Central California – The preseason is coming to an end this week and the holiday tournaments have concluded as of the 30th of December. There has been a lot of movement in this updated list from the first one of the 2022-2023 high school season that came out about 3 weeks ago. Clovis West and Dinuba are no longer undefeated, St. Joseph has played really well against some great teams but did not win any holiday tournaments, Edison of Fresno remains hot and made another statement by earning a trip to the Clovis Elks title game, Clovis North continues to get impressive wins over quality programs throughout the state of California, and the Golden Hawks of Centennial are finely being seen as a legitimate Division 1 title contender by more than just people in the South Valley after winning the Clovis Elks Classic over Edison. Despite all the craziness of the holiday hoop tournament portion of the season, the top two spots of these updated rankings are still St. Joseph and Clovis West respectively. After that, we start to see some changes not only to the previous rankings, but some teams are in unfamiliar territory for the first time since I started doing team rankings 2 years ago in 2021.
This article provides a look at the first updated rankings for the 2022-2023 Top 15 Team Rankings for the Central Section, after the conclusion of the holiday tournaments wrapped up last Friday, along with a breakdown of what the teams have accomplished since the initial rankings almost a month ago. In addition to their accomplishments, there is mention of the teams’ top players and their grade. Furthermore, I include the current rank of the team, in parentheses is where the team was ranked in the previous list, the team’s record to date, and the location of the school. Below is a link to the most recent rankings before this list:
These rankings are based on my own personal evaluations, feedback from coaches, input from media outlets, strength of schedule, results against common opponents, and head-to-head results. For this round of team rankings, I have placed more emphasis on preseason tournament wins but as league play gets underway that will have less of an impact when I update this list in late January. I have personally seen every team on this list in person, with the exception of Lemoore who I have seen in the Fall unofficial preseason and over the Summer as well. I have made an attempt to watch as many teams as possible since the start of the season and I truly feel at this point in the year, Division 1 looks more open than it looked a month ago but St. Joseph is still the team to beat with their size, depth, and having that guy that can go get a bucket when needed. There are some big-time games set to take place over the next few weeks and this list could look drastically different at the end of January. I also included five Honorable Mentions, which are teams that are on the bubble and could break into the top 15 by the next round of team rankings, as well as the teams that dropped out of the initial round of rankings.
1. (1) St. Joseph Knights/Santa Maria CA (8-3)
The Knights remain at the top spot as the holiday tournament portion of the season comes to an end, as they were runner-up in both tournaments they played in and faced some top-tier competition in the process. The Knights lost to Bishop Montgomery of Torrance by two points, who most people in the know in California would have them in the top 3 statewide and a contender for the Southern Section Open Division Title. A week later, St. Joseph made a run to the championship game of the Las Vegas Prep Championship tournament but fell to Arbor View of Las Vegas, who is 14-1, by two points. The Knights head to New Orleans for the Allstate Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic where they will face some quality talent from the Southeastern portion of the country before heading into league. The Knights are led by Top 25 nationally ranked Super Sophomore Tounde Yessoufou, as well as standout senior combo guard Luis Marin. St. Joe’s has added freshman phenom Julius Price, along with the drastic development of seniors Will Kuykendall and Caedin Hamilton, to solidify a roster that will be difficult for any team to match in the Central Section. The Knights’ only other loss is to another contender for the Southern Section Open Division in Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth by a score of 71-65. The Knights are still at the #12 spot in the state by CalHi Sports.
