One of my favorite things to do during the preseason is to play prognosticator with the preseason rankings.
But I love even more taking a deep dive into the county's hoop scene and identify teams that may not be on everyone's radar.
These teams are sleepers for various reasons. Some might be due to poor seasons in years past, others might have graduated a lot of players from a successful team, and others, well, just don't come up in the conversation, and deserve to be.
Here's this year's list of preseason sleepers.
San Diego's sleeper teams
Army Navy Academy
Why you shouldn't sleep: After graduating do-it-all senior guard JC Canahuate and going 8-20, the outlook was dim for the Warriors during the offseason. But then the Warriors received an infusion of talent and things have changed in a hurry. 6-1 freshman guard Alexis Marmolejos burst onto the scene with his show-stealing MVP performance in the 3P Creme of the County 2022 Creme game. The Warriors then got a transfer from Florida in 6-3 junior guard Cobey Harraway. Additionally, another freshman, 6-1 guard Mike Davis, could also have a major impact. Paired with the rapid improvement on sophomore Zekiah Jensen and 6-6 junior Nick Indrieri, the Warriors now have some pieces to surround junior standout Albert Pichardo, the next in the long line of Dominican natives to pass through the Carlsbad campus. The top of the Coastal League - Foothills Christian, La Jolla Country Day and Parker - will be difficult to crack, but Army Navy will put scares into all the teams.
Why you shouldn't sleep: Polling a group of North County coaches about which team might be the surprise in that region, and almost all pointed to the Nighthawks. This came as no surprise, as I witnessed the improvement of this team firsthand at the SDSU Summer Team Camp. When you surround a talented frontcourt senior duo (6-5 David Letu and 6-6 Alex Moore) with a bevy of knockdown shooters, good things happen. Watch out for 5-11 2021 guard Jake Sanderlin, who is an absolute sniper from deep. If Bob Spahn and crew can convince last year's 3rd leading scorer Luke Welch to come back for his senior season, Del Norte will be among the favorites in Division 3.
League: Grossmont Hills
Why you shouldn't sleep: Helix graduates three starters, including its starting back court of Jaylen Hinson and Amari Green. But the cupboard should be replenished in a hurry. The Highlanders have a young, long and athletic returning core: 6-6 Maurice Holmes is coming off of a strong AAU campaign, 6-5 sophomore wing Kai Jessie has the markings of a big-time prospect and guards Jadyn James and Sam Stewart are underrated juniors. If 6-5 pogo stick Jahari Hill can continue to develop skill-wise, and the team gets its usual contributions from football players, the Highlanders could win what is looking like a wide-open Grossmont Hills league.
Why you shouldn't sleep: You know a coach is psyched about his team when he posts his roster on Maxpreps before the official start of practice. Well, MIke Stutz has reason to be excited after returning 6 of his top 9 guys from last year's team. 6-1 combo guard Keyshawn Bradley (who turns 17 in December) is one of the region's most underrated players. His backcourt mate, 6-1 Donovan Baasch, is as accurate of a shooter as there is in the City Conference. And the front court has size and depth with 6-5 brute Davon Lampkin (a very good volleyball player), 6-4 senior Tyson Gangstad and 6-2 senior Keoni Henson. The top of the Central League looks like a three-way battle between Hoover, San Diego and Madison, and the Warhawks could pose matchup issues for both teams.
They might not have senior point guard Jett Wilson at their disposal this season, but it might not matter. This Marauders team is experienced, tough and bring in a pair of impact transfers. It all starts, however, with senior combo guard Noah Tumblin, who would be a borderline D1 prospect in hoops if he wasn't a surefire D1 prospect in football. Add in 6-5 forward Christian West, who is back after a year at Christian, 6-2 sleeper senior guard Jeremiah Brown and a load of returners (6-3 Albert Lemon, 6-1 Justin Lewis, co-captain Zack Tynes, 5-11 Cameron Minor and 6-1 sophomore Joevi Cuyugan), and this is as good of a Mira Mesa team since the law firm of Ottey, Wheeler and Sanders went 46-17 between 2014 and 2016.
Rancho Buena Vista
League: Avocado East
It has been a long time since the Longhorns have had any preseason expectations, and they might still hover under some radars, but not mine. This could be the best RBV team since a guy named Johnny Dee suited up in the maroon. 6-2 senior guard Patrick McLachlan is going to be one of the region's breakout stars, and he is surrounded by a gritty supporting cast, including senior guards Jason Danso and Zee Willis, rapidly improving juniors Jack Bailey and Noah Fields and a rugged senior center in Aiden Ross. I expect Aaron Abrams' team to shake off last season's disappointing first-round upset in the Division 3 playoffs, and get right back to competing for a Division 2 title.
San Diego Southwest
League: Metro South Bay
The Raiders served notice during last year's run to the Division 5 title and its impressive run in the state playoffs that they would be a force this season. However, because of the low profile of their individual talent, no one seems to talk about them. Steve Selland's squad brings back the most underrated back court in the section: 5-10 senior Jorge Castillo, 5-11 senior Isaac Gonzalez and 6-2 combo guard Diego Edwards - who in my opinion is the section's most underrated player. They also bring back 6-4 senior C Xavier Finley who provides toughness on the interior. Watch out for 6-5 sophomore forward Dyon Ford, who is rapidly improving and could be yet another sleeper in San Diego's deep 2021 class. The top 3 teams in the Metro League (Southwest, Sweetwater and San Ysidro) are going to have a WAR for the league title this year, as all are vastly improved from last season.
Santa Fe Christian
It's crazy that after back-to-back Division 1 titles, we're listing the Eagles as a sleeper. But after graduating its starting five, some might have believed SFC would take a slide. So far this fall, they've proven that they might not skip a beat, just a different looking drummer. Rather than the big, imposing team that included 6-6 TJ Askew, 6-5 Matt Stevenson and 6-3 Luke Sanders, this Eagles team looks to beat you on the perimeter, where they have shooters galore. Look for 2019 transfer Chase Pagon to be a big surprise this year, as well as the sophomore triumvirate of 6-0 Hayden Gray, 6-1 Keatten Smith and 6-3 Trevan Martin (who played big minutes as a freshman). 6-2 junior guard Sam Dudley returns after a year at Balboa School, and appears to be on track for a breakout year.
There's something to be said about having solid seniors, and Westview has one of the better quartets in the county. 2019 G Ricardo Hopping just committed to Azusa Pacific and is one of the most improved seniors in the class. His fellow senior wing, 6-5 Adam Chang, is as bouncy as they come and can shoot it as well (Team USA volleyball player). On the inside, tough 6-4 seniors Michael Grendahl and Jackson Krogman can also shoot the ball from midrange. The Wolverines need a point guard to emerge to replace the unflappable Kobe Gatti, but if they can get this, they will challenge Poway and Rancho Bernardo for the league crown.
Other sleeper teams:
San Pasqual, Esco Charter, Otay Ranch, Mount Miguel, Crawford, El Capitan, El Cajon Valley