Border Boyz load up for Saints showdown: A Preseason Top 10
For nine months, St. Augustine has been everyone's preseason favorite in San Diego, and very little changed that, even when Top 30 guard Mikey Williams announced he was returning home to play his final year at San Ysidro.
Saints went 3-1 in the top division of Section 7, won the SDSU and UCSD team camps, and in the glimpses we saw of them in the fall, did nothing to disabuse anyone of the notion that it was them versus the field.
But Friday's announcement that Top 50 Donda Academy defection JJ Taylor, a 6-8 wing forward originally from Chicago, had checked into Ysidro, changes everything.
Taylor, who announced he would leave Donda Academy in the wake of the school's initial announcement that it would shut down, gives the Border Boyz a duo that vaults them to the top of my Preseason Top 10, but not by much. In fact, I see Ysidro and Saints as 1A and 1B, and the gap between them and the rest of the field is pretty wide.
The defending Open Division champions still return almost every major piece of their title run, including Player of the Year Jurian Dixon, All-CIF players Lolo Rudolph, Ian De La Rosa and Jaden Matingou, and perhaps the best glue guy in all of San Diego in 6-6 Derrius Carter Hollinger. The lone rotational loss was 2024 guard Kai Brown, who is now at Scripps Ranch.
But beyond the Saints top 6 (Vincent Ricchiuti is the team's sixth man), there will be questions about their depth and whether players like senior MJ Jackman, junior Talan Hunter and sophomores Manny Cortez are ready to contribute consistently.
La Costa Canyon, who pushed Saints to the limit in an overtime loss in last year's Open semifinals, open as my No. 3, but their hold on that is tenuous after a lackluster summer and fall campaign. While they return All CIF forward Christian Brown and All-League guard Ty Hendler, they lose three starters from that squad.
Montgomery, who had a torrid fall campaign, and Mission Bay, who has also played well during the fall and are as deep as any team in San Diego, round out the Top 5 at No. 4 and 5, respectively.
Torrey Pines, which has consistently outperformed preseason rankings (even the year they went undefeated to win the Open Division, I had them at No. 2 to start) kicks off the bottom half of the Top 10 at No. 6. This year's team returns one starter from a year ago, and has questions regarding its guard play and consistent scoring, but it's Torrey Pines - they figure things out.
A nod to the balance in the Palomar League, Carlsbad and El Camino are just behind Torrey Pines at No. 7 and 8, respectively. Cathedral Catholic, Lincoln and Santa Fe Christian - my pick to win the Coastal League - round out the Top 10 (there's a tie at 10).
Here's a deeper look at the preseason Top 10
The Full-Time Hoops Preseason Top 10
1. San Ysidro
Last Season: 23-9, 12-0 Mesa League; Open Division Runners up
Key Returners: Andrei Tovar, 6-8 Jr. C; Princetin Metu, 6-4 Sr. F, Lance Aubrey, 5-9 Jr. G
Key Additions: Mikey Williams, 6-3 Sr. G; JJ Taylor, 6-8 Sr. W; Angelo Gil, 6-1 Sr. G; Ty Ingram, 6-3 Fr. G; Gerardo Guerrero, 6-3 Sr. G; Alex Cervantes, 6-8 Sr. F; Steven Evans-Glynn, 6-3 So. G; Miles Anderson, 5-8 So. G
Key Departures: Sebastian Medina, Martin Flores, Fran Valenzuela, Miguel Figueroa, Luis Rodriguez
Why they’ll win: Talent. With the addition of Taylor, who transferred after his previous stop, Donda Academy, announced its closure, San Ysidro has two players who are ranked in the Top 50 of the 2023 class nationally. Beyond that, Ysidro has a combination of guard play and size that no team in San Diego can lay claim to - even St. Augustine. They’ll need the talent as they undertake an ambitious schedule that includes games against Corona Centennial, Perry (AZ), Columbus (Fl), Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and Bishop Gorman.
Why they won’t: Chemistry. As noted in the additions and departures, this is essentially a brand new team that hasn’t played a game together before the start of the season. It will be up to Terry Tucker to get everyone on the same page and accept their roles in order for it to work.
2. St. Augustine
Last Season: 23-8, 8-0 Western league; Open Division Champions
Key Returners: Jurian Dixon, 6-5 Sr. G; Lolo Rudolph, 6-2 Jr. PG; Jaden Matingou, 6-3 Sr. G; Ian De La Rosa, 6-4 Jr. W; Derrius Carter-Hollinger, 6-6 Sr. F; Vincent Ricchiuti, 6-6 Sr. W; MJ Jackman, 6-3 Sr. G
Key Additions: Manny Cortez, 6-4 So. F; Talan Hunter, 6-3 Jr. W; Jaden Bailes, 6-1 Fr. G, Jimmy Lavine, 6-1 So. G
Key Departures: Kai Brown, Prince Adjei
Why they’ll win: Familiarity. The Saints bring back almost every significant piece from its Open Division run, and they’ve all improved. Dixon is the reigning Player of the Year and is playing at an incredible level, and Rudolph has rapidly become one of the top point guards on the West Coast for his class. Matingou blossomed into the star and De La Rosa and Carter-Hollinger were impactful on both offense and defense. To repeat as champions, they will need to be as connected as ever.
