Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The Bishop Gorman High basketball team has a four-year varsity point guard and two of the nation’s top recruits for the class of 2015.
Yet, the two-time defending state champion Gaels could be considered inexperienced because their other players lack significant varsity minutes.
Still, there is no questioning the talent and roster depth — they are the clear-cut No. 1 team in the Sun’s preseason rankings for Las Vegas-area teams.
“It’s about getting these guys court time. There is a difference to performing well at some camp to when the lights go on for a varsity basketball game,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said.
Gorman is led by point guard Noah Robotham, a pass-first senior with scholarship offers from the likes of Northern Arizona, UC Davis and Idaho. His big-game experience from three previous varsity seasons will be vital in getting the others up to speed.
The Gaels' top two players — junior post players Chase Jeter and Stephen Zimmerman — are each five-star recruiting prospects with scholarship offers from the nation’s top programs. On sheer size alone, they’ll present matchup problems all season.
But the trio can’t do it alone. Gorman must develop its other players to be the last team standing in late February at the same tournament.
Rice compares his squad to Gorman’s 2010-11 team.
With three heavily recruited players, including top overall prospect Shabazz Muhammad leading the way, the Gaels had more talent than every in-state team they faced. But the group was inexperienced, being upset by Reno’s Bishop Manogue in the 2011 state semifinals.
“On any given night, everyone has a chance against us,” Rice said. “This team is similar to 2011 in that we had some big-name guys but some guys without a lot of experience. That was the year we lost to Bishop Manogue. We’ll definitely talk abut that this season.”
Gorman must replace Trey Kennedy (Southern Utah) and Rashad Muhammad (San Jose State), who graduated. Both are leading their colleges in points scored and minutes played as true freshmen.
Senior guards Miles Loupe and Obim Okeke (another four-year varsity player) will be counted on to produce out of the backcourt, and junior forwards Nick Blair and Deon Whiteside will also be expected to contribute.
“The first few games, some of these guys will have to soak it in,” Rice said.
Here are the rest of the rankings:
2. Desert Pines
Looking back to last year: The Jaguars erased a double-digit fourth quarter deficit against Clark to win the Division I-A state championship, giving the school its first state title in any sport. Having a championship banner hanging in the school gym won’t change the way Desert Pines approaches the season. “It’s just another season. Whether we are the (defending) state champions or not, our kids are going to bring it,” coach Mike Uzan said.
What’s to like about Desert Pines: Although Desert Pines has a roster of inexperienced players, it is deeper and more talented than last year. That depth will be tested immediately with junior point guard Malik Davis — one of the classification’s best athletes — expected to miss the initial weeks of the season with a knee injury. “That kid is just so competitive,” Uzan said. It’s one reason why Student Sports ranks Desert Pines No. 18 in the West Region — nearly beating Findlay Prep last year doesn’t hurt, either.
What stands in the Jaguars’ way: Desert Pines has to replace four starters from last year, including Julian Jacobs, who was the state’s top player. The Jaguars have to get experience early for some first-time varsity contributors, especially three freshmen. “We have to bring our best every night,” Uzan said. “It’s kind of unfair for this crew because they are unfamiliar with what’s going on. They aren’t as experienced.”
Others to watch: Junior forward Nate Grimes hasn’t played a minute of varsity basketball but is a top 100 recruiting prospect for the class of 2015 with double-digit scholarship offers. Juniors Coby Myles and Re’Meake Keith each were regulars on the state championship team. “That kid is going to be really good for us at power forward,” Uzan said of Keith.
Looking back to last year: Clark had a 22-game winning streak last year but couldn’t get past Desert Pines in the postseason. The Chargers lost to Desert Pines in the Southern Region championship game and again one week later in the state championship game, blowing a double-digit second-half lead. That’s fueled their motivation in the offseason. “Our guys are dialed in,” Clark coach Chad Beeten said. “We’ve had five or six practices, and they are already dialed in and focused. It’s about business, and they are ready.”
What’s to like about Clark: Clark’s starting backcourt of juniors Carter Olsen and Colby Jackson, both Division I recruits, is arguably the best backcourt in the classification. They are great outside shooters, have a high basketball IQ and do a great job pushing the ball up the court in transition. Jackson will be the point guard and Olsen the shooting guard, but the players are interchangeable to give Beeten more options with his rotation. Last year as sophomores, they were minutes away from leading Clark to the championship.
What stands in the Chargers’ way: Desert Pines will be Clark’s biggest hurdle. The teams are again expected to meet in the state championship game and appear to be evenly matched. “It’s going to be fun. I hope that’s how it ends up,” Beeten said of the rivalry with Desert Pines.
Others to watch: Forward Diontae Jones is one of the best players in the Las Vegas area and signed with the University of Wyoming. At 6-foot-6, he’s big and physical, and always guards the other team’s best player — whether on the inside or wing. He’s more content taking a charge or making a good pass than leading the team in scoring. Junior Ty’Rek Wells, a 6-foot-4 wing, has the potential to be the Chargers’ next great recruit. Senior Jordan Turner is another veteran player in the post.
