San Diego has never had a repeat Open Division Champion. Could Boogie Ellis and the Mission Bay Buccaneers become the first?
Ellis, who went from being the best prospect in San Diego's 2019 class to one of the nation's elite guard prospects this past summer, is back for his final year under Head Coach Marshawn Cherry. With its entire starting five in tact, it's no wonder that many feel that the Bucs are the clear preseason No. 1 team in San Diego.
But they are not alone near the top: beneath the Bucs are several teams that pose serious challenges to Mission Bay's title hopes. Torrey Pines, Saint Augustine and Foothills Christian have reloaded and comprise one of the strongest quartets of teams the county has had in recent memory.
Which other teams make our preseason Top 10, and who are the players to watch on those teams. You'll find all that and more in Full-Time Hoops Preseason Top 10.
1. Mission Bay
Last Season: 27-6, 11-1 Western League. CIF Open Division Champions
Key Returners: Rejean "Boogie" Ellis (6-2 2019 G), Jay Norton (6-1 2019 G), Andre Scott (6-1 2019 G), Ronnie Latting (6-7 2019 C), Savaughn Davis (6-2 2020 G), Eli Lopez (6-0 2020 G), Trae Taylor (6-5 2020 F), Nick Archer (6-4 2019 F), Chivic Taylor (6-3 2020 F)
Key Departures: Michael Barcia
Key Newcomers: Anthony Scott (6-5 2022 W), Elijah Black (6-1 2022 W)
Key games: vs Rancho Christian (12/14 at Mission Bay), vs Chino Hills (12/15, BSN Showcase); vs Corona Centennial (1/12 Rancho Christian Showcase), vs Mayfair (1/21, Olu Hoopfest), vs Foothills Christian (2/2 Battle at the Bay)
The Skinny: When you have the county's top returning player, return all five starters from the Open Division championship and state playoff run, you deservedly sit at the top of the rankings. Ellis enters the game, incredibly, on the cusp of a McDonald's All American game berth if he can string together a strong season during Mission Bay's rugged schedule. His fellow seniors Scott, Norton and Latting would be the focal point of any other team in the county. Instead, they comprise the best supporting cast in the county. Savaughn Davis will need to take the next step forward after an up-and-down sophomore campaign.
The Rub: A second big. While last year this might not have been an issue, several teams in the Top 5 have at least three players over 6-6, which could give the Bucs trouble on the boards if Latting gets in foul trouble. Trae Taylor appears poised to have a bigger role this season, and has looked solid during fall scrimmages and games. Archer and Chivic Taylor will also need to play critical minutes.
The outlook: The Bucs have all the pieces to make a run for a second consecutive Open Division title, which hasn't been done in the Open Division era. They will be challenged, as Head Coach Marshawn Cherry has not shied away from loading up the Bucs schedule with some very strong preseason and showcase games. If Ellis and crew can navigate the schedule and avoid trap games in the Western League (at Saints and at Cathedral, especially), we'll see them at 8:07 p.m. on Feb. 23 playing for a second title.
2. Torrey Pines
Last Season: 28-4, 10-0 Avocado West League, CIF Open Division Semifinals
Key Returners: Bryce Pope (6-3 2019 G), Michael Pope (6-3 2019 G), Noah Viera (6-8 2019 F), Ryan Brown (6-2 2019 G), Brandon Angel (6-7 2020 WF), Tarkan Taboglu (6-2 2019 G), Eric Jang (5-10 2019 G)
Key Departures: Luke Stratton, Nick Herrmann, Finn Sullivan
Key Newcomers: Travis Snider (6-6 2019 F), Victor Novy (6-7 2019 F)
Key Games: vs Bishop Montgomery (12/15 BSN Showcase); vs Foothills Christian (12/22 Holiday Classic Tip-Off), vs Vista (1/4 nonleague home game)
The Skinny: This team is HUGE. Literally. With four players over 6-6 (Snider, Angel, Novy and Viera), this is Head Coach John Olive's biggest team in recent memory. But the catalysts are the Pope twins, Bryce and Michael. Coming off a year where they averaged a combined 38 points per game, Bryce (UC San Diego commit) and Michael will be asked to handle the playmaking duties as well. If they can balance scoring and creating for their teammates, this team has a chance to be special. The transfers, Snider (San Dieguito) and Novy (Wisconsin) each provide something the team needs: Snider is as skilled a player in the low-to-mid post area in San Diego, while Novy will provide toughness on the board and timely perimeter shooting.
