Note: We hope you enjoy this free feature on CalHiSports.com. Our preseason boys and girls statewide basketball coverage will lead up to the release of preseason state rankings in just a few weeks. Until then, we'll have stories featuring top teams, players and coaches. Subscribe to our site now and get the Rivals.com annual recruiting yearbook, which includes boys basketball and football, absolutely FREE. Call the Rivals.com membership services number today.
In less than five weeks, the 2006-2007 basketball season will kick off with holiday tournaments involving many of the state's top teams and will conclude in March at ARCO Arena in Sacramento with the crowning of CIF state champions in five divisions. Some notable transfers to and from California and impact freshmen around the state will influence national rankings and which teams will eventually make it to ARCO, none more than 6-foot-10 Renardo Sidney from Artesia High in Lakewood, the defending California Div. III state champions.
Although the Pioneers lost head coach Scott Pera and team leader Derek Glasser to Arizona State, the Mississippi native will bolster a lineup that already includes James Harden, the CalHiSports.com State Junior of the Year in 2006 and junior-to-be Malik Story, a USC commit. Sidney, the top-rated sophomore in the nation by StudentSportsBasketball.com, has received a ton of attention for his move from Mississippi to Southern California and that attention will likely intensify if he's eligible to suit up for Artesia. The Pioneers received a lot of scrutiny last season on their way to a California Div. III state title and they will be the heavy favorites to repeat if Sidney is indeed eligible.
Although he is the top-rated sophomore in the nation by some recruiting services, he actually didn't suit up as a freshman at Piney Woods School in Mississippi. Instead, he's built up his national reputation by starring on the AAU circuit with Pat Barrett's Southern California All-Stars, the nation's most impressive AAU team this past summer. Renardo Sidney Sr. told us at the ABCD Camp in New Jersey he was tired of the seemingly racist politics of the Mississippi High School Activities Association that kept Sidney from playing his freshman season at Piney Woods School. He also claimed that the Tornadoes were not going to be allowed to play in the post-season this year and told the Washington Post that basically he feels his son has outgrown the state of Mississippi.
"It's mind-boggling, really," the elder Sidney told the Post last July. "This kid is competing at this level, never played high school, and he can dominate kids even older than high school. If he were just playing in Mississippi, just playing on the regular high school team, no way would he be the number one player in his class. No way."
So what team in Northern California can possibly challenge the Pioneers for a Div. III state title? It'll probably be a team with a transfer of its own.
Jorge Camacho, a 6-foot-7 post player who was a sophomore all-state pick at Alisal of Salinas, is now at Riordan of San Francisco and that move makes the Crusaders a serious state title contender. Camacho will team up with returning first team junior all-state pick Rob Jones to give Riordan a strong one-two punch up front. Although the addition of Camacho gives Riordan a strong frontline, there's probably an even better frontline within Riordan's own league.
The West Catholic Athletic League race could be the most competitive in the state and league member Mitty of San Jose could have an even better frontline than Riordan. It all starts with the return of 6-foot-9 Drew Gordon, the 2006 CalHiSports.com state sophomore of the year and one of two underclass MVP's for the week at the ABCD Camp. Gordon and 6-foot-6 Collin Chiverton will be joined by 6-foot-8 Enoch Andoh, a bruiser from the state of Arizona who last season played at Salpointe Catholic in Tucson. Mitty's backcourt will also be bolstered with the addition of 5-foot-10 point guard Chris Webber, a transfer from Leigh of San Jose.
The WCAL is a three-team race with Riordan, Mitty and Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco, which lost in last season's Div. IV state title game to Horizon of San Diego, 60-52, with an underclass-dominated lineup. Riordan is a serious Div. III state title contender as is Mitty in Div. II while Sacred Heart Cathedral has reportedly moved up a class and will now compete as a Div. III school in the post-season.
