The FTH Top 50: 11-25
We now look at the next group of teams in San Diego just outside of the Top 10. The list includes several teams at the Top of the Division 2 rankings and the next tier of D1 squads that will be vying for a berth in the Open Division as well.
Mater Dei Catholic, the team I expect to finish behind Montgomery in the Mesa League, leads us off at 11. They're one of 5 South Bay teams ranked in preseason 11-25 (Eastlake, Victory Christian, Bonita Vista and Otay Ranch are the others).
Mission Hills and San Marcos, which I have ranked 12th and 13th, respectively, and will benefit from moving into the newly formed Palomar League, where they should battle Del Norte (17th) for the league crown.
The Coastal League (the private school one, not the North County Conference variety) will be improved from last season's nadir, with Parker and Bishop's both ranked inside the Top 25 (18th and 23rd), giving the league four representatives in this year's Top 25.
And from the City Conference, San Diego, Lincoln, Scripps Ranch, University City and Hoover join St. Augustine, Mission Bay and Cathedral Catholic as the eight teams ranked in my preseason Top 25.
Here's how my 11-25 look:
11. Mater Dei Catholic
Key Returners: Josiah Jefferson, 6-5 Sr. W; Sebastian Wiles, 6-1 Sr. G; Maseyo Elliott, 6-3 Jr. G; Lincoln Grogan, 6-3 So. G; Elijah Bragg, 6-6 Jr. C
Key Additions: Enock Okito, 6-7 Fr. F; Donovan Bryant, 5-8 Fr. G; Jonathan Hawthorne, 6-0 So. G; Kannon Seals, 5-3 Fr. G, Tyler Williams
Outlook: The team returns four of its six leading scorers from a team that sneaked into the Open Division over the final weeks of the season. The obvious breakout star is Jefferson, who came on strong enough last year to earn an all-league second team selection in a league that had three Division 1 players in the top 5. Wiles, Elliott and Grogan were all solid role players who will each need to take the next step in order for this team to reach its potential, as will Bragg, a hard-working post who rebounds and provides solid position defense. But the team’s reserve core is the exact opposite of its starters - inexperienced. Okito is the most physically imposing at 6-7, and Hawthorne averaged 26 points on the JV last season, but for them, Seals and Bryant, it will be their first time through the ringer that is the Mesa League. They will have to grow up in a hurry to keep pace.
12. Mission Hills
Key Returners: Jack Jillson, 5-11 Sr. G; Jake Bishop, 6-3 Sr. SG; Bradley McGlothlin, 6-5 Sr. F; DeAngelo Macalino, 6-5 Sr. F; Jalen Veasy, 6-2 Sr. W; Jake Van der Vorste, 6-1 So. G; Mykah Simmons, 6-2 So. G; Logan Vergenz, 5-9 So. G
Key Additions: Josh Robinson, 5-9 Jr. G; Austin Seeman, 6-2 Jr.
Outlook: The Grizzlies return 7 of their top 10 contributors from last year’s team, which gave La Jolla Country Day all it could handle in the D1 quarters. The senior guard duo of Jillson and Bishop perform their best when the lights are brightest - Bishop scored 27 in a win over Torrey Pines last year - and will both be All-CIF candidates. The key to the team is McGlothlin who, when healthy, is a difference maker in the paint and on the perimeter. The sophomore trio got valuable minutes last year as freshmen, and will need to continue to elevate their game, especially Van der Vorste, who figures to start in his second year.
13. San Marcos
Key Returners: Jalen Williams, 6-2 So. G; Derek Tuason, 5-9 Sr. G; Mazen El-Bissat, 6-5 Sr. F; Colton Kelley, 6-0 Jr. G; Elias Flaim, 6-1 Jr. G, Ty Sagaser, 6-3 So. G
Key Newcomers: Richie Ramirez, 6-1 Fr. G; Jackson McCall, 6-5 Fr. F; Chris Crowell, 6-1 So. G; Michael Brown, 6-4 So. F
Outlook: After the worst season that the program has had in over a decade, the Knights return a team that on paper is young, deep and talented - and no longer has to run the gauntlet that was the Palomar League (now the Coastal League - yes, North County’s conference naming confounds me, too). Bissat and Tuason will provide the maturity and leadership, but this team will rely heavily on a cast of eight underclassmen - including two talented freshmen in Ramirez and McCall. Don’t be surprised if this is the region’s biggest bounceback team this season.
