A Holy War for San Diego? Full-Time Hoops Preseason Top 10
Over the past seven years, the region's two top Catholic programs - St. Augustine and Cathedral Catholic - have been consistently been among the top 10 programs in San Diego. And their in-conference battles, known as the "Holy War," have yielded some incredible battles.
But this year, the stakes are higher than ever, as the Western League rivals are also looking like the top teams in San Diego, with the road to an Open Division title poised to run through them.
What other teams are vying for Open Division berths? And could there be a Division 3 team in San Diego's Top 10. The answers are here.
Full-Time Hoops Preseason Top 10
1. Cathedral Catholic
Previous record: 24-10; CIF Division 1 Champions
Key returners: Obinna Anyanwu (6-7 Jr. PF), Thomas Notarainni (6-3 Jr. SG), Alex Wade (5-11 Jr. PG), Dillon Wilhite (6-9 Jr. C), Scotty Prunty (6-0 Sr. G), Andrew Poindexter (6-5 Sr. C), James Behmer (6-5 Jr. PF)
Key newcomers: Beon Riley (6-5 Sr. W)
Key Departures: None
The skinny: The Dons arrived a year ahead of schedule last season, knocking off rival St. Augustine on their senior night before making a run to the D1 championship, where Anyanwu's putback gave the Dons a 47-46 win. This year, they return their six top scorers and add Riley, the former All CIF performer from Mater Dei Catholic who sat out due to transfer rules. Cathedral has size - Wilhite and Anyanwu are an imposing interior tandem for opponents - scoring on the wing with Riley and Notarainni, who was invited to the Argentinian U-19 tryouts this summer - and steady point guard play with Wade. This team is dangerous.
The rub: The Dons have not been healthy all preseason, with Riley spraining an ankle during the fall and Notarainni - a 1,000 point scorer as a sophomore - sitting out since the summer. This team needs all of its key guys healthy to live up to their potential.
2. St. Augustine
Previous record: 22-8, CIF Open Division qualifier
Key returners: Chibuzo Agbo (6-7 Sr. PF), Luke Haupt (6-6 Sr. W), Nakial Cross (6-8 Sr. PF), Alex Dennis (6-5 Sr. F), Declan Bretz (5-11 Sr. PG), Tyson McWilliams (6-2 Sr. G), Joe DiPaolo (6-6 Jr. C), Isaiah Brickner (6-3 Jr. G), Jake Woldman (6-5 Jr. W)
Key newcomers: Prince Adjei
Key Departures: Misa Rosado
The skinny: Mike Haupt's Saints have been in the mix for titles every year since the 2011-12 season, and this year's team returns a ton. Agbo, a Texas Tech commit, is arguably the best player in San Diego this season, and showed off expanded range and versatility in the summer with the Compton Magic. Luke Haupt was the lone SD player to play in the prestigious Nike EYBL last summer, and provided key minutes for the Peach Jam finalists Team Why Not. Beyond the duo, the Saints boast a team with a ton of size (five key contributors taller than 6-5) and are always going to be disciplined and well coached.
The rub: In games this summer against top competition, the Saints struggled to handle ball pressure without the services of McWilliams, a Cal football commit. McWilliams' return helps this, but the back court depth is a concern. The Saints are expecting Brickner, a talented, but oft-injured prospect, to take the next step.
3. Foothills Christian
Previous record: 24-7, CIF Open Division Runners Up
Key returners: Yassine Gharram (6-2 Sr. PG), Jalai O'Keith (6-5 Sr. W), Jaden LeBel (6-3 So. W), Derrien Carter-Hollinger (6-4 Jr. W), Cade Raley (6-3 Sr. SG)
Key newcomers: Nico Meza (6-4 Jr. W)
Key Departures: Derrick Carter-Hollinger, Jaren Nafarrete
The skinny: Coach Brad Leaf's program has an uncanny ability to rebuild on the fly, and this team is no different, despite losing two of the program's top players in recent history. This reload is led by the Yale-bound Gharram, who has established himself as the region's top point guard. Flanked by a team that can get hot from deep with O'Keith, LeBel and the Mater Dei transfer Meza, the Knights can score in flurries. The glue to the team defensively will be Carter-Hollinger (pictured), who can guard 1 through 5 on the high school level. While undersized compared to a number of the top teams in San Diego this season, Leaf's team will have a foot-speed advantage in most matchups that should create mismatches at almost every position.
The rub: While the sample size is limited, this team struggled during the fall when Gharram was out due to foul trouble (blew a 10-point lead vs Corona Centennial) or out of town on his visit. Over the past two years, the Knights could rely on Nafarrete to handle the ball if Gharram was in foul trouble. This season, it will be more of a committee effort as no clear backup point guard has emerged.
