Central Section, CA – The 2023-2024 high school basketball season is in full swing, as we are a month into the official season and heading into the holiday tournament portion of the season. There have already been some intriguing match-ups and big time performances such as the Clovis West against San Joaquin Memorial game and Tounde Yessoufou putting up 40 plus points in four of his first six games of the season.
In this article, I provide a breakdown of my updated Top 15 Team Rankings. I discuss where and why I have each team in the spot they are in. I have taken into consideration head to head match-ups, games against common opponents, and strength of schedule to compile this updated list from my initial preseason 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 first round of rankings of this season, as well as the current record in parentheses. There is no movement with the top two teams and we begin with Clovis West at the top.
1. (1) Clovis West Golden Eagles (Fresno CA) (10-0)
The Golden Eagles retain the top spot in this round of team rankings, as it has started the season off red hot and undefeated. Clovis West recently won its annual Nike Invitational Tournaments with big wins over fellow Fresno rival San Joaquin Memorial in the semifinals and Inderkum of Sacramento in the championship game, both by double-digits. The Golden Eagles have won multiple games by 50 points and a quality win over Vanden of Fairfield at The NorCal Tip-Off Classic. Clovis West has been led by junior DJ Stickman, who has earned multiple event MVPs in the early part of the preseason. Junior forward Chris Baudreau has added a post presence that was missing from the Golden Eagle roster last season, and has been a high-level rim protector and dominant on the boards. Seniors Zach Chauhan and Jackson Young, and sophomore Jace Kellogg have also been key contributors to the Golden Eagles early season success. The depth, size, shooting accuracy, and versatility of the Clovis West roster has made it an early favorite to earn a 3rd trip to the Central Section championship game. Clovis West has some big tests next week playing in the top division at the illustrious Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas.
2. (2) St. Joseph Knights (Santa Maria CA) (6-0)
Holding down the #2 spot in these updated rankings are the Knights, who have been winning games by an average of 27 points per game. St. Joseph may not have the depth and versatility of the Clovis West squad, it has what looks to be the top two players in the Section in junior Tounde Yessoufou and sophomore Julius Price. Yessoufou has been a man amongst boys through the first 6 games of the season, averaging 39.2 points per game with a single game-high of 44 points, as he is the 2nd leading scorer in California. Given the firepower of the elite one-two punch of Yessoufou and Price, the Knights are projected to run through the Central Coast Mountain League and, despite the graduation of four of its core six players from last year, most people in the basketball community have St. Joseph as the odds on favorites to make its fourth trip to the Section championship game for a likely 3rd straight match-up between the Knights and Clovis West. St. Joseph has some big tests coming up next week at the Capital City Classic in Oregon.
3. (5) San Joaquin Memorial Panthers (Fresno CA) (5-2)
The Panthers move up two spots from the first round of these team rankings to the #3 spot. San Joaquin Memorial opened up the season losing a buzzer beater to reigning Division 5 State Champs, Lynwood Knights, before going on a three game winning streak and match-up with Clovis West at their Nike Invitational Tournament. The Panthers kept it close and were down only 2 points with six and a half minutes left in the game, but fell short by a score of 81-67. San Joaquin Memorial took down Bakersfield Christian in the 3rd Place game of the Nike Invitational by a substantial margin, 84 to 59. The Panthers have been led by juniors Abram Potts and Julius Olanrewaju, as well as the young guns in sophomores Parker Spees and Sajjin Sindu, give San Joaquin one of the most talented rosters in the Section. It may not have the depth and experience of a team like Clovis West, but the Panthers have the size, skill set, and winning pedigree to contend for the Section title and give the top two teams a run for their money, as it did last season against St. Joseph in the Section quarterfinals. The Panthers have some big tests coming up with an appearance in the Classic at Damien after Christmas.
4. (6) Centennial Golden Hawks (Bakersfield CA) (4-3)
The next three teams could go in any order depending on the perspective of the person doing the rankings, but I currently have the Golden Hawks at the #4 spot in these updated rankings. The main argument by some that cover hoops in the Central Section for having Centennial lower than I have is its loss to Central to open the season. I personally am not holding that loss against the Golden Hawks to the same degree, as it only had six players available for that game with multiple starters or key bench players not suited up due to various reasons. After that game, Centennial got a big win over Edison of Fresno before heading to the Beverly Hills Tournament that led to two wins to earn a spot in the semifinals against Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth. Sierra Canyon is currently ranked #8 by CalHi Sports and had already defeated one of the Central Section’s top dogs in Clovis North. The Golden Hawks did more than hold their own and kept the game close before falling by a score of 63 to 53. The Golden Hawks are led by Seniors Rippen Gill, Donquavius Bolton, and Jaxton Santiago, and junior Michael Gutierrez. Centennial has size, depth, and veteran play and is looking to make a postseason run that has evaded them the past three years.
