4 in the Section before losing to eventual Section Champs Clovis North, 74 to 50. Clovis East earned the #16 seed in the NorCal Division 2 State Regionals and upset the top seed Branham of San Jose in the opening round before falling to Oakland High in the Round of 16, 58 to 51. The Timberwolves earned quality wins over Bullard of Fresno, Buchanan of Clovis, and Sanger, as well as winning the BallerTV Division at the Tarkanian Classic (the 5th Division at that event). Clovis East will lose some senior fire power but will return a solid core of sophomores, as well as getting the top 8th grader in the Central Section in Tristan Beechler who will be an impact guy right away. I expect Clovis East to give Clovis North a run next season and possibly challenge Clovis West, the team I see as the favorites to win the TRAC next year. 

8. (10) Dinuba Emperors (CA) (29-4)

The Emperors are coming off one of its most successful seasons in its program’s history, as it would win the WYL going undefeated at 10-0, as well as capture the Central Section Division 2 Title in a close win over Mission Prep of San Luis Obispo, 46 to 42. The success Dinuba in the Section Playoffs is the main reason I moved the Emperors up two spots at the #8 seed for these final team rankings. Led by seniors Javier Torres and Bryce Watley, Dinuba got key wins over Sunnyside of Fresno twice this season, Mission Prep, Lemoore twice in league, Redwood of Visalia, and Selma. Dinuba will be graduating two key pieces in Torres and Watley, but have been able to remain one of the top teams in the WYL and with its style of play and shooting ability will be in contention for another league title. Dinuba did earn the top seed in the SoCal Division 3 State Regionals but were ousted in the first round by Price of Los Angeles, 60 to 50. 

9. (6) San Joaquin Memorial Panthers (Fresno CA) (20-12)

The Panthers were coming off a season that saw it win the Program’s first ever state championship in Division 2 but graduated two key players and lost another to transfer, which made this team’s roster very young and lacking the experience of the 2022-2023 squad. The Panthers finished 2nd in CMAC play and earned a first round win in the Division 1 Central Section over Clovis High, by a score of 95 to 44, before losing to Clovis West in the quarterfinals, 75 to 60. The Panthers were placed in the Division 3 NorCal State Regionals at the #10 seed and lost in the 2nd round to Justin-Siena of Napa, 59 to 56. San Joaquin had some bright moments this season and have a lot of young talent but this season was more of a rebuilding year and losing three games, along with some ups and downs this season, is the main reason I moved the Panthers down 3 spots to the #9 seed for this final round of team rankings. San Joaquin earned some quality wins this season over Bakersfield Christian, Buchanan of Clovis, St. Paul of Santa Fe Springs, St. Bernard of Playa del Rey, and Sanger. With a year under its belt with the current roster of players, and the reality that there could be some transfers, I expect the Panthers to be one of the top 5 teams in the Section next season, as well as some great league match-ups with rival Bullard. 

10. (12) North Bakersfield Stars (CA) (29-7)

The Stars are coming off a historic season for the Program with multiple accomplishments, which is why I have it moved up two spots at the #10 seed rounding out the top 10 for the final team rankings. The Stars split the SYL-Mountain League title with South Bakersfield with a 9-1 record, which earned North the top seed in the Division 3 Central Section Playoffs. The Stars faced off with Sierra of Tollhouse in the Section Title Game and got a 51 to 49 win in overtime over the Chieftains to get its first Section Title in school history. The Stars earned the #5 seed in the SoCal Division 5 State Regional Playoffs and made it to the Final 4 before losing to Verdugo Hills of Tujunga, 56 to 53. The Stars got quality wins over South Bakersfield, Sierra, Templeton, Sanger, and Redwood of Visalia. North will return some key pieces but replacing the production of big man Nate Becerra will be the key to a repeated season of success but what an amazing season for the Stars of North Bakersfield. 

