Del Mar Heights Redux? The Full-Time Hoops Preseason Top 10 + 1
This has been an offseason like no other. Just a week after teams completed their quests for CIF Championships, the entire world stopped as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For months, gyms were closed, teams were disbanded and life was limbo.
Over the past few months, however, teams have begun to resume activities in anticipation of a return to the court, which occurred a little over a week ago, the result of a lawsuit settlement that has allowed indoor athletics to resume in schools.
Given the sudden nature of the return to the court and the fact that there are a number of teams who did not practice or play since the beginning of the pandemic, picking a Top 10 -- let alone a Top 25- has been a crapshoot at best. But, here is our best effort in handicapping who will be the top teams in San Diego this year.
The last time we had organized games, Cathedral Catholic was reeling after winning the CIF Open Division title after news that star forward Obinna Anyanwu was badly injured in a car accident in the early morning after the championship game. His injuries were serious enough that his status for the season is not yet publicly known, so there is uncertainty at the very top of our rankings.
Meanwhile, Torrey Pines has quickly absorbed the graduation of star forward Brandon Angel and has one of its deepest teams on record. Mater Dei Catholic returns most of its Open Division contending core, and Santa Fe Christian and San Marcos bring back a ton of talent off of teams that made deep playoff runs last season. These five teams comprise SD's preseason Top 5.
Rounding out the Top 10 are St. Augustine, which graduated a ton, but will rely on much improved holdovers and some talented transfers; Francis Parker, which will rely on the same small ball attack that made them one of the section's surprise stories last season; Bonita Vista, which returns almost every piece from the team that was the top-ranked Division 2 team last year; Carlsbad, who has one of the best singular talents in SD in Caleb Nelson; and Coronado, who returns player of the year front runner Wayne McKinney and adds a Division 1 signee in Eastlake's Alex Crawford.
Here's the breakdown:
1. Cathedral Catholic
Previous Record: 24-7, CIF Open Division Champions
Key returners: Obinna Anyanwu (6-8 Sr. PF), Alex Wade (6-0 Sr. PG), Thomas Notarainni (6-4 Sr. SG), Dillon Wilhite (6-9 Sr. C), James Behmer (6-6 Sr. PF), Donovan Saunders (6-4 Jr. W)
Key newcomers: Jaden Lebel (6-4 Jr. SG),
Key departures: Beon Riley, Scott Prunty
The skinny: On paper, the Dons are the clear favorites in the CIF Open Division. They return almost all of their core and get a major offensive boost in Lebel, who was Foothills Christian’s third-leading scorer last season. Anyanwu, who is headed to Cal, is one of the best interior defenders on the West Coast, and he anchors a team that has loads of varsity experience. Wade will be asked to carry more of the offensive load this year, but is more than capable of doing so.
The rub: Last year’s CIF Open title celebration was short lived after Anyanwu suffered major injuries in a car collision. The Dons season hinges on whether he can come back at full strength.
2. Torrey Pines
Previous Record: 27-6, CIF Open Division Runners Up
Key returners: Chris Howell (6-7 Sr. PG), Nick Herrmann (6-3 Sr. G), Otto Landrum (6-9 Jr. C), Cameron Klein (6-6 Sr. W), Diego Campisano (6-7 Sr. F), Nate Witte (6-3 Sr. G), Matias Clotfleter (6-5 Sr. W)
Key newcomers: JJ Bartelloni (6-4 So. SG)
Key departures: Brandon Angel
The skinny: The Falcons have arguably the deepest team in San Diego, and a roster blessed with size, skill and great chemistry. Much of that is due to the play of Howell, who doesn’t have to score to have a major impact on both ends of the court. Herrmann is back to where he was before his cancer diagnosis - a steely scoring guard who can put up points in bunches. But the improvement of the role guys on the team - especially the 6-9 Landrum - make this team the most likely challenger to Cathedral in San Diego.
The rub: Guard depth. Witte is one of the best backup guards in San Diego, but behind him are some large unknowns. If Howell or Hermann were to get in foul trouble it could become a concern.