4. Canyon Springs
Looking back to last year: Canyon Springs won the Sunrise Region and was less than a minute away from playing for the state championship, but the team surrendered a five-point lead with less than a minute to play in the state semifinals against Centennial. “That hurt us a little bit and left a bad taste in our mouths,” Canyon Springs coach Freddie Banks said. “Let’s just say we have some unfinished business.”
What’s to like about Canyon Springs: Canyon Springs has the deepest team in the Las Vegas area with as many as 10 players expected to be part of the rotation. Most of the key contributors have been regulars on the varsity since their sophomore season. “It helps a lot when you have a veteran team,” Banks said. “They know your system. They know how to play together and what each other can do.” The group is led by senior guard Shaquille Carr, who is arguably the top player in the Sunrise Region. He’s joined in the backcourt by junior Jordan Davis, a junior varsity call-up late last season who was their best player down the stretch. “We might have the best guards in the state,” Banks said.
What stands in the Pioneers’ way: Although Canyon Springs will have plenty of depth at the guard and small forward positions, it won’t have much on the inside. Don’t be surprised if Canyon Springs’ lineup is guard-heavy, creating mismatches with its speed to compensate for a lack of size. “It’s hard to guard three or four guys on the court at the same time with that speed,” Banks said.
Others to watch: Gerad Davis will be a three-year starter at power forward. Chris Nelson and Brandon Edmond never left the court during last year’s playoff run, and Darrell McCall could go from under the radar to an all-Northeast League selection.
5. Arbor View
Looking back to last year: Arbor View captured the Northwest League and won a playoff game for the first time in school history last year. The school opened in 2005.
What’s to like about Arbor View: Arbor View has one of the best players in 6-foot-6 wing Justin Burks, who signed this month with UC Santa Barbara and averaged 21 points and six rebounds per game last year to lead Arbor View to its breakthrough season. “There’s not much Justin can’t do,” Arbor View coach Kyle Hageness said. “He can bring the ball up the floor; he can post up. It brings confidence to our other players. He brings stability. He is a kid that has proven he can do it.”
What stands in the Aggies’ way: Unlike last year when Arbor View surprised some teams in winning the Northwest, this year they are one of the favorites to challenge two-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman. “It definitely changes your approach to everything,” Hageness said. “We have to realize a Tuesday road game against a team we are expected to beat is now a really big game for the team. We’ll get everyone’s best shot every night. The kids are going to have to get used to playing with a target on their backs.”
Others to watch: Burks is far from a one-man team. Guard Terrell Butler was a first-team all-Northwest selection last year in averaging 13 points and five rebounds per game. Seniors Charles Porter at guard and Isaiah Simmons at forward were second-team all-league picks last year.
Looking back to last year: Foothill has captured at least a share of the Southeast League title every season since 2006 and is considered the favorite to defend its title. Last year, the Falcons lost in the Sunrise semifinals to eventual region champion Canyon Springs.
What’s to like about Foothill: Guards Jalen Shepard and Austin Starr bring experience to the backcourt. Starr is arguably the best 3-point shooter in Southern Nevada, making 82 from beyond the 3-point line last year to lead Foothill with 14 points per game. Shepard averaged nearly seven points and four assists per game.
What stands in the Falcons’ way: Foothill lost two projected contributors to season-ending ACL injuries but will have more than its share of upperclassmen expected to fill the void. “We are a little banged up,” coach Kevin Soares said. “Hopefully we use our senior leadership. We have a bunch of guys returning from last year. They didn’t play a lot, but we’ll rely on them to lead some of the younger guys.”
Others to watch: Big contributions are expected from 6-foot-7 junior forward Torrance Littles, senior forward Ian Ellis and senior guard Matt Rapp.
7. Las Vegas
Looking back to last year: Las Vegas had a double-digit lead against Valley in the first half of the Sunrise Regional semifinals, but a scoreboard malfunction caused a near five-minute break in play and clearly took the Wildcats out of their rhythm. “It was just like the Super Bowl,” Las Vegas coach Jason Wilson said in comparing the delay to when the lights went out at the Super Bowl in January. “We lost all momentum.”
What’s to like about Las Vegas: While Las Vegas lost a pair of 14-point-per-game scorers to college basketball, it returns one of the West Coast’s top recruits for the class of 2015 in junior wing Ray Smith. Smith, who has scholarship offers from the likes of UNLV, Arizona and UCLA, averaged 10.8 points per game last year. He’ll be the Wildcats’ go-to player this season. “He hasn’t even scratched the surface yet of how could he can be,” Wilson said. “He is super athletic, really long and good in transition. He is trying to be a good leader for us.”
What stands in the Wildcats’ way: Las Vegas has more than its share of talented players, but those players are mostly juniors. It will be baptism by fire come Northeast League play — three Northeast League teams are in the preseason top 10. “You can’t take a night off in our league. Any team will beat you,” Wilson said.