The Rub: The biggest issue here will be who will set the table for others. Torrey Pines suffered a big rotational and emotional blow during the fall when junior guard Nick Herrmann was diagnosed with bone cancer. From a basketball perspective, it takes away the player Olive was relying on to run the offense as the first reserve guard. This will place even more responsiblity on the Pope twins.
The outlook: Despite the graduation of Finn Sullivan (now at USD), the Falcons have reloaded. Recognizing how special this group can be, Coach John Olive scheduled a big time game against Bishop Montgomery at the BSN Showcase at Carlsbad High. Combined with participating in The Holiday Classic, the Falcons will have every opportunity to challenge the Bucs for the top spot in San Diego.
3. Saint Augustine
Last Season: 18-8, 10-2 Western League, CIF Open Division Qualifier
Key Returners: Chibuzo Agbo (6-7 2020 WF), Luke Haupt (6-6 2020 WF), Tyson McWilliams (6-2 2020 G), Misa Rosado (5-11 2019 PG), Declan Bretz (6-0 2020 PG), Alex Dennis (6-5 2020 F), Jared Stearns (6-4 2019 WF)
Key Departures: Seth Hayes
Key Newcomers: Nakial Cross, Isaiah Brickner
Key Games: vs Moreau Catholic (12/15 Santa Margarita tournament); vs Crespi (12/21 nonleague) vs JSerra Catholic (1/26 Nike Xtravaganza)
The Skinny: Coach Mike Haupt navigated the choppy waters of losing Taeshon Cherry on the eve of the season and Kimo Ferrari midseason to transfer to qualifying for the program's fifth consecutive open division appearance, despite having a team that played five sophomores at points. Now, the team returns almost all of its key pieces, and adds another potent weapon in Nakial Cross, who starred at Bishop's his first two seasons. With Cross, a 6-7 pogo stick, Haupt has arguably the most physically talented frontcourt in the section with Agbo and Haupt, and Dennis off the bench.
The Rub: Guard depth. Ferrari's transfer arguably hurt as much as Cherry's transfer, as it left the Saints without an experienced ball handler. Rosado, who is in his second year after coming from Puerto Rico, will handle most of the PG duties to start, and Tyson McWilliams will have to round into basketball shape in a hurry after football season ends. The improvement of Bretz and Brickner, a 6-1 athletic guard with a ton of upside who moves up from the program's JV ranks, will be critical for the Saints to handle the guard play presented by some of the other top teams.
The outlook: If there is a team that can defeat Mission Bay in the Western League, it's the Saints. They have the size and depth in the frontcourt to present matchup nightmares for opponents, but they will only go as far as their guard play.
4. Foothills Christian
Last Season: 26-7, 12-0 Coastal League; CIF Open Division runners up
Key Returners: Derrick "DJ" Carter Hollinger (6-6 2019 WF), Yassine Gharram (6-2 2020 PG), Jaren Nafarrete (5-7 2019 PG), Derrien Carter-Hollinger (6-4 2021 WF), Jalai O'Keith (6-5 2020 F), Tony Mroz (6-1 2020 G)
Key Departures: Dorian Blue, Taeshon Cherry
Key Newcomers: Cade Raley, Jaden LeBel
Key Games: vs Torrey Pines (12/22, Holiday Classic Tip-Off), Mission Bay (2/2 Battle at the Bay), TBA
The Skinny: This Foothills Christian team doesn't have a big name or a McDonald's All American candidate. But their starting five is one of the most difficult covers in San Diego. It all starts with DJ Carter-Hollinger, a Montana Commit, who is a major mismatch problem for most teams' starting bigs because of his ability to score off the dribble. The fact that he is also one of the best pound-for-pound rebounders in the section neutralizes the Knights lack of size. The Knights also have one of the top back court pairings in the county. Gharram at 6-2 is a wizard with the ball who has steadily improved his decision making. Nafarrete has been making big plays since his freshman year, and despite being the smallest player on the floor, he's a confident scorer and playmaker.