3. Mater Dei Catholic
Previous Record: 22-7, CIF Open Division Qualifier
Key returners: Melo Sanchez (6-5 Sr. G), Dexter Stratton (6-7 Sr. PF), Kailon King (6-2 Sr. G), Christian Ubochi (6-10 Sr. C), Mauricio Reyes (6-5 Sr. W), Matthew Fitts (6-0 Sr. PG),
Key newcomers: Chris Eugene (5-10 Jr. PG), Brian Dukes (6-4 Jr. F)
Key departures: Clarence Martin, Max Lane, AJ Calderon
The skinny: The South Bay’s best team has a massive front court with Ubochi anchoring the defense, Stratton providing a blend of skill and size and Reyes being a blue-collar banger. King is a reliable shooter and playmaker. But this team will go as far as Sanchez takes it. Criminally underrated as a prospect, Sanchez has done nothing but stuff the stat sheet since his arrival on campus. He gives the Crusaders a puncher’s chance in the Open Division.
The rub: Depth. The departure of Martin (Arizona) and the Gonzalez brothers (Mission Bay) robbed the Crusaders of three players who could start for a number of HS programs. Look for Fitts, a senior who has been on the varsity level since his sophomore year, to have an increased role, and Eugene, a cat quick playmaker who has been a stud on the JV levels, to step up as well.
4. Santa Fe Christian
Previous Record: 23-10, CIF Div. 1 Champions
Key returners: Hayden Gray (6-4 Sr. PG), Keatten Smith (6-3 Sr. G), Trevan Martin (6-5 Sr. G), Chase Herring (6-8 Sr. C)
Key newcomers: Keaton Webb (6-5 Sr. W), Daniel Butov (6-4 Sr. PF), Aidan Collins (5-11 Jr. SG), Garrett Poelman (6-5 Jr. SG), Drew Bickley (5-10 So. SG), Kevin Finley (6-2 Jr. SG)
Key departures: Sam Dudley, Sagaar Dhajani, Vincent Berlucchi
The skinny: The Law Offices of Gray, Smith and Martin have won a ton of games over their varsity career. Midseason injuries caused them to slip in the standings but at full strength the Eagles made a strong run through the Div 1 playoffs, edging San Marcos in the semifinals en route to a blowout win over Carlsbad. Gray and Martin, both signed to Azusa Pacific, are athletic playmakers that can beat you in multiple ways, and Smith is arguably the best shooter in San Diego. The additions of Webb, Tri-City Christian’s best player the past two seasons, and Collins, an underrated shooter from Torrey Pines, give the Eagles the role players they have relied on in the past. Butov, who played varsity at Westview, might also be in the mix for time.
The rub: The losses, due to graduation and transfer (Berlucchi to LCC) can’t be ignored, but if there is a coach in San Diego who does more with less, it’s Bickley.
5. San Marcos
Previous record: 18-12, CIF Division 1 semifinalists
Key returners: Devon Arlington (6-3 Jr. PG), Max McCall (6-4 Jr. G), Jeric Lovgren (6-1 Sr. PG), Zekkiah Knowles (6-8 Sr. C), Christian Littlejohn (6-7 Sr. F), Nick Ianniciello (6-4 Jr. SG), Evan Record (5-8 Jr. PG)
Key newcomers: Lucas Gordon (6-5 Jr. W), Trey Vergenz (6-5 So. W), Jonathan Bauckman (6-8 Jr. C)
Key departures: Kasey Clouet
The skinny: The Knights have an extremely high ceiling, as they strike a balance of guard play and interior depth that teams above them don’t have. Arlington is one of the most sought after point guard prospects on the West Coast, but he’s not alone. McCall is a Swiss Army-knife type who will guard the opponent’s best player and creates plenty of quality looks for his teammates. Lovgren was a key starter a year ago who continues to impress with his ball skills and feisty defense, and the bigs rebound, run the floor and provide the hustle plays that all great teams need. Watch out for Gordon, a transfer from Maranatha Christian, who grew about 7 inches since his freshman year and is a skilled lefty playmaker on the wing.