Quality wins: Rancho Verde of Moreno Valley, Bakersfield Christian and Liberty Magnet of Baton Rouge (LA)
2. (2) Clovis West Golden Eagles/Fresno CA (17-1)
The Golden Eagles have had another great start to the season and have won 3 tournaments and took 2nd at the recent Modesto Christian Holiday Hoop Classic suffering its first loss of the season. The Golden Eagles will go into TRAC league play as the favorites to win another league title but Clovis North and the young Timberwolves of Clovis East will provide significant challenges to that pathway. Clovis West can go ten plus deep with the rotations, keeps full-court pressure on the entirety of the game, attacks the basket relentlessly, and has added a tournament championship in the Spalding Division at the Tark Classic in a win over Jones High of Orlando, Florida since the last version of these team rankings. The Golden Eagles defeated a tough Vanden of Fairfield squad in the semifinals of the Holiday Hoop Classic before dropping its first game of the season to CalHi top 10 Modesto Christian. The Golden Eagles feature senior shooting guard, and reigning TRAC league co-MVP Issac Martinez, standout juniors Jackson Young and Zach Chauhan, 3-star wide receiver junior Marshel Sanders, standout sophomore DJ Stickman, and an impressive freshman in Jace Kellogg to lead the charge for Clovis West this season. Although the Golden Eagles do not have the size in the interior that anchored both ends of the court last season, it will be a contender for the Division 1 Section Championship and repeat TRAC league champions but the path will be much more difficult this season. The Golden Eagles are ranked #13 in the updated CalHi Sports state rankings.
Quality wins: Vanden of Fairfield, TMI-Episcopal, Centennial of Bakersfield, and Edison of Fresno
3. (4) Centennial Golden Hawks/Bakersfield CA (12-3)
The Golden Hawks are coming off a big win over Edison of Fresno in the 40th Annual Clovis Elks Classic championship game this past week and have got the attention of the rest of the Central Section. The Golden Hawks played a SoCal-heavy schedule in the early going and faced some quality competition but this past week’s win at the Clovis Elks Classic put the Section on notice. Centennial has reigning SWYL co-MVP and standout junior Rippen Gill. Along with Gill, the Golden Hawks are led by seniors JayJay Jones, EJ West, and Jayden Abuyen, juniors Godwill Fomusoh, Donn Bolton, and Jaxton Santiago, and sophomore Michael Gutierrez. Although it is a Division 2 base school, it would be a shocker if Centennial is not a Division 1 team for playoffs, as they are likely to finish in the top two in its league. Centennial has some big games coming up against Bullard of Fresno and league rival Stockdale of Bakersfield in the next week. The main reason I did not place the Golden Hawks above Clovis West is Centennial lost the head-to-head match-up to start the season, and those match-ups are a key criteria for these rankings.
Quality wins: Edison of Fresno, Taft of Woodland Hills, Providence of Burbank, Loyola of Los Angeles, and Lemoore
4. (3) Clovis North Broncos/Fresno CA (11-5)
The Broncos have earned some huge wins this season and won their Valley Children’s Tip-Off Invitational in early December, as well as compiling the best quality wins of any team in the Section to date. I could easily make the case that the Broncos are as high as #2 on this list but for this round of team rankings update, I am giving credit to those teams that have won tournaments over the holidays. Also, given that Clovis North will face Clovis West next Tuesday to open up TRAC league play, the Broncos could easily jump up this list by continuing to win big games. Although the Broncos do not have any wins over the recently updated CalHi Boys Top 25, it does have wins over the following teams on the bubble: Salesian of Richmond, Dublin, Capital Christian of Sacramento, Heritage Christian of Northridge, and Colony of Ontario. The Broncos have a quality loss to #14 Archbishop Mitty of San Jose who it played tough. The Broncos are led by standout junior Jordan Espinoza, senior forward Jaylen Bryant, super sophomore Loukas Jones, and freshmen Elias Gish and McKae Amundsen (younger brother of Connor), and a great surrounding cast that is ten players deep. Clovis North still has a lot of firepower and will contend for the TRAC title with Clovis West and I would have the Broncos as a key contender for the Division 1 Section Title, despite the absence of Connor Amundsen. I personally think that the continued development and usage of six-foot-eight center Malik Musleh could be the size needed to make a run at the Division 1 crown. The Broncos face San Joaquin Memorial on Wednesday, January 4th in a game that could have major implications for both teams when this list is updated again.