Others to watch: Junior point guard Devon Colley averaged 6.3 points and 2.9 assists per game last year and already has an offer from Florida A&M. Junior Patrick Savoy Jr. transferred from Chaparral and will immediately provide a one-two punch with Smith. Senior Roberto Zavala returns to provide backcourt depth, and 6-foot-5 sophomore Tyler Bey will anchor the post. “It’s a brand new group,” Wilson said. “They don’t have the experience of playing together. That will have to work itself out.”
Looking back to last year: Durango finished third in the Northwest League with a 7-3 record and lost to Centennial in the Sunset Regional quarterfinals.
What’s to like about Durango: Senior point guard Paris Estrada is a four-year varsity player and the Trailblazers’ clear-cut leader. “It’s his leadership and confidence,” Durango coach DeShawn Henry said. “He plays with a lot of confidence, and we follow behind him. He sets the tone in practice with the way he competes.”
What stands in the Trailblazers’ way: At 6-foot-4, senior post Alex Arias is Durango’s tallest player. That means the Trailblazers will try to turn each game into a fast-paced affair. “We’ve always liked to get up and down the court,” Henry said. “Obviously, Paris dictates that style for us. Even though we are a little undersized, I’m still real excited about how things are going.”
Others to watch: Durango’s backcourt is stacked with Estrada, Palo Verde transfer Darryl Gaynor and junior sharpshooter Alex Tarkanian. Gaynor and Estrada are Division I recruits. “He brings tenacity that really helps us on the defensive end,” Henry said of Gaynor. “He obviously brings a scoring punch.”
Looking back to last year: Valley advanced to the Sunrise Regional championship game but lost a closely-contested affair to Canyon Springs. It also was defeated in the state play-in game by Centennial.
What’s to like about Valley: Valley returns nine from last year, meaning it can expand on the playbook with a veteran group. “We are a step ahead as far as X's and O's go,” Valley coach Brian Farnsworth said. “We have a lot of really smart kids with good basketball IQs. That will alone us to do some things we weren’t able to do last year.”
What stands in the Vikings’ way: Valley graduated its top interior defender from last year, 6-foot-9 Danny Young — a player most high school teams would have a hard time replacing. So, Farnsworth has stressed tighter on-the-ball defense with his perimeter players to compensate from the lack of a shot blocker in the middle. “We are more balanced from top to bottom,” the coach said. “Any kid can defend any position. That will be an advantage for us. There aren’t any true mismatches on defense.”
Others to watch: Guard/forward Spencer Mathis is signed with Northern Colorado and one of the Las Vegas area top returners, averaging 16.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last year. Junior guard Cam Burton is back for his third varsity season and averaged nearly five assists per game last year. Noble Hall, who changed his name from Eric Burrell at the end of last season, is a football prospect committed to San Diego State and will provide muscle on the inside. Junior Shea Garland played significant minutes last season as a sophomore and will combine with Mathis on the wing.
Looking back to last year: Behind twins Malcom and Marcus Allen, Centennial advanced to the Division I state championship game. And even though the team lost to Gorman, the experience will pay dividends the next few seasons. In the blowout, Centennial inserted three sophomores — Garett Scheer, Aaron Turner and Nyjaee Washington — who are expected to be key contributors this year. “Those guys are young, but they have the experience of playing in the state championship game,” Centennial coach Todd Allen said.
What’s to like about Centennial: The graduation of the Allen twins, who are now playing at Stanford, will be tough to overcome. They, after all, combined to average more than 50 points per game last year — more than 70 percent of Centennial’s points. But Centennial does return a pair of starters in guard Khalil Thompson and post player Eddie Davis. The 6-foot-6 Davis averaged 4.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last year and hit a crucial 3-pointer to lift Centennial past Canyon Springs in the state semifinals. Thompson averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 assists last year and could double his output this season
What stands in the Bulldogs’ way: The Bulldogs already suffered a setback when junior combo guard Darrian Traylor suffered a season-ending knee injury. Traylor has scholarship offers from five schools — most notably Utah State and UC Irvine — and would have combined with Thompson and freshman sensation Troy Brown to form a solid backcourt. “We’ll be young across the board,” Allen said. “With him going down, that creates an opportunity for someone else to come in and step up.”
Others to watch: Brown already has a scholarship offer from UNLV and is considered one of the top recruiting prospects for the class of 2017. He’ll start immediately and at 6-foot-5 is expected to be a difference-maker because of his ball-handling abilities. “He’ll be a matchup nightmare. He can play any position,” Allen said. Those sophomores who tasted the playoffs last year will have a chance to be part of another run. The 6-foot-6 Scheer will team with the 6-foot-6 Davis in the post to create a long and lanky attack needed to match up against Centennial's stiffest competition in the Southwest — Bishop Gorman’s twin towers of Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter.