Now that we’ve had some time to process all that was state championship weekend, here’s what stood out to me in the 2014-15 season, and what to look for down the road:
Corona del Sol Boys Dominate:
The Aztecs were the best high school basketball team I’ve seen. Not in 2015, and not as a reporter. Ever. Their title run was nothing short of dominant. Three of the top five players in the state were in this starting lineup. Senior Dane Kuiper is an athletic, long, big man whose defense set the tone for the Aztecs. Sophomore Alex Barcello was lethal beyond the arc and, thanks to incredible body control, made the craziest of circus shots look basic. And how can we forget freshman big man Marvin Bagley III? Jumpin’ Joe Caldwell’s grandson is among the country’s top prospects as a freshman.
Kuiper is moving on to play at University of New Mexico, as well as fellow senior starter Cassius Peat, who will be playing football at Michigan State. Don’t expect the Aztecs to go away, though. Barcello and Bagley are among the nations’s elite prospects, and could be some of the best players to ever come out of the state.
— Brad Cesmat (@bradcesmat) March 11, 2015
Along with junior “glue-guy” Tyrell Henderson, there is plenty of talent returning to wreak havoc on the Arizona prep scene for years to come.
Chargers Aren’t Just ‘Tock
The McClintock Chargers came back on the radar in Division-II. The junior backcourt of Amiri Chukwuemeka and Malique Washington were gargantuan in the 18 wins for the Chargers. The duo averaged 43 points per game, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists per game. They have the versatility to assume either guard role, but Washington prefers being the distributor and defense, and Chukwuemeka is deadly beyond the arc. It will be tough to top their junior campaign, but I’m excited to see what senior year has in store for them.
Dobson Girls Stampede To State
The state champion Mustangs take the word “team” to heart. Watching their playoff run was nothing short of amazing. With 10 seniors on the roster, Dobson’s depth, experience, and perseverance was obvious. The defense was suffocating, physical and aggravating, which led to the Mustangs to own the fourth quarter. The Mustangs had to make comebacks in the quarterfinal, semifinal, and championship games, but thanks to their relentless heart and top-notch conditioning, opponents looked deflated in the second half.
Sentinels Set Up Nicely
The Seton Catholic girls basketball team found themselves in another state title bout in 2015. Unfortunately for the Sentinels, they weren’t able to notch another state title. But don’t expect them to go away. Leading scorer, and sister of above-mentioned Alex Barcello, Sarah Barcello is a freshman. And the next three leading scorers, post players LeeAnne and Jenn Wirth; and point guard Liz Holter, are all sophomores. The Wirth twins have three older sisters who have played collegiately, and LeeAnne and Jenn possess the physical attributes to be dominant post players, but the ball-handling and shooting skills of shooting guards. Head coach Karen Self has the pieces and resume to cement themselves as championship contenders for many years to come.
Point Guard Showcase
The two best high school basketball performances I saw this year came in the same game. On February 2nd, Corona’s Alex Barcello and Perry’s Markus Howard were slated to go head-to-head in what was projected to be a game full of fireworks.
They did not disappoint.
Barcello dropped 51 points, Howard had 47. What was most impressive about Barcello’s game was the efficiency with which he scored. And for Howard, it was amazing to watch him navigate around, within, and sometimes through an incredibly tenacious and deep Corona defense. These two sophomores are already receiving plenty of well-deserved attention from big-time Division-I schools. When these two square off in the future, do yourself a favor and show up to that game.
Thank me later.
Looking Ahead –
Arizona is about to absolutely blow up in the high school basketball scene in a big, big way. Here are some of the reasons why so many are excited for the Valley’s hoops future:
Over at Corona del Sol, Barcello has picked up offers from the likes of Arizona and Creighton, and Bagley nabbed offers from Arizona, Creighton, Connecticut and UCLA.
Perry’s Markus Howard was committed to Arizona State, but recently re-opened his commitment. Expect the offers to come flooding in for the state’s leading scorer.
Saint Mary’s Marcus Shaver is another point guard getting plenty of attention. At 23 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists per game, how could he not?
These are some of the underclassmen that have catapulted themselves into the spotlight, expect more as this class progresses.
Junior Talent at Division-II Powers
State champion Gilbert Christian has a pair of juniors going to Division-I programs in Mitchell Lightfoot and Cameron Satterwhite. Lightfoot is a lanky big man who averages nearly 18 points and 10 rebounds per contest and makes his presence known on both sides of the ball. He has given his verbal to New Mexico, the same school as Corona’s Dane Kuiper. Satterwhite, who also averages 18 points per game and is a versatile small forward, recently gave the nod to Colorado. They were both crucial to the title run in 2015, and they will look to repeat as seniors.
The main competition for Gilbert Christian next year will be Shadow Mountain. The Matadors return one of the most dynamic backcourts in the state with juniors J.J. Rhymes and Michael Bibby. Rhymes averaged 21 points per game. Bibby, the son of Arizona Wildcat great and NBA point guard Mike Bibby, averaged 15 points per game in limited time due to an injury.
These two teams faced off in the 2015 semifinal round, where Gilbert Christian bested Shadow Mountain, 87-74. Odds are these teams will battle for Division-II supremacy in 2015-16.
Junior football stars N’Keal Harry and Byron Murphy have received plenty of attention on the gridiron. Harry, a receiver for Chandler, and Murphy, a wide receiver/defensive back for Saguaro, both notched state championship wins, and return as top football recruits in 2015.
But they also impressed on the basketball court.
Murphy put up nearly 15 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds per game for the 18-10 Sabercats. Saguaro basketball returns plenty of talent including Murphy, sophomore Jake Lieppert and junior Kenneth Arrick for 2016.
Harry led the Wolves in scoring and rebounding, putting up 22 points and nearly 11 boards per game. At 6’4”, 209 lbs, he used the same size, strength and speed he punished defensive backs with on opposing big men.
It seems as though these two will have futures on the football field, but what they are accomplishing on the court ain’t bad either.
So, another basketball season in the books. Is it time for summer league yet?