1. Foothills Christian
Previous record: 25-5; CIF San Diego Open Division Champion
Key returners: Kale Baldado (6-6 Sr. PF), TJ Lowery (6-6 Jr. F), Jaren Nafarette (5-8 So. PG), Jordan Van Ommering (6-4 Sr. SG)
Key newcomers: Jaylen Hands (6-3 Sr. PG), Derrick Carter-Hollinger (6-5 So. WF), Dorian Blue (6-1 So. G), Kaleb Lowery (6-4 Fr. WF)
Key Departures: TJ Leaf, Luis Salgado, Omajae Smith, Nikko Paranada, Jordan Starr (transfer)
The skinny: How does a team that graduates a McDonald’s All American and its entire starting five open as the top team in the preseason? They bring in another (potential) McDonald’s All American in Jaylen Hands, and surround him with players that complement his skill set perfectly. Hands is one of the biggest matchup problems in the United States, let alone San Diego, with his ability to smoothly transition from scorer to facilitator. But the Knights aren’t a one-trick pony. TJ Lowery has made a big leap and is playing with a ton of confidence, Jordan Van Ommering is a deadly shooter, Kale Baldado is an energetic forward who will do the dirty work for the team, and Jaren Nafarette is a blur with the ball, giving the Knights two capable ball handlers. Of the other newcomers, expect Derrick Carter-Hollinger to have a major impact when he is eligible to play in January. The young sophomore forward is a high-end rebounder, versatile defender and scorer who will only grow in confidence playing alongside Hands.
The rub: The sit-out period. Both Carter-Hollinger and reserve guard Dorian Blue (a transfer from CV Lutheran) must sit out until January, meaning the Knights will only go six deep during the nonconference slate of games. Foul trouble or injury could spell doom for the Knights in big-time games.
2. St. Augustine
Previous record: 24-8 CIF Open Division Semifinalist, CIF State qualifier
Key Returners: Taeshon Cherry (6-8 Jr. F), Josue Lara (6-5 Sr. F), Jack Peterson (6-1 Sr. G), JT Cox (6-4 Sr. F), Otto Taylor (6-1 Sr. G), Tariq Thompson (6-0 Sr. G), Isaac Hall (6-2 Jr. G)
Key Newcomers: Chibuzo Agbo (6-6 Fr. F), Seth Hayes (6-4 So. W)
Key Departures: Eric Monroe, Martin Tombe
The skinny: The Saints have one of the top players on the West Coast in Taeshon Cherry, who has blossomed into a bona fide star after a spring and summer playing on the rugged Nike EYBL circuit. This is his team now, but this roster is talented and deep. Otto Taylor and Jack Peterson and sharpshooters who are also capable offensive initiators, Josue Lara is a Swiss Army Knife-like wing who can handle the ball and defend multiple positions and Thompson is an underrated agitator on the defensive side of the ball. Chibuzo Agbo is a future star, with his ability to score in the paint, knock down mid-range shots and rebound with the best of them. Expect he and Hayes to have significant roles off the bench.
The rub: The Saints graduated the most winningest duo in school history, Eric Monroe and Martin Tombe. That loss of experience – and with Monroe, the team’s lone true PG – is difficult for any team to overcome, but the Saints are well position to absorb the blow.
3. Cathedral Catholic
Previous record: 21-7, CIF Open Division Finalist, CIF State Regional quarterfinals
Key Returners: Brandon McCoy (7-0 Sr. C), Je’Von Figaro (6-2 Sr. G), Christian Moore (6-2 Sr. G), Zach Green (6-3 Sr. W), Dallas Cunningham (6-6 ½ Sr. F), Jake Edwards (6-2 Sr. G), Michael Madden (6-4 Jr. F)
Key Newcomers: none
Key Departures: Cameron Moore, Austin Beech, Reid Johnson, Kyle Kappes
The skinny: Anytime you have a 7-foot All American patrolling the middle, you are ahead of the game. Brandon McCoy is a true game-changing presence in the post and gives the Dons a player that will command double and triple teams on a regular basis. He is surrounded by an athletic, albeit unproven supporting cast. Je’Von Figaro, a starter on last year’s team that upset Sierra Canyon, has game-changing athleticism and has the potential to be an elite defender. Will Cunningham’s son, 6-foot-6 senior forward Dallas, is a sweet-shooting face-up four who missed all of last season due to a knee injury. Zach Green, son of the late NFL coach Dennis Green, possesses highlight-reel athleticism and budding perimeter skills. And Christian Moore, who transferred last year from Italy but played sparingly as a junior, returns with renewed confidence after a solid spring AAU season.
