A (kinda) early FTH Preseason Top 10
This is the year.
Since the Class of 2016 suited up as freshmen in 2012, prognosticators have pegged this season as the year a San Diego team could potentially make noise in the state playoff picture.
True to form, it appears that this year might be the case, and there are not one, not two, but potentially three teams that have a chance to join the state's elite teams.
There are still a lot of moving parts that need to be sorted out, largely CIF's transfer approval process running its course, but, it's still not too early to try to put together a pecking order of the very best teams in San Diego, assuming the best case scenario for all of the teams.
Without further ado, here is Full-Time Hoops picks for the SD Top 10.
1. Foothills Christian
Last year's record: 24-8, 11-1 Coastal League; CIF Div. 2 Champions
Key returners: TJ Leaf (6-10 Sr. F); Omajae Smith (6-5 Sr. W); Luis Salgado (6-6 Sr. W); Nikko Paranada (5-10 Sr. PG); Jordan Starr (6-7 So. W); Kale Baldado (6-6 Jr. W); TJ Lowery (6-5 So. F); Jordan Van Ommering (6-3 Jr. SG); Javier Guerrero (6-2 Sr. PG)
Key departures: none
Key additions: Jaren Nafarette (5-7 Fr. PG)
Why they'll win: The Knights return every player from a team that was 30 seconds away from pulling off an upset in the state open division playoffs against Etiwanda. That includes Leaf, who is projected to be San Diego's first McDonald's All American since Chase Budinger. Leaf is surrounded with an underrated supporting cast that complements his diverse skillset. Watch out for Jordan Starr in Year 2. The 6-7 point forward will need to take the next step for Foothills to really take off.
Why they won't: The only thing that would derail Foothills' aspirations would be an injury to Leaf, but even then, the supporting cast is good enough to warrant Top 10 consideration in San Diego.
2. Cathedral Catholic
Last year's record: 17-9, 9-3 Western League; CIF Div. 1 quarterfinalists
Key returners: Cameron Moore (6-0 Sr. PG); Reid Johnson (6-6 Sr. PF); Austin Beech (6-6 Sr. W); Dallas Cunningham (6-6 Jr. F); Matthew Elliot (6-7 Jr. PF); Peter Xue (6-8 Sr. PF/C); Kyle Kappes (6-0 Sr. SG)
Key departures: Jacoby Richmond, Johnny Harris
Key additions: Brandon McCoy (7-0 Jr. C); JeVon Figaro (6-2 Jr. G); Christian Moore (6-2 Jr. G)
Why they'll win: Two words: Brandon McCoy. The junior center has blossommed into a potential All American level propsect after a stellar summer, and joins a Dons team that returns most of its meaningful pieces from last year, including the underrated trio of Moore, Johnson and Beech. McCoy's arrival also coincides with the addition of two other impressive pieces, Moore and Figaro, the latter who could become a coveted prospect due to his top-end athleticism and defensive prowess. Junior face-up forward Dallas Cunningham, who has been injured throughout his career, is an under-the-radar prospect that has he skill and upside scouts covet.
Why they won't: Chemistry. Anytime a team has an influx of talent, it takes time for the pieces to gel. How fast the Dons are able to do this will determine how good this team can really be.
3. St. Augustine
Last year's record: 25-7, 11-1 Western League; CIF Open Div. Champions
Key returners: Eric Monroe (6-2 Sr. PG); Martin Tombe (6-6 Sr. F); Otto Taylor (6-1 Jr. SG); Taeshon Cherry (6-8 So. F); Josue Lara (6-5 Jr. W); Tariq Thompson (6-0 Jr. PG); Jack Peterson (6-1 Jr. SG); JT Cox (6-3 Jr. W); Daniel Lara (6-5 Sr. F); Grant Aikels (6-2 Sr. G)
Key departures: Daniel Caya
Key additions: Isaac Hall (6-2 Soph (JV) G)
Why they'll win: Coaching and chemistry. You can argue that we have the Saints two spots too low. While they do not have the singular talent that the Dons and Knights have with McCoy and Leaf, St. Augustine boasts arguably the deepest team in San Diego, spearheaded by Yale commit Monroe, stalwart forward Tombe; sharpshooters Taylor and Peterson, jack-of-all-trades wing Lara, and Cherry, one of the top sophomores in the state. The Saints defied odds as the 6 seed to win the inaugural D1 title, a testament to the coaching of Mike Haupt, one of the state's finest high school coaches.
Why they won't: Size. Cherry, who's a natural wing or face-up four, is the tallest player at 6-8, and doesn't have the strength and size to bang with Leaf or McCoy in a head-to-head. If the Saints are to contend with the teams ahead of them, it will take a team effort on the defensive end to neutralize the advantage on the boards that the Dons and Knights should possess.
