Central California – The start of league play kicked off throughout the Central Section over the past two weeks and the results have led to some movement in this updated list of team rankings. St. Joseph holds onto the top spot, as it has dominated any Central Section opponent it has faced and lost to some elite teams in their respective states. Clovis North continues to get wins over quality opponents and added two more against Central Section powers Clovis West and San Joaquin Memorial to jump to the second spot. As was predicted, San Joaquin Memorial and Bakersfield Christian have looked much better with their full rosters cleared for action and both have looked like the teams we expected them to be when looking at the rosters on paper. Clovis West and Stockdale both suffered losses to start off league play but will have the chance to avenge those losses in a few weeks and regain their seeds from the last team rankings. Centennial, like Clovis North, just keeps on winning games and now has some quality wins over traditional Fresno area powers in Edison, Bullard and Central. Despite all the craziness of the start to league play, prep hoop fans in the Central Section were blessed with some truly great games in the early goings.
Last Tuesday, January 10th, we were gifted with two top 5 games and both lived up to the hype. In Fresno, Clovis West and Clovis North squared off in a rivalry game that has been a lopsided affair the past few seasons, as the Golden Eagles had won 8 straight over the Broncos. Clovis North would end that streak and despite a late push by the Golden Eagles, the Broncos would get the win, by a score of 68-66. That same night in Bakersfield, Centennial and Stockdale would give us an equally satisfying ending as the Clovis North and Clovis West game. Centennial would build a double-digit lead but with second-half foul trouble, the Mustangs would roar back to take the lead in the final minute of regulation. After some missed free throws and a huge basket by senior JayJay Jones, the game would end in a tie in regulation and send it to overtime. Stockdale struck first but Centennial would get the final say with a huge putback bucket and two free throws to seal the win for the Golden Hawks, 67-63. The week was capped off with another thrilling game between Edison of Fresno and the surging Bakersfield Christian Eagles in the final game of the day at Edison’s MLK Super Saturday Showcase. Edison jumped out to a double-digit lead early, but the Eagles would settle in, and with less than a minute to play in regulation, it was tied at 50 a piece. Gabe Gutierrez hit a tough shot off the dribble drive to give the Eagles the win and a great end to what was an entertaining first week of league play in the Section.
This article provides a look at the updated 2022-2023 Top 15 Team Rankings for the Central Section, after the conclusion of the first week of league play and the Saturday MLK showcases, along with a breakdown of what the teams have accomplished since the last updated rankings that came out at the start of the New Year. In addition to their accomplishments, there is mention of the teams’ top players and their grades. 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.
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. I have personally seen every team on this list in person and most of these teams I have seen multiple times over the past few months. 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 at the start of the year but St. Joseph is still the team to beat. There is still a lot of basketball to play and quality league match-ups that could allow for some movement when I update these rankings again 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. Below is a link to the last round of updates for anyone that wants to access:
1. (1) St. Joseph Knights/Santa Maria CA (13-4)
The Knights hold steady at the top of these updated rankings, as we conclude the first week of league play throughout the Central Section. This should not be too surprising, as most people that cover high school basketball in the Central Section, or the state of California overall, have St. Joseph as the top team. The Knights have started off 4-0 in league play with a resounding nineteen-point win over rival Mission Prep of San Luis Obispo this past Friday. St. Joseph performed very well in its trip to Louisiana to start the New Year off, as it participated in the 12th annual Allstate Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic. The Knights defeated Edna Karr of New Orleans and King’s Fork, a top 25 team in Virginia, before losing to Olympia of Florida by one point. Olympia is currently the #3 ranked team in Florida behind nationally ranked Columbus and Montverde, and has a record of 17-1. The four losses the Knights have suffered this year have come to the #2 ranked team in the Las Vegas area, #3 ranked team in Florida, and two top 10 teams in the loaded state of California, and all by a combined eleven points in those losses. St. Joseph has another big test against Modesto Christian at the De La Salle MLK Showcase on Monday, which will be another chance to take down a top-10 team in California. The Knights continued to be led by national prospect Super Sophomore Tounde Yessoufou, as well as standout senior combo guard Luis Marin. St. Joe’s freshman phenom Julius Price has been putting up big scoring outputs of late, along with the critical input of seniors Will Kuykendall and Caedin Hamilton, to solidify a roster that I still see as the team to beat in the Central Section. The Knights are currently ranked at the #14 spot in the state by CalHi Sports.
Quality wins: King’s Fork of Suffolk (VA), Rancho Verde of Moreno Valley, Bakersfield Christian and Liberty Magnet of Baton Rouge (LA)
2. (4) Clovis North Broncos/Fresno CA (15-5)
The Broncos have been surprising teams and scouts all season with big win after big win, as many thought Clovis North would struggle with the season-ending loss of junior Connor Amundsen combined with the tough schedule the coaching staff had put together. Yet, all the Broncos have done is continue to get big wins and show it has the depth, talent, and coaching to contend for a TRAC and Section title despite the absence of its top player. The Broncos have earned wins over some quality programs in Dublin, Salesian Prep of Richmond, and Heritage Christian of Northridge, but the reason I have bumped them up to the #2 spot is the big wins coming over Section rival San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno and league rival Clovis West in the span of a week. The Broncos took care of the Panthers relatively easily heading into league play, but the win over Clovis West to kick off TRAC play is the one that may be most impressive of all its wins this season, given Clovis North had lost eight straight to the Golden Eagles. Clovis North has more tests to come, as they will face Clovis West again in less than two weeks and Monterey Trail of Elk Grove next Saturday, but for now, it sits alone at the two seed. The Broncos continue to be led by standout junior Jordan Espinoza, senior forward Jaylen Bryant, super sophomore Loukas Jones, freshman McKae Amundsen (younger brother of Connor) has stepped up his play as the lead guard, and senior Christian Calvillo has become one of the leading scorers for Clovis North. Senior big man Malik Musleh has become more of a weapon and provides a size advantage in the post that most teams in the Section simply do not have. Clovis North remains a bubble team for CalHi Sports, but with the win over Clovis West that could change when updated.
Quality wins: Clovis West of Fresno, San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno, Salesian of Richmond, Heritage Christian of Northridge, Dublin, Capital Christian of Sacramento, and Colony of Ontario
T-3. (3) Centennial Golden Hawks/Bakersfield CA (15-3)
The Golden Hawks stay at the #3 spot for these updated rankings but share this rank with Clovis West. The Golden Hawks have not lost since I last updated these rankings and earned a thrilling overtime win over league rival, and at the time the #5 team in the Section, Stockdale of Bakersfield, as well as authoritative wins over Fresno schools Bullard and Central in Fresno. I could not give the Golden Hawks sole possession of the third seed, as it did lose its season opener to Clovis West, and head-to-head match-ups are one of the key criteria of these rankings. However, given the wins over multiple Fresno schools, specifically the 25-point blowout win over Central of Fresno, whom Clovis West beat by 7 points the day before, and the physicality and size of Centennial, which has been something the Golden Eagles have struggled with this season, I felt it was best to keep these two teams tied for this round of rankings given where both are at after the first week of league play. Centennial is led by standout junior Rippen Gill, who has been the team’s best player. 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. Regardless of its base division according to MaxPreps, Centennial will be a Division 1 playoff team and is setting itself up nicely for one of the top four seeds.
Quality wins: Stockdale of Bakersfield, Edison of Fresno, Taft of Woodland Hills, Providence of Burbank, Loyola of Los Angeles, and Lemoore
T-3. (2) Clovis West Golden Eagles/Fresno CA (19-2)
The Golden Eagles did drop one spot from the two previous rounds of these rankings after the two-point loss to TRAC rival Clovis North to start off league play but did earn a quality win over host Sheldon of Sacramento at the Simply Showdown on Saturday. The Golden Eagles have won 3 tournaments and were runner-up at the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoop Classic, losing to the host team, and remain in the top four despite its tough season-opening loss to the Broncos, 68-66. As mentioned above, I could not drop the Golden Eagles below Centennial of Bakersfield, as it won the head-to-dead match-up, 77-67, to open up the season. However, it was the first game of the year, played at the Clovis West gym, and since then the Golden Hawks have won the Clovis Elks Tournament and beat the top 5 Stockdale of Bakersfield. Also, the point differential in wins by both teams over Central of Fresno is another reason I have these two teams tied at the third spot in these rankings. I was made aware yesterday that Clovis West was without sophomore sensation DJ Stickman and junior football star Marshel Sanders against Central. However, Centennial has not lost since these last rankings and Clovis West only lost by a basket to a really good Clovis North squad, which is why I decided to keep these two teams tied at #3. The Golden Eagles have been led by senior shooting guard 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. As is the norm for Clovis West, plenty of other players have made contributions but the one concern I have for the Golden Eagles repeating as Section champs is the lack of size in the post. The Golden Eagles will get a rematch at home against the Broncos in a few weeks, which could catapult them back into the top two for these rankings, as well as winning the remainder of their games in TRAC play. Clovis West was ranked #15 in the last CalHi Sports Rankings, but with the loss to Clovis North, that is likely to change when updated.