Quality wins: Salesian of Richmond, Heritage Christian of Northridge, Dublin, Capital Christian of Sacramento, and Colony of Ontario
5. (7) Stockdale Mustangs/Bakersfield CA (16-1)
The Mustangs have continued to win and have earned two tournament championships (Santa Barbara Holiday Classic and Tulare Kiwanis Tournament) and a 3rd Place finish in the Lloyd Williams Shootout. The critique of the Mustangs is that they have not played the most rigorous schedule and lack a significant victory over a top tier opponent in the Central Section and beyond. The counter to that argument is that they did defeat Edison of Fresno in the first week of the season, one of the hottest teams in the Section, but the Tigers had just gotten its football guys and the team’s current leading scorer and top player in guard Yaj Vance. The Mustangs only loss this season is a quality one, which came at the hands of Paraclete of Lancaster, currently 16-1, who just won their division at the Classic at Damien. The Mustangs will get a real test a week from today, as they open up league play against the South Valley’s top team in Centennial of Bakersfield. The Mustangs are led by seniors Jhace Boston and Joaquin Rios, arguably one of the best duos in the Central Section. Senior Karsten Adeleye has been the other player to make for a solid trio of perimeter players. Junior Brooks Dawson and senior Myles Elam are also contributing factors on both ends of the court but the depth of the Mustangs could be an issue depending on where it ends up come playoff time. Stockdale is a base Division 2 team but with the number of wins accumulating and the reality that they could end up, at worst, in my opinion, 2nd in league, it would appear Stockdale is headed to the Division 1 Playoffs.
Quality wins: Edison of Fresno, Peninsula of Rolling Hills Estate, Alemany of Mission Hills, and Liberty of Bakersfield
6. (8) Edison Tigers/Fresno CA (11-4)
The Tigers continue to be one of the bright stories of the basketball season throughout the Central Section, as they earned a big win over league rival San Joaquin Memorial to win the Hoover Holiday Invitational Tournament. Edison followed this up with an impressive showing at the 40th Annual Clovis Elks Classic, earning a spot in the championship game and falling short to what many are saying is a top 4 team in the Section in Centennial of Bakersfield, by a score of 52-46. The Tigers have been led by senior lead guard Ya’J Vance, juniors Ray Brown, Kameron Bowen, and Va’ron Mitchell, and senior Ki’mauri Washington. The Tigers have displayed excellent guard play, have bought into the system and play for each other, and swarm the opposing team’s perimeter players on the defensive end. Edison does lack size in the interior but that has not stopped them from playing their style of basketball and it has led to success. The Tigers will have to defend their win against the Panthers, as they will face them two more times in league play but the Tigers are positioning themselves to be one of the top teams when the rankings come out for the Division 1 Section Playoffs.
Quality wins: San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno, Clovis High, Hanford West, and Central of Fresno
7. (5) San Joaquin Memorial Panthers/Fresno CA (8-6)
The Panthers have gotten all of its players cleared from their 30-day sit-outs, due to CIF rules, but it may take some time to get all the pieces to fit together. The Panthers started off the Classic with a win over Pacifica Christian of Newport Beach but failed to accumulate another win the remainder of the event. The Panthers have some quality losses on their resume, as it lost a close one to CalHi’s #6 Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, Jesuit of Carmichael, and Heritage Christian of Northridge. However, the lack of a staple win this season, along with the loss to Edison of Fresno are the main reasons I have moved San Joaquin out of the top 5 for the first time since I started doing team rankings 3 seasons ago. The upside for the Panthers is they control their own destiny, with a game against Clovis North on January 4th and the favorites to win the County-Metro League, the Panthers could find themselves back in the top 4 by the next time this list is updated. San Joaquin is led by standout seniors Armari Carraway and Mike Davis Jr., along with the improved play of junior Dre Davis, rising sophomore Abram Potts, and freshman phenom Parker Spees. The Panthers have added super sophomore and last year’s leading scorer in the state Julius Olanrewaju and sophomore center Isaiah Carter, and the addition of these players should add to the size, depth, and scoring it has been looking for. If they can get all the pieces to fit together this year, the Panthers may have the best chance to take down St. Joseph if they were to meet up in the Division 1 Section Title game.
