San Marcos was the place to be for high school hoops fans in San Diego this weekend, as the city played host to the ninth annual San Diego High School Showcase.
The event, hosted by Gamepoint Basketball, brings together many of the top teams in San Diego - and a few from outside the county lines - for a series of showcase games.
For the first time in the event’s nine-year history, two venues played host: Corky Smith Gymnasium and San Marcos High School, which hosted the afternoon cap on Sunday.
In addition to top teams, a number of the county’s top prospects were on hand. San Diego State Aztec fans also got a chance to see their team’s future point guard, as 2020 PG Lamont Butler Jr. and his Riverside Poly teammates made the trek down for four games, going undefeated.
Here are some observations from this weekend’s games:
A team without a true big, Riverside Poly cut its teeth over the summer competing -- and winning -- some of the top events, including the second division of the Section 7 Team Camp in Arizona over Foothills Christian.
This weekend, the team, headlined by 6-1 PG Lamont Butler, went 4-0 with big wins over Torrey Pines, Balboa School, Mater Dei Catholic and La Costa Canyon.
The eye opener was the 27-point victory over the Falcons, who were albeit without their star, 6-8 Brandon Angel, who was on an official visit to Stanford.
Nonetheless, Butler controlled the tempo and proved to be a defensive menace throughout the team’s undefeated weekend.
The SDSU commit wasn’t alone, as the team got strong contributions from 6-0 2020 G Evan Oliver and 2022 G Chance Stephens, among others.
Poly, which went 21-9 last season, has aspirations of competing for a berth in the rugged Southern Section Open Division playoffs. Butler gives them a puncher’s chance.
For the Knights of El Cajon, the beat goes on despite graduating two of the program’s top players in recent history, DJ Carter Hollinger and Jaren Nafarrete.
Despite the turnover, the expectations remain the same for Brad Leaf and crew - compete for the Open Division Championship.
This weekend, the Knights, paced by senior standout and Yale commit Yassine Gharram, gritted out three wins against quality opponents - Carlsbad, Temecula Valley and Murrieta Mesa - showing that the new-look team will be in the mix in San Diego this season.
But perhaps the most eye-opening reason for why the team should remain among the city’s elite is the emergence of 6-5 senior wing Jalai O’Keith as an All-CIF candidate. O’Keith scored 25 points in wins over Murrieta Mesa and Del Norte on Sunday, scoring from all three levels, punishing teams on the boards and finishing above the rim in transition.
O’Keith, who quietly was very good for the Knights last year in a complementary role, looks to have his star turn alongside Gharram as the team’s lone senior starters.
The defending Division 2 champs, the Lancers graduated a 2019 core that brought the program back from the depths of futility.
But don’t expect the Lancers to take a step back. Led by senior point guard Jailen Nelson (in his second year after transferring from Sage Creek), Carlsbad nearly upset Foothills Christian before bowing out by two in overtime.
Sam Eshelman’s crew then picked up convincing wins over a solid Villa Park team from Orange County and handled Rancho Bernardo in a game where the reserved played for most of the second half.
What made this weekend even more impressive was that the team was without it’s returning junior standout Caleb Nelson, who plays on the football team.
Jailen Nelson’s fellow senior, 6-5 wing Bradley Smidt, continues to improve at a rapid clip, and is one of the section’s most underrated athletes.
Carlsbad also benefited from further defections from its intra-city rival, as 2021s Brady Canfield and Kasparas Kasradze look to play prominent roles in the Lancers rotation. Kasradze, a 6-5 bruiser, was a manchild in the paint for Carlsbad all weekend.
After back-to-back CIF Division 1 crowns, the Eagles made a big jump last year, earning the four seed in the CIF Open Division after nearly winning the Coastal League crown. This was with a team that started three sophomores.
Now, those sophomores - and just about everyone else - returns, and expectations are heightened for the Solana Beach school with an enrollment that is smaller than most grade schools.
This weekend didn’t do anything to change those expectations, as the Eagles rolled to a 4-0 record with big wins over San Diego, Del Norte, Eastlake and Rancho Bernardo.
2021s Trevan Martin, Hayden Gray and Keatten Smith were in midseason form, and 2020 F Alex Yphantides and 2022 F Vincent Berlucchi look much improved.