5. (4) Clovis North Broncos (Fresno CA) (4-3)
The Broncos round out the top 5, moving down one spot from my initial preseason rankings. Clovis North has played one of the toughest schedules of the early season and have taken some tough losses that were the main reason I dropped them one position. Sierra Canyon handed the Broncos a 40 point loss to kick the season off, but bounced back to win its annual Valley Children’s Tip-Off Invitational over Bullard. After an opening round win over Sheldon of Sacramento at the Gridley Invitational, the Broncos suffered a big loss to Salesian of Richmond, currently ranked #5 by CalHi Sports. Clovis North would lose the 3rd place game to another NorCal power in Riordan of San Francisco. Senior Connor Amundsen has been putting up big scoring numbers this season but the Broncos have not recorded that signature win within the Section or beyond to move back into the top 5. It will have its chance with a good probability to make a run at the Mission Prep Christmas Classic and some heavyweight games in the top division of the Classic at Damien, which could move Clovis North up significantly on this list depending on outcomes. Clovis North is led by seniors Connor Amundsen and Jordan Espinoza, juniors Loukas Jones and Gus Swenning, and sophomores McKae Amundsen and Elias Gish.
6. (7) Bullard Knights (Fresno CA) (6-3)
The Knights have been winning the games that it’s supposed to win to start the season, along with a better showing against a common opponent, which is why I moved Bullard up one spot and ahead of Bakersfield Christian for this round of team rankings. Bullard played St. Bernard of Playa dey Rey in its second game of the season, defeated Hoover by nearly 30 points, and played Inderkum closely, albeit with key players out that suited up against Bakersfield Christian. The Knights did suffer a loss to Clovis North in the championship game of the Valley Children’s Tip-Off Invitational, and defeated a lights out shooting Granite Bay by eighteen points. The upside for Bullard is that it has done all this without the firepower of sophomore transfers Dalen Felder and Sean Smith-Sharkey, both out on 30-day sit out. The Knights will head to San Luis Obispo for Mission Prep’s Christmas Classic followed by Modesto Christian’s Holiday Hoop Classic, where its transfers will be cleared to play. The Knights have been led by seniors Jaleel Jackson and Kyshawn Johnson and standout sophomore Ja’Vance Coleman.
7. (5) Bakersfield Christian Eagles (4-6)
The Eagles move down two spot to #7, as it has had some big losses to start the season but, similar to Clovis North, Bakersfield Christian has played one of the toughest schedules to date. The Eagles have losses to West Ranch of Valencia, JSerra of San Juan Capistrano (CalHi Sports #6 team), Weston Ranch of Stockton, Inderkum of Sacramento, and most recently to Section rival San Joaquin Memorial in the Clovis West Nike Invitational. Despite the losses to quality teams, the duo of senior Bentley Waller and junior Gabe Gutierrez will keep the Eagles in competition for winning its league and making a run in the Section playoffs. The road ahead does not get easier, as the Eagles will head to Arizona for an inaugural event with teams from all over the country. The Eagles have an impressive young core of freshmen that will hold down the paint and are making strides against quality opponents to set them up for success once it enters league play. In the meantime, the Eagles need to get a win against St. Francis on December 22nd to hold their spot in the top 10, as there are no transfers coming onto the roster after December 26th.
8. (8) Edison Tigers (Fresno CA) (5-5)
The Tigers have been one of the more physically imposing teams in the Section in the early goings of the season, and are coming off a great run to the championship game at North Bakersfield’s Lloyd Williams Shootout, where it fell to Paraclete of Lancaster by a score of 73 to 61. The Tigers have had their way with teams from the South Valley, as it ran through West Bakersfield, Stockdale and North Bakersfield en route to the recent championship game. However, the Tigers had no such luck against Centennial of Bakersfield, as it lost by a score of 67 to 55 in late November, as it faced a fully loaded Golden Hawk roster. The Tigers have battled some injuries early and are still waiting on junior Dereon King and senior David Rios, both sitting out due to 30-day transfer rules, which will provide much needed perimeter scoring and lead guard play. Senior Va’Ron Mitchell has been sensational for Edison this season, as well as solid play from seniors Ray Brown and Wendell Ware. The fact that Bullard and Edison are ranked this high and have more fire power coming on board at the end of this month will make the CMAC arguably the best league in the Section, as the TRAC seems more top heavy this season compared to past seasons.
9. (10) Dinuba Emperors (CA) 10-1)
Moving up one spot to #9 is the Emperors of Dinuba, which are coming off a great win over Selma in their own tournament last Saturday. Dinuba’s only loss this season is to Birmingham of Lake Balboa coming in the 1st round of the Valley Children’s Tip-Off Invitational before winning the consolation game. Despite the impressive record to start the season, which is routine of late for the Emperors, Dinuba does not have a quality win over a top 15 team in the Section (based on my rankings not MaxPreps). However, all you can do is win the games on your schedule and the Emperors have done just that. Dinuba has been led by seniors Javier Torres and Brice Watley, and junior Josiah Ochoa. Given that, as a small school, the Emperors will not play any of the Section’s top teams, it will have to keep winning to stay in the Top 10 of these rankings.
