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Knights and Panthers and Bucs, Oh My - Full-Time Hoops Preseason Top 10

So, remember that early Preseason Top 10 we published a few weeks ago?

Well, it turned out to be just that - early.

A lot has changed since then - well, one thing has changed actually, but it's reverberations are still being felt across San Diego's prep hoops landscape.

Taeshon Cherry, the region's top prospect and reigning CIF Player of the Year, shocked the hoops scene when he checked out of St. Augustine and checked into Foothills Christian.

The move was unprecedented in San Diego: the closest comparable scenario was Devin Watson leaving Army Navy Academy for El Camino a day before school started in 2013.

Cherry transfer immediately impacts the future of not only the two teams involved, but all of the teams in the Top 10. And, with news coming out today that Cherry would be immediately eligible and not have to sit 30 days, it vaults the Knights to our Preseason No. 1 ranking.

The No. 2 and No. 3 teams, however, are no slouches, and aren't going to wilt quietly. Vista and Mission Bay are teams that rely heavily on their back court depth, but they are very talented back courts, each with at least one Division 1 player in the fold.

With this as the backdrop, we reveal our preseason Top 10.

1. Foothills Christian

Last Season: 24-7, 9-1 League; CIF Open Division Semifinalists, CIF State First Round

Key Returners: Jaren Nafarette (5-7 2019 PG), Derrick Carter-Hollinger (6-5 2019 WF), Dorian Blue (6-1 2019 G)

Key Departures: TJ Lowery, Kaleb Lowery, Jaylen Hands, Kale Baldado, Jordan Van Ommering

Key Newcomers: Derrien Carter-Hollinger (6-3 2021 G/F), Taeshon Cherry (6-9 2018 WF), Yassine Gharram (6-2 2020 PG), Jalai O'Keith (6-3 2020 WF)

The Skinny: The Knights don't rebuild. They reload. This year, they did so in a big way, bringing in Cherry, CIF Player of the Year, by way of St. Augustine. But the reload did not stop there. Yassine Gharram is one of the section's rising stars and O'Keith and Carter-Hollinger will add depth on the back end. Derrick Carter Hollinger has quietly become one of the top junior prospects in the class, and will blossom with Cherry serving as a mentor.

The Rub: Chemistry. Adding such a major piece to the puzzle this close to the start of the season is all upside, but players must now buy in to their complementary roles. How soon it happens will dictate how far this team will go.

2. Vista

Last Season: 28-5, 9-1 League; CIF Open Division Semifinalists, CIF State Second Round

Key Returners: Taurus Samuels (6-0 2018 PG), Isaiah Morris (5-11 2018 PG), Jordan Hilstock (6-3 2019 G), Tavare Miller-Perdue (6-4 2018 F), Shane Coats (6-5 2018 F)

Key Departures: Cameron Henry, Anthony Anderson

Key Newcomers: Makiah Morris (6-1 2019 G), Maqui Taylor (6-1 2019 G/F) Carter Starnes (6-3 2019 F), Fletcher Pope (6-5 2019 F)

The Skinny: The Panthers were one basket away from a CIF State Regional Semifinals berth, and return the best back court trio in the Section in Samuels, a Dartmouth signee, Morris, signed to CSU Dominguez, and Hilstock, who is courting several Division 1 programs. The unheralded bigs, Moreno and Coats, are underrated pieces.

The Rub: Which of the young guards will step up behind the Big 3. Henry and Anderson were big pieces of the puzzle last year, and guards like Morris and Taylor will need to be ready to play critical minutes in the Panthers tough schedule.

3. Mission Bay

Last Season: 19-11, 5-5 League: CIF Division 1 Quarterfinals

Key Returners: Rejean "Boogie" Ellis (6-2 2019 PG), Andre Scott (6-1 2019 PG), Jaymarree "Jay" Norton (6-1 2019 G), Ronnie Latting (6-7 2019 C), Savaughn Davis (6-2 2020 G)

Key Departures: Marcus Nickerson

Key Newcomers: Chivic Taylor (6-4 2020 F), Trae Taylor (6-4 2020 F), Michael Barcia (6-3 2019 WF)

The Skinny: Last year, the "Young Bucs" exceeded expectations, competing in a tough Western League, including a 20-point throttling of preseason Top 10 Cathedral Catholic. They fell to an experienced Lincoln team by 1 in the Division 1 playoffs. Flash forward a year later, and almost every major contributor on the team is a year older, wiser and stronger. Ellis is a bona fide star, with Division 1 offers from San Diego State, Tulane USD and others with several high major programs monitoring his progress. His fellow juniors, Scott, Latting, Barcia (Scripps Ranch transfer) and Norton are much improved prospects who have tons of chemistry.