4. Army Navy Academy
Last year's record: 26-7, 9-3 Coastal League; CIF Open Division Semifinalists
Key returners: Richard Polanco (6-7 Jr. F); Aziz Seck (6-7 Sr. F); Ed Fenzi (5-11 Jr. PG); Connor McClurg (6-2 Sr. G); Juan Carlos Canahuate (5-11 So. PG)
Key departures: Caleb Morris
Key additions: None
Why they'll win: First-year Warriors head coach Bobby Huggins (longtime assistant) has been gifted one of themost talented starting lineups in Southern California, buoyed by the talented, albeit mercurial, Polanco, and the athletic defensive presence Seck. Fenzi is a solid floor general and McClurg is a steady senior influece. The wild card is Canahuate, a gifted flashy playmaker who is still trying to strike the balance of fundamental play and individual brilliance.
Why they won't: Depth. Behind the starting five are major question marks, so any injuries to their core would be potentially devastating.
5. Torrey Pines
Last year's record: 31-4, 10-0 Palomar League; CIF Open Division Finalists
Key returners: Jackson Strong (6-4 Sr. SG); Jack Heller (6-3 Sr. SG); Steven Hickman (5-10 Sr. PG); Jake Gilliam (6-10 Jr. C); Dylan Bona (6-2 Sr. G); Jordan Shen (6-2 Sr. W)
Key departures: Dominic Hovasse, Jack Beach, Timmy Saunders, Marek Sullivan, Connor Milmoe
Key additions: Hayden Helfrich (5-9 Jr. PG; Canyon Crest); Cade Shackleford (6-5 Jr. SG- JV); Ethan Esposito (6-4 Jr. F- JV)
Why they'll win: As John Olive has shown year in and year out, it doesn't matter who is in a Falcons jersey, they will win. And this group, is actually underrated from a talent perspective. Strong and Heller are lethal shooters with decent size; Jake Gilliam is a massive presence in the post who has made big strides over the past couple of years; but what really can make them go is Helfrich, a high-IQ point guard who blends craftiness and a lethal pull-up jumper game. A convincing win over Escondido without Strong during the fall is proof that the Falcons don't rebuild, they reload.
Why they won't: CIF. The governing body of high school athletics is investigating Helfrich's transfer from conference foe Canyon Crest Academy, and could hand down a one-year suspension if it determines the transfer violated CIF rules, per sources. Torrey Pines is one of three teams whose prospects hang in the balance of CIF rulings: Foothills Christian already lost 2017 PG Jaylen Hands to Balboa Prep after the Section ruled he was ineligible for a year; and Orange Glen, a trendy favorite for the Division 2 title, is waiting to hear whether transfer forward Nikola Kresovic is eligible or has to sit out a year. If Helfrich does have to sit, Hickman, a senior guard with tons of savvy, will have to take a leap in his final year in order for the Falcons to realize its promise.
Last year's record: 23-7, 9-1 Avocado East; CIF Division 1 Champions
Key returners: Marcus Hentley (6-1 Sr. G); Keegan Cummins (6-9 Sr. PF/C); Warren Washington (6-9 So. PF); Andrew Dean (6-5 Sr. F); Ryan Dean (6-6 Sr. F); Marcus Heintschel (6-2 Sr. G)
Key departures: Khy Kabellis, JD "Cheese Fox," Fernando Diaz
Key additions: None
Why they'll win: Size matters, and the Cougars have it in spades, starting with the steadily improving duo of Cummins and Washington, who is establishing himself as one of the top sophomore bigs in the state. The Dean twins have also improved, and at 6-5 and 6-6 respectively, they could be major late bloomers cut from the mold of Matt Duniphan, who graduated in 2014. The catalyst to the operation is Hentley, a tremendous scoring guard who is receiving Division 1 and 2 interest.
Why they won't: Intangibles. When the Cougars made their run last season, it was predicated on the unselfishness of senior PG Khy Kabellis, who is now at North Dakota State, and underrated defenders JD Fox and Fernando Diaz. Hentley, known more for his scoring, will have to sacrifice some of that scoring to allow Washington to flourish much like Kabellis did for Cummins last season.
7. Mission Bay
Last year's record: 21-5, 9-3 Western League; CIF Open Division qualifier
Key returners: Justin Moore (6-4 Sr. PG); Devin Hilliard (6-1 Sr. G); Armstrong Ojunkwu (6-9 Sr. C); Jefree Johnson (6-5 Sr. F)
Key departures: James Burdette, Michael Polinski, Max Zambrano
Key additions: Marcus Nickerson (5-9 Jr. PG - JV); Jerome Sherman II (6-2 Sr. G- Serra); Rejean Ellis (5-9 Fr. PG); Tyrese Wells (6-0 Jr. SG- JV)
Why they'll win: Moore is one of the best players in San Diego, period. The tall, lanky point guard presents a mismatch with his size, and should be able to get into the lane at will off the dribble or the screen and roll with the massive Ojunkwu, who is also improved. Devin Hilliard is the underrated piece here. His ability to shoot it from deep as well as off the dribble makes him an excellent back court complement to Moore, as does his lockdown defense on the perimeter. Sherman adds an intriguing piece to the Bucs with his athletic slashing ability and streaky three-point shooting.