The Rub: Depth. It's a common refrain for Brad Leaf and crew. Beyond the top six are major unknowns. LeBel is talented, but is only a freshman. He'll be asked to play significant minutes until Raley becomes eligible (30-day sit out). Leaf will also need Mroz - who played sparingly as a sophomore - to provide starters with breathers to keep the team fresh.
The outlook: The Knights during the summer defeated Mission Bay during a physical slugfest with both teams at full strength. That should tell you what this team is capable of. As in previous years, Brad Leaf's team will need an X-factor to emerge. The likely candidate is the sophomore Carter-Hollinger, who is improving rapidly, but don't be surprised if O'Keith has a strong junior campaign.
5. La Jolla Country Day
Last Season: 22-11, 8-4 Coastal League; CIF Open Division Qualifier, CIF State Division 2 Quarterfinals
Key Returners: Ryan Langborg (6-4 2019 G), Raymond Lu (5-9 2019 PG), Jayson Taylor (6-11 2019 C), Collin McGrath (6-0 2019 G), Sam Coleman (6-3 2020 F), Gavin Bass-Sulpizio (6-1 2021 G)
Key Departures: Alex Cho
Key Newcomers: John Hapgood, James Hapgood
Key Games: vs Orange Lutheran (12/14 Mission Bay Beach Bash), vs Damien (12/15 BSN Showcase), vs Vista (12/22, The Holiday Classic Tip-Off), vs West Torrance (1/14 LA Court Report Winter Showcase)
The Skinny: On paper, this team doesn't seem all that imposing. But they have one of the singular most prolific scorers in San Diego in Langborg (Princeton commit), who is capable of dropping 40 on any given night. Beyond that, the returning seniors - Taylor, Lu and McGrath - are all solid role players in their own rights. Lu is the pulse of this team defensively, and Taylor provides an interior presence on defense and enough offense to keep the defense honest. Coach Ryan Meier is really high on his freshmen, the Hapgood twins, who will be thrust into prominent roles almost immediately and will be relied on to provide energy, rebounding and defense.
The Rub: Beyond the starters, like Foothills, La Jolla Country Day doesn't have great depth. Bass-Sulpizio and Coleman will need to take the next step developmentally to help offset the loss of Cho, who ended his career as one of the most underrated players in the section.
The outlook: Langborg gives the Torreys a chance to beat any team in San Diego. If the Hapgood twins grow up fast, this team will be dangerous. Otherwise, the loss of Cho - the team's defensive anchor last season - will become apparent.
Last Season: 23-9, 8-2 Avocado East, CIF Open Division Qualifier
Key Returners: Jordan Hilstock (6-3 2019 G), Makiah Morris (6-2 2019 G), Carter Starnes (6-4 2019 F), Fletcher Pope (6-5 2019 F), Maqui Taylor (6-2 2019 G), Matthew Rivera (6-4 2020 W)
Key Departures: Taurus Samuels, Isaiah Morris, Shane Coats, Michael Flynn, Tavare Miller-Perdue
Key Newcomers: Nikko Taylor, Isaiah Jones, Cade Windham
Key Games: vs Temecula Valley (11/17 Murrieta Tip Off Classic), La Jolla Country Day (12/22 The Holiday Classic Tip-Off), vs Torrey Pines (1/4 nonleague road game)
The Skinny: Conventional wisdom would say that Vista would take a major step back with the graduation of its dynamic duo, Samuels and Isaiah Morris. But Anthony Bolton's crew appears to be back in the mix thanks to its new dynamic duo, Hilstock and Makiah Morris. While the former has been on recruiting radars since his freshman year, the latter has been on a tear in the fall, rapidly becoming a high-level prospect in his own right. Combined with a stout halfcourt defense, arguably one of the best in the section, the Panthers will contend for a league title for a third straight year.