The Rub: Depth. Beyond the top six, the Bucs have unproven youngsters in the Taylors (no relation). If Latting gets in foul trouble, one of the two must emerge as a trustworthy fill-in for coach Marshawn Cherry.

4. San Marcos

Last Season: 18-11, 5-5 League: CIF Division 1 Quarterfinals

Key Returners: Kody Clouet (6-4 2018 SG), Elijah Randall (6-4 2020 G), Cody Mathis (6-8 2018 C), Ryan Hagood (6-5 2018 F), Ryan Orlando (6-3 2018 F), Kyle Snyder (6-6 2018 C), Will Corbin (6-3 2020 SG)

Key Departures: Zander Corbin

Key Newcomers: Chris Howell (6-5 2021 PG), Brady Williams (5-8 2020 PG)

The Skinny: San Marcos' worst season in recent memory ended with a 25-point drubbing to eventual D-1 Champion Santa Fe Christian in the D1 quarters, but almost every player of note returns. This team is big, long and deep. Clouet, the senior sharpshooter, has grown 2 inches and is a bona fide college prospect. And the team's weakness last year, point guard play, is addressed with arguably the top prospect in the 2021 class, the 6-5 Howell. This could be San Marcos' best team in the last 10 years, and that is saying something.

The Rub: Team speed. The Knights are big, but have a lot of slow-footed forwards, which could be an issue when matched up against superior team speed.

5. St. Augustine

Last Season: 28-5, 12-0 League: CIF Open Division Champions, CIF State Open Division Quarterfinals

Key Returners: Chibuzo Agbo (6-7 2020 F), Kimo Ferrari (5-11 2020 PG), Luke Haupt (6-5 2020 F), Alex Dennis (6-5 2020 F), Seth Hayes (6-4 2019 WF)

Key Departures: Taeshon Cherry, Otto Taylor, Jack Peterson, Josue Lara, Tariq Thompson

Key Newcomers: Tyson McWilliams (6-1 2020 SG), Declan Bretz (6-0 2020 PG)

The Skinny: The sudden departure of Cherry obviously hurts, but the Saints have a very talented, albeit young, team. Coach Mike Haupt is arguably the section's top coach along with John Olive, so you can count on the Saints to be ready to go and contend for an Open Division title. Agbo is a special talent, but the X-factor looks to be Ferrari, arguably the fastest point guard in the section.

The Rub: Experience. With only one junior of note, Hayes, this is one of the youngest teams in the section. One of the team's youngsters will need to emerge as a leader to fill the void left by not only Cherry's departure, but the host of seniors who also moved on.

6. Torrey Pines

Last Season: 28-5, 10-0 League: CIF Open Division Finalist; CIF State Open Division First Round

Key Returners: Finn Sullivan (6-4 2018 G), Bryce Pope (6-2 2019 G), Michael Pope (6-2 2019 G), Kevin Kampfer (2019 G/F), Noah Viera (6-7 2019 C)

Key Departures: Jake Gilliam, Ethan Esposito, Hayden Helfrich, Jackson Perron, Cade Kinney-Shackleford

Key Newcomers: Brandon Angel (6-5 2020 G/F), Nick Herrmann (6-1 2020 PG), Luke Stratton (6-4 2020 F), Sebastian Fayer (6-5 2021 F)

The Skinny: Death, Taxes and John Olive. Year in and year out, the Falcons exceed expectations due to better-than-advertised players and a system that extracts the best out of them. This year, Sullivan, a crafty and underrated lead guard, heads the system, flanked by one of the best scorers in the junior class in Bryce Pope. His twin brother Michael is a knockdown shooter in his own right.

The Rub: Depth, especially in the front court. Behind Viera, who is entering his first full varsity season, is a sea of unknown. Fayer, a freshman who has been the subject of a lot of preseason buzz, could be asked to play early if Viera and others don't get it done.

7. Mater Dei Catholic

Last Season: 23-6, 12-0 League: CIF Open Division; CIF State D2 First Round

Key Returners: Trey Anderson (6-7 2018 WF), Beon Riley (6-4 2020 G), Josh Tawhiao (6-2 2018 G), Jake Tawhiao (6-3 2020 SG), Reggie Jackson (5-10 2018 PG), Cameron Smith (6-4 2018 F)

Key Departures: Cliff Kidd, Brandon Keys, Jacob Viss

Key Newcomers: Mauricio Reyes (6-4 2021 WF), Jessie Campbell (5-11 2021 PG), Bryan Orozco (6-3 2021 F), Nico Meza (6-4 2021 F), Melo Sanchez (6-3 2021 F) Max Lane (6-8 2020 C)

The Skinny: Trey Anderson is one of the top six senior prospects and easily one of the best available prospects on the West Coast. This is his team, and he has a potent sidekick in Riley, the reigning FTH Freshman of the Year. The Crusaders are young on the back end, but the freshmen are big and skilled, and Campbell, the brother of former Crusader Iman Chatman-Dixon, is a promising floor general. Lane, a transfer from Mar Vista, is raw, but a nice addition come January 1.

The Rub: Experience. The Crusaders will have at least two freshman playing significant minutes, which shouldn't be a problem in the Mesa League, where they are the favorites for a third consecutive year, but the playoffs will be a test for the youth.

8. La Jolla Country Day

Last Season: 20-11, 9-1 League, CIF Open Division 1st Round, CIF State Division 2 First Round

Key Returners: Ryan Langborg (6-4 2019 SG), Alex Cho (6-2 2018 PG), Raymond Lu (5-9 2019 PG), Ben Daugherty (5-11 2018 SG), Jayson Taylor (6-10 2019 C)

Key Departures: Max Guinn, Matt Bender, Josiah Esselstrom, Marcus Perry

Key Newcomers: Collin McGrath (6-0 2019 SG), Sam Coleman (6-4 2020 F), Dubem Okafor (6-10 2021 C)

The Skinny: This was supposed to be the year of the Torreys, but the team suffered major defections when Max Guinn and Matt Bender transferred to league opponent Francis Parker. But there is still a lot to like about this Torreys team, spearheaded by sharpshooter Langborg, steady senior Cho and unsung juniors Lu and Taylor, who is emerging as a solid center prospect. McGrath, a transfer from Archbishop Mitty, is also a strong shooter who fits in well with the Torreys system.

The Rub: Depth, Depth and Depth. Coleman and McGrath are the only newcomers of note, so the Torreys starting five will have to do heavy lifting in order to maintain the Top-10 ranking.

9. Canyon Crest Academy

Last Season: 22-8, 7-3 League, CIF Division 2 Semifinals

Key Returners: Tyler Elsom (6-3 2018 SG), Aaron Acosta (6-4 2018 SG), Michael "MJ" Metz (6-5 2018 F), Sam Crespy (5-10 2018 PG); Frank Gelfman (6-2 2020 G)

Key Departures: Ryan Michaels, Jakob Travis, Sawyer Lebert

Key Newcomers: Kamon Stewart (2019 JR G), Brennan Bordok (6-5 2019 F)

The Skinny: Defense is the Ravens calling card. The senior quartet of Elsom, Acost, Metz and Crespy have all bought in and smother opposing offenses, and Gelfman, a solid sophomore, fits right in. Offensively, this team can shoot it from deep, with three proven shooters in Acosta, Elsom and Crespy. Now in Division 1, the Ravens will be a tough out for any team they face in either Division 1 or the Open Division.

The Rub: Depth is a recurring theme in the Top 10. The Ravens top 5 is as potent as any group in SD, but they will need younger players and newcomers to emerge as viable reserve options.

10. La Costa Canyon

Last Season: 19-11, 7-4 League: CIF Open Division 1st Round, CIF State Division 3 Playoffs First Round

Key Returners: Graham Cook (6-3 2019 G), Chandler Daugherty (6-2 2018 G), Cole Patterson (6-7 2018 F), Jaquan Carroll (5-11 2018 G), Taro Boyd (6-0 2019 G), Jason O'Hara (6-0 2019 G)

Key Departures: Logan Wazny, Drew Mead, Alec Peneschi, Andrew Hogan, Christian Gallagher

Key Newcomers: Sam Kramer (6-6 2019 F), Carson Cook (6-3 2021 PG), Charlie Schmitz (6-4 2020 F), Charles Williams (6-5 2019 F)

The Skinny: After a couple of mediocre seasons, La Costa Canyon is showing signs of a turnaround. Cook is one of the region's top juniors and is poised for a breakout season, Patterson has improved in the post and can stretch the floor, and the complementary pieces - Daugherty, Boyd, Carroll and Co. - are very good. Williams will provide nice athleticism on the interior and is immediately eligible after transferring from Sage Creek.

The Rub: Consistency. The Mavs had some big highs last year (wins over Santa Fe Christian and El Camino), but also had some hiccups (a stunning loss to Sage Creek). In order to take the next step, the Mavs will need to get up for all opponents, regardless of their record.

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