The rub: Cathedral’s fortunes rest as much with Figaro - whose decision making with the ball and shooting were questionable as a junior - as they do with McCoy. If Figaro turns the corner in both aspects, Cathedral could easily be the No. 1 team in the section, as very little separates teams 1-3. If he doesn’t, without a true point guard, Cathedral could struggle to unlock the team’s potential.
4. Torrey Pines
Previous record: 26-5, CIF Open Division Semifinalist
Key Returners: Jake Gilliam (6-10 Sr. C), Cade Shackleford (6-5 Sr. G), Hayden Helfrich (5-10 Sr. G), Ethan Esposito (6-6 Sr. W), Jacob Schneider (6-4 Sr. F)
Key Newcomers: Finn Sullivan (6-1 Jr. G), Bryce Pope (6-1 So. G), Michael Pope (6-1 So. G), Noah Viera (6-7 So. F)
Key Departures: Jackson Strong, Jack Heller, Steven Hickman, Dylan Bona
The skinny: Death, taxes and John Olive Torrey Pines teams has been the mantra in Carmel Valley, as the Falcons rarely skip a beat reloading one year to the next. This edition of the Torrey Pines team stars senior post Jake Gilliam, a skilled albeit ponderous post who anchors the team on both sides of the ball. Shackleford is a willing defender and streaky shooter. Helfrich is one of the feistiest competitors in the section and can fill it up with the best of them. But the game changer could be Esposito, a young 2017 prospect whose game has dramatically improved since moving from Italy three years ago. He has the athleticism and versatility to be a mismatch on offense, and gives the team the best athlete since Brandon Cyrus.
The rub: The Falcons have unproven depth. Finn Sullivan was one of the surprises of the fall and appears destined to follow in his brother Marek’s footsteps next year, but he is still a year away, as are the Pope twins, who are elite shooters but still must improve their play-making skills and defensive abilities. Viera, a transfer from St. Louis, is also unproven.
5. La Jolla Country Day
Previous record: 27-7, CIF Div. 2 Champions
Key returners: Ryan Langborg (6-4 So. G), Max Guinn (6-5 So. W), Matt Bender (6-8 So. F), Raymond Lu (5-10 So. PG), Alex Cho (6-1 Jr. G), Josiah Esselstrom (5-10 Sr. G), Marcus Perry (5-11 Sr. G)
Key newcomers: Jayson Taylor (6-9 So. C)
Key departures: Bruce Edwards
The skinny: You won’t find a team with a greater assemblage of offensive talent than the Torreys, which boast seven players that can shoot the ball with great efficiency. Langborg blossomed into a star as a freshman and is the team’s leading returning scorer. He is part of a sophomore quintet that has a ton of fire power: Bender is a load in the paint, Guinn is a versatile marksman, Lu is the unsung floor general and Taylor is a budding diamond in the rough. The upperclassmen are no slouches either, as Cho, Esselstrom and Perry have been battle tested through the years and can score the ball with the best of them.
The rub: The Torreys only lost one upperclassmen, but the loss was a big one. Edwards was the heart and soul of the surprise team of the section last year, and the Torreys will miss him most on the defensive end, where his versatility and ferocious competitive nature often proved to be the difference in tight games. None of the holdovers are known as great individual defenders (although Guinn has shown promise in that category) so it will take a team effort on that end to rekindle last year’s magic.
6. Mission Hills
Previous year: 12-17, CIF Div. 1 playoffs
Key returners: Cameron Wager (6-3 Sr. W), Domenic Magemeneas (6-5 Sr. F), Michael Molen (6-3 Sr. F), Alec Cherveny (6-0 Sr. G)
Key newcomers: Warren Washington (6-11 Jr. F), Ed Fenzi (6-0 Sr. PG), Chris Olave (6-1 Jr. G), Josh Olave (5-9 Sr. G)
Key departures: Tristan Hixon, Chandler Beus
The skinny: The Grizzlies will be a tale of two teams. The first team will be the one that takes the floor before Jan. 2, and the latter will be the one that suits up afterward. The first team is not a top-10 squad, although it is solid with the addition of the Olave brothers, football standouts who were banned from competition for a year by CIF on the gridiron, but who are eligible to play hoops immediately. After Jan. 2, the team becomes formidable with the addition of Washington, a versatile and wiry forward who is a Division 1 prospect, and Fenzi, a steely point guard who can score, distribute and defend with aplomb.
The rub: How quickly will the team gel after all its pieces are place, and can Washington, the Escondido transfer, transform into the star that his potential dictates he can be? There are also questions about Fenzi, who got into some trouble over the offseason. If everything falls into place, this team could have the talent to be the dark horse in the section.
Previous record: 19-11, CIF Div. 2 quarterfinalist
Key returners: Jaylen Arnold (6-5 Sr. F), Jamar Wynn (6-0 Sr. G), Dylan Lee (6-1 Sr. G), Amari Green (6-1 Jr. PG), Carson Baker (6-3 Jr. G/F), Isaiah Wooden (5-9 Jr. G)
Key newcomers: Miles Norris (6-9 Jr. F), Jaylen Hinson (6-2 Jr. G)
Key departures: Malik Tambwe-Ibarra, Justin Flisher
The skinny: The Highlanders finished the year on a high note, nearly knocking off La Jolla in the Division 2 quarterfinals if not for the heroics of one Reed Farley. And the outlook was bright even before the biggest transfer of the offseason occurred. But when Miles Norris checked into Helix after leaving Mater Dei Catholic, the outlook became that much brighter. He won’t suit up until January, but Norris, a presumptive Top-30 prospect in the 2018 class, has game-changing length and athleticism, and adds a dose of skill to a team that relied on physicality much of the season. Don’t forget about the addition of Hinson, who was one of Horizon’s leading scorers as a sophomore. The wiry guard can fill it up in a hurry and is also a lockdown defender.
The rub: Much like Mission Hills, Helix’s fate will depend on chemistry. Hinson is added to a team that was already deep with quality guards, including the underrated Green and Lee and the reliable Wynn. If they can share the ball, the Highlanders will be tough.
Previous record: 18-11, CIF Div. 1 Quarterfinals
Key returners: Taurus Samuels (6-0 Jr. PG), Isaiah Morris (5-11 Jr. PG), Jordan Hilstock (6-3 So. G), Cameron Henry (5-11 Sr. G), Nick Silk (6-5 Sr. F)
Key newcomers: Anthony Anderson (5-7 Sr. PG), Adolfo “Makana” Moreno (6-5 Jr. F) Tavare Miller-Perdue (6-2 Jr. W), Shane Coates (6-4 Jr. F), Antonio Green (6-2 Sr. G)
Key departures: none
The skinny: The Panthers season got off to a tumultuous start with a coaching change, but quickly was put back on track with the June hiring of longtime Mission Hills Associate Head Coach Anthony Bolton, a former Panther. Bolton inherits a team that has perhaps the deepest stable of guards in San Diego. Samuels has emerged as one of the top guards on the West Coast, Hilstock is one of the most formidable on-ball defenders in the region, Isaiah Morris is one of the more improved players in his class and Cameron Henry is a lights-out shooter. The Panthers also appear to have shored up their interior woes with the Otay Ranch transfer Moreno, an athletic hybrid forward who will provide just enough resistance in the paint to keep defenders honest.
The rub: The Panthers are the only top 10 team without a player over 6-5, which could hurt them if they make the Open Division playoffs. On the flipside, however, not many teams can match up with their guards, so the cross matchups should be interesting. Still, much of the rub will depend on the Panthers ability to keep rebounding and paint-scoring margins within reason.