The rub: A reliable second scoring option. Arlington can fill it up, but on nights where he is off or keyed on defensively, who will step up to fill the void? Lovgren is the most natural guess, but a lot of it will be done by committee.
6. Saint Augustine
Previous record: 24-7, CIF Open Division Semifinalists
Key returners: Isaiah Brickner (6-5 Sr. G), Charlie Gehler (6-4 Sr. SG), Marc Dixon (6-0 Sr. G), Prince Adjei (6-8 Jr. C),
Key newcomers: Jurian Dixon (6-5 So. W), Vincent Ricchiuti (6-5 So. W), Lawrence Rudolph (6-0 Fr. G), Jaden Matingou (6-2 So. PG), Patrick O’Leary (6-7 So PF), Grant Gayhart (6-5 Jr. W)
Key departures: Chibuzo Agbo, Luke Haupt, Tyson McWilliams, Nakial Cross, Alex Dennis, Declan Bretz
The skinny: The Saints outlook entering the fall was one of a rebuild with such a large contingent of graduates. But the rapid improvement of Brickner and Gehler, the unexpected addition of Dixon, a high-scoring and highly touted transfer from San Ysidro and the underrated addition of Ricchiuti, who started as a freshman at La Jolla, have vastly changed that outlook. The newcomers give Haupt enough to compete for yet another Open Division berth.
The rub: How quickly can the newcomers assimilate into Haupt’s system will be key to whether the Saints are in the mix for the Open or slide to the Division 1 playoffs.
7. Francis Parker
Previous Record: 22-6, CIF Open Division qualifier
Key returners: Daryl Sledge (6-2 Sr SG), Camden McCormick (6-4 Jr. G), Vinny Ferrari (5-11 Jr. G), Orion Samikoglu (6-0 Jr. G), Justin Settles (6-0 Sr W)
Key newcomers: Martin Rudolph (5-11 Jr. G), Tino Mededovic (6-2 Jr. G)
Key departures: Kimo Ferrari, Miles Williams
The skinny: Smallball 2.0 Parker is in effect this year, and they could once again prove to be a thorn in the sides of the upper echelon of San Diego’s basketball scene. Despite losing such critical cogs, the returning trio of Sledge, McCormick and Ferrari are more than capable of picking up the slack. Transfers Rudolph and Mededovic are seamless fits into how Jim Tomey wants to play.
The rub: Depth. Much like during last year’s stretch run, Parker’s threadbare bench will mean its starters play heavy, heavy minutes and could slip down the stretch.
8. Bonita Vista
Previous Record: 20-9, CIF Division 2 playoffs
Key returners: Damajae “DJ” Sanders (6-0 Sr. PG), Momo Stokes (5-11 Sr. PG), Damascus “DM” Sanders (6-0 Sr. G), Deontrez “DJ” Holmes (5-10 Sr. G), Vincent American (6-2 Sr. G), Diego Tovar (6-7 Sr. C), Mikeal Pink (6-3 So. G), Jesus Figueroa (6-0 Fr. G)
Key newcomers: N/A
Key departures: Jacob Slaughter
The skinny: People tend to overlook what Don Dumas’ Barons did during the offseason because of the shocking first-round upset in the Division 2 playoffs. But this was a team that during the regular season defeated San Marcos, beat Otay Ranch twice and gave Mater Dei Catholic all it could handle in its first matchup. The entire team returns and with a chip on its shoulder. Sanders, who has a Division 2 offer to Cal State East Bay, is arguably the top guard in the South Bay not named Sanchez, and his running mates Stokes and twin brother DM Sanders are not far behind.
The rub: Size. Point Loma was able to exploit the Barons lack of size in the 16-1 upset special, and it will be up to the Barons to figure out how to overcome that lack of functional size once more.
