Central California – The first month of the 2022-2023 high school basketball season has featured some big-time match-ups, outstanding player performances, and wrapped up Saturday night, December 17th, with an upset win that sent shockwaves through the hoops community, as Edison defeated San Joaquin Memorial in an overtime thriller to win the Hoover Holiday Invitational Tournament. This article provides a look at my initial 2022-2023 Top 15 Team Rankings for the Central Section after a busy two weeks of basketball, along with a breakdown of what teams have accomplished up to this point and who their top players have been. I include the current rank of the team, in parentheses is where the team ended up ranked last season, 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, and strength of schedule. I have personally seen every team on this list in person, with the exception of the Righetti of Santa Maria. In compiling this list of teams, I took into account two key factors: the accomplishments of the teams up to this point, and a future projection of teams with their full rosters once 30-day restrictions are lifted on December 27th. I have made an attempt to watch as many teams as possible over the past month, and there seems to be a lot of parity broken into three categories: the top five or six teams appear to have separation from the rest, the next 15-20 teams in the Section are fairly evenly matched, and the third tier of programs all can defeat each other on a given night. The teams at the top are the same as they have been for the past three to four years, but teams like Stockdale look to be breaking into the top tier and Centennial is poised for a shot at the throne. 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.
The remainder of the 2022 calendar year will feature some huge winter tournaments that could have a major impact on this list when we start the New Year. I will update these team rankings before the start of regular season play, the first week of January 2023. You can access my end-of-the-year team rankings for the 2021-2022 season below that including team records and where they were ranked.
1. (2) St. Joseph Knights/Santa Maria CA (3-1)
The Knights are coming off a successful 2021-2022 season, which ended with an impressive record and a second consecutive trip to the Central Section Open Division championship game against Clovis West of Fresno. Despite the accomplishments of the season, St. Joseph was left gut punched after surrendering a twenty-point lead halfway through the 3rd quarter and an overtime loss in the Open Division Section Championship. The Knights return the top player in the Section, and 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 lost a tough one to CalHi’s #8 ranked team in the state, Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, by a score of 71-65. The Knights can throw various looks against opponents by going smaller with Yessoufou at the five, or a more physically imposing look with Hamilton at the center spot, which moves Tounde to the perimeter where he has become a threat with the 3-ball. The depth, talent, size, and versatility are why most people in the know have St. Joseph as the team to beat in the Section, as they make a run at the Division 1 Section Title (there will no longer be an Open Division in the Central Section). The Knights are currently ranked #12 in the state by CalHi Sports.
Quality wins: Bakersfield Christian and Liberty Magnet of Baton Rouge (LA)
2. (1) Clovis West Golden Eagles/Fresno CA (10-0)
The Golden Eagles had a phenomenal season last year that was filled with exciting comeback wins, an undefeated record in league play, and finished with one of the most entertaining high school games I have ever witnessed to win the last Open Division Section Championship, as there will no longer be an Open Division in the Central Section). The Golden Eagles have a slightly different look this year with the graduation of big man Tyus Parrish-Tillman, who is currently playing at Biola University, and are truly a guard-oriented team that plays with tempo and intensity on both ends. 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 already won two tournaments in the early going of the season; with titles at Rocklin’s NorCal Tip-Off and its own Nike Invitational at Clovis West. The Golden Eagles return 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 with be much more difficult this season. One thing is a given, Clovis West will be there to compete and will use the successes of last season to get through tough moments in games and throughout the season. The Golden Eagles are currently ranked #14 in CalHi Sports state rankings.
Quality wins: TMI-Episcopal, Centennial of Bakersfield, and Bullard of Fresno
3. (T-3) Clovis North Broncos/Fresno CA (6-3)
The Broncos made a historic run last season in the Division 1 state playoffs, as they would win the NorCal Regional Championship before falling short to Damien of La Verne in the state championship game. Clovis North loaded up the schedule for this season, as it was bringing back all but one relevant starter from the 21’-22’ roster and adding some impact freshmen. Before the season got underway the Broncos’ roster would suffer a major loss, as standout junior and my top prospect for the 2024 class, Connor Amundsen, had season-ending shoulder surgery. There was a lot of talk about how this would be devastating for Clovis North and essentially take it out of the mix when discussing potential Division 1 Section contenders. All the Broncos have done since the start of the season is proving it is still one of the premier programs in the Section and earned a major victory over Dublin, who at the time was ranked #19 in the state, and lost some close games to other top teams in the state like Salesian of Richmond (currently #18) and Archbishop Mitty of San Jose (#14). The Broncos are led by standout junior Jordan Espinoza, senior forward Jaylen Bryant, super sophomore Loukas Jones, 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 but I think it will be hard to win the Section Title without its top player when all said and done. Having said that, I would not put anything past this team and I personally think that if six-foot-eight center Malik Musleh becomes a core part of the team’s identity that would give the Broncos the size needed to make a run at the Division 1 title.