Why they won’t: Depth. Brown’s transfer strains the back court depth, and potentially thrusts either Lavine or Bailes, a talented and highly regarded freshman, into a role that they might not be ready for. An injury or foul trouble in a key game will test the Saints.
3. La Costa Canyon
Last Season: 21-8, 8-2 North County Coastal, Open Division Semifinalists
Key Returners: Christian Brown, 6-5 Sr. WF; Ty Hendler, 6-3 Sr. G; Parker Jelsing, 6-1 Sr. G; Trevor Ladd, 6-4 Jr. F; Caden Pearlman, 6-4 Sr. F
Key Additions: Shane Perry, 6-5 Jr. W; Ryan Quain, 5-11 Jr. G; Drew Clevenger, 5-11 Jr. G; Ben Hoier, 6-1 Sr. G; Charlie Hoier, 6-4 So. G
Key Departures: Brayden Hendricks, Gabe Tawfilis, Vincent Berlucchi
Why they’ll win: A dynamic duo. In Brown and Hendler, the Mavs have two potential All-CIF players (Brown was one a year ago) who can take over a game. Hendler, who committed to Colorado College, had some big moments during the offseason, including scoring 12 points in 90 seconds to force the SDSU Team Camp title game against Balboa into overtime. The team isn't solely Brown and Hendler, though: Jelsing and Ladd, especially, are valuable supporting cast mates who provide instant offense (Jelsing) and rebounding and toughness (Ladd). Pearlman and Hoier are solid glue guys.
Why they won’t: Role allocation. The Mavs have had an underwhelming offseason, and part of it has been chemistry among its starters and porous play on defense. In order for them to maintain this ranking, their seniors have to get on the same page. Ladd’s return from football will help shore up some of the defense and rebounding issues they’ve had during the fall.
Last Season: 24-7, 9-3 Mesa League, CIF Division 2 Semifinals
Key Returners: Alek Sanchez, 6-3 So. G; JJ Sanchez, 6-4 So. F; Xair Mendez, 6-2 So. G; Devin Hamilton, 6-4 So. W; Anthony Hamilton, 6-4 Sr. F; Nico Reyes, 5-8 Sr. G; Jayden Cannon, 6-5 Sr. F
Key Additions: David Soto, 6-2 Jr. W; Gor-El Zollicoffer, 6-2 So. G
Key Departures: Tedrous Teshome
Why they’ll win: Chemistry. The Aztecs are one of the most connected teams in San Diego, and that chemistry has been years in the making. The Sanchez twins, Mendez and Soto, who transferred from Bonita Vista, grew up playing travel ball together. Devin Hamilton joined their club team this summer, which gave them a head start in playing together. In JJ and Alek Sanchez, they have two of the smartest basketball players I’d argue statewide, and their bodies are gradually catching up to their hoops IQs. Soto, Mendez and Hamilton complement the Sanchez twins with their athleticism (Soto is also a super high-IQ positionless player). But for all of their offensive gifts, this team has proven to be a formidable defensive unit, a testament to their connectivity. This team is dangerous.
Why they won’t: Elite size. Sanchez is a walking mismatch on offense, but the Aztecs don’t have a player taller than 6-6, and that is Cannon, who still has a long way to go as a hoops prospect. They should be fine against almost every team in San Diego, except San Ysidro - who they have to beat in order to win the league.
5. Mission Bay
Last Season: 19-10, 4-4 Western League; Open Division qualifier
Key Returners: Charlie Hutchison, 6-7 Jr. F; Thomas Metcalf, 6-4 Sr. F; Marcos Korch, 6-2 Jr. G; Gavin Girouard, 6-2 Jr. G; Atreju De La Cruz, 6-1 So. G; Isaah Whitehurst, 6-2 Jr. G; Charles Grebing, 6-5 Jr. F
Key Additions: Kumari West, 6-2 Jr. G; Clay Grebing, 6-5 Fr. F; Kevon Fitzpatrick, 6-3 So. W
Key Departures: Angelo Gil, Rami Anglo
Why they’ll win: Depth. A mark of a good program is one that can absorb significant personnel losses without much drop off. The Bucs are in a position to do just that, rallying after star guard Gil transferred to San Ysidro. All they’ve done since is have solid showings at Section 7, the Border League and the Gamepoint Fall Showcase, in which they beat a very good Balboa team to open. Hutchison is the team’s best player and prospect, but Marshawn Cherry’s team can go 10 deep on some nights, and their top 8 has as much parity as any team in the section.