Key Returners: Jordyn Webster, 6-5 Jr. W; AJ Reavis, 6-2 Jr. G; Michael Martin, 5-9 Sr. G; Raymar Gonzalez, 6-4 Sr. G (pictured); Drew Shipwash, 6-1 Sr. G; Alan Zavala, 6-0 Sr. W
Key Newcomers: Israel “Izzy” Fejeran, 5-7 PG; Ruben Del Busto, 6-0 Jr. G; Sean Stone, 5-11 So. G; Cameron Clarke, 6-2 Jr. G; Brandon Shipwash, 6-1 Jr. G
Outlook: Marlon King has without a doubt his best team in recent memory, led by his best prospect in four years in Webster, an athletic and powerfully built wing who could play himself into all-CIF consideration. But this team is deep and full of underrated weapons, beginning with seniors Martin, Gonzalez and Shipwash and extending to a group of players from the Titans 28-1 JV team a year ago. In short, this team is dangerous.
15. San Diego
Key Returners: Jayden Wade, 6-5 Jr. W; Treyshawn Degrate, 5-10 Jr. G; Isaiah Marte, 6-1 Jr. G; Zechariah Hollingsworth, 6-4 Jr. F; Terry Gant, 6-2 So. G; Pierre Anderson, 5-10 Jr. G
Key Newcomers: Lamar Smith, 6-3 Fr. F; Isaac Webb, 6-2 Jr. G; Jaden Webb, 6-5 So. F; Davon Crenshaw, 6-1 Jr. W; Jax Marple, 5-10 Fr. PG
Outlook: One of the youngest teams in the region, the Cavers rotation doesn’t feature a single senior. But their junior trio of Wade, Degrate and Marte are talented and have been through the rigors of two deep D1 playoff runs. This team also has underrated length on their front line with Wade, the athletic Hollingsworth, Jaden Webb, who transferred along with his brother Isaac from Bonita Vista (Isaac returns to SD, where he spent his freshman year); and the freshman Smith, who coach Bazz Fontenot feels has as high of a ceiling of any freshman he’s coached. If they can get consistent guard play off the bench from Isaac Webb, Anderson and the freshman Marple - who has already shown flashes of high level play during the fall - they’ll be a dark horse in the Western League.
Key Returners: Derrion Manson, 6-2 Sr. G; Sebastian Flores, 5-10 Sr. G; Jamarion Sykes, 6-0 Sr. G; Jair Benjamin, 6-5 Jr. W; Dillon Parker, 6-0 Sr. G; Hollywood Morris, 6-5 Sr. F; Josiah McDowell, 6-1 So. G
Key Newcomers: Jemell Wiley, 6-4 Jr. F; Malachi Jones, Kenneth Harvey, 6-4 Jr. DJ Walker, 6-3 Sr. G
Outlook: While the loss of All-CIF guard Kyelin King (transferred to Legacy Early College) definitely hurts, it’s next man up for the Hornets, and that man is Manson. Last year, he had a breakout season in his second-straight all-league selection, but since the transfer Manson has been playing like a Section Player of the Year candidate. Coach Jeff Harper Harris needs several of the team’s role players from last season - Sykes, Benjamin and McDowell - and transfers Wiley (North Dakota), Walker (Orange Glen) and Jones (Morse) to elevate their game to complement Manson. The Hornets will also be without Flores, who was a valuable third option last season, for some time due to an injury that has sidelined him since the summer. If the group coalesces, the Hornets should be able to absorb the blow of King’s transfer.
16. Victory Christian
Key Returners: Derek Edmond, 6-3 Sr. G; Jayden Gray, 6-1 So. G; Isaiah Owens, 6-2 So. W; Mason Zennedjian, 6-0 So. G;
Key Newcomers: Angel Escarcega, 6-0 Jr. G; Ben Cordova, 6-1 So. G; Nyno Lopez, 5-8 Fr. G
Outlook: Last year’s Division 3 champs return one of the most potent duos in San Diego in Edmond and Gray, and three players who made the All South Bay League 1st team (Owens was the third). Their depth was hurt by graduation, but the addition of Escarcega - who averaged 20 points per game for Foothills Christian as a sophomore - after the 30-day sit-out period will automatically allay those concerns. They might have to dig themselves out of a hole starting the year without Escarcega or Gray (injury), but by the time the new South Bay League begins play, Victory will be ready to contend for the league title - and a section one.
17. Del Norte
Key Returners: Luke Sandburg, 6-1 Sr. G; Dean Nudo, 6-1 Sr. G; Ah-Zion Applewhaite, 6-5 Sr. W; Nate Chou, 5-7 Jr. PG; Ryder Reid, 6-5 Sr. F; Hayden Hunter, 6-2 Jr. W
Key Newcomers: Ethan Kolker, 5-10 Jr. G; Gabriel Ye, 5-11 Jr. G; Valen Reynolds, 6-6 Sr. C; Riley Farrokhi, 6-1 Fr. G; Josh Thompson, 6-1 Jr. G
Outlook: The Nighthawks graduated several catalysts from last year’s team, which came within a free throw of knocking off Country Day in the D1 semifinals. But Chris Johnson retains several key players, namely the senior trio of Sandburg, Nudo and Applewhaite, who showed during a summer run in the Boys California Live event that the Nighthawks won’t fall too far from their perch. A lot is expected of Chou, who was a backup last year but plays with great pace and can knock down shots from midrange and deep. If Thompson, a transfer from RB, can integrate into the system, this team is going to be in the mix for a D1 run.