Quality wins: Dublin, Capital Christian of Sacramento, and Bullard of Fresno
4. (10) Centennial Golden Hawks/Bakersfield CA (8-3)
The Golden Hawks are coming off a dominant run through league play last season and return nearly all of their key players from last year, including SWYL co-MVP and standout junior Rippen Gill. Despite the regular season success of the past few seasons, Centennial has come up short in the post-season, as they were knocked out of the first round of the Division 1 Section Playoffs last year by Bullard of Fresno in a great game that went into overtime. The Golden Hawks had some significant victories in the Fall portion of the season, with a huge win over San Joaquin Memorial in the Clovis West Fall Showcase. Although not an official contact game, both teams had all their players, including those currently sitting out due to CIF guidelines. Centennial has had a solid start to this season with wins over some quality Southern California squads, as it has played a major chunk of their schedule on the other side of the Grapevine thus far. Centennial played Clovis West in a non-league game during the Thanksgiving break and fell down early but clawed back to within a couple of points before losing 77-67. 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 is more than likely that Centennial will be in Division 1 for the playoffs and they have a legit shot this season at a title with depth, size, upperclassmen, and one of the best players in the Section. If the Golden Hawks were to end up in Division 2 somehow, it would walk through the playoffs but this scenario seems unlikely.
Quality wins: Taft of Woodland Hills, Providence of Burbank, and Loyola of Los Angeles
5. (T-3) San Joaquin Memorial Panthers/Fresno CA (7-3)
The Panthers have been one of the staple programs in the Central Section for years and this year would appear to be no different despite losing the program’s all-time leading scorer Joseph Hunter to graduation (he is currently at Fresno State). The Panthers got a big-time match-up with then the #4 ranked team in California in Sierra Canyon at the first Heart of California Basketball Classic. The Panthers played well and lost by nine points, 53-44, but since then took a tough loss in overtime to Edison of Fresno in the Hoover HIT Championship. San Joaquin has been 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. Although this is a solid list of players, the Panthers are awaiting the addition of super sophomore and last year’s leading scorer in the state Julius Olanrewaju, and sophomore center Isaiah Carter, both are currently on 30-day CIF restrictions. The addition of those two players will add size, depth, and scoring to an already potent squad that, if they can get all the pieces to fit together this year, may have the best chance to take down St. Joseph if they were to meet up in the Division 1 Section Title game. I do give a lot of credit to the Tigers for defeating the Panthers but given what the roster will look like in less than ten days for San Joaquin, I have to keep them in the top five for this first round of team rankings. The nice thing about that is they will play each other 2 more times in league.
Quality wins: Hanford West and Central of Fresno
6. (5) Bakersfield Christian Eagles/CA (4-4)
The Eagles achieved a major milestone last season, as they were the first team from Bakersfield since 2009 to win a Division 1 Title, and with the elimination of the Open Division in the Central Section, that may hold for another decade plus. The Eagles have won three straight Section Titles (two Division 3 and a Division 1) but graduated over 90% of the teams scoring from last season. Bakersfield Christian did get back standout junior Bentley Waller, who missed a majority of last season due to injury, and he has been the driving force for the Eagles in the early throws of the season. The Eagles have also had big contributions from seniors Charlie Stump and Michael Shafic, sophomore lead guard Drew Minnear, and standout freshman Irvin Calloway. However, similar to the Panthers, we have not seen the true version of the Eagles this season, as super sophomore, Gabriel Gutierrez and junior Louis Duarte along with a few others are currently serving their 30-day sit-out per CIF rulings. The addition of Gutierrez and Duarte will add points, defense, rebounds, playmaking, and most importantly, toughness. I have Bakersfield Christian ranked at the sixth spot based on my predictions of how they will be once they have their full roster.
Quality wins: Liberty of Bakersfield and Ridgeview
7. (NR) Stockdale Mustangs/Bakersfield CA (11-1)
The Mustangs have come out the gates swinging this season after a disappointing end to the season last year behind the outstanding play of 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. Stockdale recently won the Tulare Kiwanis Tournament over Sierra Pacific of Hanford and defeated Liberty of Bakersfield before taking a tough loss in the semifinals of the Lloyd Williams Shootout to eventual tournament champs Paraclete of Lancaster. 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 and if that is where it ends up, the Mustangs have a legit shot at the Division 2 crown. If it is in Division 1, the lack of depth and size that teams like St. Joseph and San Joaquin have may be too much to overcome. The Mustangs have a big league match-up against Centennial in early January that will answer some questions I have about the team, even though it has a win over Edison of Fresno who just defeated the Panthers.