10. (NR) Frontier Titans (Bakersfield CA) (8-1)
The Titans have been one of the bigger surprises to start off the season for those that were not familiar with the team, as its only loss came at the hands of a talented Paraclete of Lancaster squad by a score of 68 to 59. Frontier is coming off a great run in the Kingsburg tournament, as it defeated the host team, 42 to 41, in the championship game. The Titans have been led by twin tower juniors Zach Garnett and Dalin Crawford, senior Logan Frisch, and sophomore Peyton Beltran. Garnett is having a breakout season, as he is averaging close to 20 points and 10 rebounds per game and displaying his ability to score and facilitate from the high post. The Titans will be a player in league play this season and has the size, guard play, and structure to make some noise this season and in the postseason.
11. (9) Clovis East Timberwolves (CA) (6-2)
Clovis East moves down two spots and out of the top 10 for this round of team rankings to the #11 spot. The Timberwolves have only suffered two losses this season both at the hands of Thousand Oaks. Clovis East did get a win over Arroyo Grande but does not have a win that stands out to date. The Timberwolves will play some quality competition at the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoops Classic, as well as in TRAC league play to move itself back in the top 10 when I update this list after the New Year. The Timberwolves have been led by seniors McKay Olsen and Jeremy Pierro, sophomores Lydell Farmer and Aidan Beechler, and freshman Asher Thompson. Despite the loss of Dalen Felder to Bullard, Clovis East still has a talented roster with a nice blend of veteran players and skilled youth.
12. (HM) Arroyo Grande Eagles (CA) (7-4)
The Eagles move into the top 15 of this list, as it has played a similar schedule to Clovis East. The Eagles have losses to Thousand Oaks, Clovis East, and a big loss to the Section’s top team in Clovis West early in the season. The Eagles got a win over Liberty of Bakersfield as its best win to date. Arroyo Grande will look to lock up the second place spot in Central Coast Mountain League play, as everyone will be chasing St. Joseph. The Eagles are led by senior Zach Soriano.
13. (NR) Buchanan Bears (Clovis CA) (10-0)
The Bears have had a hot start to the season and are one of the few undefeated teams left a month into preseason play. Buchanan is coming off a tournament championship and has been led by junior Connor Sheets, the transfer guard from Spanish Springs in Reno, Nevada. The Bears would be higher with its record but its strength of schedule is just not there at the moment to crack the top 10. Buchanan will play in one of the toughest leagues in the TRAC, which will give it plenty of chances to earn wins over league opponents ahead of the Bears in this list. Sophomores Brayden Harris and Carter Finley make up a young but talented roster that has potential for upsets this season and more over the next few years. I look forward to seeing how Buchanan fares against some of the top tier teams in the Section.
14. (NR) Fresno Christian Eagles (CA) (5-2)
The Eagles enter the team rankings for the first time since I started doing them almost 3 years ago after earning a big win over North Bakersfield on Tuesday night. The Eagles have gotten off to a solid start and have a core of juniors and sophomores that have height, length, efficient shooting, and quality lead guard play. The Eagles have some tough games on the schedule this season, highlighted by a match-up with Centennial of Bakersfield on January 6th at the BSN Showcase at Pacifica Christian in Newport Beach. As the season rolls along, Fresno Christian will need to get wins over league and smaller school opponents and fare well against top tier teams in order to stay in the top 15 but at the moment it has earned a spot with an impressive win over the Stars, who just got a big win last Saturday over Sanger. The Eagles are led by juniors Aden Millwee and Beckham Klein, and sophomores Devin Gaines and Noah Coulton.
15. (HM) North Stars (Bakersfield CA) (4-5)
Rounding out the top 15 and making its debut is the Stars of North Bakersfield, who earned a huge win over Sanger at its Lloyd Williams event in the 3rd place game this past Saturday. The Stars are the favorites to win their league this season and will have some quality games coming up to prove it deserves to be in and stay in the top 15 for the Section. The Stars are led by seniors Nate Becerra and David Vasquez, junior Wyatt Haner, and freshman Ethan Saenz. The win over Sanger helped propel North into the top 15 and kept the Apaches in the honorable mention list but Sanger has played really well this season.
(HM) Central Grizzlies (Fresno CA) (3-3)
(HM) Clovis Cougars (CA) (5-6)
(NR) Immanuel Eagles (Reedley CA) (7-4)
(12) Kingsburg Vikings (CA) (5-2)
(HM) Sanger Apaches (CA) (6-4)
(NR) Selma Bears (CA) (6-3)
(NR) Sunnyside Wildcats (Fresno CA) (5-2)