Previous year: 24-9, CIF Open Division participant
Key returners: Zach Reiter (6-3 Jr. W), Derek Sit (6-0 Sr. PG), Jordan Cooke-Harper (6-8 Jr. F/C), Tyler Campion (5-11 Sr. G), Michael Salamy (6-3 Sr. F), Ryan Dalton (6-5 Jr. F)
Key newcomers: Hayden Chinn (6-0 Jr. G)
Key departures: Gerrit Grissen, Joe Murray, Eli Hamson, Tim Mills (transferred to Crawford)
The skinny: If La Jolla Country Day was the section’s surprise, the Titans were a close second, seemingly coming out of nowhere in the post-Dalton Soffer era to earn a seventh seed in the Open Division playoffs. It was during the postseason where the future of the team became apparent, when Reiter, a bruising and versatile wing, strung together an impressive set of 25+ point performances for the Titans, which also earned a state playoff berth. But an even bigger development (literally) was the growth of Cooke-Harper, the son of former NBA star Ron Harper, who returned to school at a legit 6-8 and looks far more assertive on both ends. Derek Sit is one of the more underappreciated senior talents who can score it and facilitate the offense.
The rub: Last year’s team worked so well because of its chemistry and the selflessness among the team’s players, a very egalitarian system. The question becomes can the holdovers resist the urge to put themselves over the greater good of the team, and which of the young players will rise into the “glue guy” roles that Murray, Grissen and Hamson played so well last year.
10. Santa Fe Christian
Previous year: 11-18 CIF Division 1 quarterfinals
Key returners: Charles Dudley (6-5 Sr. F), Demitri Washington (6-6 F), Matt Stevenson (6-4 F), TJ Askey (6-4 W), Owen Aschieris (6-0 PG), Derek Moore (6-0 G)
Key newcomers: Jack McRoskey (6-0 G)
Key departures: Bret Johnson
The skinny: The Eagles took their lumps last year in the rugged Coastal League after losing Stevenson, the team's toughest player, to a season-ending shoulder injury during the fall. But Stevenson is back, and the group has experience, size and high-IQ play. Point guard Owen Aschieris is one of the region's most underappreciated talents, and senior post Charles Dudley, who recently announced a commitment to Bryant University, is a bruiser down low with post moves reminiscent of his father, former NBA standout Chris Dudley. Washington is a beast in the paint who is also a standout on the gridiron as a defensive end. Add into the mix an intriguing junior wing in TJ Askew, and Santa Fe Christian might be a dark horse in the Coastal League. This could be the Eagles best unit since two players named Grant Corsi and Justin Byrd.
The rub: The Eagles have skill, shooting and depth, but the one major question will be how the Eagles handle teams with collective speed, as there are no burners on the team.
Previous year: 14-14 CIF Division 1 playoffs
Key returners: Malik Parsons (6-1 Sr. PG), Michael Singletary (6-0 Sr. PG), Alex Dumas (6-1 Sr. PG), Terrell Smith (6-3 Sr. G), Rayquan Everett (6-5 Jr. W), Torrance Farr (6-4 Jr. F), George McCorley (6-3 Sr. F)
Key newcomers: Marquese Patmon (6-0 Fr. PG)
Key departures: Thai Bell-Brown, Moli Mojus
The skinny: Lincoln made a statement out of the gate defeating Francis Parker twice in early season play, but faded in a very strong Western League before bowing out of the playoffs with an early home loss to a woefully under-seeded Escondido team. Now, the Hornets bring back almost all their contributors back and pack a serious punch with their first five. Parsons, Dumas and Singletary are equally adept scorers and playmakers for others, and Smith has developed into a big-time threat on the wing. Everett is a promising young wing who is the default big for the Hornets, but presents a mismatch on the offensive end with his mid-range scoring ability.
The rub: Depth and interior play will be issues for the Hornets this season. But much of that can be ameliorated if Farr, an intriguing wing prospect with a nice pop of athleticism, takes the next step.