Why they won't: Shooting. Moore, Hilliard and Sherman are each very streaky from the perimeter, so if they struggle to hit shots, teams will pack in the defense and dare them to beat them from outside. This makes role players like Wells, a noted marksman with a slow-ish release, and the gifted scoring guard Ellis critical to Mission Bay's successes.
8. El Camino
Last year's record: 20-6, 6-2 Avo West; CIF Open Division Qualifier
Key returners: Sean Birk (6-0 Sr. PG); Eric Pierce (6-5 Sr. G); Jalen Flanagan (6-2 So. G); Luke Arvidson (6-3 Sr. SG)
Key departures: Quen Meadows, Sam Bockman
Key additions: Trevor McFeely (6-5 Jr. F- JV); DeVante Shepherd (6-6 Jr. F- JV)
Why they'll win: With perennial league champion La Costa Canyon having its first rebuilding season in nearly a decade, El Camino has enough returning talent to assume the top spot in the Avo West. Sean Birk is coming off a strong summer campaign and looks to be one of the breakout senior stars. Speaking of breakout stars, watch out for Eric Pierce. The 6-5 combination guard is a late-bloomer who should see Division 1 and Division 2 interest rise throughout the year, and has the potential to be a special player at the college level. Flanagan has started to receive Division 1 interest and is the next star for the Wildcats, which has had a long list of them under Ray Johnson and now Tom Tarantino.
Why they won't: Depth. Outside of the four returners, questions abound. Those might be answered by McFeely and Shepherd, a pair of very young 2017 prospects (both turned 16 this fall), who have the size and athleticism to become solid pieces, but must improve skill set and consistency.
9. Francis Parker
Last year's record: 19-8, 8-4 Coastal League; CIF Division 1 Semifinalists
Key returners: Tim Harrison (6-9 Sr. F); Andrew Cross (6-1 Sr. G); Jonathan Taylor (5-10 Sr. G); Michael Pelaiz (6-0 Sr. PG); Matt Brady (5-10 So. SG); Jack Brady (5-10 Jr. SG)
Key departures: Paulo Cruz, Khaleel Jenkins
Key additions: Jacob Jovien (6-4 Fr. W)
Why they'll win: The pick-and-roll combination of Pelaiz and Harrison is one of the most effective in San Diego. Harrison, who recently committed to Rice; is a versatile forward who can score inside and outside, and, when engaged, can be a formidable rim protector with his length and athleticism. Pelaiz, a heady lead guard, is a gifted passer who is coming into his own as a scorer. Cross is a bulldog of a combination guard who can score off the dribble with the best of them in San Diego. Taylor finally appears to be back to 100 percent after tearing his Achilles tendon as a sophomore.
Why they won't: Depth. Much like Army Navy, the Lancers have a threadbare bench, so any injury to one of the four aforementioned returners will hurt. The big question mark will be who is the fifth starter. Matt Brady is coming off of a solid summer and fall and shoots it with the best of them, while Jovien provides athleticism and size alongside Harrison.
10. San Marcos
Last year's record: 26-4, 9-1 Avo East; CIF Open Division qualifiers
Key returners: Johnny McWilliams (6-5 Sr. SG); Jason Simmrin (6-5 Sr. PF); Kelly Kehoe (6-1 Sr. F); Josh Ramirez (6-3 Sr. SG); Kody Clouet (6-0 So. PG)
Key departures: Mikey Howell- Torn ACL, Stefan Zivkovic, Nikola Zivkovic
Key additions: Wyatt Wilson (5-11 So. G- JV); Trevor Phillips (6-0 So. W- JV)
Why they'll win: San Marcos was a consensus Top 5 team in San Diego until word came down that Howell, a brilliant playmaker and the catalyst of the Knights offense, tore his ACL during grassroots basketball. Still, McWilliams, an elite scorer who has committed to Fresno State, has shown at times that he can singlehandedly carry the team. He wll have help in the form of Simmrin, a big-bodied forward who can stretch the floor with his three-point shooting, and a senior sleeper in Ramirez, who has blossomed into a versatile wing in his final year.
Why they won't: Point guard play. Howell's loss can't be understated, as he was the team's primary floor general since his sophomore year. The point guard duties will be handled by committee, but much will be asked of sophomore Kody Clouet, a smooth shooter who has improved steadily on the ball.
Honorable mention: Vista, Grossmont, Mater Dei Catholic, Kearny, San Ysidro, Rancho Bernardo, Mira Mesa, Morse, Orange Glen, La Jolla Country Day
Other teams of note by region and Division:
North County: Mission Vista, Rancho Buena Vista, Mission Hills, Carlsbad, Ramona, Santa Fe Christian
Central: Point Loma, Madison, La Jolla, Preuss (DV), Bishop's, Horizon
South County: Sweetwater; Bonita Vista, Eastlake, Montgomery; High Tech High (DV), Lutheran (D4)
East County: Helix, West Hills, El Capitan (D4), Steele Canyon