4. Torrey Pines
Previous record: 25-7, CIF Open Division Champions
Key returners: Brandon Angel (*6-8 Sr. W), Nick Herrmann (6-2 Jr. G)
Key newcomers: Chris Howell, (6-6 Jr. G), Otto Landrum (6-9 So. C), Dechaun Key (6-2 Sr. G) Cameron Klein (6-5 Jr. W), Diego Campisano (6-5 Jr. F), Matias Clotfelter (6-4 Jr. F), Nate Witte (6-0 Jr. G),
Key Departures: Bryce Pope, Michael Pope, Noah Viera, Victor Novy, Travis Snider
The skinny: This team has the feel-good story in all of SoCal basketball, as Hermann returns to the court after beating bone cancer. But this team is more than a good story. Despite losing four starters to graduation, the Falcons are back in the mix thanks to a key transfer in Howell - a walking mismatch in the back court - two other significant transfers in Landrum (Colorado) and Key (Grossmont) - and several players off of the Falcons 28-0 JV team. But this team starts and finishes with Angel, the sharpshooter who exploded over the summer with Gamepoint and committed to Stanford.
The rub: In preseason games, the Falcons have struggled to find a consistent third scorer behind Angel and Howell. This should improve as the newcomers establish themselves in Olive's swing system. But until then, the Falcons are vulnerable if either Angel or Howell have an off night.
5. Santa Fe Christian
Previous record: 21-9, CIF Open Division qualifier
Key returners: Keatten Smith (6-2 Jr. SG), Trevan Martin (6-5 Jr. W), Hayden Gray (6-3 Jr. PG), Sam Dudley (6-3 Sr. G), Alex Yphantides (6-5 Sr. F), Saagar Dhanjani (6-1 Sr. G),
Key newcomers: Vincent Berlucchi (6-5 So. F)
Key Departures: Chase Pagon, Griffin Morris
The skinny: Almost all of the key contributors from the surprise team of the section return this year, so expectations are heightened at the Eagles Nest. Headlining the returners is Smith, who was named to the All Coastal League team. Fellow juniors Martin and Gray are poised to have breakout seasons, as is Dudley, a talented slasher in his own right. Like last season, this team doesn't have a ton of size, but Martin and Yphantides are physical and tough, and will battle on the boards. Chad Bickley is one of the most underrated coaches in the state, and has taken lesser talented teams to D1 titles. This might be his most talented team.
The rub: After back to back Division 1 titles and an Open Division berth, the Eagles are no longer sneaking up on teams. How will they deal with being one of the hunted for possibly the first time in school history? Who will step in to fill the void of Pagon, who was an all-League first teamer in his lone season? And can the touted junior trio make the next jump to keep the Eagles in contention for a Coastal League title?
6. Mater Dei Catholic
Previous record: 17-12, CIF Division 1 Quarterfinalist
Key returners: Melo Sanchez (6-4 Jr. W), Adrian Calderon (6-0 Sr. G), Jessie Campbell (6-1 Jr. G), Mauricio Reyes (6-5 Jr. F), Max Lane (6-10 Sr. C), Kailon King (6-0 Jr. G), KJ Gonzalez (5-10 So. PG), Matthew Fitts (5-10 Jr. PG)
Key newcomers: Clarence Martin (6-4 Jr. W), Dexter Stratton (6-8 Jr. F), Christian Ubochi (6-10 Jr. C)
Key Departures: Jake Tawhiao, Vincent Warren, Cam Marshall
The skinny: Once this team gets past the sit-out period, it will be the biggest team in San Diego by a wide margin. With two players over 6-10, the versatile Stratton at 6-8, and Sanchez at 6-4 manning the "point forward" role, Mater Dei should dominate teams on the boards and should be difficult to score on in the paint. Ubochi is as legit of a rim protector as there is in San Diego. But this team goes inside out, as King, Martin (who sat out last year due to transfer rules) and Calderon are all capable of shooting you out the gym. Campbell, who played football this year, provides athleticism and slashing and Reyes is a solid glue guy.
The rub: Role allocation. Last year, team chemistry was an issue as the Crusaders lost its first league game in five years and lost another one to lose the league championship. Stratton is talented, but dominated the ball on a bad Henry team last year. How and the returners mesh will determine this team's ceiling.
Previous record: 22-8 CIF Open Division qualifier
Key returners: Adam Sevier (5-10 Sr. PG), Cole Stephens (6-9 Jr. C), Tanner Swindall (6-5 Sr. F), Lucas Shepherd (6-4 Sr. W), Logan Shepherd (6-4 Sr. W), Garrett Pyle (6-1 Jr. SG), Aidan Parsons (6-6 So. F), Quinn Johnson (5-11 Sr. G)
Key newcomers: Miles Wingfield (5-11 Jr. G), Joseph DeLong (6-7 Jr. C)
Key Departures: Jeff Lubisich
The skinny: Coach Scott Fisher has a team that has size and quality play at the point guard in Sevier, a grizzled competitor and prolific scorer. Stephens looks to have taken the next step in his development during the preseason, and should be a force for the Titans down low. This team has a number of interchangeable pieces in the Shepherd twins and Swindall, who pose size advantages on the wing. And the Titans welcome back Wingfield, a speedy lead guard who missed his first two varsity seasons with various injuries.