18. Francis Parker
Key returners: Kamran Dubois, 6-5 Sr. F; Kiyan Antia, 6-0 Sr. G; Deven Dubois, 6-4 So. F; Zayden Antia, 5-9 So. G
Key newcomers: Tavid Lee Johnson, 6-2 Fr. G; Kai Jones, 6-0 Fr. G; Amon Andrews, 6-0 Jr. G; Niccolo Whitchurch, 6-2 Fr. W; William Forrest, 5-8 G; Minh-vy Nguyen, 5-11 Jr. G
Outlook: What a difference a year makes for Head Coach Mason Biddle and the Lancers, who competed admirably but struggled to finish games due to a threadbare roster. That roster has been replenished with a blend of youth and a singular transfer that will give Biddle a real shot at upsetting the balance of the Coastal League sooner than later. Johnson enters his freshman year as one of the most decorated prospects the county has seen in recent memory, and he is flanked by a pair of talented classmates in Jones and Whitchurch. Andrews, who transferred from Cathedral, is a dynamic combo guard who plays hard on both ends and will give the Lancers an impressive back court trio when he becomes eligible on Dec. 25. In order for this team to reach its ceiling, they will need consistent effort and production from Dubois, a Colorado College commit who has shown flashes over the years.
19. Bonita Vista
Key returners: Torrean Smalley, 6-4 Sr. W; Aaron Owens, 6-3 Jr. G; Diego Figueroa, 6-0 Sr. G; Justice Peterson, 5-11 Sr. G; Treyvon Davis, 6-1 Jr. G; Kenneth Jordan, 5-11 Jr. G; Isaiah Diaz, 5-8 Jr. G; Estevan Flores, 5-8 Jr. G
Key Newcomers: Jerry Stokes, 5-9 Fr. G
Outlook: The Barons seasonal outlook received a huge boost last month when Owens and Davis, who both transferred during the offseason, returned to the campus. In Owens and Smalley, a freakish athlete who is putting things together rapidly, Don Dumas has two of the region’s most underrated players. Owens has transformed into a three-level scorer to complement his assertive rebounding. Surrounding these two are a nice blend of skill and effort in players like Peterson and Jordan, and one of the region’s impact freshmen in Stokes, who is a slick playmaker and a menace on defense. With everything except for Montgomery being up in the air in the new-look Mesa League, the Barons could be a dark horse.
20. Rancho Buena Vista
Key Returners: CJ Aldrich, 5-11 So. G; Trent Lotito, 6-3 Sr. G; Ayden Horn, 6-5 Jr. F; Matthew Horn, 6-4 Jr. F; Shay Todd, 6-5 Sr. F; Isaiah Justice, 6-3 Jr. G; Caden Keys, 6-4 Jr. F
Key Newcomers: Micah Boucher, 6-0 Jr. G; Raffaele Santi, 6-2 So. F; Justian Richardsion, 6-0 So. G, Ryder Newtson, 5-11 Jr. G
Outlook: The Longhorns ran into a buzzsaw at the end of last season in Victory Christian in the D3 semifinals, but they’ll return all but one starter from that team. At the helm is Aldrich, who had a freshman campaign for the record books and returns stronger and bigger. His back court mate, Lotito, has grown 6 inches the past two years and is playing with tremendous confidence as a shooter and playmaker. Horn also returns from an all-league caliber season and his brother Matthew has markedly improved. The key for Aaron Abrams' crew will be the development of its role guys, namely Justice, who has lots of upside but needs to produce more consistently.
21. Scripps Ranch
Key Returners: Kai Brown, 6-0 Sr. G; Rowen Wimmer, 6-1 Sr. G; Sawyer Flint, 6-3 Jr. W; Makoa Blas, 5-11 Sr. G; Bryce Bailey, 5-10 Sr. G; Dominic Procopio, 6-2 Jr. W; Dominic Stevens, 6-3 Jr. F
Key additions: Runnar “RJ” Miller, 6-3 So. F; Charlie Barajas, 6-4 So. F
Outlook: Last year’s Eastern League champs return the all-Eastern League first teamer Brown, who is one of the most electric scoring guards in the section, and are buoyed by the transfer of Miller, who was set to be the No. 1 option for Madison before checking into Scripps during the summer. The team graduated quite a bit from last year’s D2 semifinals squad, and role guys like Flint, Wimmer and Stevens will have to take the next step and become more assertive to complement Brown, who will attract a lot of the defense's attention. In a crowded Eastern League, though, it’s good to have a bona fide closer.