The Rub: The Panthers will need a third star to emerge in order to compliment Hilstock and Morris. Taylor, a 6-3 1/2 sophomore guard, appears to be ready to take that next step. Rivera, when dialed in, is an athletic slasher who can provide scoring off the wing. And Jones might be one of the fastest players in the section. If the Panthers get consistent production from those role guys, they will be right there.
The outlook: With a weakened Avocado East (San Marcos and Mission Hills are gone, San Dieguito Academy and Sage Creek are in), Vista is the favorite to win the league title for the second time in three years.
7. Cathedral Catholic
Last Season: 13-14, 7-5 Western League; CIF Division 1 Quarterfinals
Key Returners: Obinna Anyanwu (6-7 2021 F), Thomas Notarainni (6-3 2021 G), Alex Wade (5-11 2021 PG), Connor Williams (6-0 2019 G), Dillon Wilhite (6-8 2021 C), Scotty Prunty (6-1 2020 G), Jagger Kenady (6-3 2020 W), James Behmer (6-5 2021 F)
Key Departures: Ray Shay
Key Newcomers: Beon Riley, Andrew Poindexter
Key Games: TBA
The Skinny: The Dons return almost every piece from a squad that showed flashes of the future with its young core, but were inconsistent throughout. They nearly beat Vista in an early season tournament matchup- but then lost by 30 to Mater Dei Catholic and 35 to La Jolla Country Day. This year could be the Dons begin their ascent to the top of San Diego's rankings. Anyanwu is one of the most physically dominant players in San Diego, and his fellow sophomores, Wade (heady point guard), Notarainni (physical slasher) and Wilhite (skilled inside-out threat), complement him. In reserve, Kenady, Prunty, Poindexter and Behmer will need to make the most of their stints on the floor to not give back leads built by the starters.
The Rub: Beon Riley. The talented Mater Dei Catholic transfer's junior season is in limbo due to CIF Transfer rules. If he's in the mix, we could have them too low, as he provides them with a big, physical presence in the backcourt.
The outlook: The Dons are probably a year away from being a dominant force in San Diego, but could be in the mix this year if Beon Riley gains his eligibility.
8. Francis Parker
Last Season: 15-13, 4-8 Coastal League, CIF Division 2 Champions, CIF D4 State Quarterfinals
Key Returners: Max Guinn (6-5 2019 W), Matt Bender (6-8 2019 PF), Kimo Ferrari (6-0 2020 PG), Daryl Sledge (6-0 2021 G), Jacob Jovien (6-4 2019 W), JJ Stinger (6-3 2019 G)
Key Departures: Miles Williams
Key Newcomers: Vinny Ferrari, Camden McCormick
Key Games: vs Cathedral Catholic (12/1 tournament), vs Mission Bay (12/22, The Holiday Classic Tip-Off), vs Christian (2/2 Battle at the Bay)
The Skinny: This might be too low for the Lancers, who return all but one of their key players from their Division 2 title run. With Ferrari, Guinn and Bender, Jim Tomey has a tremendous point guard, a bona fide shooter and a strong interior presence. Sledge, who hit three 3s in the first quarter of the championship game, is one of the best shooters in his class, and Jovien is a jack-of-all-trades wing who has had big moments over his career. Watch out for Stinger as well, who has steadily improved over the course of his career.