Previous record: 24-9, CIF D1 Finalist
Key returners: Caleb Nelson (6-7 Sr. F), Toby Harris (5-10 Jr. PG), Kasparas Kasradze (6-6 Sr. PF), Carson Frincke (6-5 Sr. W), Sam Hasegawa (6-1 Sr. G), Mason Bowers (6-1 Jr. SG), Josh Davis (6-2 Jr. G)
Key newcomers: Cole Murray (6-0 So. PG), Evan McLaughlin (6-4 Sr. W)
Key departures: Jailen Nelson, Kai Burdick, Sam Sitarz
The skinny: Last year’s squad relied heavily on the departed Nelson, who was one of the few players on the team to finish the season healthy. This year, however, the team reloads around Caleb Nelson, who is coming off of a dominant fall and winter AAU campaign. Nelson blends athleticism in transition and a sharpshooter’s mentality in the halfcourt. The supporting pieces are also very good and tough. Harris and Hasegawa are both very good defenders and Harris is an unselfish playmaker. Frincke and Bowers are high level shooters and Kasradze is a workhorse in and around the paint. First-year coach Clark Allard has a lot of pieces at his disposal.
The Rub: Durability. Last year’s team saw Nelson, Frincke and others miss lots of time during the regular season and postseason. This team needs all of it’s key guys to be healthy to make the run they are capable of.
Previous Record: 21-11, CIF Div. 3 Finalist
Key returners: Wayne McKinney (6-0 Sr. PG), Kieran Ashley (6-6 Jr. PF), Nolan Reuter (5-10 So. PG), Luke Chisolm (Jr. G)
Key newcomers: Alexander Crawford (6-8 Sr. F), William Haley (6-6 So. F), Zachary Jackson (6-4 Fr. W), Joseph Taylor-Pate (6-1 Sr. G)
Key departures: Dane Hansen, Jack Westphal, Mike Cunningham
The skinny: Very few teams can boast they have one Division 1 player on their roster in San Diego. Coronado has two: the USD bound McKinney is an electric scorer and playmaker who also is a lockdown defender, and Crawford, a transfer from Eastlake, is arguably one of the top athletes on the West Coast who is just scratching the surface of his immense potential. This team will go as far as the dynamic duo will take them.
The rub: Experience. Outside of Crawford and McKinney, there’s only one player on the roster - Ashley - who played significant minutes during the Islanders playoff run. Ashley’s development, plus the development of sophomore standouts Haley and Reuter, will go a long way to determine this team’s upside. Also look out for Taylor-Pate, a transfer from Washington, to have an impact as well.
11. La Costa Canyon
Previous Record: 18-13 CIF Div. 1 quarterfinalists
Key returners: Brendan Perry (6-5 Sr. SG), Ray Square (6-2 Sr PG), Jack Norrbohm (6-5 Sr. F), Preston Ochoa (6-1 Jr PG), Will Richards (5-10 Sr. PG), Ty Hendler*
Key newcomers: Vincent Berlucchi (6-7 Jr F), Christian Brown (6-5 So. F), Brayden Hendricks (6-4 Jr. SG), Gabriel Tawfilis (6-3 Jr. SG), Shane Perry (6-4 Fr. SG), Dylan Walls
Key departures: Tommy Griffits, Charlie Schmitz
The skinny: The Mavs have been looking to rekindle the magic of the program’s past, but haven't quite gotten over the hump in recent years. Last year, they came on strong but fell short in a tight playoff matchup against El Camino. This could be the year they turn it around. Led by the sharpshooter Perry, who has improved each year, the Mavs have depth, nice size in the front court and one of the region’s top coaches in Cassaw. Look for Berlucchi, a transfer from SFC, to play a big role for the team.
The rub: Defense. Foot speed could be an issue for the Mavs, which aren’t the fleetest afoot. In addition, the loss of Hendler (knee injury), who was arguably one of the top freshmen in the county last season, is a big one.
Others: , El Camino, Foothills Christian, La Jolla Country Day, Mission Bay, Mission Hills, Montgomery, Orange Glen, Patrick Henry, Poway, San Diego, San Ysidro, Valhalla