Quality wins: Pacifica Christian of Newport Beach, Hanford West, and Central of Fresno
8. (11) Mission Prep Royals/San Luis Obispo CA (8-5)
The Royals started the season off red hot and were 8-0 before they suffered their first loss of the season at their own tournament to CalHi Sports #3 Bishop Montgomery. Since that loss, the Royals have dropped four more games and failed to win a game in the Bellarmine Prep Christmas Classic against some quality talent from the Northwestern part of the country. Despite the string of losses, the Royals still look to be one of the top teams in the Mountain League, and with a player the caliber of standout senior and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley commit Jamar “JJ” Howard, Mission Prep has a chance against any team. In addition, Mission Prep has junior Luke Jacobson and sophomore Jayden Nozil. If the Royals stay in their base division, D2, it could have a nice pathway to a Section Title, but with no more Open Division, it could be a Division 1 candidate when all is said and done.
Quality wins: Salesian of Richmond, Bradshaw of Sacramento, and Indio
9. (12) Clovis East Timberwolves/CA (10-7)
The Timberwolves are coming off a solid showing at the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoop Classic, where it went 2-2 and the team seems to be finding a groove despite the youth of the core players on the roster, led by standout freshman Dalen Felder. Most people in the know feel that in another year or two the Timberwolves will be one of the top teams in the Section but that is not stopping it from making noise this year. Clovis East has been led by freshman phenoms Dalen Felder, Lydell Farmer, and Aidan Beechler, junior Jeremy Pierro, and standout sophomore Harold Duval III, who has yet to suit up from an injury during football season. As a base Division 1 squad, this year will be tough to make a deep run, but after seeing how well the team played at the Holiday Hoop Classic, it is not a team I would want to face come playoff time.
Quality wins: Cosumnes Oaks, Sanger, and Arroyo Grande
10. (9) Dinuba Emperors/CA (14-1)
The Emperors entered the 71st Annual Polly Wilhelmsen Invitational undefeated and winners of their own tournament and the Mission Oaks tournament. The Emperors suffered its first loss of the season in the opening round to an emerging Central Valley Christian team led by Justin Stroud, but then seemed to wake up and ran through the rest of their opponents en route to the consolation championship. Although Dinuba lacks a win over a top 10 team from this list, it has handled every team in its path and has won multiple tournaments, and with its high tempo pace of play, it can defeat most teams on this list on any given day. The Emperors are led by standout junior Javier Torres, seniors Keine Prendez and Anthony Harp, and sophomore sharpshooter Josiah Ochoa. Dinuba plays at a fast pace, has great ball movement, and can light it up from the 3-point line. The Emperors are currently the top seed in their base Division 3 and would be tough to beat if that is where they end up. However, if they continue to win and remain high in the overall Section rankings, that may present a much tougher pathway to a Section title.
Quality wins: Liberty of Bakersfield, Tulare Western, Kingsburg, and El Diamante of Visalia
11. (6) Bakersfield Christian Eagles/CA (5-6)
Since the first round of this year’s team rankings, the Eagles have only played four games, which came in the Mission Prep Christmas Classic, as it would get a win over Bellarmine Prep of Tacoma, WA but struggled the rest of the event. Bakersfield Christian is in a similar situation as San Joaquin Memorial for a few reasons. This is the first time I have ever had the Eagles outside the top 10 but, like the Panthers, it could play itself back into the top 5 by the end of January, as the schedule really ramps up and against some quality opponents like Central of Fresno, Centennial of Bakersfield, Crespi of Encino, and it will be the favorites to win their league. The key for the Eagles will be the addition of sophomore guard Gabriel Gutierrez and junior Louis Duarte, who should bring a level of toughness and defense that has been a signature characteristic for Bakersfield Christian under Coach Brown’s tenure but has been missing up to this point. Bakersfield Christian has been led by standout junior Bentley Waller, seniors Charlie Stump and Michael Shafic, sophomore lead guard Drew Minnear, and standout freshman Irvin Calloway. I would predict Bakersfield Christian to climb back up these rankings but there is work to be done.