The Rub: Can Parker, now back in Division 1 after a brief nadir, match the physicality of the other teams in the open division? Guinn will need to bounce back from an inconsistent season following an ankle injury in order for this team to reach its fullest potential.
The outlook: Jim Tomey has his best team since Evan Fitzner was a senior, and it comes at the right time, as the Lancers will be in the mix for an open division berth. If Guinn rounds back into the form he showed earlier in his career, Parker could be a dark horse in the section's highest division.
9. San Marcos
Last Season: 23-6, 9-1 Avocado East, CIF Open Division Qualifier
Key Returners: Chris Howell (6-6 2021 PG), Elijah Randall (6-5 2020 W), Will Corbin (6-3 2019 SG), Sean Ragland (6-1 2019 G), Brady Williams (5-10 2020 G), Kaenin Miller (6-2 2020 W)
Key Departures: Kody Clouet, Ryan Hagood, Cody Mathis, Ryan Orlando
Key Newcomers: Devon Arlington, Jeric Lovgren, Kasey Clouet,
Key Games: vs Poway (11/14 Game On Challenge), vs St. Augustine (12/3 North County Classic), vs Damien (12/14)
The Skinny: The Knights, coming off of one of its best seasons in school history, experienced a lot of turnover. So, why do we predict they will be in the top 10? Part of it is the emergence of 2021 G Chris Howell as a national prospect. The 6-6 point guard impacts the game on both sides of the ball and on the boards. Another reason is the re-emergence of Elijah Randall, who had an inconsistent season partly due to a foot injury. He's rounding into form at the right time. Dante Carey's group also adds one of the top freshmen in the county, Devon Arlington, who showed flashes of high-level scoring ability throughout the summer and fall. The Knights get timely perimeter shooting form Will Corbin, who is one of the most underrated shooters in San Diego.
The Rub: Consistent scoring. The Knights will defend with the best of them, but are prone to long droughts. If their big duo of Howell and Randall can find the hole at a consistent clip, the Knights will be tough.
The outlook: San Marcos will be challenged as they move into what is now a very loaded Avocado West with top 15 teams Torrey Pines, La Costa Canyon and Carlsbad. How they navigate the schedule will rest largely on what type of leap Howell takes in Year 2.
Last Season: 23-6, 10-2 Metro Mesa, CIF Division 2 Quarterfinals
Key Returners: Kyle Paranada (5-6 2019 G), Rahin Williams (6-1 2019 G), Ze'Tiam "Tim" Burton (6-1 2019 G), Sabastian Morgan (6-2 2019 W), Isaac Guei (6-4 2021 F), Eddie Magdalena (5-8 2021 G), Alex Magdalena (5-8 2020 G)
Key Departures: Timmy Crawford
Key Newcomers: Nathan Dorow (6-3 2019 F)
Key Games: vs Sierra Canyon (12/15 San Diego Tip-Off Challenge), vs Mission Bay (12/11 @ Montgomery)
The Skinny: The Aztecs put together its strongest season in program history under Ed Martin, only to see the season end short of the D2 championship at the hands of Parker, the most underseeded 8 seed of all time. The good news is for Martin's crew that the team returns four of five starters from that group, led by the undersized scoring dynamo Paranada. Williams was granted a fifth year by CIF, a huge boon for the program as he provides tough on-ball defense and slashing off the wing. All four returners shoot the ball at a prolific clip, and the Aztecs can score with the best of them.
The Rub: Size. Make no mistake: this team is small. Crawford, the heart and soul of last year's team, was also its best rebounder at 5-10. Guei at 6-4 is the program's tallest player, and he is far from a finished product. The Aztecs will have to make up for their lack of size with superior speed, pressing and gang rebounding.
The outlook: This could be the year Aztecs break Mater Dei Catholic's stranglehold on the Metro Mesa Conference - if all the key players stay healthy and they can overcome Mater Dei's size and home gym environment. They'll get tested right away - a date with Sierra Canyon in the Aztecs tip-off tournament looms.