There aren’t many names more common than Sam Jones.
Luckily, the Gilbert Christian boys basketball forward has a game that stands out.
Jones helped the Knights to the Division III boys basketball title this season, leading the team in scoring with 15.5 points per game.
He’s one of several sophomores that made a big impact at the varsity level last year, as the recruiting class of 2014 continues to shape up as one of the deepest in recent memory.
Corona del Sol point guard Casey Benson (Arizona State), Phoenix South Mountain small forward Zylan Cheatham (ASU), Highland small forward Jake Toolson (Boston College) and Pinnacle shooting guard Dorian Pickens (ASU, B.C.) boast scholarship offers from high-major college programs.
Dobson shooting guard Kodi Justice has already committed to Arizona State. Mountain View forward Payton Dastrup was recently rated as the fifth-best sophomore center in his class by Scout.com and should have several high-profile offers after the summer evaluation period.
Looking deeper, players like Jones, Mesa’s Isaac Allen, Connor MacDougall (who just transferred from Desert Vista to Westwind Prep Academy) and Goodyer Millennium’s Elston Jones could all play mid-major basketball or higher, while Gilbert Christian’s Roberto Reyes, Cesar Chavez’s Pablo Rivas and Desert Mountain’s Rolando Rhymes could also end up playing Division I basketball.
Sam Jones said he wasn’t any good at basketball when he was little, and is fully appreciating the spot he and his classmates are in now.
“We got better and better, and now we’re getting recognized,” Jones said. “It’s always been a dream for people to know who you are. Not just in Arizona, because that’s already happened for most of us, but everywhere. We just went to Texas and people knew who we were. Dreams are coming true right now.”
There is no clear-cut star in the group like Jerryd Bayless (St. Mary’s) or Jahii Carson (Mesa), but several players have the potential to develop into difference-makers at the next level.
Dastrup’s stock rose with an impressive April in front of scouts and coaches, and he and Pickens were recently issued a spot in the invitation-only Nike Elite 100, an elite camp for the country’s best freshmen and sophomores.
Pickens took an unofficial visit to the University of Arizona last weekend, a school with a history of nabbing the best this state has to offer.
Benson said he could tell from early on that the Arizona players could compete on a national level.
“Since I was in fourth grade, I’ve been playing against kids from all across the country,” he said. “It was fun at a young age getting the exposure to all that. I’ve always thought there was a lot of good players in our class, just playing against everyone. Seeing (where everybody is) now, it’s pretty cool.”
Justice pledged to the Sun Devils as a freshman, but still wasn’t fully comfortable with his standing among the nation’s best until a few weeks ago.
That’s when he went to Las Vegas and played well against the Florida Rams, one of the best club basketball teams in the country. He did it while playing on a prestigious club team made up mostly of players from Calif.
“That’s the first time I played with the Compton (Calif.) Magic,” Justice said, “and they started me the next game.”
Get used to these players, because many will be helping their high school teams make deep postseason runs for the next two years. And it’s a tight-knit group.
While no class jewel stands out, the players speak glowingly of each other, happy to elevate in status together.
“With how great our class is doing, we can put Arizona back on the map,” Jones said. “Great players have come from Arizona: Jerryd Bayless. Mike Bibby. We’re bringing that back.”