Quality wins: Bellarmine of Tacoma, WA, Liberty of Bakersfield, and Ridgeview of Bakersfield
12. (10) Bullard Knights/Fresno CA (10-7)
The Knights are a team that must get contributions from multiple players to put up the points needed to win. The Knights have played a tough schedule throughout the preseason, and this was highlighted by playing in Mission Prep’s Christmas Classic and Modesto Christian’s Holiday Hoop Classic, where the team played .500 basketball but will be battle tested as they enter County-Metro League play. The Knights have a big test against Centennial of Bakersfield Tuesday, January 3rd, which could be a major win and rankings buster by the next round of updates. The Knights are led by juniors Jaleel Jackson and David Rios, senior Mark Williams, and freshman phenom Ja’Vance Coleman. The Knights are guard-heavy and will compete against most teams in the Central Section, but the lack of size in the interior that they have had in previous years could prove problematic once the post-season arrives. Having said that, Bullard always seems to hit another gear when playoffs get going.
Quality wins: Downey of Modesto, Redwood of Larkspur, and Central of Fresno
13. (NR) Lemoore Tigers/CA (9-6)
In typical fashion, Lemoore has gotten all their football guys back on the roster and after an 0-4 start to the season, have won 9 of its last 11 games and won the 3rd Place game at the Clovis Elks Classic over the host team, 72-55. The Tigers have been led by senior DeMel Turner, and juniors Kaden Lopes and Kobe Green. I also like the interior size of senior Riley Burmke. Lemoore has a test with Liberty of Bakersfield on January 14th, as well as facing Dinuba twice in league play, and if they can come away victorious in those games and win league, the Tigers will be sitting nicely going into the playoffs and in staying on this top 15 list.
Quality wins: Clovis, Portville, and El Diamante of Visalia
14. (NR) West Vikings/Bakersfield CA (11-5)
The Vikings have continued to make progress this season and capped off the 2022 year with a championship win over Mira Monte of Bakersfield in the Garces Memorial Elite 8 Challenge. The Vikings avenged a win against Ridgeview of Bakersfield and got a win over host team Garces Memorial in the semifinals. The Vikings are putting things together at the right time, as league play starts in a week and will be against my personal preseason favorite for the SYL Mountain League in the North Stars. However, given its tournament win and better play of late, the Vikings crack the top 15 list but will need to keep winning to keep their spot. West is led by junior Za’kavious Reese, senior Gustavo Chavez, and junior Fred Stokes.
Quality wins: Garces Memorial of Bakersfield and Ridgeview of Bakersfield
15. (NR) Sanger Apaches/CA (11-5)
Rounding out the top fifteen is the Apaches of Sanger, who have quietly gone about accumulating wins and look to be in competition during County-Metro League play. Sanger went undefeated in the Hoover Holiday Invitational Tournament before heading to Florida to take part in the KSA Classic. The Apaches returned to the Central Section and played very well in the Clovis Elks Classic, falling only to the eventual tournament champs Centennial of Bakersfield in the 2nd round of play. The Apaches are led by standout senior Kaleb Cole, and juniors Nolan Willison and Kevin Chambers, along with depth at the guard spot that it lacked last season. Sanger, like the teams just ahead of them in this list, will have to keep winning in order to remain here by the next time I update the rankings, but I like where the team is currently.
Quality wins: Central of Fresno, Clovis, and Pleasant Grove of Elk Grove
Arroyo Grande Eagles/CA (8-5)
Clovis Cougars/CA (9-8)
Porterville Panthers/CA (11-5)
Liberty Patriots/Bakersfield CA (7-8)
Ridgeview Wolfpack/Bakersfield CA (11-5)
Hanford West Huskies/CA (8-8)
North Bakersfield Stars/CA (11-6)
Righetti Warriors/Santa Maria CA (5-6)
Sierra Pacific Golden Bears/Hanford CA (11-6)