The rub: Outside of Sevier, the point guard play on the team has been a question mark, largely due to the health of Wingfield. If he can play a full season, Poway is a dangerous team in the Open Division as he provides an excellent back court complement to Sevier.
Previous record: 26-7, CIF Division 2 Champions
Key returners: Jailen Nelson (5-10 Sr. PG), Caleb Nelson (6-6 Jr. WF), Sam Sitarz (6-1 Sr. G), Carson Frincke (6-4 Jr. WF), Kyle Vassau (6-4 Sr. F)
Key newcomers: Toby Harris (5-8 So. PG), Kasparas Kasradze (6-5 Jr. F), Brady Canfield (6-4 Jr. G),
Key Departures: Carter Plousha, Brogan Pietrocini, Chase Murray, Adam Allen, Blake Adams
The skinny: In what was looking like a rebuilding year with the graduation of the Lancers' talented 2019 class, Sam Eshelman's group looks to be right back in the mix. Jailen Nelson is one of the region's most underrated players, and his addition midseason catapulted Carlsbad to a relatively easy run through CIF Division 2 last year. He returns with Caleb Nelson (no relation), a sharpshooting forward who picked up his first offer over the summer from Point Loma Nazarene. Once the Lancers get Kasradze, a bruising force in the paint who transferred from in-city rival Sage Creek, the Lancers are a serious threat to Torrey Pines in the Avo West.
The rub: Outside of Jailen Nelson and Smidt, this team lacks overall team speed and struggle against teams that like to run. It will be up to the Lancers to dictate the pace and tempo in order to use their size to their advantage.
9. San Ysidro
Previous record: 20-10, CIF Division 3 Quarterfinals
Key returners: Kailen Rains (6-5 Sr. SG), Philix Kilbourne (5-10 Sr. PG), Jason Martinez (6-3 Sr. F)
Key newcomers: Mikey Williams (6-3 Fr. G), Jurian Dixon (6-4 Fr. G) Alfredo Torres (6-0 Sr. SG), Princetin Metu (6-4 Fr. F), Caleb Smittle (5-11 Jr. SG)
Key Departures: DJ Dudley
The skinny: After a disappointing season that ended in the second round of the Division 3 playoffs, hopes are high for the Cougars, which welcome one of the most ballyhooed prospects of an era in Williams, an athletic force at the lead guard position. He pairs with Dixon, a lanky wing prospect that has D1 cred in his own right, receiving an offer from USD during the preseason. Rains, a wiry wing type, committed to CSU Northridge this offseason, giving the Cougars three players with Division 1 offers in their back court. Terry Tucker's team is the prohibitive favorite in D3 this season, and will battle it out against a number of Southern California's toughest teams in a schedule aimed at showcasing the Cougars talent.
The rub: The Cougars don't boast a ton of depth, which could be an issue if the talented freshmen hit the "freshman wall." And Martinez, who rebounds much bigger than his listed height, must stay out of foul trouble, as he is the Cougars lone interior presence on the defensive end.
10. San Marcos
Previous record: 17-11, CIF Open Division qualifier
Key returners: Devon Arlington (6-3 So. G), Jeric Lovgren (6-0 Jr. G), Kasey Clouet (6-5 Sr. W), Dylan Sandles (6-1 Sr. SG), Zekkiah Knowles (6-6 Jr. C), Brady Williams (5-10 Sr. PG)
Key newcomers: Max McCall (6-3 So. W), Christian Littlejohn (6-5 Jr. PF), Carson Cook (6-4 Jr. W), Jacob Baba (6-5 So. F)
Key Departures: Chris Howell, Elijah Randall, Will Corbin
The skinny: The departure of two all-league underclassmen might have crippled a lesser program, but the Knights depth has allowed them to soften the blow. Arlington is a flat-out star capable of leading a team in scoring and defending the opponent's top player. But this team shines on the defensive end, where Arlington, Knowles, McCall and Lovgren are all superb on-ball and help defenders. Clouet and Sandles provide the Knights with enough perimeter shooting to keep the lanes free for McCall and Arlington to do what they do best - attack off the dribble. Watch out for Cook, who is set to play his first full high-school season after missing much of the past two years at La Costa Canyon.
The rub: Scoring. While the Knights will excel on defense, the question will be can they generate enough offense to keep pace in a shootout. Arlington at this stage is the only proven offensive threat. The Knights will need a second and third option to emerge.