Why they won’t: Crunch time play. For all of its strengths, the Bucs are still a relatively young team, and over the summer and fall have lost games down the stretch due to inconsistent foul shooting and decision making. They’ll have to improve in order to close out games in the playoffs and league.
6. Torrey Pines
Last Season: 23-7, 10-0 Coastal North County, Open Division semifinalists
Key Returners: JJ Bartelloni, 6-5 Sr. W; Alex Cabulio, 6-3 Sr. G; Zach Jackson, 6-5 Jr. F; Dylan Kail, 6-2 Jr. G
Key Additions: Cody Shen, 6-1 So. G; Zander Ovies, 6-2 Fr. G; Matin Madadkar, 6-4 Jr. W; Jack Levine, 6-5 Jr. F; Marcos Delgado, 6-7 Jr. C;
Key Departures: Otto Landrum, Logan Huston
Why they’ll win: It’s Torrey. The Falcons always find a way to outperform their preseason rankings, and they have a huge psychological advantage over their opponents in what’s now the Palomar League: they’ve won a league title outright for 10 straight years. This will be their toughest challenge, but any time you have John Olive as a head coach, you’re in a good position. Bartelloni will assume the role of senior scorer for this Falcons iteration, but Cabulio might be the heart and soul of the team on both sides of the ball. Jackson has improved dramatically and will also shoulder the scoring load.
Why they won’t: Guard play. The Falcons over the years have had superior back court play, including D1 caliber talent like Nick Herrmann, Chris Howell, Bryce Pope and Finn Sullivan. This year’s group is young and unproven. Shen will get the first nod, but the Falcons will need all three of its lead guards - Shen, Kail and Ovies - to step up.
Last Season: 22-12, 6-4 Coastal North County, Division 1 Champions
Key Returners: Jake Hall, 6-3 So. G; Cole Murray, 6-3 Sr. G; Tony Duckett Jr., 6-2 Jr. G; Tristan Guzman, 5-11 Jr. G; Josh Shields, 6-1 Sr. G
Key Additions: Jett Kenady, 6-0 So. G; Jordan Garner, 5-9 So. G, Briggs Young, 6-2 Fr. W, Griffin Rosenbloom, 6-5 Jr. F
Key Departures: Mason Bowers, Toby Harris, Travis Mehl
Why they’ll win: Guard play. The Lancers have the best backcourt that no one talks about regionally. That unit is led by Hall, who dazzled during his freshman year, making the All-CIF First Team and leading the team to a D1 title run where they weren’t really challenged. Murray is the team’s leader and defensive ace, Duckett is a potent secondary scoring option who thrived last year as the team’s 6th man, but will be a starter from Day 1. Guzman, who was a key reserve last year, also steps into a starting role. The team is undersized, but they play hard, shoot the ball and neutralize any size advantages with their speed.
Why they won’t: Size matters. Especially in the Open Division. And if the Aztecs at No. 4 are undersized, the Lancers are woefully undersized: their tallest starter will be Hall, and their tallest reserve is football player Griffin Rosenbloom at 6-5, who won’t likely be on the floor until mid year.
8. El Camino
Last Season: 15-12, 4-6 Coastal North County; Division 1 Quarterfinalists
Key Returners: Euan Davis, 6-1 Jr. G; Isaiah Pomare, 6-4 Jr. W; Luke Sanford, 5-9 Sr. G; Luke Picha, 6-5 Sr. W;
Key Additions: Pe’a Misaalefua, 6-1 Sr. F; Tavion Woodard, 6-2 Jr. G; Jack Jennings, 6-6 Jr. F; Brandon Boone, 5-11 Jr. G; Shawn Sidiqi, 6-3 So. W, Logan Ardent, 6-2 So. G; Head Coach Derick Jones
Key Departures: Jakari Carr
Why they’ll win: Defense. Derick Jones in his first year has embraced defense as his team’s culture and identity, and his players have bought in, starting with the heart and soul of the team, Davis, an athletic and talented combo guard. Pomare has come into his own and is a versatile piece that gives teams trouble in the paint and from the college three. The X-factor for the Wildcats is Misaalefua, a big-bodied “basketball player” with a tremendous feel. He’s one of those “basketball players trapped in a football player’s body,” but when he’s there, he makes them tough. Watch also for the group of underrated role players, including sophomore guard Ardent, who has a lot of upside.
Why they won’t: Consistent offense. The team can go through severe droughts if their designated perimeter threats - Boone, Picha and Jennings - aren’t hitting shots, which allows for the defense to choke up Davis’ driving lanes. The team needs for them or Woodard and Sidiqi, who have come on during the fall, to make shots consistently.