If Mitty does make it to the Div. II title game, a likely opponent will be Mater Dei of Santa Ana. The Monarchs are the SoCal favorite in Div. II and the last two years has been favored to take home state crowns only to be stunned by Oak Ridge of El Dorado Hills in 2005 and by Palo Alto last season. Palo Alto lost all-everything guard Jeremy Lin to graduation, but did pick up a transfer in 6-foot-6 wing Dominque Powell. Last season, Powell attended Spring Valley of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Mater Dei returns four-year veteran Taylor King (6-7), three-year regulars Alex Jacobson (7-1), Kamyron Brown (6-2) and will likely start the season with a top 10 national ranking in the Student Sports FAB 50. Brown's successor at point guard will be 6-foot-2 Gary Franklin, arguably the state's top incoming freshman. Ranked the No. 5 freshman nationally by HoopScoop, Franklin was one of three prospects from the Class of 2010 at the Pangos All-American Camp and was the most advanced of the trio. Franklin already has a muscular body and reminds us some of JayDee Luster from Hoover High in San Diego, only taller.
Speaking of Luster, his successor at Hoover will likely be 6-foot-3 Deon Jackson. Although he won't start right away at Hoover, Jackson is probably the second best incoming freshman in the San Diego Section. The section's best ninth-grader has already made waves by transferring. 6-foot-10 Jeremy Tyler, a top 20 player in his class nationally, started his young prep career at Eastlake of Chula Vista but recently transferred to San Diego High. He will compliment 6-foot-8 Jamelle Horne, an Arizona commit who was one of the top five performers from California we saw this summer on the AAU circuit, on the Cavers' frontline.
The state's top performer we saw this summer was Artesia's Harden and his teammate on the Pump N Run Elite, Larry Drew Jr., will no longer have his backcourt mate around at L.A. City Section power Taft of Woodland Hills. 6-foot-2 junior Oscar Bellfield will now play at state and national power Westchester of Los Angeles and his addition to a lineup that already includes second team all-state forward Dane Suttle (6-6), Isaiah Jenkins (6-4) and junior Jarred DuBois (6-3) makes the team serious contenders to recapture the Div. I state title they won in 2005.
Westchester coach Ed Azzam will also welcome Dwayne Polee Jr. to his program. The 6-foot-6 freshman will likely start for the two-time defending L.A. City Section champs and recently made headlines when USC coach Tim Floyd made him a non-binding scholarship offer that he gladly accepted.
"I fell in love with it," the 14-year old Polee told the Los Angeles Times. "It's close to home, they have a new basketball arena and I like Coach Floyd."
Longtime prep basketball fans might remember his father Dwayne Polee Sr., the 1981 CalHiSports.com State Player of the Year at Manual Arts of Los Angeles. Although he played in the McDonald's All-American game that year with a guy named Michael Jordan, the elder Polee is best remembered for making 17 of 20 shots and scoring 43 points in the Toilers' 82-69 in over rival Crenshaw in the L.A. City Section championship game before 14,123 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Polee is just one of many freshmen and transfers that will impact the race for CIF state titles during the 2006-2007 season. While California welcomes some big-name freshmen and a big-time transfer from Mississippi, California also lost one of its better players when junior-to-be Brandon Jennings left Dominguez of Compton to enroll at perennial FAB 50 national title contender Oak Hill Academy of Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. The Warriors, bolstered by a lineup that includes several high-profile transfers plus veteran Nolan Smith, are likely be ranked higher than any California club when StudentSportsBasketball.com releases its preseason FAB 50 National Basketball Rankings next month.
On a national level, the biggest name in prep basketball is two-time EA SPORTS All-American O.J. Mayo and, of course, he also transferred to hometown Huntington High school in West Virginia from North College Hill in Cincinnati, Ohio over the summer. Huntington already was returning six of its top seven players, including West Virginia State Player of the Year Patrick Patterson, from a team that won its second consecutive Class AAA title with a 26-2 record in 2006.
Even with Mayo on board this season, its unlikely the Highlanders will be ranked higher than Oak Hill, Mater Dei or Artesia (assuming Sidney is eligible) in the preseason FAB 50 because they won't play a high-powered schedule that some of California's and the nation's top teams will encounter. Nevertheless, the race for CIF state titles and national acclaim during the 2006-2007 prep basketball season is shaping up to be quite interesting.
Note: Lee Hubbard of NorCalPreps.com contributed to this report.