Quality wins: Vanden of Fairfield, TMI-Episcopal, Centennial of Bakersfield, Sheldon of Sacramento, and Edison of Fresno
5. (7) San Joaquin Memorial Panthers/Fresno CA (11-7)
The Panthers have started to turn the tide in its favor since the last round of these rankings, avenging a loss to Edison of Fresno to start County-Metro League play, 71-53, as well as big wins over Sanger and a non-league win over Garces Memorial. San Joaquin did lose to Clovis North before the start of league play, but since then have continued to gel and the pieces seem to be falling into place. The Panthers have a big test on Monday at the De La Salle MLK Showcase against Moreau Catholic and standout sophomore Kellen Hampton. San Joaquin will have one more game against Edison in league play but beyond that, should run through the rest of the teams with a chance to win another league title. If standout sophomore Julius Olanrewaju, seniors Mike Davis and Armari Carroway, sophomore shooting guard Abram Potts, junior forward Dre Davis, and the surrounding cast continue to buy into the process and realize it is not the same one-man show team as last year, I still see the Panthers as the team with the best chance of taking out St. Joseph to win the Section Division 1 championship. I know that may sound crazy to those that have followed Central Section hoops this year, but the Panthers have the player personnel to best match the fire-power and size of the Knights. San Joaquin will play Monterey Trail of Elk Grove toward the end of the regular season on February 4th as the remaining tough challenge before playoffs.
Quality wins: Edison of Fresno, Pacifica Christian of Newport Beach, Hanford West, and Central of Fresno
6. (5) Stockdale Mustangs/Bakersfield CA (18-2)
The Mustangs have been rolling this season and are off to one of the best starts in program history. The knock on the Mustangs heading into league play was that its schedule was not the most rigorous and its best win was over Edison, which was early in the season and the football guys, who are all truly two-sport athletes and the best players for the Tigers, had just transitioned from the football field to the basketball court. Stockdale silenced the critics, at least for the time being, as it took Centennial of Bakersfield to overtime with plenty of chances to win the overtime thriller to kick off SYL-Valley play. The duo of seniors Jhace Boston and Joaquin Rios give the Mustangs arguably the best duo in the South Valley, if not the Section, and that will keep any team in contention. Seniors Karsten Adeleye and Myles Elam, along with junior Brooks Dawson have added quality play needed to be one of the top teams in the Section. I was admittedly skeptical of how Stockdale would hold up if one of its big two got in foul trouble, and that is exactly what happened with Boston against the Golden Hawks but the offensive sets and structure allowed it to stay close enough for Jhace to get back on the floor in the 2nd half. The Mustangs defeated Liberty of Bakersfield to get to 1-1 in league play and only dropped one spot in these updated rankings and remain slightly ahead of Bakersfield Christian, despite the rapid improvement of the Eagles over the last two weeks. Stockdale will get a rematch against the Golden Hawks in a few weeks but it will be at Centennial.