9. Cathedral Catholic
Last Season: 19-11, 5-3 Western League, CIF Open Division Qualifier
Key Returners: Shea Fitzgerald, 6-2 Sr. G; Thomas Fleming, 6-2 Sr. G; Ryan Enos, 6-9 Jr. F; Andrew Garcia, 5-8 Jr. PG; Matthew Schilling, 6-6 Sr. F; Brody Seiber, 6-5 Jr. F, Tre Lucia, 6-1 Sr. G; Eric Garcia, 6-0 Sr. G, Luke Tadros 6-4 Sr. WF
Key Additions: Amon Andrews, 5-10 So. PG’ Patrick O’Brien, 6-3 So. G,
Key Departures: Jaden Lebel, Boston Bonifay, Dean Lehanas
Why they’ll win: Inside-out play. The Dons haven’t played in a ton of events this summer or fall, but in the games they did play, it’s clear that Fitzgerald and Enos are the keys to their success. With Fitzgerald, they have a dependable floor general capable of scoring 20 or handing out 10 assists depending on what his team needs. In Enos, they have a unique big who can step out and hit shots from the perimeter on offense while patrolling the paint on defense. Fitzgerald and Andrew Garcia (with paint touches) and Enos (attracting doubles in the post) will make the game easier for the supporting cast, which includes the sharpshooter Fleming and several bigger bodies that the Dons will employ to bang in the paint.
Why they won’t: Defense. The Dons were gashed in Section 7 as teams marched into the paint and scored. It will be up to Enos, who is still coming into his own as a player, to be a consistent paint presence defensively while also rebounding the ball on the defensive glass.
10. Santa Fe Christian
Last Season: 20-10, 11-1 Coastal League, Division 1 Quarterfinalists
Key Returners: Brock Mackenzie, 6-1 Jr. PG; Jeremy Love, 5-11 Sr. PG; Daniel Greathouse, 6-4 Sr. F; Drew Bickley, 6-0 Sr. G; Greyson Mundis, 6-0 Jr. G; Christian Kuiper, 6-1 Sr. G; Dylan Herring, 6-3 Sr. G
Key Additions: Jayden Luckett, 6-6 Jr. F/C; Andrew Kosmo, 6-3 So. W; Dax Hall, 5-9 Fr. PG, Coen Sponsel, 5-11 Fr. G
Key Departures: Aidan Collins, Garrett Poelman
Why they’ll win: Coaching. In Head Coach Chad Bickley, you have a coach who always gets the most out of his roster, and this one has a ton of talent, starting with Mackenzie, who is developing into a Division 1 prospect at the point. Love, Bickley and Greathouse have been in Coastal League battles and are proven winners, and Mundis - cousin of former SFC standout Trevan Martin - gives them a tough presence on the defensive side of the ball. Konsmo has developed into a valuable reserve due to his motor and offensive rebounding. For the first time in recent memory, Bickley will have a true post prospect in Luckett, a big-bodied hybrid forward who showed flashes of high level play during the fall (can step out and hit threes and has a punishing low-post game). By the end of the season, this team could find its way into the Open Division.
Why they won’t: Perimeter shooting. Outside of Bickley and, to a lesser degree, Greathouse, this Eagles team can be very streaky from deep. If they’re to reach their potential, they’ll need Mackenzie, Mundis and Love to keep defenses honest from three.
Last season: 14-15, 7-4 Eastern League, Division 2 First Round
Key returners: Kyelin King, 6-4 Jr. G; Derrion Manson, 6-2 Jr. G; Manny Barnett, 5-10 Sr. G; Sebastian Flores, 5-9 Jr. G; Lennie Morris, 6-4 Sr. W; Jamier Sykes, 6-1 Sr. G; Jamarion Sykes, 5-11 Jr. G; Chris Fewell, 6-3 Sr. F; Jumar Shropshire, 6-5 Jr. C
Key Additions: Jair Benjamin, 6-4 So. W; Josiah McDowell, 6-1 Fr. G
Key Departures: None
Why They’ll win: Continuity. The Hornets play the game with unbridled passion on both ends. Last season, as a play-in game winner, they took top-seeded Montgomery to the wire in the D2 first round. This year, every player from that team returns a year older and more experienced, plus they add a key piece in Benjamin, who has hoops royalty bloodlines: he's the nephew of Lincoln legend Norman Powell. The key player here is King, though, who has morphed into a player that should be an All CIF team selection the next two years. Their undersized back court of Barnett and Flores are tough and can hit big shots. Right now, they're the favorites in D2.
Why they Won’t: Consistent shooting. The Hornets can go on long scoring droughts due to their inconsistency behind the arc. In order for them to make the run they are capable of, guys have to knock down shots.
Stay tuned for the rest of the Top 25!