The Eagles will likely open the season as a Top 5 team and will find themselves in a unique position -- being among the hunted.
No team had a more tumultuous offseason than the Knights, who lost Elijah Randall and Chris Howell, the team’s two leaders, to transfer.
The Knights, however, appear poised to absorb the losses, in part due to the emergence of sophomore point guard Devon Arlington.
The 6-3 floor general has improved in the areas of leadership and perimeter shooting, which has taken his game to a different level.
But it doesn’t end with Arlington. Many of the Knights have shown major improvement, including 6-2 and 6-5 senior shooters Dylan Sandles and Kody Clouet, 2021 glue guard Jeric Lovgren, 2022 defensive ace Max McCall, and 2021 big men Christian Littlejohn and Zakkiah Knowles.
News and notes:
Following the opening loss to Riverside Poly, Torrey Pines rattled off three impressive wins over Temecula Valley, Murrieta Valley and Villa Park. 6-6 2021 PG Chris Howell has made big strides as a scorer and shooter from midrange, and activates the complementary players around him. 2021 G Nick Herrmann continues to round into shape and make a big impact as a scorer for the Falcons. The team has a trio of sleeper 2021 prospects in 6-5 W Cameron Klein, 6-6 F Diego Campisano and 6-0 G Nate Witte.
Mater Dei Catholic went 3-1 this weekend, giving Riverside Poly a tough defensive contest in a 42-32 loss. The Crusaders have a number of returners and lots of size in 6-10 senior Max Lane, 6-9 junior Christian Ubochi (Victory Christian transfer) and 6-7 Dexter Stratton (Patrick Henry transfer). 6-4 junior Melo Sanchez is playing at a very high level.
Christian shook off an early upset at the hands of Orange Glen to rattle off three wins against Balboa, Canyon Crest and Mission Hills. 6-7 senior shooting guard Kobe Sanders is much more confident as a scorer and 2022 Vinny Signorelli is a potent threat from deep, but the Patriots will need more consistent performers from fellow seniors Jake Tawhiao, Vincent Warren and Patrick Roberts to reach their potential.
Balboa School might not play in the CIF Southern Section, but the Bengals are deep with talented defensive prospects. 2020s Deshaun Cooper and Emmett Neal Jr. lead the team, which also boasts talented 2021 prospects Solomon Little and Joe Ogbebor. 6-7 sophomore forward Daniel Ameyaw is improved, and 6-9 2022 C LJ Glover has lots of upside.
San Diego and Orange Glen played in what could be a CIF Division 2 playoff preview, as the Cavers clawed back from a 15-point deficit to stun the Patriots 64-62. Orange Glen returns all five starters from a squad that won the Pacific League, including 6-3 W Adam Nieves, but will return to the Coastal League. The Cavers, which won back-to-back CIF Titles in Division 4 and 3 the past two years, returns three starters - including league POTY AJ Burgin and senior G Steve Stinson - and adds several key transfers from Mission Bay, including projected starter Dontae “DJ” Ralston.
Eastlake might have one of the most athletic players in San Diego in 6-6 junior forward Alexander Crawford. Crawford finishes well above the rim, and has quick feet and length on the defensive end.
Mission Hills is one of the youngest teams in the section, with seven of its top eight players being underclassmen. But they have one of the region’s most unheralded senior scorers in Robert Ligayon, who can fill it up from deep and off the drive. 6-5 sophomore forward Justin White is vastly improved on the interior and 2021 6-5 forward Diego Czarnowski is starting to play to his vast potential.
Murrieta Mesa was missing 6-8 transfer forward Demorian Lowe, but still hung tough against Foothills Christian. 6-1 senior guard Cameron Rentie is ever tough on both ends, and 6-4 forward Matthew McIntosh gets it done in the paint and midrange. The Rams have a future star in 5-9 2022 point guard Lewis Singleterry.
Murrieta Valley head coach Brian Wethers has the program on an upswing, and got a huge piece during the offseason in Rancho Christian PG Jordan Montgomery. Montgomery, a 6-1 senior, is a steadying influence and tough on both sides of the ball. 6-3 junior forward Kevin Lincoln couldn’t be kept off the boards and looks to have a breakout season for the Nighthawks.