Quality wins: Edison of Fresno, Peninsula of Rolling Hills Estate, Alemany of Mission Hills, and Liberty of Bakersfield (twice)
7. (11) Bakersfield Christian Eagles/CA (11-6)
Although there will inevitably be some disagreements about having Bakersfield Christian one spot behind Stockdale of Bakersfield, the one thing that everyone should agree on is the Eagles have drastically improved with the addition of standout sophomore Gabriel Gutierrez, and juniors Louis Duarte and Troy Lei and have won six straight games since the last updated team rankings. Similar to the Panthers, I expected the Eagles to move up the rankings for this updated round because it had added key players to its roster after the 30-day sit-out rules from the CIF. The difference between San Joaquin and Bakersfield Christian is the Eagles had not played any games with these players at the time of the last rankings, as it did not play in any tournaments the week after Christmas. Over the last two weeks, the Eagles have played six games and have earned quality wins over Crespi of Encino, Ridgeview of Bakersfield, and a game-winner over Edison of Fresno on Saturday. Along with lead guard Gutierrez and Duarte, the Eagles have been led by standout junior Bentley Waller, seniors Mike Shafic and Charlie Stump, and sophomore point guard Drew Minnear. Gutierrez and Waller are proving to be another top-notch duo for the Eagles, who had a great duo in Jackson Tucker and Erick Chaney last season. The Eagles play Mission Prep Monday at the Allen Hancock MLK Showcase and a date with Centennial of Bakersfield on Saturday, January 28th, which could catapult Bakersfield Christian back into the top spot in the South Valley, where it has resided the past three seasons, if it were to win those games.
Quality wins: Edison of Fresno, Crespi of Encino, Bellarmine of Tacoma (WA), Liberty of Bakersfield, and Ridgeview of Bakersfield (twice)
8. (6) Edison Tigers/Fresno CA (12-7)
The Tigers have been one of the better stories of the high school basketball season in the Central Section but have suffered losses in four of their last five games. However, similar to the argument I made for St. Joseph, these have been losses to quality teams and are not enough to drop Edison more than two spots for these updated rankings. Edison has lost to San Joaquin Memorial, Centennial of Bakersfield, Oakland who is the top team in its Section Division 1, and most recently to the surging Eagles of Bakersfield Christian. The Tigers face league opponents the rest of the way, outside a one-off showcase game against Fresno Christian next Saturday at PagMeter’s Showcase, and if it wins out Edison would remain a top 10 team in the Section. The tests I am looking forward to are Bullard of Fresno and Sanger, which could provide some problems if either are on their A-game. Regardless of these outcomes, it is obvious to anyone with eyes that Coach Mike and staff have quickly turned things around for the historic Fresno program. The Tigers are led by senior lead guard Ya’J Vance, juniors Ray Brown, Kameron Bowen, Wendell Ware, Va’ron Mitchell, and senior Ki’mauri Washington.
Quality wins: San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno, Clovis High, Hanford West, and Central of Fresno
9. (8) Mission Prep Royals/San Luis Obispo CA (11-6)
The Royals have started off hot in Mountain League play, with the exception of the loss to St. Joseph on Friday. The Royals have a huge test on Monday, as it will play Bakersfield Christian in the Allen Hancock MLK Showcase, which has big implications for both teams. Mission Prep has another big game this week, as it takes on undefeated league opponent Arroyo Grande. If the Royals can win both games against the Eagles of Arroyo Grande and end up second in league, it would be hard to imagine them in Division 2 for the playoffs. The Royals are led by standout senior and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley commit Jamar “JJ” Howard. In addition, Mission Prep has junior Luke Jacobson and sophomore Jayden Nozil.
Quality wins: Salesian of Richmond, Bradshaw of Sacramento, Indio, Righetti of Santa Maria
10. (9) Clovis East Timberwolves/CA (11-8)
The Timberwolves have only played two games since the last round of these updated rankings, and despite losing to Clovis North, Clovis East did hang close and look to be the 3rd best team in the TRAC behind Clovis North and Clovis West. As I have mentioned in previous team rankings, Clovis East is another year or so away from contending for a Division 1 Section title, but has enough firepower and the coaching to get some upset wins in either league or the postseason that could shake up the road to Selland this season. Clovis East has been led by freshmen phenoms Dalen Felder, Lydell Farmer, and Aidan Beechler, and juniors Jeremy Pierro and McKay Olsen, but has missed standout sophomore Harold Duval III, who has yet to suit up from an injury during football season.
