The team portion of the boys basketball summer season has come to an end, as the players now split up and travel the nation with their club ball teams for the July evaluation period.
Attendance can be sporadic during summer tournaments, but there were teams that made a favorable impression in the month of June. While there will inevitably be injuries, transfers and other developments in the next few months, here is an early look at a the Tribune’s Division I top-5 if the season began this week:
All eyes were on Jaron Hopkins and Torren Jones this offseason after a coaching change at Basha had them considering their transfer options. The duo pulled the trigger in late May, heading over to Dobson to join current Arizona State commitment Kodi Justice. The Big Three makes the Mustangs an automatic contender on talent alone. Dobson is also expected to add Perry junior shooting guard Ryan Richardson. Richardson said Tuesday he plans to transfer to the school, which would add another standout player to the talented ensemble. There are questions, though. Basha had just as much talent a season ago but lost in the second round of the state tournament to Perry. Jones and Hopkins are elite individual players but Basha bogged down late against teams that moved the ball and slowed the game down. Rick McConnell is one of the best coaches in the state, and if he gets Hopkins and Jones to work well with their new teammates, Dobson could very well win it all. If not, another underachieving season would put a damper on Hopkins and Jones’ high school careers. And this assumes Hopkins and Jones will play for Dobson. Speculation continues that Hopkins has options to transfer to some of the top prep schools across the country, and his departure would disrupt Dobson greatly. Furthermore, if Jones and Hopkins’ transfers are deemed to be athletically-related, the Arizona Interscholastic Association could choose to rule the pair ineligible for their senior seasons.
The Pioneers went 30-4 last year and made it to the Division I semifinals, and in reality were the second best team in the division to Corona del Sol all year. Pinnacle loses Northern Colorado-bound forward Cody McDavis and guards Kevin Bowman and Chris Klima. With Drew Bender and Dorian Pickens back, Pinnacle will once again aim for the state crown. Much depends on role players like Trey Ingram and Lee Andari, who will be asked to step up this year, but a tournament championship at the Mesa Summer PrimeTime event a couple weeks back showed that the Pioneers are a worthy No. 1 as the offseason winds down.
The Jackrabbits were the surprise team of the summer, winning the championship at Arizona State’s team camp and then losing to Pinnacle in the finals of the PrimeTime. Mesa went just 14-13 last season and missed the playoffs, but may have the most talented starting five in the state. Sophomore Jalen Jenkins has already picked up an offer from Arizona State and will lead countless fast breaks this year. D.J. Henderson and Christian Harris should lead the team in scoring, and their outside shooting and ability to score in the halfcourt could make or break the season. Isaac Allen, a 6-foot-10 forward, is still developing, but is an interior presence on both sides of the court who will impact games by his height alone. Felipe Velazco rounds out the deep starting unit. Henderson, Allen and Harris played on the Jahii Carson-led semifinal team of two years ago, but this will be their first year as leaders of a top squad. Desmond Medder is the only key defection.
4. Corona del Sol
The defending state champions graduated Tribune Player of the Year Calaen Robinson and big men Avery Moss and Andrus Peat. Junior Casey Benson is one of the most polished high school players in the state and is primed for a big year now that he is the go-to guy. The Aztecs will be buoyed by incoming transfer Ashton Howard, who averaged 14.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last year at Las Vegas Bonanza. Cassius Peat and Bryan Siefker are also expected to be key contributors. Corona del Sol won’t have the same inside presence now that Moss and Peat have left, but the team is well-coached and should have good balance. With Benson as the catalyst, the Aztecs seemed primed for another very good season.
5. Desert Mountain
The Wolves finished 20-10 last year, advancing to the Section III finals and the second round of the state tournament before getting knocked off by Corona del Sol. Leading scorer Diego Magana is back, and Desert Mountain will get a big boost from Rolando Rhymes, a talented point guard who pushes the team into the preseason top-5. The Wolves are patient and execute well on offense and have the type of talent this year to really make a run. Coaches raved about them during the recent Best In Basketball Summer Invitational at Red Mountain, where the Wolves finished 5-0.
Others to watch: Cesar Chavez, Mountain View, Gilbert, Desert Vista, Red Mountain, Brophy.