11. (NR) Mission College Prep Royals (San Luis Obispo CA) (14-19)

The Royals come in at the #11 spot in these final team rankings after dropping out of the preseason rankings and not making an appearance since then until now. As stated in the introduction, postseason play and results plays a big part in the final rankings and Mission Prep made some major statements in the Section and Regional playoffs. The Royals struggled this season in league play and in preseason events but were down its best offensive player in junior sharp shooter Roman Benedetti, who returned to the line-up for the playoffs and proved to pay major dividends. The Royals earned the #2 seed in the Division 2 Central Section Playoffs and earned wins over Hanford, Independence of Bakersfield, and Hoover of Fresno before falling to top seeded Dinuba in the Section Title Game, 46 to 42. Mission Prep was awarded the #14 seed in the Division 4 SoCal State Regionals, where the Royals knocked off the #3 seed and #6 seed before falling to the #2 seed Cleveland of Reseda, 55 to 42. The Royals run to the Elite 8 in the State Playoffs and runner-up in the Section Playoffs are why I have Mission Prep in the Top 15 despite a record under .500. The Royals will lose senior Luke Jacobson but will return other key pieces and will look to be one of the top teams from the Central Coast behind the powerhouse Knights of St. Joseph.  

12. (9) Buchanan Bears (Clovis CA) (19-9)

The Bears had one of the more surprising seasons from the perspective of the casual fan, but knowing some of the players on the roster and the addition of Connor Sheets I felt Buchanan would give teams problems at the very least. However, the Bears were more than just a problem, as it finished tied for 3rd in the TRAC League, splitting with Clovis East and falling to powers Clovis North and Clovis West two times each. The Bears gave Bakersfield Christian a run for a half in the opening round of the Central Section Division 1 Playoffs, before losing 64 to 54. The Bears will return all but one player from its core group and have size and shooting that will make Buchanan one of the more interesting teams to watch in the TRAC next year and will look to take the next step and get into the 2nd round of the Sectional postseason.  

13. (13) Sierra Chieftains (Tollhouse CA) (24-10)

The Chieftains are coming off another productive season that saw some major achievements from senior Logan Kilbert, who not only set the career scoring record for the Central Section but surpassed the 3,000 point mark. As a team, Sierra would win the Northwest Sequoia League going 9-0, which would earn it the #2 seed in the Division 3 Central Section Playoffs. The Chieftains would make a run through the first three rounds and would end up in the D3 Championship Game for a second consecutive season, as it fell to Kingsburg last year in that game. IN an overtime thriller that had some controversy, the Chieftains would lose on a buzzer beater to North Bakersfield, 51 to 49. Sierra would earn the #3 seed in the NorCal Division 4 State Regional Playoffs but fell in the opening round to Monterey, 67 to 51. Sierra got some impressive wins this season over Edison of Fresno, Fresno Christian, Selma, and Kingsburg. Despite the success of the past two seasons, Sierra will be graduating a core of its players including all-time Section scoring leader Kilbert. 

14. (14) Hoover Patriots (Fresno CA) (20-11)

The Patriots were one of the pleasant surprises of the season, as its record was 7-6 before the start of the New Year. However, with the addition of sophomore Keon Hill to the roster and the team gelling at the right time, the Patriots would go on to win the North Yosemite League with a record of 12-2 and were awarded the #3 seed in the Central Section Division 2 Playoffs and made it to the Final 4 before losing to Section runner-up Mission Prep, 67 to 56. The Patriots earned wins over Roosevelt of Fresno, Sunnyside of Fresno, and McLane of Fresno. Hoover will return a core of its roster and will look to repeat as NYL champs and make a run at a Section title.  

15. (NR) Kerman Lions (CA) (18-16)

Rounding out the Top 15 of these final team rankings and making its first appearance on this season’s team rankings is the Lions of Kerman. The Lions struggled in Tri-County-Kings Canyon League play, but the rest of the teams in their league are D2 and D3 teams. The Lions earned the #5 seed in the Central Section Division 4 Playoffs and made it to the title game against #11 seeded Corcoran, where Kerman would stave off a run from the Panthers to win the Section Championship, 61 to 60 behind a 30-point showing from sophomore Leon Madec. The Lions gout unlikely with the state seedings and were placed in the NorCal Division 4 State Regionals with the #16 seed and lost in the opening round to Santa Teresa of San Jose. 

Honorable Mention:

Arroyo Grande Eagles (CA) (22-8)

Redwood Rangers (Visalia CA) (21-9)

Sanger Apaches (CA) (16-12)

South Bakersfield Spartans (CA) (18-12)

Sunnyside Wildcats (Fresno CA) (24-6)