Quality wins: Cosumnes Oaks, Sanger, and Arroyo Grande
11. (10) Dinuba Emperors/CA (18-2)
The Emperors were on a six-game winning streak heading into league after suffering its first loss to Central Valley Christian in the Polly Tournament but dropped its league opener to Hanford, 68-49. Dinuba has added Reedley transfer Brice Watley, which may be more of an adjustment than anticipated but that loss is why I have dropped the Emperors out of the top 10. Dinuba has a big West Yosemite match-up against Lemoore that could have big implications for both teams for the next round of these rankings and, more importantly, the playoff picture. The Emperors have been led by standout junior Javier Torres, seniors Keine Prendez and Anthony Harp, junior Brice Watley, and sophomore sharpshooter Josiah Ochoa.
Quality wins: Liberty of Bakersfield, Frontier of Bakersfield, Tulare Western, Kingsburg, and El Diamante of Visalia
12. (12) Bullard Knights/Fresno CA (12-9) 2
The Knights remain a team that none of the top teams want to face once the postseason rolls around and have started strong in County-Metro League play, with wins over Sanger and Garza. Since the last round of these rankings, Bullard did lose two games, but that came at the hands of two of the top four teams in the Section, Centennial of Bakersfield and Clovis North. The Knights have some big games coming up the next two weeks, as it will play Edison this Friday and San Joaquin Memorial next Wednesday. If Bullard were to get a win over Edison that could catapult it into the top 10 once these rankings are updated. The Knights are led by juniors Jaleel Jackson and David Rios, senior Mark Williams, and freshman phenom Ja’Vance Coleman has really emerged as one of the top-scoring threats on the team. Junior Kyshawn Johson has really stepped up his play in the interior, which has been much needed for the Knights.
Quality wins: Downey of Modesto, Redwood of Larkspur, Sanger, and Central of Fresno
13. (13) Lemoore Tigers/CA (12-6)
The Tigers are tough, physical, and can shoot the three with accuracy. Lemoore has been on a roll after starting 0-4, and have only dropped two of its last fourteen games. The most impressive win came against Liberty of Bakersfield at the Edison MLK Super Saturday Showcase, 61-54. The Tigers have done enough to stay in the top 15 but no wins over teams to bump them up. Lemoore will get that chance this Wednesday, as it faces league opponent Dinuba. The Tigers have been led by seniors DeMel Turner and Kaleb Godeau, and juniors Kaden Lopes and Kobe Green. I also like the interior size of senior Riley Burmke.
Quality wins: Liberty of Bakersfield, Clovis, Portville, and El Diamante of Visalia
14. (HM) Arroyo Grande Eagles/CA (13-5)
The Eagles are one of the hottest teams in the Section and that is a big reason I have moved them into the top 15 for the first time this season. Arroyo Grande has won eight consecutive games and are 5-0 in Mountain League play. The Eagles will get their first big tests of league play with games against St. Joseph on Tuesday and Mission Prep on Friday. If the Eagles can come out of this week 1-1 and continue to win the remaining games in league, it is conceivable it could jump into the top 10. The Eagles are led by senior Adam Silmon, and juniors Zach Soriano, Gavin Marin, and Nic Simmons.
Quality wins: Frontier of Bakersfield and Atascadero
15. (HM) Ridgeview Wolfpack/Bakersfield CA (12-6)
The Wolfpack round out the top 15 and are making their debut to these rankings. Ridgeview has been on the outside looking in for the first two rounds of these team rankings but after winning four of their last five games, with its only loss coming in a close one to Bakersfield Christian last Thursday, the Wolfpack have earned the final spot. The Wolfpack played one of its best defensive games against Bakersfield Christian and senior Tyron Tyler Jr. had a huge 26-point and 18-rebound double-double in the loss, 62-54. Along with Tyler, Ridgeview is led by seniors Mekhi Johnson and Fred Milsap, juniors Jovarie Hayden and Cam Macabuag, and sophomore Braylon Herron. If Ridgeview stays in its base division, Division 3, it has a great chance to make a run at a Section title.
Quality wins: Liberty of Bakersfield, North Bakersfield, Frontier of Bakersfield, Central Valley Christian of Visalia, West Bakersfield,
Clovis Cougars/CA (12-8)
North/Bakersfield CA (13-6)
Roosevelt Rough Riders/Fresno CA (9-7)
West/Bakersfield CA (12-6)