22. University City
Key Returners: Ben Gavani, 6-6 Sr. C; Dylan Griffin, 6-4 Jr. W; Ash Aka, 5-10 Sr. G; Luca Anzaldua Bertholdo, 5-10 Sr. G; Jesse Wood, 6-0 Sr. G; Jabril Abdullah, 6-5 Jr. F;
Newcomers: Tyshaun Harris, 6-1 Jr. G; Ival Momoh, 6-3 Sr. W; Saathvik Ganti, 6-2 Jr. G
Outlook: The Centurions might’ve been a fringe top 10 team if not for the transfer of 6-5 star guard Jaeden Robley (West Ranch), but this starting point might still be too low for them, as they rattled off an impressive summer that included a 6-0 record at the UCSD team camp and a 4-1 record at the SDSU team camp in early June. The returning senior core is underrated, especially Gavani, who is one of the section’s best position defenders and shot blockers in the paint. Griffin has blossomed into a college-level prospect over the past year, and has length and athleticism to spare. The big addition is Harris, who led Oceanside in scoring. When he joins the lineup in December, expect the Centurions to compete for the Eastern League crown.
Key Returners: Jacob Tsai, 5-10 Jr. G; Armaan Damani, 6-0 Sr. G; Owen Turner, 6-0 Jr. G; Morgan Stoefen, 6-3 Sr. F; Tristan Vuong, 5-8 Jr. G; Declan O'Donovan, 6-0 Jr. F
Key Newcomers: Lucas Meyer, 6-4 Jr. W; Zack Chen, 6-4 So. W; Romeo Wright, 6-5 So. F
Outlook: Bishop's, much like the beat, goes on. One of the more consistent programs in SD, the Knights will have a solid group that plays hard, executes and has underrated size with the potential front court of Meyer - a Point Loma transfer - Chen, a sophomore transfer from New York, Wright - who has improved significantly over the spring, and Stoefen, a hard working forward who has played on the varsity for two seasons. Their guard play is underrated; Tsai is a steady floor general, Turner is a natural scorer and Damani, when healthy, has shown flashes of high level play on both sides of the ball. Consider them a sleeper in D2.
Key returners: Amanuel Tesfahunegn, 6-1 Sr. G; Santiago Estrada, 6-3 Sr. G; Exavier Williams, 6-1 Sr. G; Mohamed Abdisalan, 6-5 Sr. W; Hassan Anglo, 6-3 Sr. W; Braylon Lucas, 5-11 So. G; Banok Tesfay, 6-1 Sr. G; Noah Crowley, 6-1 Sr. G/F;
Key newcomers: Hayven Fuentes, 6-1 Jr. W; Marc McIntosh, 6-3 Sr. F; Mustafa Abdi, 6-6 So. WF
Outlook: After a short stint in the Western League, the Cardinals return to a crowded Eastern League with the pieces to come out on top. Their senior quintet of Tesfahunegn (who has been a starter since his freshman year), Williams, Estrada, Abdisalan and Anglo are athletic, impactful in their own way and connected. Their bench depth might be an issue, but the improvement of Lucas and seniors Crowley and Tesfay helps a lot. McIntosh’s return after a year out of the program also provides the Cardinals with an athletic rebounding presence off the bench. But this team will go as far as their three guards - Tesfahunegn, Estrada and Williams - will take them. I’m betting it’s pretty far.
25. Otay Ranch
Key Returners: Percy Whittaker III, 6-3 Sr. W; Adam De La Cruz, 6-5 Sr. F; Dion Harvey, 6-5 Sr. F; Santiago Mendoza, 5-8 Sr. G; Dylan Yates, 6-4 Sr. F; Fabian Resler, 6-0 Sr. G; Sebastian Alvarez, 6-0 Sr. G
Key Newcomers: Chase Taylor, 6-1 Jr. G; Franke Manuel, 6-0 So. G; Ace Arciaga, 5-10 So. G
Outlook: The strength of the Mustangs lies in its battle-tested front court, where Whittaker, the senior swingman, has blossomed into a force on the wing; the stout De La Cruz is a unique inside-outside force and Harvey is a brute in the paint. The guards are unproven and Dave Kulowitch will need at least one of his holdovers to emerge. Resler, a sharpshooter who is a crafty ball handler, is the most likely to step into the void left by AJ McIlwain and Keian Spandonis. But don’t count out Manuel, a sophomore who had moments during the summer and fall. If they get just enough from the back court, the D2 runners up will fare well in D1 this year.