Quality wins: Edison of Fresno and Liberty of Bakersfield
8. (NR) Edison Tigers/Fresno CA (8-3)
The talk of the Section in the early goings of the season has been the Edison Tigers, and that talk only got louder after a huge win over San Joaquin Memorial in the championship game of the Hoover HIT. New head coach, and former Reedley College assistant coach, Mike Fulford and staff have been putting in work to get the Tigers back to where it was four years ago and contending for Section titles. The Tigers have been led by senior lead guard Ya’J Vance, juniors Ray Brown, Kameron Bowen, 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 early. Where Edison ends up in the playoff picture will be a major indicator of what this team can achieve this season. As a base Division 1 team, that would be a difficult path to winning a Section Championship. If it were to slide into the Division 2 picture, I would put my money on the Tigers. They will get two more opportunities to face off with the Panthers, and both teams will be at full strength. Despite the win over the Panthers, I still have Edison ranked below them, as I am also projecting where teams will be once they have all their roster players available.
Quality wins: San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno, Hanford West, and Central of Fresno
9. (NR) Dinuba Emperors/CA (10-0)
The Emperors had a great regular season last year but hit a wall in the playoffs with a second-round exit to Sanger. Dinuba is off to a hot start again this year and has captured two tournament wins in the early going, their own tournament and the Dave Morehead Invitational at Mission Oak in Tulare. I was able to see them play twice in the Mission Oak tournament and after a slow start dominated West Bakersfield in the semifinals before etching out a one-point win over Liberty of Bakersfield in the championship, 55-54. 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 put them as a Division 2 team with a much harder path to the title.
Quality wins: Liberty of Bakersfield and El Diamante of Visalia
10. (7) Bullard Knights/Fresno CA (7-3)
The Knights had an impressive run in the Division 3 state playoffs last season, as they lost in the NorCal Regional Semifinals to eventual state champs Pleasant Valley. The Knights would lose a huge chunk of scoring from last season with the graduation of Lejuan Watts (at Eastern Washington) and Tyric Herod, as this season’s team is getting it done more by committee. 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: Redwood of Larkspur and Central of Fresno
11. (14) Mission Prep Royals/San Luis Obispo CA (7-0)
The Royals have gotten off to a hot start behind the stellar play of standout senior and University of Texas Rio Grande Valley commit Jamar “JJ” Howard. Mission Prep has also been helped by junior Luke Jacobson and sophomore Jayden Nozil. The Royals have a big test this week at their own Holiday Classic, as they take on state-ranked #18 Salesian of Richmond. The Royals could make a run in the Division 2 playoffs if it stays in its base division, as the dynamic scoring of Howard will be tough to stop.
Quality wins: Indio and Santa Ynez
12. (9) Clovis East Timberwolves/CA (6-3)
The Timberwolves are embarking on a new era of basketball with the top incoming freshman class in the Central Section all playing significant minutes and providing quality contributions. 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, Aidan Beechler, junior Jeremy Pierro, and standout sophomore Harold Duval III. As a base Division 1 squad, this year will be tough to make a deep run, but I would put nothing past this talented young squad.
Quality wins: Sanger and Arroyo Grande
13. (NR) Liberty Patriots/Bakersfield CA (6-5)
The Patriots have become known as the premier football program in the Central Section and are a week removed from winning the state championship but its basketball program has looked impressive in the early going, especially since it now has its full roster with the football guys. The Patriots had a solid showing at the Llyod Williams Shootout, making it to the semifinals before losing to Bakersfield Christian. Liberty got a statement win over Ridgeview, who beat them two weeks prior, before falling short to Dinuba in the Dave Morehead Invitational championship at Mission Oak in Tulare. The Patriots are led by standout junior Deshawn Usochu, junior Aiden Morillo, senior Cooper Bloxom, and the trio of freshmen in Derek Jimenez, Acen Zuniga, and Moses Curry. The addition of football players juniors Cole O’Brien and Trejon Fulton will make this squad more physical and adds some upperclassmen. The Patriots have a tough test against Stockdale of Bakersfield in the first week of league play, a team they lost to by double-digits at the Lloyd Williams Shootout.
Quality wins: Ridgeview and Santa Ynez
14. (NR) Hanford West Huskies/CA (5-3)
The Huskies have two of the top prospects for their respective classes in standout senior Jaden Haire and super sophomore Remy Barnes, who have accounted for 87% of the team’s scoring. Needless to say, these two do the bulk of the heavy lifting for the Huskies. Hanford West does not have the depth that other teams in base Division 2 have, but they have the most dominant player and a wing/slasher that can fill up the stat sheet.
Quality wins: Sanger
15. (NR) Righetti Warriors/Santa Maria CA (5-1)
The Warriors have had a strong start to the season behind the play of seniors Yash Patel and Terry Butler, as both put up big numbers en route to winning the Kingsburg Tournament over the host school. This tournament win is the main reason I have included Righetti in the top 15 and they will have to continue to win in order to stay on this list when updated. Nevertheless, the Warriors have looked impressive in the early going.
Quality wins: Kingsburg
Arroyo Grande Eagles/CA (4-4)
North Bakersfield Stars/CA (8-5)
Ridgeview Wolfpack/Bakersfield CA (8-4)
Sanger Apaches/CA (9-2)
Sierra Pacific Golden Bears/Hanford CA (10-3)